I first met Jen and her husband (then fiance) Devin at the Ancestral Health Society meeting in Berkeley, California in 2014. Their enthusiasm for everything Paleo was infectious. And, their newly created online store containing only a carefully curated collection of Paleo foods was amazing! It continues to be a one-stop-shop for Paleo goods, hence the name OneStopPaleoShop.com! Even though I felt super plugged into the community, Jen introduced me to new Paleo and AIP foods, which she continues to do to this day — Jen is forever on the hunt for the newest, most innovative, and delicious Paleo goodies, snacks and pantry ingredients. I have deep respect and admiration for Jen’s mission to serve our community. We’ve become friends over the years in addition to collaborators, starting with creating an 100% AIP section of OneStopPaleoShop and now, as co-founders of Strength in Food. When Jen first shared her story with me, her personal journey to this passion for providing an invaluable service to the Paleo and AIP communities, well, the only words I can think to describe it are heartbreakingly inspirational. I’ve begged Jen to write her story as a guest post for ages, and I’m honored and grateful to now be able to share it with you.
I’m Jen, and you might know me as the co-founder of One Stop Paleo Shop. My husband Devin and I, along with our partner Chris, have been serving the Paleo community through One Stop Paleo Shop since 2014. You might know that earlier this year, we partnered with Dr. Sarah Ballantyne to bring even more resources to the AIP community through the AIP delivery service Strength in Food. But today I’m going to share something I’ve never talked about publicly before: how losing my mom to cancer changed my perspective on stress, informed the way I approach health, and ultimately inspired Strength in Food.
Not only was my Mom the light of our family, but her family was the light of her life.
She lit up a room whenever she walked in, could give you a wink that made you feel like you were the most important person in her world, carried herself with confidence, never gave up or was afraid to fail, loved the finer things in life, did everything with tact and passion, was witty and charming, could have sold ice to an Eskimo, was eternally optimistic, had an everlasting smile, and unconditionally loved her children. She always had fun, no matter what she was doing.
In 2013, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was aggressive, and right away the doctors told us it had progressed to Stage 4. Our options for treatment were very limited, and we were stunned. Mom wasn’t a smoker, and we couldn’t believe that her cancer could have moved this quickly.
Mom decided to forego traditional treatment and seek out alternative therapies. We journeyed to Mexico, where the two of us spent the summer learning about nutrition and alternative cancer treatment.
Our family owned an alternative healthcare company, and in the years before her diagnosis, we’d developed an understanding of what proper nutrition and supplementation looked like. But I know that in my mother’s diagnosis, there was another powerful factor at play: stress.
In Mexico, I came to understand just how powerfully unmanaged stress can impact our health.
Mom had always carried the weight of our family on her shoulders. Of course, like so many mothers, she put the needs of her family above her own. I believe she also felt and internalized every conflict in our family, to the detriment of her own health.
She had recently gone through a time of immense personal stress, and she didn’t have the tools she needed to take care of herself during that time. Instead, she bottled everything up, and her physical health suffered.
Just 7 weeks after her initial diagnosis, I lost my mother to lung cancer.
Managing Grief and Stress
After my mom’s death, I found myself facing my own stress-induced health crisis.
I was mourning my mom, but the sheer volume of paperwork and logistical challenges involved in managing her estate and business required me to be “on” almost immediately after her death. I felt like I was constantly on the phone managing her affairs, and as a result, I never took the time to properly grieve.
Instead, like my mom, I suppressed my emotions as the stress in my life compounded.
I feel lucky that I was at least focused on the healing power of food and exercise during this stressful time. My now-husband Devin and I had been together since 2010, and had been attending CrossFit and eating a Paleo diet together since 2012.
Since my mom’s business was focused on alternative healthcare, our eyes had been opened to the power of food as medicine, and we knew that staying healthy meant eating well and moving our bodies.
Ultimately, our frustration at the lack of available Paleo resources at our local grocery store led us to found One Stop Paleo Shop. We knew we could help others focus on health by pointing them to the best Paleo products on the market. But ultimately, focusing solely on food didn’t bring me true health.
After I sold my mom’s house and handed over the keys, the truth of her loss hit me all at once. I began experiencing a health crash—it was as if my body went into shock. Despite the fact that nothing in my food or exercise routine had changed, I rapidly gained about 30 pounds. My energy was low, and I could feel my health slipping away.
I knew that something around me had to change. At first, I did what I think many of you can relate to—I sought out alternative therapies. I spent thousands of dollars to work with a naturopathic doctor and took dozens of supplements every day. I spent so much time looking for answers. That search for a diagnosis was exhausting!
It wasn’t until I began exploring the impact of stress and negative emotions on my physical health that true healing began.
My first step was to reach out to a practitioner of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as tapping. Finding that resource had a nearly immediate impact not just on my ability to process my grief and work through negative emotions, but on my physical health as well.
After my first few sessions of tapping, I lost half the weight I’d gained. I felt my energy return.
That moment was a turning point in my life. I knew that I had to make stress management as much a priority in my life as healthy food and movement. These days, I focus on maintaining balance in all areas of my life. Whether it’s a walk around the block with my dogs or a few meditative minutes, working stress management into my life has become an important piece of my health puzzle.
It’s important that I do this for myself and for my husband, Devin, who also lost his mom to cancer 15 years before my own mom’s diagnosis. Stress had nearly destroyed my health as it destroyed my mom’s, and it was only through actively managing stress in my own life that I could truly heal.
Founding Strength in Food
My own experience with the destructive power of stress prompted us to found Strength in Food.
After three years working with One Stop Paleo Shop’s AIP customers and with Dr. Ballantyne, we knew how powerfully healing food could be. We listened to customers when they said they wanted more AIP products on our shelves, and we heard their stories of healing. We’re all in on the power of diet to change our lives.
But we also know firsthand that added stress can cause its own kind of damage.
We know that a diagnosis alone creates stress for an individual and for their families. We know that managing chronic illness can feel like a full-time job. We know that sometimes, the rigors of a healing diet protocol can be stressful to navigate. We know because we’ve been there.
Our goal at Strength in Food is to eliminate the stress of finding resources and recipes, researching compliant foods, and trudging through the grocery store, so you can focus on the true healing beauty of the AIP.
We partnered with Dr. Ballantyne because she’s always been our expert source on the in’s and outs of the AIP. With her on our team, we can offer you the best of the AIP.
My hope is that Strength in Food can eliminate even a small portion of the stress associated with managing chronic illness so that you can find true healing.