Turns out late-night infomercials are good for something other than giving insomniacs something to nod off to.
Elizabeth Yarnell, a naturopathic doctor in Denver who visits the Bookworm of Edwards Monday evening, found inspiration for her cookbook, “Glorious One Pot Meals,” in one such commercial selling a plug-in, straight-out-of-The-Jetsons contraption.
“It said, ‘look you can make your whole meal in this one, counter-top appliance,’” Yarnell recalled.
Using grates, you layered the main dish, the sides and could even cook brownies on top, or so the commercial claimed.
It was 1999, Yarnell was 29 years old, about to get married and had just gotten a devastating diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.
“I asked my doctor, ‘is there anything I can do to help myself not end up in a wheelchair?’ Yarnell said. “Eighty percent of people, within the first 10 years of diagnosis, end up in a wheelchair. You look at the trend line and pretty much everyone goes on steady downhill slope. ... That was not the way I pictured my future. The standard advice was ‘go home, sit on the couch and don’t exert yourself.’”
Despite doctors telling her there was really nothing she could do to help herself, other than taking injectable drugs, she decided to change her diet to see if that would help her disease. She took some cooking classes and researched a healthy diet filled with whole, unprocessed foods. The only problem? She was spending hours in the kitchen cooking from scratch.
Her new goal became to “cook whole foods more often and with less time than what I was experiencing,” she said.
From the kitchen to the bookshelf
When Yarnell saw the commercial and how food was layered between artificial barriers, she immediately headed to her kitchen.
“I thought, wow, I wonder if I could do the same thing with a cast-iron Dutch oven,” a recent wedding gift, she said.
She turned her oven to 450 degrees, layered frozen fish fillets, fresh vegetables and herbs, put the lid on and stuck it in the oven.
“In 25 minutes, it started to smell like dinner,” she said. “It became the way we cooked in our house.”
Yarnell didn’t think much of it until a college roommate came to visit and stayed for a week. At the end of the visit, she asked Yarnell to teach her how to cook.
“She said, ‘I don’t know hot to cook like you do — so easily and everything tastes so fresh,’” Yarnell said.
Eventually Yarnell patented the method, which she calls infusion-cooking. The method, she said, allows you to get dinner on the table in an hour or less, with no more than 20 minutes of hands-on prep work, and just one pot to clean.
Soon after that visit from her roommate, she sat down and wrote a manuscript for the book and spent the next five years trying to get it published.
“People would say ‘it looks like a really interesting cookbook, but no one is going to buy a cookbook from a nobody,’” she said. “It was this terrible Catch 22.”
She eventually decided to self publish the book, in 2005. She began teaching cooking classes and doing presentations at health fairs, and sold 2,000 copies in the first month. Once she’d sold 15,000 copies, Random House picked her up.
“We revised and updated the book and republished in 2009,” she said.
‘The change was amazing’
There are around 120 recipes in the book, recipes that Yarnell cooks for her husband and two children. In the first three years after her diagnosis, Yarnell had three “MS attacks,” she said, one every 11 months or so. Since she changed her diet, she hasn’t had an attack since 2002, she said, and her MS is in remission.
After her son was born, he began to have a slew of medical problems.
“He was sick from birth – failure to thrive, chronic constipation,” Yarnell said. Despite the fact that she was making his own baby food and feeding him healthy, whole foods, he continued to have problems.
“We took him to specialists, had his DNA mapped and no one could figure out what was wrong with him,” she said.
Finally they saw a naturopathic doctor who tested him for food sensitivities, basically “when foods trigger inflammatory responses in the body,” she said. “I thought, ‘well, we’re not getting anywhere, so we’ll try it.’”
After doing a blood test, the doctor said he was sensitive to 41 common foods and chemicals.
“We changed his diet and the change was amazing,” Yarnell said. “In two months, he gained 15 pounds. He was six years old at the time and he stopped having tantrums, started to sleep through the night. Within the six months, the constipation stopped.”
‘A complex machine’
The transformation inspired Yarnell, who was already a certified nutritional consultant and a certified natural health professional, to become a naturopathic doctor in 2011 and a certified LEAP therapist, which means she received advanced clinical training in adverse food reactions, including food allergies, sensitivities and intolerance.
“I thought wow, this is so life changing. I would really like to offer this blood test in my practice.”
She now has a virtual clinic based in Denver and she enrolls clients in her Fight MS with Food project, changing people’s diets “very scientifically, using blood and urine tests.”
“The human body is complex machine that runs off of chemical reactions and nutrients that provide catalysts for reactions to happen and if you don’t provide those, it doesn’t function,” she said.
The biggest thing Yarnell has learned is that “just like MS is a snowflake disease, our food sensitivities are unique for each person as well.”
She’s enrolled a few dozen patients so far in the program.
“Most go into remission and feel a lot better,” she said. “It’s not a cure for MS, but it’s a way to halt the downward slide. At the very least you’ll feel more comfortable inside your body, won’t have this extraneous inflammation going on, and at the best, you’ll go into remission like I have.”
Most of Yarnell’s patients don’t have MS, however. She sees people suffering from migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic constipation, people with chronic sinus issues and more.
“Things you would never think are related to your food, but are,” Yarnell said.