Armed with a camera and standing on her granite kitchen countertop, wellness and nutrition blogger Michelle Hoover hovers over her latest masterpiece to get the perfect shot.
Hoover has reached over a million people with her autoimmune protocol, Whole30 and Paleo recipes via her blog, UnboundWellness.com. Her recipes are a labor of love, but they are also created out of necessity. At 17 years old, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid.
Hashimoto's affects 14 million people in the United States alone, and women are 7 times more likely to have Hashimoto's than men. Because of this, Hoover thought she would be able to find online communities tailored to living with Hashimoto's and other autoimmune diseases. Instead, she found nothing.
Photo by Justin James
“I just felt so isolated. I felt like nobody in the world could relate to me," says Hoover. “I knew that all these women had this problem, I just didn't know where to find them."
After years of dealing with aversive symptoms, she decided it was time for a lifestyle change, and created her blog to document the process. Now a multi-faceted media brand, Hoover has been able to share her story while creating the online community she once sought after.
A diagnosis doesn't automatically initiate behavior changes. An answer to her mystery symptoms of fainting, heart palpitations and weight fluctuation came when she was 17, but Hoover did not start taking her health seriously until she was 23.
Hoover was afraid that making lifestyle changes revolving around her autoimmune disease would drastically alter the way she was living. As a young woman, she wanted to remain independent while continuing to eat the foods she grew up loving. “I knew that diet was highly correlated with autoimmune disease, but I just never wanted to commit because I love food so much," says Hoover. “I was afraid of giving up gluten and giving up dairy because I was so set in my mind that I could not live a life that was fun and spontaneous and social if I wasn't able to walk into a party and eat pizza."
Her turning point came when she was faced with the threat of emergency surgery. Years of constant inflammation was wearing her body down, so she decided to do whatever she could to experience a full life. “That shift in mindset is what really helped me to be able to experience better health, that's what led me to start my blog," she says.
Unbound Wellness came to life in 2015. At first, it was a doubt-filled personal hobby that mirrored the limited mindset Hoover experienced when she was first diagnosed with Hashimoto's.
Her doubts started to shed nine months in, when she created a post about weight gain, a Hashimoto's symptom that challenges many women with the condition. “It wasn't until I saw hundreds of people sharing on commenting on it that I thought, my story does mean something to people and I can contribute something valuable to the conversation, even if I'm not the only person who has gone through this," says Hoover.
“I think nailing down your brand and making it really personal no matter what you're doing is key. Your customers are people, and people relate to a story." Photo by Karla Janneth
Around the same time, she created a recipe that now has over 111K shares on Facebook and Pinterest: Healing turmeric AIP balls. “The concept of making healing food fun and easy and being real, I saw those things really resonating with people. I started to run with it.
At my core, that's what I really wanted to do, I just didn't know anyone wanted to hear it."
Today, Hoover's recipes and blog posts garner over 2.6M monthly viewers on Pinterest. But more than that, she engages with her community in a way that inspires them to heal themselves through food.
“You need to have that core of a personal brand and constantly keep your eyes and ears on what is working and what you can improve on," says Hoover. “I always ask myself, how can I serve people in a way that is easy for people to consume?"
To scale her brand, Hoover launched other business initiatives outside the traditional blog outlet. She became a certified nutritional consultant and saw clients one-on-one, wrote an e-book and began a nutrition podcast. “I feel like to make in in this online content world, you can't depend on just one platform," she says. “If you want to build a brand where people really connect with you, you have to meet them on multiple levels."
Hoover says it wasn't until the second year of Unbound Wellness that she realized she could make a full-time salary from it. She was already doing sponsored posts from smaller brands who sought her out, but wasn't taking Unbound Wellness to its full potential.
“I decided that I was getting enough traffic to where I can seek out sponsorship opportunities and work with premium ad networks," says Hoover. “Once I started seeing those numbers I thought, oh, I can actually do this."
There are a lot of steps that need to be taken to captivate an audience and turn it into a monetization strategy. For Hoover, that has involved staying true to her niche of serving the autoimmune community and putting herself at the forefront. It has also meant being proactive about brand relations.
Hoover is about to launch a second e-book and hoping to expand it into group coaching. She is also coaching other nutritional therapy practitioners and bloggers about developing and expanding their business.
Some advice for those getting serious about the blogging business: It takes time to get noticed. Time and creativity, especially within the food and nutrition space, says Hoover.
“You have to get crazy creative. Which is hard. I was nightshade free for months and months, so I figured out how to make a nightshade free marinara sauce. I just made a recipe today on zucchini enchiladas. There's always a way."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."