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When She Was Diagnosed With Celiac Disease, She Adjusted Her Lifestyle—And Ran Off 41 Pounds

Runner’s World logo Runner’s World 6/15/2021 Jennifer Cortez, as told to Emily Shiffer
a woman holding a pair of people posing for the camera: “Enjoy where you are at right now in the process. Learn to love your body—it’s the only one you get.” © Courtesy Jennifer Cortez “Enjoy where you are at right now in the process. Learn to love your body—it’s the only one you get.”

Name: Jennifer Cortez

Age: 36

Location: Zeeland, Michigan

Occupation: Caregiver

Time Running: 3 years

Start Weight: 198 pounds

End Weight: 157 pounds

During Thanksgiving 2018, I was having extreme stomach pain. After seeing the doctor and having a few tests done, I learned that I had celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine.


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Before my diagnosis, my eating habits were very unhealthy. I ate cheap, processed foods that weren’t good for me, because it fit into my busy schedule. I always tried the latest fad diet, but I would lose five pounds and quit. The diets were either too hard or too unrealistic to follow day-to-day.

In 2015, when I was 30 years old, I lost my best friend to cancer. It was hard to cope with, and I ate my emotions, gaining 20 pounds. Again, I’d try a new diet and exercise routine, this time CrossFit, but I stopped after losing 15 pounds.

The final straw was being diagnosed with Celiac disease, because I was forced to change my eating habits. If I ate gluten, my stomach would bloat two to three pants sizes, followed by extreme pains and fatigue. It was miserable, so I made some dietary changes and added in exercise.

Before, I never gave any thought to what I ate. I ate pizza, tacos, ice cream, chips, pop, and all kinds of junk food. Now, I count and track macros—I’m not always strict, but I still make good choices. I eat a lot of oatmeal, fruit, veggies, chicken, Greek yogurt, shrimp, and sweet potatoes. I love Whole30 recipes.

A month after I started making these dietary changes, I decided to add in exercise. I knew about the benefits that cardio can have on your body, so I hopped on the treadmill.

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Those early runs weren’t easy—I couldn’t run a mile without stopping. That first one took me 12 minutes. It was overwhelming because I wanted to be good at it right away, and I was frustrated that I wasn’t. But I started running two or three times a week and doing at-home workouts like Beachbody to help build muscle. The further I progressed, I started running with friends and running virtual races.

Following the natural progression of a runner, I kept upping my distances to the point where I have completed a few half marathons. Less than three years after starting, I’m training for my first marathon this fall and my mile time is down to eight minutes.

Since I started running, I have lost over 40 pounds. Running has given me amazing confidence in myself. I started off slow, and I grew stronger, mentally and physically, as a I set and hit goals for myself. Those goals were clutch for me because they weren’t just about losing weight. They included distance, speed, and going out as many days as possible, even if it was just a walk.

The first few years were focused on bettering myself. Now, I want to help others. I host track workouts at the park behind my house. I do fitness challenges with a group of ladies on Facebook. I am also taking classes to becomes a nutrition coach and later a personal trainer. Seeing how reaching my goals improved my life so much, and I know how overwhelming it can be do this and feel alone. I want to make sure they won’t have to.

If you’re embarking on your own weight-loss journey, don’t focus solely on the end goal. That can be overwhelming and daunting. You are more likely to quit if you do that. Enjoy where you are at right now in the process. Learn to love your body—it’s the only one you get. And learn to be your own competition. Every person is built differently. Comparison can rob you of your joy and stop you in your tracks. Don’t worry about others; just worry about you. Focus on what you have achieved and be proud.

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