CrossFit, Nutrition Helps Jen Wells Keep Multiple Sclerosis at Bay
It all started with some pain in her upper back while she was on a plane to South Africa six-and-a-half years ago.
- “OK, I have a heavy backpack. I’m traveling. I’m on a plane,” said Jen Wells, a professor at Kennesaw State University, of how she brushed the symptoms off.
But as the pain progressed, and she started getting pins and needles and numbness in her feet that wouldn’t go away and eventually moved into her legs, the long-time CrossFit athlete at CrossFit Bound in Kennesaw, GA knew she needed to look into it.
When she returned home, doctors found a lesion on her spine and six weeks later she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disorder without a cure, where the body’s immune system attacks the protective covering of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
- “It was a relief to finally have answers…but it was terrifying,” she said.
Wells Today: Wells, now 44 and a CrossFit Level 2 coach, has learned to both live and thrive while living with MS, and she credits this 100 percent to nutrition and her continued commitment to CrossFit.
After she was diagnosed, Wells did a lot of research and determined it would be best for her to cut out all foods that could possibly be inflammatory—including dairy, gluten and sugar—and adopted a diet that largely looks like the Paleo Diet, leaving her to eat mostly meats, fruits and vegetables.
Then she approached her coach at CrossFit Bound to make sure he was OK with continuing to work with her.
- “Will you still work with me? Are you going to be nervous working with me?” she asked him. “And he was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ Let’s do this. Let’s figure this out.’”
Together, they figured it out and it has helped Wells largely keep her symptoms at bay for the last six-and-a-half years.
- “You would not know from looking at me that I have MS,” she said.
That being said, there’s still a quiet battle going on inside that Wells “fights every day,” she explained.
Some days, this means she experiences extreme bouts of fatigue, and when she sits too long she experiences joint pain and stiffness. And some days, movements like box jumps just aren’t going to happen for Wells.
- “And every now and then it’s like, I have to sleep right now. It’s immediate. I have to rest,” she said.
And Wells knows if she takes a day off her strict diet, or she goes a day without moving enough, “it could mean six weeks of not healing something or being numb,” so it’s just not worth it because “nothing tastes as good as walking feels,” she said.
But for the most part, Wells is healthy and thriving, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed with her doctor.
- “Every time we meet, he’s like, ‘You’re doing so well. I don’t know how to get other people to do this,’” she said.
Wells added: “Some people could look at me and go, ‘She has a really mild version of MS, so that’s why she’s doing really well.’ But I’m doing well because I’m fighting every day.”
The big picture: Wells is adamant that nutrition and CrossFit is at the heart of what’s letting her defy the odds living with MS.
Recently, she tested her back squat and hit 265 pounds “and immediately fell down and cried,” said Wells, who trains four to five days a week and coaches part-time.
- “I’m not supposed to be able to do those things, and I did it,” she said.
She continued: “I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t found CrossFit. I just feel like I’m a whole new person when I’m there. I can have a bad day and walk in there sobbing and leave feeling like I’m ready to tackle the world.”
“I’ll never stop doing it.”