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How I Overcame Anorexia And Paralysis, And Reclaimed My Body And Mind

As told by Jaclyn Jacobsen, The Vitamin Shoppe resident nutritionist

My complicated relationship with food started when I was very young. I was always the chubby kid, and after being diagnosed with high cholesterol around eight years old, foods quickly became labeled ‘good’ and ‘bad.’

I didn’t understand how much food could affect my health and my fixation spiraled throughout my teen years. I was eventually diagnosed with anorexia and admitted to an inpatient program at 14. I cycled between improvement and relapse until I went away to college.

At school, I enjoyed late-night pizza just as much as the next college student, but years of depriving my body of calories and nutrients had wrecked my metabolism. My weight crept up and up, and halfway into college I weighed 200 pounds. I knew losing weight in a healthy way would take work, so I cut out the junk food and drinking and started doing cardio daily.

I didn’t understand how much food could affect my health and my fixation spiraled throughout my teen years.

Within a year I’d lost around 70 pounds and was excited about my progress—but my health took a drastic turn. I developed an autoimmune disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome that made my immune system attack my nervous system, leaving me paralyzed. I spent a year in and out of the ICU, hooked up to every machine imaginable, completely bedridden and even unable to talk or blink for about a month. After intense treatments that involved removing my blood plasma and replacing it with a donor’s, I was finally able to go home, start physical therapy, and restart the my life.

A New Lifestyle

Before I became sick, I’d taken the LSATs and planned on going to law school. But when I got home, that didn’t feel right anymore. After finishing college, I got certified as a personal trainer and worked at a gym, tried out a few desk jobs, and enrolled in a Master’s program in nutrition sciences.

While I was studying for my degree (and the exam to become a registered dietitian), I realized just how much our diets affect our bodies, and couldn’t believe I’d taken such poor care of myself for so many years. I experimented with different eating styles, like the high-fat ketogenic diet, and picked my cardio routine back up, sweating through an hour of cardio most days.

photo credit: Jaclyn Jacobsen (@jaxfit1988)

While working as a trainer at the gym, I discovered bodybuilding. The idea of strutting across a stage in a bikini intimidated the crap out of me, but as I finished my Master’s my confidence bubbled up and up, so I decided to start training.

I hired a coach and my workouts promptly switched from an hour of cardio to an hour of strength training most days—plus a few quick HIIT cardio sessions a week. I started eating more carbs to fuel my workouts and muscle gains. Seeing my body change before my eyes motivated me to compete even more. I felt so strong!

I realized just how much our diets affect our bodies, and couldn’t believe I’d taken such poor care of myself for so many years.

Those last few weeks before my first competition really challenged me. We kicked up my cardio and cut my carbs down, which left me feeling pretty exhausted, but I was determined. I had already overcome so much.

photo credit: Jaclyn Jacobsen (@jaxfit1988)

Competition day finally came—and it was euphoric. As I walked out onto that stage, all of those weeks of hard work had built up to the ultimate adrenaline rush. I came in third place and couldn’t have been more proud of myself.

The Reward

Around the time of my show, I started a new gig with The Vitamin Shoppe, providing nutritional counseling to customers at the store. I’m so grateful for the understanding I now have of my health and the role food plays in that, and I love going to work every day and helping others improve their health.

I still strength train almost every day, and plan on doing another bodybuilding competition next year. I feel like a completely different person now than I used to be. I appreciate my body 10 million times more because I had everything stripped away when I was sick.

photo credit: Jaclyn Jacobsen (@jaxfit1988)

Advice For Others

Be prepared for (and embrace) the fact that health and wellness is a lifestyle. There is no quick fix and it’s not a temporary project with an end date. Living a healthy lifestyle requires consistent work. We all trip and mess up on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, but remembering that the goal is a lifetime of wellness will help keep you moving in the right direction.

Jaclyn’s Go-To Products At The Vitamin Shoppe

I love the Garden of Life brand, especially their Dr. Formulated probiotic and RAW ONE multivitamin. I take them both daily. I also like to experiment with superfood powders in my smoothies, oatmeal, and baked goods. A few of my favorites are Sunfood Superfoods’ raw organic maca powder, cacao powder, and goji powder.

If you’re in the New York or New Jersey area and you’d like to book a free consultation with Jaclyn, click here.  

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