Sweet potatoes

If taking control of your health is one of your New Year’s resolutions, then draw inspiration from one woman’s journey back to wellness

“My journey began in October of 2013,” Shelly Heller says. The journey Shelly’s talking about is her way back to health. Just as journeys take planning and time, so it has been with Shelly’s recovery. Before October 2013, she had unexplained weight gain and just didn’t feel well. Finally, she went to see a doctor, who diagnosed her with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. “I began a complete transformation of my diet and exercise,” recalls Shelly, who already had a history of doing triathlons and marathons.

Shelly had received a previous diagnosis of hypothyroidism in 2009. “I was given a pill and told to take one every day,” she explains. “I wasn’t overweight, but over the next four years, I battled weight and feeling bad [and had] no energy.” Frustrated, she found a wellness doctor who, she says, “forever changed my life.”

Quietly and deliberately, Shelly explains: “I started with my diet.” According to her doctor, the excess weight had caused inflammation in her body. Shelly’s doctor recommended the autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP) as part of her treatment. For Shelly, the eating plan works. I eat every two hours to help increase my metabolism and help keep my blood sugar at a constant level,” she explains. Included in her diagnosis was sensitivity to certain foods. ““Basically, I’ve cut out gluten, dairy, soy, and processed sugar,” she continues. “I eat fruit, vegetables, grass-fed beef, and open-range chicken, turkey, and pork. I make fruit and vegetable smoothies.” Her new dietary habits required major changes in how she shops for food. “I now shop on the perimeter of the grocery store,” she says. “The middle is where all the processed food is.” Shelly makes most of her own meals and must be careful when eating out, which she rarely does because of her gluten intolerance.

Weighing tomatoes

By changing her diet and “working on the inside” for eight weeks, Shelly dropped 30 pounds. Satisfied with her progress, her doctor gave her permission to add exercise, the next step in her journey to health and wellness.

Shelly works in special education at Georgetown High School. Through a GISD initiative to improve employee fitness, Shelly chose Camp Gladiator as part of her exercise routine. “Two coworkers and I did this together to motivate each other to work out,” she says. “I have to admit, that that first workout was hard, but I made it through!” Camp Gladiator proved a good fit for Shelly. “I love that it is outdoors and offers a different workout every session. Everyone works at their level, and the encouragement from the trainers is phenomenal. Each session covers cardio and strength training, followed by a cool-down and stretching.”

Shelly has seen far-reaching improvements because of her exercise routine. “The workout has allowed me to go from being completely out of shape to getting my body back to where I was ten years ago,” she says. A year into her journey, Shelly has lost 74 pounds and has started participating in organized runs, recently completing the 5K Wicked Wine Run in Spicewood, Texas.

While most journeys end in a destination, Shelly’s journey of wellness will continue for her lifetime. “There is no cure for the disease. All I can do is to manage the symptoms,” she says matter-of-factly. To stay focused, she has adopted the credo, “If you can, you must.” With that attitude and commitment, Shelly’s journey will be marked by milestones of lifelong wellness and fitness. She might even find that there’s another marathon or triathlon down the road.

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