This Is Not a Story of Weight Loss, but of Health

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

This is not a story of weight loss (I’ve always been thin), but of health. I grew up on a diet of ramen noodles, pasta, potato chips, pizza rolls, and Dr. Pepper. So it’s no surprise that I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease by the time I was 19.

When I was a teenager, nutrition consisted of reading prevention magazine for tips on “heart healthy whole grains”. My first real step towards health was when I was about 14 and decided to give up soda for my New Year resolution. It was HARD. My family thought I was strange when I got water instead at a fast food restaurant, especially since the soda was “already paid for” with my meal. But I did it. Of course, that wasn’t the end all cure for my health problems. I had a lot further to go.

When I was about 13 the health issues I’d been dealing with all my life got worse. Constipation, inability to tolerate heat, canker sores, fatigue, etc. If we went out shopping, I couldn’t stand or walk for more than about an hour without having to sit down. My mom took me to the doctor and had some tests run. Negative for thyroid problems. If only I’d known how wrong that doctor was.


When I was about 15, I started having issues with my heart racing. I would be at school, sitting at the computer, and suddenly I could FEEL my pulse in my neck. I tried to describe it to my doctor but he didn’t understand what I meant. Still, I was given an EKG (small murmur but nothing too out of the ordinary) and a heart monitor, but I was never able to catch an episode and record it.

Around this time I somehow got my hands on It Starts With Food, read it voraciously, and started a Whole 30. I lasted a day before the carb flu was too much and I quit. “See,” people said, “this is just proof that you need some carbs and grains in your diet!” I continued to eat junk for the next 4 years of my life, but I also began to read websites on paleo and primal diets (including Marks Daily Apple) and make small improvements here and there.

Finally, when I was 19 (2012), I went to a normal yearly check up. As my doctor was feeling my throat she told me my thyroid felt enlarged, and she was going to order some blood tests. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was extremely fortunate, because my doctor had an autoimmune thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s. And because she had this disease, she knew not to just test my TSH, and maybe my T4, like most doctors do. She also tested my antibodies. The results came back and it was confirmed: I had Hashimoto’s. Those racing heart issues? Caused by hyperthyroidism as my body was destroying my thyroid. Finally, an answer to what was wrong with me.

She immediately put me on levothyroxine, which did temporarily help me feel better. But I also decided to take my diet more seriously. I reread It Starts With Food and devoured The Primal Blueprint. I began to eat even more paleo, although not yet 100%, and I saw improvements. That summer I gave the Whole 30 another try and it changed my life. Constipation, gone. Canker sores, gone. Fatigue, not gone but much improved. That summer I went kayaking in the Austin heat (100+ temperatures) for hours and didn’t suffer from heat exhaustion like I normally would. I got my antibodies tested again, and they were so low that if I had not tested them before, you wouldn’t know I had an autoimmune disease.


I began following a mostly primal diet, and reading the Marks Daily Apple success stories every week for inspiration. Every once in awhile I’ll do another Whole 30 or the Primal challenge to reset my diet. But that was not the end of my primal journey.

A few months ago I cheated on my diet a lot and ate way more gluten than normal. I’d long suspected that gluten was to blame for my canker sores, and when they came back with a vengeance it all but confirmed it for me. I did some research and learned that canker sores are actually a symptom of celiac disease. I also learned that once you have one autoimmune disease it’s very common to develop another, and Hashimoto’s and Celiac especially go hand in hand. I went to see a gastroenterologist to see about getting tested for celiac but learned that to be diagnosed you have to eat gluten for at least a MONTH beforehand. This is because the only way to test is to look for the damage that the disease causes to your body. There was no way I was going to put myself through that and undo my hard work, so I didn’t go through with the test. However, I did get some genetic testing done to see if it is possible for me to have celiac. You can’t be diagnosed from a genetic test, because there are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a gene is expressed. I found out that not only do I have one of the genes associated with celiac disease, but I also have all six genotypes that increase the likelihood that you will develop celiac disease. All this confirmed for me is that I am on the right path, and avoiding gluten forever 🙁 is in my best interest.

Though my health is a million times better than it was when I was first diagnosed, I’m still not 100% and still have some damage from these autoimmune attacks to heal, so I read The Hashimoto’s Protocol by Izabella Wentz and am slowly making my way through her protocols in order to get to the best me I can be.

In all of this I’ve mostly avoided talking about exercise. I’ve never been a fan, to tell you the truth. When I was younger my heat intolerance definitely got in the way. I played soccer and rowed crew in high school, but I was always toward the middle or lower end of my team and had struggles with running or rowing without completely exhausting myself. After high school my exercise was mostly limited to walking or hiking, and occasionally playing pick up sports on the weekends, until my boyfriend convinced me to sign up for the Spartan Super.


