Mt. Juliet's Kelly Ann Monahan says clean, healthy eating is its own reward. "It gives me more energy, and that makes me want to keep eating that way," she explains. "The more you eat this way, the better you feel."
Monahan was a sweets-craving "sugar-holic" as a kid, she admits. But now all that remains of that is the nickname her late father gave her - Sweetie Pie; the nutritional counseling business that uses the same name; and the title of her new sugar-, meat-, and gluten-free cookbook, "Sweet Healthy Living."
The comprehensive cookbook even includes enticing desserts ranging from pumpkin pie to Chocolate Chia Cakes, but the sweetening is provided by stevia, honey, and/or the natural fructose in fruit rather than by refined white sugar.
Monahan's healthy diet - including the tasty recipes that she shares in the book - has made her busy, energetic life possible, she maintains. Monahan may be a nutritional counselor and cookbook author, but on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, she also sits down at the microphone as a weekend disc jockey at WSM-AM, the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Loves life in Mt. Juliet
An accomplished singer/songwriter who performs in the Nashville area herself, Monahan has been working in broadcast radio - starting with doing the traffic report - for most of the 15 years she's lived in Tennessee with her husband, Travis. Most of their residency in the Volunteer State has been in Mt. Juliet, after briefer stints in Hermitage and Antioch.
"I love to be near the water," she says with a smile. "We go to Old Hickory Lake at Shute's Branch."
But now Monahan has added a second career in nutritional counseling, primarily because she has discovered that the correct diet can help her cope with her Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a rare, hard-to-diagnose genetic disorder which affects connective tissue and can cause terrible pain and fatigue.
Monahan's EDS went undiagnosed for years until about five years ago. But doctors now assure her that the health issues she has worked to overcome ever since she was a child are all related to EDS. Throughout those years Monahan's father took his Sweetie Pie from doctor to doctor looking for answers.
Solutions to rare genetic disorder
Monahan went through very complex back surgery in her teens and spent years doing physical therapy which, it turns out, was actually harming her.
Since EDS is a disorder of connective tissue that can cause patients to be super-flexible, all the exercise intended to build up her muscles was damaging their connections, she explained: "No lifting, because the joints go out."
However, Monahan does practice Tai Chi because it's a stress-free form of exercise, she said.
Monahan had already started practicing healthy eating before she was diagnosed with EDS, she said, but it turned out to be a happy coincidence that healthy eating is good for patients with the disorder, she added.
That fact and her extra energy led Monahan to keep studying nutrition and experimenting with creating new recipes. One thing led to another, and now as a certified health coach and a health correspondent for World Christian Broadcasting, she's a cookbook author.
Where to get her book
Monahan self-published the e-book which is available through online outlets ranging from Amazon and Barnes & Noble to Book Baby and iTunes. It also can be ordered by visiting www.SweetiePieHealth.com, and its full title is "Sweet Healthy Living: Delicious, Easy Recipes ... Clean Eating Never Tasted So Good."
"If there's anything I love better than music," she says, "it's cooking good food that's good for you."
The book is all recipes she has used to help fight her problems with EDS. The nutritious, easy-to-make, delicious recipes focus on what she calls "clean eating." As well as giving her a great new sense of energy, eating healthy also helped her to lose 80 pounds, Monahan added.
Actually, she has created a whole new lifestyle to eliminate most of the prescription medications she used to take and still successfully manage her EDS, she said. To alleviate pain, she cooks with natural spices such as turmeric and ginger - "especially ginger, since I like it best," Monahan confides.
"I'm 99 percent sure I am able to do what I can now do because of how I eat," she says.
'Based on Genesis'
Monahan bases her nutritional philosophy biblically, she adds - especially on Genesis 1:29: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."
"Sweet Healthy Living" can greatly benefit nearly everyone, its author asserts. "Its natural, healthy recipes help the body minimize inflammation, a strong contributor to everything from obesity to arthritis to diabetes to heart disease to cancer," explains the Mt. Juliet-based founder of Sweetie Pie® Health & Harmony consulting.
Nor will readers who try out Monahan's recipes suffer from deprivation of the tastebuds.
Among the mouth-watering concoctions featured in "Sweet Healthy Living" are Veggie Pot Pie, White Bean Burritos, Healthy Pizza Plate, Berry Blast Breakfast Smoothie and Iced Lite Latte.
Monahan also dines out sometimes, but usually she takes her lifestyle along with her, ordering carefully from the menu. "I can eat in any restaurant," she explains. "I just bring along a jar of nuts and seeds to add protein."
Sometimes, often on a Sunday, Monahan "cheats" and indulges in less healthy food, she admits. "But I always feel so bad and bloated the next day, I miss all that energy," she says. So her occasional lapses only strengthen her determination to skip such temptations as sugar and gluten.
'Musicians on Call'
Monahan needs her energy for all her other interests and projects, she says. One is performing as a duo with her husband, a session guitarist and relationship manager at Gibson Guitar Corp. who accompanies her - on guitar, of course.
Due to her EDS, Monahan herself can't play most instruments, but she says a venue with a piano makes her feel right at home at the keyboard, which doesn't strain her hands and fingers too much.
A special activity that the couple enjoys is performing for patients at local hospitals on behalf of the nonprofit organization Musicians on Call. They've been active volunteers ever since the chapter's Music City launch eight years ago.
"They always want a gospel song, especially if their illness is serious," Monahan says about the patients' requests. Her favorite floor is the cardiac unit because "those guys really want Christian music after a brush with death," she adds. "They get serious. Other units aren't quite the same - it's nice, but there just isn't the same feel of connection and being needed."
As an EDS patient herself, Monahan also recently started the first known support group for Ehlers-Danlos patients in the state of Tennessee. It can be found by visiting the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation website at ednf.org.
Pet dog, Gabriel, is 'my angel'
Monahan also sings in the choir at St. Stephens Church in Mt. Juliet. She and her husband have no children, but also taking a share of Monahan's time is a cute, fluffy white Bichon Frise named Gabriel, who is a rescue dog. Gabriel originally was adopted by her father, who was looking specifically for the breed.
"They told me at the shelter they seldom get any Bichon Frises," recalls Monahan, who was volunteering there. "So when Gabriel was brought in, I called my father and he adopted him right away."
Her father passed away five years ago, but he was living with Monahan and her husband, so Gabriel didn't have to make a transition to having new owners once again. He also helped Monahan, in a small way, to deal with her loss. "He's my angel," Monahan says.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.