The Down and Dirty on Celiac, Paleo, and Crossfit

gluten free, paleo, personal story, Ann McCormack, CrossFit

Ann McCormack Doing CrossFit

Today I have the honor of sharing a guest post from Ann McCormack. Ann attended one of my support group meetings about a year ago (and hopes to return to our group!). I found her to be a delightful person with a compelling personal story and I asked her to share her story with us all. Ann will be 65 in July. She’s a medical technologist by trade and did some traveling for her job at one point. She said that one of her greatest experiences was driving from Virginia to Homer, Alaska, with just her dog as her faithful companion. She greatly enjoyed living in Homer with her dog for a few years. She’s now retired and has largely focused her attention on taking care of animals. She’s passionate about both animals and the environment, and loves nature and being outdoors. And Ann just shared with me that she recently became a caregiver for a young boy with autism. Ann’s caring nature is a gift to so many! A few brief words on Ann’s medical history before I turn the floor over to her … Ann always had “stomach”’ problems as had most of her mother’s side of the family. Her mother died of pancreatitis, but Ann points out that mother “never drank in her life.” (Pancreatitis is often caused by alcohol use.) At one point after one of her own many endoscopies, Ann said that the gastroenterologist showed her the films and how the inflammation was severe and ran out of the picture in both directions.

Ann notes that in high school, she was extremely thin and, in fact, she only weighed 105 pounds most of her life. She told me that she has a friend who just became a doctor in the UK and “she knows more about celiac than any doctor that I have seen here!” 

There’s much more to Ann’s story … she’s quite the inspiration. I know you will both appreciate her story and enjoy hearing about her passions and success in life!

Ann McCormack, gluten free, celiac, healthy,

Ann McCormack

When I tell someone that I have celiac disease and am asked what that is; I tell them that it is an autoimmune disease that causes the stomach to be unable to digest gluten. In other words, I cannot eat bread and other stuff or I get sick.

In reality, as many of us know celiac can be a horrible debilitating condition. After many years of being diagnosed with irritable bowel disease, I ended up in the ER one morning in 2008 on the way to work. There I was told I had stomach flu.

From then on I was sick often and always with the same symptoms:  headache, stomach pain, and diarrhea.  In the fall of that year, I walked into work to be told that was my last day due to a layoff of 25 employees in the hospital where I worked. Unfortunately, at the same time, another local reference lab had closed, flooding the market with medical technologists. For the first time in my life, I was unable to immediately find another job.

I became increasingly stressed and sicker. I had no health insurance so did not want to incur huge medical bills so I did what I had always done when sick, rest and try natural remedies. Being unable to sleep until exhausted and then finally waking up in the morning covered from waist down with stool is no way to live.  I started losing my hair and my tongue looked like some kind of swollen purple object. I continued getting weaker.

Finally, I saw a doctor on public television talking about women and gluten intolerance. As I had been eating a lot of sandwiches and pizza while trying to save money, I thought that it was worth a try. Little did I know that learning about gluten intolerance and going gluten free was just the beginning of a long journey.

In spring of the next year, I found a job and had health insurance. On going to an internist, I was told I could have stomach cancer or an intestinal blockage. Tests showed neither of these conditions, so I was sent to a gastroenterologist. He did an endoscopy and biopsies but he was reluctant to diagnose celiac disease since I had healed enough by that time that the tests were not conclusive. In discussing celiac with him, I realized that he knew little about celiac. He said that if wheat bothered me, just not to eat it. Although I never received an official diagnosis of celiac, I do believe that I have celiac and say that I have celiac.

It took me a long time to educate myself about just how many things contain gluten. I had good days and bad. In the mean time, I started having bad arthritis symptoms. It progressed to the point where I was having difficulty walking. At this point, I made a decision that I would not live the rest of my life this way. I would do whatever I had to do to be strong and healthy again.

CrossFit, RARE CrossFit, Fredericksburg Virginia

My son, who is a coach for RARE CrossFit, a CrossFit facility in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Shirley’s note: CrossFit is a “branded” strength and conditioning fitness program. CrossFit combines weightlifting, sprinting, gymnastics, and more.)  He told me about a book “The Paleo Solution,” which was written by Robb Wolfe. Robb is a biochemist who has studied how the body processes food. The Paleo diet is based on those conclusions. A lot of athletes were having great results with the paleo diet and my son had thought of me since the diet is gluten free.

gluten free, paleo, Robb Wolf, The Paleo Solution, CrossFit

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet by Robb Wolf

I began following the Paleo diet which basically meant that I ate lean meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I cook with coconut and almond flours using coconut, olive and other nut oils.  This has been a great help to me and I continue to use this food plan today.

I also saw a rheumatologist who gave me medication and sent me for sixteen sessions of physical therapy. I continued doing the exercises I was taught and began feeling better but still had no endurance.

In November of 2011, once again I was laid off as the lab where I worked was closed. In January 2012, while applying for jobs in Richmond, I came to stay with my son in Fredericksburg for what I thought would be a few weeks. Fate intervened when I saw that his 13-year old lab, Claiborne, was depressed and struggling. I am a huge animal lover and had always dreamed of working with animals. I began taking care of him 24/7 and took early retirement so I could stay with him.

Ann McCormack, Clairborne, pets

Ann and Claiborne

On improving his diet and giving him various supplements, Claiborne became happier and stronger. Because he weighed 75 lbs, I was having trouble lifting and helping him, when needed. My son had been encouraging me to try Crossfit but I resisted saying that there was “no way at my age,” etc.