I was scared. 8+ miles??? Obstacles that included upper body strength??? I couldn’t even do 1 pull up. We began training. To build upper body strength we went to Austin Bouldering Project, which I found much more mentally stimulating than the weight room. They also have a rope there, so I could begin to train for the rope climb, one of the obstacles that worried me the most. After a few weeks, I finally made it to the top! We also went running once or twice a week, although to be honest I still hate running and probably should have gone more often to prepare. Last weekend I ran the Spartan Super and am proud to say that I completed it! The running was definitely a challenge, and there were a few times I slowed my team down, but I finished and I only failed four obstacles. I surprised even myself by completing the multi-rig (similar to monkey bars with rings) at the very end of the race.


My health journey is not over. I want to thank everyone out there like Mark, the Hartwigs, Dr. Wentz, and others for pushing back against the standard american diet and lifestyle and leading the way for people like me to regain our health and our lives.

Jessica Vasko



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24 thoughts on “This Is Not a Story of Weight Loss, but of Health”

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  1. It’s thrilling to see people taking over their health concerns. My wife began treatment for high blood pressure a year or so ago (her diastolic was roughly 170), and her doctor placed her on two separate meds. His reasoning was, your father is this way, and now so are you, and there’s nothing that can be done.

    She’d also been struggling with GI issues. Reading here and on Malcolm Kendrick’s terrific site, I became convinced that these two things might be related and gently coaxed her into making changes. Removing wheat, reducing sugar, increasing resistant starch and doing things that might seem odd but were based on studies I found (drink coconut water, use sesame oil, supplement with L-Arginine), she first removed one med and is now down to a partial dose of the other and her BP is regularly below 120. GI issues have dramatically reduced.

    Now, it’s difficult to say if there is a single factor that accomplished this, but thinking about her condition as part of a systematic whole (I think) was helpful. Thanks, Mark and all the other supportive and thoughtful people here!

    1. Interesting story about your wife’s blood pressure. I’d love to hear more about that sometime. Were there any other medical red flags as to why her blood pressure was high – overweight, smoking, age, etc.? Or did strictly diet alone change things.

      1. She’s skinny, 47. Walks a lot. No smoking. Just persistent gut issues over the past few years that have left GPs befuddled (and frankly unhelpful). She has gall bladder disease, but has refused advice to have it removed (mostly because the surgeon that wanted it out was obese). The two studies I found linking significant drop in BP based on sesame oil and coconut water got me thinking about holistic methods to target BP. Malcolm Kendrick was helpful in getting to wonder about causes (as opposed to considering high BP as a disease in and of itself). This study from Yale made my eyes bug out and made me consider dietary interventions (particularly with her gut issues):

        In fact, we’ve also targeted the gut with lots of prebiotics and probiotics. She’s also followed my lead on taking daily collagen. For her, it’s frustrating because she wants to know what is working. For me, it’s all part of the same process, and as long as nothing she’s doing is harmful, well, she just has to get used to taking daily supplements.

  2. Jessica,
    Get away from the synthetic Thyroid meds and have your doc prescribe an NDT (naturally desiccated thyroid) like Nature Throid.
    That was my last piece of my thyroid puzzle.
    I have been on Thyroid meds for 20 years, NDT for about 16.
    The Paleo Thyroid Solution is very good reading.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll check it out! I’ve considered switching to NDT before but haven’t taken the plunge yet. I recently switched over to brand name synthroid and had a huge improvement in my fatigue, but it was temporary :(.

      1. My Naturopath Dr. said most thyroid problems are caused by fatigued adrenal glands. I had half of my thyroid removed due to a goiter (pre: looking after my own health issues) The other side started to swell and I did not want it removed or any meds. Hashimoto may be a different issue but I would recommend a N.D.

  3. Nice! Always good to see someone reclaiming their health. Stories like this one help provide motivation to keep nudging me in the right direction to get serious about tightening up my diet, or maybe trying a Whole 30 or autoimmune protocol, so that maybe I can finally do something about my chronic year round allergies – which have gotten better, but are still pretty bad, since going Primal.

  4. You are doing awesome Jessica! You should be very proud of the progress you’re making and taking control of your health and your life. Love your attitude, smile and persistence!

  5. Jessica this is so awesome and there is so much I can relate to, right down to the whole celiac test thing (who wants to eat gluten for a month when you know it makes you feel like crap?) and the rock climbing which I love. You’re so fortunate that you had a doctor that knew which tests to run, and so fortunate to have this figured out at such a young age. Very inspiring!!!

  6. From one Austinite to another, congratulations on your journey and your great progress! We’re all works-in-progress and I hope you continue to fine tune you health.

