There is nothing worse than feeling so low and thinking to yourself, “I have such a great life, I’m so blessed, why do I feel this way?” These were some of the thoughts we both struggled with for years. What we didn’t know was that the lifestyle we were living was making it almost impossible for us to heal.
Hi! We’re Jill (on the right in the photo) and Jenna (on the left in the photo), founders of Keepin’ Fit Real, a gut health focused brand. If you met us today you’d probably assume we have our s*** somewhat together. Jenna is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Jill has a great corporate job, and we have more than 234K followers on TikTok and over 8K+ on Instagram. But the reality is, this all came after both of us struggled and fought incredibly difficult internal battles.
Our stories are very different, but also very much the same. We grew up in the most stable, loving home possible. Our parents are quite literally the goats. We went to private high school, we were athletic, had friends, and did well in school. But we want to point out that sometimes, none of that matters. We’re going to tell our stories separately, and come together in the end. You might relate to one of us more than the other, but we hope that someone might be able to relate to one of us, and if that’s the case, then you also know you can get through it.
Hi, I’m Jill and I’m the older sister. I played travel softball growing up and ended up getting recruited to play in both high school and college at UNC (and then later at Duke). I started dealing with mental health the summer before I went to college. I remember feeling my chest get tight and my hands start to randomly shake, but I just thought those were pre-college jitters.
When I got to UNC all I wanted to do was start, play a lot, and continue receiving the accolades I won in high school (4 x all conference, all state, all met, 3x all american) and instead I rode the bench and lost all confidence in myself. I started to DREAD playing and I was only in the fall of my freshman year.
To make matters worse, I gained quite a bit of weight, drank a lot on the weekends, didn’t get much sleep and was constantly stressed about school. But, the cherry on top was how poorly I ate. I was constantly hungry and thought that because we worked out every day, I could eat whatever I wanted. I had no idea at the time that this was having a huge impact on my mental health.
I struggled internally for four years. My gut health became terrible. I had IBS, migraines, weekly vomiting from unknown causes, and my anxiety became debilitating. But, no one talked about that stuff. So I didn’t tell anyone really, I just pretended like I was having the time of my life. But when the doors were shut, and the lights were off, I was miserable. My mental health started to show physically. I was tired no matter how much I slept, I was shaky, my IBS worsened and my time on the field was much like my life, up and down.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were absolute highs both on and off the field. But, I could never find any sort of balance with my mental health. It was a roller coaster that I had absolutely no control over. Anti-anxiety medication didn’t help me, therapy helped a bit. But, things didn’t change until I took control of my gut health. I’ll pass the story off to my sister now, before we jump into how we made the 180 degree shift to get us where we’re at today.
Hi, I’m Jenna and I’m the younger sister.
My mental and physical health have always been a battle for me. I was an anxious kid, self-diagnosed myself with OCD at a young age, which ended up being clinically diagnosed along with anxiety in high school when I was prescribed Zoloft (which I took on and off in college). I also dealt with pretty intense scoliosis, stomach issues, multiple concussions, always felt the need to take a nap, and like Jill, everyone thought I was having the time of my life, always.
For the most part, I always swept my health under the rug, occasionally seeing doctors, but I never seemed to put myself or my health 100% first because, again, like Jill said, no one seemed like they were struggling. Everything I experienced was pretty invisible (unless you count the back brace I had to wear for 2 years during 8th and 9th grade).
I experienced many mental health battles, a few in particular were pretty bad, but I’ll spare you the details of my experiences. All I knew was that the way I was living wasn’t what I wanted for myself, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
The sign I needed came during the second half of my senior year of college, when my stomach issues got worse. This turned into chronic bloating, pain, fatigue, frustration, and of course, more anxiety. This progressed post-grad when I finally sought help. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It wasn’t until I found functional medicine that I realized a majority of my ailments stemmed from gut issues. My gut issues (which as a teaching moment, can lead to vitamin/mineral deficiencies which can cause an array of issues like fatigue, hormone imbalances, etc.) had plagued me for years, and got even worse when I wasn’t taking care of myself or putting my health first.
Fast forward to now, I decided to take everything that I experienced and turned it into my occupation. I’m a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and soon to be studying gastrointestinal healing in-depth. I believe with everything in me that good gut health is essential to your overall health, which includes your mental health.
We both experienced different symptoms in different environments. But, the themes remained the same. We struggled with mental health without really knowing how to help ourselves. We were treating our bodies poorly, and in return we got poor results. It wasn’t until we realized every problem within our health has a root cause. Finding the root cause allowed us to actually attack our mental health head on, instead of finding temporary fixes.
We don’t want to overwhelm you with the science behind it. But your brain and your gut have one of the strongest, if not the strongest, connections within the body. The things you consume have a direct impact on your mental health. We absolutely support those who need medication to follow your doctor’s protocols, but we also support being your own health advocate. We changed the way we eat and in return, it changed our lives.