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Finding Healing with Food

Thank you to Ashley Markel from Simmer & Sprout for guest posting and sharing her family’s story of finding healing with food.

Our path to Paleo as a family was not a straight line; it was more of a dotted, twisty line.  Our family struggled to connect all of those dots and follow all of those twists along the way.  That’s what makes sharing our journey both tough and hopeful for other families.  

The path wasn’t all pretty.  In fact, a lot of it was scary and full of “whys”.  Today, our family has come so far on our journey to healing with food that it’s hard to imagine going back to the standard American diet.  

We struggle with restaurants, birthday parties, and even school.  I struggle with explaining our choices to our three children aged six, three, and two.  I struggle when I’d love to buy them that sweet cartoon character cupcake as we stroll through the grocery store.  I also struggle, because our path to Paleo wasn’t completely voluntary and, at first, it added a lot of stress and work on my part to feed our family “real” food.

We are reaping the rewards, and that’s what makes this journey worth it.

I have always had a mild sensitivity to milk, and my oldest did as well after birth.  She tolerated soy formula well, ‘so life went on’ as they say.

Our journey truly began when my second child was born.  She entered the world in true dramatic fashion, and to this day, still lives for drama.  

She refluxed shortly after her delivery and ended up in the NICU for monitoring.  Little did we know at the time, that moment was one of the many we’d later say “hindsight’s 20/20”.  She continued to fuss, experienced abdominal pain, developed extreme diaper rash, along with typical, textbook reflux symptoms.  

In lieu of time (and word) constraints I’ll get right to the point.  By around 10 months of age, she was on two reflux medications, diagnosed with asthma and prescribed asthma medications, experienced chronic ear infections, blocked tear ducts, developed a severe oral aversion (other than a bottle) which led to intensive feeding therapy and well, let’s just say, the child never slept.  She. Did. Not. Sleep. Ever.

After trying soy, which only created more problems, switching to hypo-allergenic formula, adding medication after medication, avoided dairy in food, tubes placed in her ears at one year, tear duct surgery, and barium swallows, it took a feeding specialist who pushed for us to force the change in formula.  It took her having a different perspective that opened the door for us to do more homework ourselves and push the envelope with the doctors.

For our little drama queen, negative allergy test meant multiple doctors wouldn’t agree that she had an allergy or sensitivity of any sort.  End of story.

She was just a hard baby.

She was just a hard baby who comfort fed from a bottle (eating for some reflux-ers actually makes them feel better while the milk is going down), but wouldn’t open her mouth for a spoon or a cookie.  

She was just a hard baby with a list of medications, adverse reactions, and surgeries under her belt longer than this post.

Now I will never say that there isn’t a place for medicine, or surgery, or a doctor’s expertise, ever.

But we needed another doctor, a different kind of doctor, to weigh in.

Given her issues, we were led to a pediatrician that specialized in allergies and asthma.  Within five minutes in his office, he told us “It’s clear she has a reaction to dairy”, and with one little piece of paper (a prescription for truly, completely broken down, hypoallergenic formula) he changed the trajectory of her life and ours.

Healing began almost immediately and she was off all of her medications within weeks.  That’s a true story.

Flash forward two years.

She gets her drama from her daddy.  My husband discovered two years ago he has what appears to be Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.  I say “appears” because they’re no way to positively test for this sensitivity.  You get a diagnosis but not having Celiac’s Disease, but relief from symptoms when avoiding wheat.  

The questions that were answered after removing wheat from his diet, spanned over his entire adult life.  In true dramatic fashion, his improvements in health were not only physical.  

Anxiety that had plagued him for over a decade disappeared.

So while we were already starting to make huge jumps into the Paleo world, we hadn’t completely eliminated all wheat in every lunchbox leaving our house.

Another big a-ha moment followed.

For all the improvement in our little drama queen’s life, she had still been a pretty rough sleeper.  We chalked it up to over a year of bad habits.

Until we removed wheat and gluten from her diet, pushed by seeing the changes in my husband’s anxiety… and then she slept.

Dramatic story, I know, I know.

I’ve honestly just scraped the surface of our journey here.  So many times we felt so lost, and so many times I kept asking “Why can’t I just order a pizza tonight?”

While our path was forced, our path showed me in blinking, bright lights, that food was the first line of defense, food was the best medicine, food was a great place to start.  

That’s not to say my kids never get sick or never need medicine for an illness.  That’s also not to say that there are not cases where medical intervention is absolutely the best choice.  But we often struggle as parents, and patients, to weigh the risks associated with ingesting medicine against the benefits the medication might bring.  

I’m advocating that we weigh those same risks and benefits any time we put something into our bodies, including the food we eat every day.

So how did I make the change with three little PB&J eaters in the house?

Here are my top 5 tips for making a successful transition to Paleo with kids in the house.

  1. Don’t overthink it by trying to “duplicate” your favorite recipes out of the gate.  Think veggies, meat, and fruit.  Think variety.  Then go for it.  Duplication will come later.
  2. Lunchboxes won’t look the same as they did before.  See number 1.  Search for bento box lunches to get ideas for making visually appealing and colorful combinations of… you guessed it, veggies, meat, and fruit.
  3. Cut the snacks.  Packaged snacks will almost never be Paleo or clean.  A banana or apple dipped in sunbutter or grapes and good quality nitrate free lunch meat will do just fine, especially when it’s cut in cute shapes or packed in colorful containers.
  4. Find one amazing cookie recipe and one amazing pancake recipe that your kids like and mass produce.  You may laugh, but kids like cookies and pancakes.  I also like my kids to have kid moments.  This lifestyle is not about deprivation.
  5. Lead by example.   Make real food choices and lead your kids by example.

finding healing with food



Ashley Markel Simmer and SproutAshley is a wife and mother of three managing a household of allergies and food sensitivities.   As a southern transplant and lover of comfort food, she is driven by her desire to serve delicious food to her family and to simplify the task of offering up real, nutritious food, every day for busy mommas.  She teaches families that living a healthy lifestyle, fueling our bodies, and thriving do not have to be boring, tasteless, or complicated. Follow Ashley at, on Facebook at, and on Instagram @simmerandsprout.



7 thoughts on “Finding Healing with Food”

  1. What a difficult journey you’ve been on!

    I know how hard it is to be hungry and needing to eat but the consequences of eating are just awful. We’re in the process of trying to determine what is causing everything and I’m interested to see if we too will land up on a path simile to yours.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I love your post! It’s so honest and real. Specifically love this “This lifestyle is not about deprivation!” Thank you for sharing. This post can really be applied to any lifestyle food change for sure. Thank you!!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ashley. Finding the right healthy diet has been a bumpy road for my family as well. But it’s so worth it as we enjoy our meals and experience healing.

  4. Kimberly @ Berly's Kitchen

    This is an interesting post. Your second child sounds similar to my only, minus the surgeries. However, we’re still eating “real” food, and we do have our share of health issues. Good luck in your journey. 🙂

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Hi friend!

I’m Marian Mitchell, Health Coach, Chronic Illness Warrior, Mom, and Food Lover. I help you navigate the food and lifestyle side of Chronic Disease Management with coaching, meal plans, recipes, podcast, and this blog. You can thrive without eating the same 4 things every day. I’m here to show you how.

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