Lisa’s Journey from Sickness to Health

I grew up in the Bronx, New York, with a younger sister and three older brothers who treated me like one of the guys. I played their sports and worked on their cars. A total tomboy, I always did my best to keep up and be tough.
In truth, I was tough on the outside but sick on the inside. My early childhood days were a struggle with my health: ear infections, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, and frequent enemas. If there was a stomach virus going around…I always caught it!

Making things worse was my father. He was impatient, strict, and an abusive enforcer of perfectionism in everything from academics to sports. Mistakes were not an option; if they were made I was beaten and verbally humiliated. I was forced to be a soldier and never show weakness. A compliment or words of encouragement were never given. My stomach knotted whenever I was around him.

Thankfully, my mother was patient, loving, and supportive. She was a health-conscious chef with an organic garden who hand-made every meal. There were no TV dinners at our house. I remember helping her in the garden, cooking with her in the kitchen, and hearing her say to me time and time again, “Lisa, health is wealth!”  She worried about my health, but despite her best efforts, I was often sick and felt like I was letting her down. How could I be eating so healthfully and still be so sick?

Physical training was a great emotional outlet for me. I joined my school’s gymnastics team and, in spite of my continued health issues, I excelled in sports throughout my school years.

At 22, a modeling scout discovered me at the gym. I had never considered modeling but decided to give it a try. My gymnast background led me to becoming a fitness and lingerie model. Success came quickly–great income, international travel, magazine covers, and television commercials.

But, over time, I learned modeling was not as glamorous and easy as it looked. The hours were long, the photographers were workaholics, and the art directors were nit-picky perfectionists like my father. The travel, long hours, expectations, stress… all eroded my health. I had chronic fatigue, constant nausea, dark circles under my eyes, facial hives, bloating, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual problems, and hypoglycemia.  I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and I felt sick every time I ate something. It took every bit of energy I had to make it through my work days.

The irony of it all was while I was at my best in my career…
I was at my worst in my health.

Showing weakness as a health and fitness model was not an option, especially if I wanted to continue working! So I went to see a gastroenterologist, who wanted to put me on medications to treat my symptoms. But, I was sick of being sick and wanted to find the cause of my sickness so I would not have to take medications for the rest of my life.

Then one day while doing a photoshoot, the photographer opened up to me about how his wife had similar issues to mine and was helped by a doctor who practiced integrative medicine. Immediately, I made an appointment to see him.

It was good news, bad news, and worse news. The good news was the doctor discovered why I was sick. I had food sensitivities to wheat, dairy, corn, and eggs. The bad news was I had no idea how to eat if I couldn’t have wheat, dairy, corn and eggs. The worse news was my doctor didn’t have any guidance for me. It was 1983, so there were little to no resources about food sensitivities. I learned everything I could about food and practiced intentional eating. This way of conscious eating became my path to getting healthy. The right foods nourished me and became my “medicine.”

Within two months of changing my diet, while still keeping a fast-paced work schedule with frequent travel, my health improved dramatically! I regained my energy, my complexion cleared, and I no longer lived with the fear of feeling sick when I needed to be at my best. Years later I was tested again and found out it wasn’t just the wheat that was a problem but the gluten in wheat and other grains. I am sensitive to gluten and all grains except for rice. Soy is also a problem for me. Luckily I found out what was making me sick. My heart goes out to all the people suffering who don’t know they too may have food sensitivities causing many of their illnesses.

I now have more than 30 years of research and personal experience working in the health field and in the kitchen. I have learned how to eat to stay healthy. I’ve studied all aspects, including food biochemistry, food production, genetically modified foods, food economics, food labeling, food shopping, meal planning and preparation, and how to eat smart when traveling and dining out. And for more than a decade, my dear friend and colleague Dr. Tom O’Bryan, who is the creator of the “Gluten Summit” and leading expert on gluten and food sensitivities, has kept me privy to the most current information on gluten and all its related disorders. (See my education and certifications listed here.)

My challenges and successes have made me more compassionate and passionate about helping people who face similar challenges to thrive. My mission is to show others how to maintain a healthy gluten-free lifestyle, so they can have optimal health and vitality for a lifetime.

I was recently asked at a conference where I was presenting, “What are the most important aspects of eating gluten-free to stay healthy?”

For the person who asked the question and for you, my answer is the same. The most important aspect of eating gluten-free to stay healthy is to realize that you have choices, so make good ones!

  • You have a choice to become better informed about which gluten-free foods are good or bad for you.
  • You have a choice every time you prepare a meal; will this meal help me be healthier or do I eat it just because I like how it tastes?
  • You have a choice to pursue being exceptionally healthy or borderline sick.

I hope you choose to read my book and follow its advice. Stay with it and you’ll be rich…because as my mother told me many years ago, “Health is wealth!”

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