Young, Sick and Invisible

My illness has shaped me,
But it does not define me.

Guest Post: 'Alexa's Story.'

Ferris wheel

Hey there! My name is Alexa Federico. I am a 23-year-old living in the Boston area. I have Crohn’s disease, a type of autoimmune disease in the GI tract, which is one of the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (with the other being ulcerative colitis). While Crohn’s is rooted in the gut, symptoms range from typical GI symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, to ones like arthritis pain, mouth sores, weight loss or gain, night sweats, fatigue, loss of menstrual cycle, and more.

Before I was diagnosed I was your typical pre-teen who loved hanging out with friends, playing some sports, reading fiction books, watching movies, dancing, etc. Thankfully, my disease did not prevent me from continuing to do these things.

I worked throughout high school as a babysitter and also had other part time jobs. After college, I decided against using my elementary education degree, deciding that although I was so passionate about teaching, the demanding nature was not supportive of my health. I took a year off to be a nanny and then I enrolled in the Nutritional Therapy Association to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP). Health and nutrition is my other passion, and so earning this degree and starting my own business was the ideal situation for my health. Plus, I always disliked the idea of reporting to someone else and not having control of my schedule. Entrepreneurship for the win!

I was 12 years old and my symptoms came out of nowhere and started mounting on each other until I became very sick. That is when doctors had no choice but to listen to me. My beginning signs were knee pain, mouth sores, stomachaches after eating and feeling tired. Then I started losing weight, having night sweats, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

I was hospitalized for about 10 days and was given the diagnosis after many tests. It was a relief to hear that there was a name to what was going on with me. Although scary to hear as a child, my parents were with me through everything so I didn’t feel like I was alone at all. My friends were also wonderful during this time. Nothing changed with them, and they adapted as needed to me. I eventually had to change my diet drastically, and this was one of the hardest parts. But like any big change, it got easier with time and I was able to stick to it because I saw results and never wanted to be so sick again.


I didn’t do a lot of research at the time, but my parents did. They went to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation educational seminars. At that age, I didn’t want to dwell on my Crohn’s so I resisted talking or learning about it. Where do you flare ..? - describe a flare Flare ups for me consist of a lot of fatigue, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. I may also experience night sweats, joint pain, or nausea if it is advanced. Vomiting is in extreme cases.

The fatigue from Crohn’s can be whole-body-exhausting, even if I have barely moved for the day. The stomach pain is different than any other GI distress I have felt. It’s so hard to explain, but I can distinguish a Crohn’s stomach ache or nausea from that of a virus or something else.

Flares can vary from weeks to months or years. I have not had any severe flares aside from my diagnosis, which was my worst experience. Rather, I had experience “mini flares” that might last a week or tw. It is hard to determine a full on flare for Crohn’s that is separate from experiencing symptoms for a short period of time.

I manage my flares by getting a ton of rest first and foremost, eating a basic soothing diet, drinking warm tea, taking activated charcoal, and living with a heating pad always nearby. What are your main triggers ..? Food is my #1 trigger. Common inflammatory foods like gluten, some forms of dairy, refined sugar, corn, and soy are some of the most common foods I avoid, but there are others. Being a GI disease, it is so important for me to eat nutrient dense, whole foods to nourish myself. Stress is also a trigger, as well as a lack of sleep and moldy environments.

I regularly supplement with vitamins and minerals that I am deficient in and get these checked semi-regularly. I take the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K2), magnesium, calcium, iron, B12, a multi-vitamin, and probiotic. Because Crohn’s disease is inflammation in the gut, this impairs absorption so I do not absorb everything from food. This coupled with our food being not as nutritious as it used to be from depleted soil, these supplements help to fill in the gaps.

My biggest tip would be to always love your body and care for it! Your body has not turned against you, it is trying to protect you. It may be confused, but your body just wants you to stay alive and thrive. Find ways to cope in a healthy way like gratitude journaling, a yoga practice, meditation, nature walks, and having a supportive group of people in your life. Self love is so important.


I could do without the flares and food restrictions but overall I have gained way more positive things than negative with Crohn’s! It led me to my passion of holistic health and using food as medicine for chronic illness management, it helped me turn me and my family’s eating habits and therefore health, around, and I turned to blogging and writing a book to help other people going through a similar situation.

To stay positive I write in a gratitude journal to remind me of big and little things around me I have to be grateful for. There is always something to be grateful for! I also look at how far I have come over the years. I remind myself I have gotten through hard times before and they do not last forever. I ask myself what can I do today to get me a little closer to my goal.

My hope for the future is to marry and have healthy children, continue working as an NTP and autoimmune paleo health coach for people wanting to learn how to use food as medicine. I plan to travel lots in the future as well. Oh, and write more books and start a podcast!

- Medicines described in this blog are prescribed to this individual by their Doctor. Always consult your Doctor about what is best for your needs before taking any medication -

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