  7. Congratulations on your success! I feel I could be in a similar situation. A few months ago I read through all the thyroid articles on MDA and wondered if that could be the reason why I always feel so bad (along with a poor diet), especially since my mother and grandmother had thyroid issues. I purchased a full thyroid panel from an online lab and the results came back showing a thyroid peroxidase antibody level of 301 IU/ml (everything in the reference range). I scheduled an appointment with my doctor the following week. When I saw him he almost seemed annoyed that I did this on my own! He said one test doesn’t prove anything because it can fluctuate, there’s more to Hashimoto’s than just that, and he teaches other doctors in the area about thyroid problems, so he knows what he’s talking about. He said to come back in three months to see how it is, but to go through him next time. Well, life and work happened so I haven’t been back and I almost don’t want to see him anyway. I guess my course of action is to get tested again myself and if it is still ridiculously high, try to find another doctor and try to become Paleo again.

    1. Yeah, I would definitely see another doctor. Studies have shown that getting on replacement hormones before your body has destroyed your thyroid can really slow down the disease. And then diet and lifestyle can help stop it in its tracks.

      1. Congratulations on blazing your own path to improved health! Sometimes it can be a frustrating experience to figure out how the pieces of the health puzzle all fit together, even if it takes a while. Quite a few of the symptoms you mentioned before going primal and being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s I seem to experience as well, including a “normal TSH”. Like John mentioned above, I guess one way to go about it is getting a full thyroid panel from an online lab. As a fellow Austinite, do you have any recommendations for doctors that test more than just TSH?

        1. Dr. Tuyet Fannin is who I saw originally. Unfortunately I changed insurances so I can’t see her anymore :(.

          Or you could join the Austin Thyroid Support Group on Facebook, they have a lot of recommendations.

    2. Yes be your I own Dr. Dr.’s are about themselves money and meds.

  8. This is awesome, but as someone who was diagnosed with Celiacs, I hope you avoid gluten like a true Celiac in the event you have it. I can’t have any trace of it. I can’t touch it, use it on my skin, eat food cooked/prepared on surfaces that have it – the whole nine yards. I don’t eat any packaged foods unless they expressly say gluten free (because they can be exposed to gluten in factories otherwise). That includes seasonings because often they will have traces of gluten in the major/cheap-o brands you see at most stores. Celiacs increases your chance of certain cancers and can lead to other health issues if you are constantly getting low levels of exposure. That’s why a diagnosis can be of value, even though it is miserable to go through if you know what being gluten free is like! But, if you understandably don’t want to go through with it, your best bet is to truly live like one to be safe.

  9. Congrats on your success and your great progress! Wish you all the luck for your future health. Stories like this make me keep coming back here every now and then!

  10. Congratulations on finding your health! I too struggle with autoimmune disease (crohn’s is my particular problem), but autoimmune disease runs in my family. My mom has thyroid problems (I’m 99% its hashimotos, but she refuses to believe it), psoriasis, and IBS, and my brother has really bad psoriasis among other problems he probably won’t admit to having. I’m the only one in my family who is taking my health into my own hands, and it isn’t easy, especially when your mom is ‘medically trained’ and ‘knows best.’ I have to say this though: if you have an autoimmune disease, you HAVE to take a Mediator Release Test (MRT) test!!! It is a blood test to test your sensitivities to 120 foods and 30 chemicals found in foods. You don’t have to eat what you are sensitive to to get a positive result. I found out that all of the foods that were ‘safe’ were what were causing the problem for me: olive oil, honey, berries, nightshades, lemon to name a few! It is expensive, but out of all of the other ‘modern’ medicine tests and the thousands I’ve spent trying to get a diagnosis, this test is single-handedly the most important for my recovery!

  11. Oh goodness! I have always wondering about my heart beating in my throat. Whenever I mentioned it to friends or family, they thought I was weird. Guess I should actually look into it.
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  12. Hi
    Same old story, TSH.
    Mine was tested and was always normal for decades! Until I grew a goiter the size of a golf ball.
    My new endo ( my old one was useless) tells me I have ” significant” hashimotos I get copies of my test results every three months. My TSH is still normal. Every. Single. Time.
    TSH is a useless test folks.
    Demand that your free T3 and free T4 as well as your autoimmune antibodies be tested. My antibodies are currently at 491!!!!!!!
    I too have undiagnosed Celiacs. And no I cannot and will not go on a full gluten diet to prove it to anyone.
    Thank goodness you caught this fairly early in your life and you found the correct way to manage it.
    I have had no luck with synthroid and do better on NDT.
    NDT is T3 as well as T4. I have flipped from hypo to hyper thyroid with devastating and possibly near fatal results. And a full year of GP’s not knowing what was wrong. Putting me on antidepressants and recommending a psychiatric hospital!
    Then my new endo runs labs and says ” your T3 is too high”
    Boom! Just like that my hell was over. He took me off NDT and put me on synthroid. But soon I was back to full on hypo. So he added cytomel ( T3). But cytomel just started the anxiety again. Do now I’m back on NDT but I cut the dose in half if I start getting palpitations.
    Try NDT. You will probably feel more normal. And tweek your dose if you feel like it’s too much. These are hormones, not drugs so you are the best judge.
    Good luck!