WellTheory Certified Nutritionist Jesse St. Jean was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis ten years ago and had a history of chronic health concerns that were consistently dismissed. We sat down with Jesse to learn how a root cause approach to autoimmune care allowed her to get to the bottom of her life long symptoms and gave her the tools she needed to manage her condition and begin healing from the inside out.
Tell Us About Yourself!
My name is Jesse, I’m a Certified Nutritionist, AIP Certified Coach, and the Team Lead here at WellTheory. I have been working as a Certified Nutritionist for the past 5 years. I live with my husband and dog, and in my free time I love hiking, kayaking, running, singing, board games, playing the guitar, and reading novels.
What Is Your Diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) at the age of 19. It took me 6 months from the onset of my symptoms to get a diagnosis but I had chronic health concerns for years before finally finding out I had UC.
Tell Us About Your Early Symptoms and Life Before Diagnosis
I was always considered a "sick" child; I was in and out of the doctor's office with sinus infections, colds, allergies, hormonal issues, and digestive issues. Doctors prescribed me numerous antibiotics and steroids as a result, but my health issues persisted.
In high school, I started experiencing fatigue, brain fog, and respiratory symptoms such as post-nasal drip and head congestion. By my senior year, I was also experiencing constipation, painful gas, and bloating. Eventually, I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and IBS, and adopted a gluten-free diet which eased some of my symptoms.
However, when I was 19 and a sophomore in college, I was officially diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after six months of severe flare-up symptoms, including extreme diarrhea (10-20x per day), rectal bleeding and mucus, weight loss, fatigue, joint pain, and intense abdominal pain. Dealing with this life-changing diagnosis was extremely difficult for me. As a teenager, I had felt like the world was my oyster, and it took several years to grieve and come to terms with my condition. Even now, several years later, I’m still processing my diagnosis.
"With time, practice, and a lot of support, I have learned how to incorporate my condition into my life and embrace what it has added while still holding space for what feels challenging."
What Has Been Your Biggest Struggle With Ulcerative Colitis?
Learning to love a body that felt like it had betrayed me was a significant challenge in my health journey. Even more challenging was learning how to care for myself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis out of self-love, rather than fear. My health journey included some trauma, grief, and body hyper-vigilance that persisted long after my diagnosis. Even now, 10 years later, there are days when I want to throw in the towel because I'm tired or because post-traumatic stress from my past health challenges still resurfaces. However, I've learned that healing is a process that takes time, counseling, and a lot of mental reframing.
I've also come to realize that embracing my new lifestyle for what it adds to my life, rather than focusing solely on the things I can't have or do, has been essential in my journey towards self-love. While I still don't wake up in the morning and think to myself, "Wow! I'm so glad I have this autoimmune disease!," I wake up with a newfound appreciation for my body and its strengths.
Instead of feeling ashamed of my gray hair or extra weight in my tummy, I've learned to be grateful for them. Gray hair means I get to experience another day, and the extra weight means my body is finally getting the nourishment it needed for so many years. Ultimately, it took a lot of physical and emotional healing, but I've learned to love this new person that stares back at me in the mirror.
"I'm thankful for the life that my autoimmune disease has given me."
Get Jesse’s Care Plan
Find out what natural changes Jesse made to her life and how it improved her symptoms.
My healing journey had a lot of ups and downs and it wasn't always a straight path toward healing. Over the years, I've added a variety of tools to my tool belt including dietary changes, supplementation, medication, stress management, and advanced testing that helped me get to where I am today — in remission!
In terms of the tools that were most impactful in my journey to healing, one of the biggest was improving my digestion. By using supplements like enzymes and hydrochloric acid to support the breakdown of my food and heal my leaky gut, I was finally able to absorb the nutrients from the food I was eating. This led to weight gain, which was much-needed, and allowed my medication to work more effectively as there was less inflammation in my gut to manage. My disease was also always severe enough to require medication. That being said, I've tried many medications and failed before I found the combination I'm on now through a lot of research, trial and error, and self-advocating.
Although my journey was long and bumpy, I held on to the little signs of progress along the way. For example, a month after switching to an anti-inflammatory whole-food diet, I noticed that my mind felt clear for the first time in years. And during my first menstrual cycle following this change, my PMS symptoms were significantly improved, with no major cramping or mood swings.
“Overall, it was a combination of dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, supplementation, and medication that helped me achieve remission.”
While there were many ups and downs, I continued to push forward and hold onto the small signs of progress, which eventually led to big changes.
What Did Your Initial Care Plan Look Like?
My ultimate goal was to reach clinical remission of my UC, meaning no active inflammation or disease activity, reduce diarrhea, stop rectal bleeding, maintain and gain weight. Through a combination of shifting my nutrition to focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods, making changes to my lifestyle by focusing on sleep and stress, and finding the right combination of targeted supplementation and medication - I was able to do just that by balancing my body's foundations of digestion, blood sugar balance, and adrenal health.
My care team has always included a specialist (gastroenterologist) and it took me 5 tries to finally find a doctor I felt like listened to me and who I could trust. It's okay to interview and fire your doctors to ensure you have someone you can trust and who listens to your concerns. Other practitioners who have been part of my care team at various times include functional medicine doctors, mental health counselors, acupuncturists, NTPs, and massage therapists.
How Has Your Life Changed With a Foundational Approach to Healing?
My UC has been in remission since 2021 after 7 years of active disease. That means that I no longer experience urgent, painful diarrhea or rectal bleeding. I might have a minor symptom flare-up from time to time (like increased bloating, mucus, or abdominal pain) but I have the tools to manage it now. I feel like I have my quality of life back.
“I can go on hikes without worrying about not being near a bathroom. I have energy to engage in hobbies I used to love, like music, and new hobbies like running. I'm able to plan trips with my husband and just enjoy my life.”
I still grieve the spontaneity I used to have before autoimmunity or the ability to go to any restaurant without having to plan ahead, but I wouldn't trade my life now for anything. I feel so much more confident in my decisions because having a happy and healthy body means everything to me at this stage in life.
Any Advice for Others With Autoimmunity?
My advice for others with autoimmunity is to remember that it's not your fault. There is nothing you did to cause it or bring it on. Sometimes life deals us a bad hand, and it's not fair. It can be tough, but you will learn how to play with those cards to find a new way of living life that brings joy. This process can take time and won't happen overnight. Autoimmune disease just happens. We know there are a whole myriad of factors that can flip that genetic switch and we can spend a lifetime trying to figure out what "went wrong." But the only thing we have control over is what we do with the hand we've been dealt and build something new and beautiful with them.
Give yourself the time and space to find out what your ideal routine looks like to support your autoimmunity. Over 75 days, you’ll incorporate new routines focused on diet, sleep, movement, stress management, and lifestyle to make steady, sustainable progress towards reducing your symptoms.”