Ann McCormack, Claiborne, pets, CrossFit

True Love

However, my love for this dog was much stronger than my fear so one day in early spring, I found myself walking into the gym. I had been told that the exercises could be scaled to my abilities but I had no idea that could be so. I had watched the workouts and seen the videos and was intimidated by all those super strong athletes. Besides, I thought everyone would be watching and wondering why an old lady was invading their space. Instead, RARE CrossFit introduced me to a wonderful, caring, supportive community.

CrossFit, RARE CrossFit, Fredericksburg Virginia

Much to my relief, everyone was too busy working on their own to notice what I was doing in my corner of the gym. Not only that but I was offered support and encouragement every day by athletes and coaches as well.

Ann McCormack, paleo, CrossFit, gluten free

Ann in Action at RARE CrossFit

Today, I can lift 63 lbs above my head and pick up 115 pounds to my waist. I am feeling strong and healthy. I do crossfit three or four times a week and take a yoga class once a week.  I have even been told several times that I have been an inspiration to other much younger athletes. It seems that we are all in this together. Celiac has taught me that I have to be my own advocate and to trust my instincts. CrossFit teaches me that I am much stronger than I think and it’s never too late to grow and learn.

gluten free, paleo, CrossFit, RARE CrossFirt, Fredericksburg Virginia

Ann McCormack Demonstrating Her Lifting Abilities

As for Claiborne, he passed away a few weeks before his 15th birthday. I was greatly saddened by his passing but will always be inspired by his ability to live life to the fullest, one day at a time. The day before he died, he walked twice around our building which is a long way for an arthritic old fellow. He, as all my other animals before him, have taught me to live in the moment and that love is the most important thing.

Photos were provided courtesy of  Ann McCormack, Shira Hill Photography, and RARE CrossFit. This post is linked to Allergy-Free Wednesdays.

Not just gf, but gfe!

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18 Responses to “The Down and Dirty on Celiac, Paleo, and Crossfit”

  1. Kristen on April 4th, 2013 11:49 am

    Ann, you’re an inspiration. And thank you for taking care of Claiborne, helping him through his depression and giving him a happy last few years.

    • Ann McCormack on April 4th, 2013 5:21 pm

      Thanks, Kristen. I only aspire to be as strong and loving a being as he was. He gave me so much during his time on earth!

  2. Alta on April 4th, 2013 12:58 pm

    Ann, thanks so much for sharing your story! Such an inspiration!

    • Ann McCormack on April 4th, 2013 5:22 pm

      Thank you, Alta for your kind words!

  3. Cindy W. on April 4th, 2013 1:43 pm

    I’m so glad you found your way back to health, Ann. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Ann McCormack on April 4th, 2013 5:23 pm

      Thanks, Cindy. You know how they say that whateve doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I am an advocate!

  4. Linda on April 4th, 2013 2:09 pm

    Ann, thanks for sharing your story. I really enjoyed it since I have changed my diet (similar to paleo) and increased my exercise in recent months. I’m also a dog lover, it was a joy and inspiration to read. Thanks for your example.

    • Ann McCormack on April 4th, 2013 5:25 pm

      Hi Linda, Sounds like you are well on your way to being stronger and healthier! Remember we are all in this together!

  5. Susan on April 4th, 2013 6:19 pm

    Dear Ann,
    I am so sorry that you’ve had to endure these health struggles, but rejoice that you have found a way to cope and LIVE!
    What a loving person you are to have helped Claiborne. I know that the loss of any pet is painful, but am so glad that this handsome fellow had your support and love to help him. I’m sure your son is extremely grateful to you as well.
    Keep up the good work and thank you for sharing your personal story with us.

  6. Ann McCormack on April 4th, 2013 9:29 pm

    Thanks for your support and encouraging words,Susan. I appreciate you very much!

  7. Vickie on April 5th, 2013 8:16 am

    Ann, thank you for your story! I too have been and still go through some of the same things with Drs. and body. Your story taught me something about myself and you ARE a GREAT INSPIRATION! I know I can make the changes that I need to now.

    • Ann McCormack on April 5th, 2013 9:58 pm

      I support you in your changes.Remember that you are your own best advocate! Good luck and thank you for your kind words, Vickie!

  8. Melissa @ glutenfreeforgood on April 9th, 2013 12:40 pm

    Yes, we are all in this together. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s definitely an inspiring one! Wishing you continued good health.

    • Ann McCormack on April 9th, 2013 10:31 pm

      Thank you, Melissa! I wish the same for you!

  9. IrishHeart on April 9th, 2013 3:59 pm

    You’re a warrior princess! :)
    Your story is inspirational and gives me an added boost of hope. I just began strength training myself after a 5 year battle getting Dxed and now, recovering from the complications from celiac.
    Thanks so much for sharing yourself by telling your story and for being an angel to that wonderful Lab. (I had one for 12 years–she was my “child” and I still miss her 8 years later)
    Continued good health to you!! Cheers!

    • Ann McCormack on April 9th, 2013 10:40 pm

      Thank you so much! You have my support and best wishes for continued strength and good health! I definitely understand about your dog. I lost my yellow lab who was like Claiborne’s big sister over 3 years ago at almost 14 and I still miss her like it was yesterday. It helps to know that she and Claiborne are running free! Good luck and I hope you have another furry friend by now!

  10. Angela on April 17th, 2013 3:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this post Ann! What an inspiring journey! I am sorry that you had to go through so much, but am happy at the same time that you are sharing your experiences with us! I wish you all the best!

  11. Ann McCormack on April 19th, 2013 12:12 am

    Thank you,Angela for your support and kind wishes! I would send them right back your way!

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