My Journey Monday: Writer Marlene Relja Shares Her Paleo Journey to Health

mjm2I’m so excited to share another story from a writer! I first met Marlene at a Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal party at the Romance Writer’s of America annual conference in 2012 and we connected afterward on Twitter. Since then we’ve critiqued each other’s work (I’m currently in the middle of writing up my notes on a Beta read of a very awesome novella she wrote). I had no idea she followed the paleo/primal lifestyle until recently, and she was gracious and brave enough to share her journey.

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My journey to finding the paleo/primal lifestyle was wrought with years of dragging my feet from one doctor to the next, of enduring varied invasive tests and months of prescription pills with nasty side-effects. Through it all, I lived with unexplainable bladder and pelvic pain, irregularity, severe bloating, heartburn, nausea, anxiety and acne. I had no concrete answers, nor did I feel any improvements with anything the doctors told me to do.

When I think back, my downhill slide began in college: the funky dining-hall food, the stress of all those end of term finals, the anxiety of trying to connect with roommates and finding new friends. That’s really when my Irritable Bowel Syndrome was first diagnosed. I knew something was wrong, so I saw a doctor, but since I was slim, active, vibrant and healthy on all other counts, we both brushed my symptoms off as minimal. So, with a recommendation to take fiber powder as well as avoiding broccoli, she sent me on my way.

Throughout college and a few years after, my symptoms lingered, sometimes nagging me, other times lightly poking me. I’d always been diligent about my health so I kept active and ate what I thought was healthy: whole wheat, low fat dairy, high fiber cereals, fruits and fruit juices, lean meats, the standard amount of veggies. Like any normal twenty-something, I occasionally splurged with pizzas, sodas and smooth, nutty, oh-so-good Nutella on warm waffles without experiencing any real ramifications.

But when I reached my mid-twenties, the time when you’re supposed to be exploring, working hard, learning about life while having excessive amounts of fun, my symptoms began to increase in severity and I couldn’t ignore them any longer. Doctors said, try another fiber, take this acid-reducer, add more cranberries to your diet (they thought my pelvic pain was due to bladder infections when in reality it was a side-effect from prolonged and untreated IBS). All of that helped a little, but it was like trying to quench a growing wildfire with a measly garden hose.

It wasn’t until my stomach problems and bladder flare-ups began affecting my everyday life and mood that I decided I needed more opinions. And so the parade of doctors with no real answers began. I went through CAT scans, tubes in places they shouldn’t be, 6 months of antibiotics that ruined my gut flora leading to even more stomach problems. None of the doctors ever looked at the whole sum; they only ever tried to cover up individual symptoms and none ever thought of using food to heal the body. I will never forget the one doctor who told me I probably needed to take antibiotics for the rest of my life. I stared at him as he scribbled another prescription onto his pad, feeling completely lost and empty and hopeless.

The stress of not knowing what was happening inside my usually healthy body only compounded the problem. I had to figure this out because not only was I curled-up on the couch every night with pain and even more questions, my social life and mental health declined.

Both my husband and I spent months researching my ailments. That’s when the parade of alternative medicines began. I lurked around online support groups, experimented with all manner of over the counter supplements, tried strange, supposed healing techniques—one involved the practitioner touching my head in certain ways while I held something in my hand—chiropractic care, acupuncture, the candida diet, biofeedback and more. Money flew out of my wallet faster than I could put it back in.

I had some improvements but it just made the setbacks feel even worse. Depression was a looming presence held off by the love and support of my husband and parents.

To escape the frustration of everything, I continued reading my beloved romance books. And when I couldn’t read, I’d daydream. Making up stories had always been my way of dealing with reality, so one day, to help myself deal with the stress and pain, I began to write down one of those percolating stories.

And then in 2010, my husband discovered some blogs and books ripping apart the ideas of standard nutrition. My government-food-pyramid brainwashed mind immediately rebelled. Fiber is not the answer to everything? Fatty hunks of grass-fed red meat are not the devil? That can’t be possible.

But some part of me hung onto the idea because the more scientific data they presented about the standard American diet being the possible cause of a myriad of health problems (including some of mine), the more I wanted to believe. At the same time, I began to see an integrative medicine specialist, Chris Kresser, who also confirmed the legitimate healing effects of this paleo/primal diet. So, in came the grass-fed fatty meats, the cage-free chicken eggs, the saturated fats, the organic non-GMO veggies, the safe starches, the bone broths and out went all grains, all sugars (including fruits), anything ‘lean’ and any packaged foods. It was a slow process of learning to adapt (there’s a lot more planning and cooking involved than you’re probably used to).

Month after month, both my husband (thankfully he decided to completely support and join me on this venture) and I began to notice changes in our bodies. Me with less digestive disturbances and pain, him easily losing some extra weight. It wasn’t an instantaneous change and proper nutrition wasn’t the only thing I needed, but after almost ten years of a slow decline in my health, I never expected to be healed in a day.

Yet suddenly, I had more good days than bad. Slivers of sunny hope broke through my bleak melancholy. My mood improved, hope and energy returned and the little stories I’d written took on new shapes. What if I could do this for a living? My imagination went haywire and the more I thought about it, the more I loved everything about the idea.

I’m not a firm believer in destiny or fate, but thanks to the paleo/primal lifestyle and the perfect combination of caring health practitioners, I can’t deny that my path to an abundant amount of pain-free good days and a new shiny potential career was just a bit more than serendipity.

Whatever your reasons for starting this paleo journey, encouragement and support are critical, and blogs like Angela’s are a fabulous way to connect with others going through the same thing. Don’t be afraid to come out of your shell like I was. Tell the people around you what you’re going through. Even if they have no answers, someone who is kind enough to lend you their shoulder and ears might just bring you one step closer to success.

Thanks for letting me poke my head out of my shell and share my journey, Angela!

About Marlene Relja

marlenereljaMarlene spends her days making up stories in the sunny San Francisco Bay Area of California where she grew up and now lives with her husband. If she ever manages to kick her butt out of her shell again, she might actually have one of those many stories self-published. Like this year! You can find her chatting about books, TV shows, movies as well the many environmental issues she cares about on her website, www.marlenerelja.com, and on Twitter and Facebook: @MarleneRelja and Marlene Relja. She occasionally writes about some of the treatments she’s tried and the things she’s discovered about health on her blog here: www.heresyourtissue.com

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Thank you so much, Marlene, for sharing your story! You’re an inspiration, and I’m so glad you conquered your fear to tell your story! It’s so frustrating to think how many people are told by doctors that their diet is not the issue. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of a doctor saying, well, you’re thin, so… Grrr. Thin doesn’t always equal healthy. Antibiotics for life? Holy cow. Do you wish sometimes you could go back to those doctors and show how wrong they were?  And you’re like a paleo minor celeb having had Chris Kresser when he still took patients! And yay for an awesome husband!

Inspired? Visit What is Paleo/Primal and Getting Started to start your journey to thrive as a writer! Have you also come to this style of living due to a health condition?

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