In early 2021, Tom and Rachael Sullivan found viral fame when Rachael shared a TikTok about discovering a food-related Instagram account her husband had been secretly keeping. He did it, Tom explains, after Rachael's diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) led him to research holistic approaches to help his wife balance her hormones, as they someday hoped to start a family.
"We found we may be able to tackle the symptoms and the hormonal imbalances from a holistic approach instead of medication," he tells Yahoo Life. "One of the issues with PCOS is you're not ovulating on schedule, and that can make having a family very hard. That was on our plate, to try to start a family. Without ovulating, that's kind of tough."
Tom documented the grain-free, dairy-free, anti-inflammatory meals he'd been making for Rachael — in hopes of helping regulate her hormones — on Instagram at Meals She Eats. But for the North Carolina home cook, the account was just a place to store recipes his wife enjoyed so he could make them again.
"I literally had everything everywhere," he recalls, "Pinterest, Safari, hand-written notes — now that we were going to approach this and really focus on healing her body, I wanted to focus on those types of food and remember how I made these meals."
Within days of Rachael sharing her touching TikTok about the account, Tom's follower count went from a few friends and family members to over 5,000. Eighteen months later, Meals She Eats has nearly 350,000 followers. The couple will also release a book, Meals She Eats: A PCOS Diet and Lifestyle Guide for Thriving with Your Diagnosis in March 2023.
But Tom's meals were more than just a sweet gesture. Rachael says although she formerly had unpredictable painful periods, she believes "her body was restored" by her husband's well-thought-out research and recipes.
"Once we started really using food and synching with my cycle — getting rid of gluten in my diet and sticking to anti-inflammatory foods and natural foods and eliminating that processed element — my cycle came back within three months," she says. "It was every 32 days on the dot. We really wanted to make sure this worked for my body, so we went a whole year before we really dove in and started trying [to get pregnant]. It took less than six months."
When she learned she was pregnant, Rachael found a sentimental way to tell Tom the good news, using a relic from their dating years that had remained in their home. "When we'd first started dating, we went to a restaurant and Tom wrote on a table cloth, 'Will you be Rachael Sullivan?'" she shares. "We laughed and joked and I kept that table cloth. When he proposed he used a picture from that day with that tablecloth so on the morning of our wedding, I gave it to him framed and playfully I've always said I wanted it to be in our nursery."
"I always knew that was the way I wanted to tell him [I was pregnant]," Rachael adds. "I said, 'We should hang this up in the nursery,' and he was like, 'Well we need a baby for that,' and that's when I pulled out the pregnancy test."
The news was a shock for the couple, who assumed fertility would be a struggle given Rachael's PCOS diagnosis. "He said, and I quote, 'Are you f***ing with me?'" says Rachael. "I didn't think it'd happen that quick. After you see your first few negatives, it's like, we've been married for five years and we haven't gotten pregnant and now we're actually trying and getting these negatives. You don't think it's going to happen, so the fact that it did was a remarkable moment."
Once the good news settled in, the couple did what they always do — headed to the kitchen to celebrate. Starting when she was 11 weeks pregnant, the Sullivans posted a weekly photo of Rachael's belly along with whichever food their baby was the size of that week, according to a pregnancy app.
"There was a lot of fear about not having a family, so I figured we were going to celebrate it as much as we could," says Tom. "We weren't going to wait until the baby was here — we were going to celebrate every day because the reality is, you don't always make it to the end. We wanted to make sure each day meant something, and the food brought us back to seeing the baby grow and sharing a meal and having a little birthday party."
"Every week we'd go to the farmer's market and pick out what the food was going to be," Rachael adds. "I'd get to pick out our outfits and make them match — whether that was me wearing a fruit titty shirt or Tom's shirt matching the color scheme."
"We never took a break," she continues, "even when we were on our babymoon in Cabo, we worked with the chefs to make jicama that week and they helped us prepare a whole meal around it. We embraced every single week of it."
The couple — and their followers — also embraced a sweet nickname for the baby: Torta. "It's my favorite thing ever," Rachael says. "Right after I found out I was pregnant I ate a bunch of tortilla chips and I had a little food baby. I posted a picture of it and said, 'We will call my food baby Torta after the insane amount of tortilla chips I just ate.' At this point, I was the only one who knew I was pregnant, but the nickname just kind of stuck."
Until baby Sutton was born, in fact, she was referred to as "Torta" by all. Since the couple didn't find out the sex of the baby until she was born, the affectionate nickname felt more like a first name. When she arrived, however, they knew exactly what they wanted to name their infant daughter.
"Her name is Sutton Ryleigh Sullivan," says Rachael, "and Sutton's is actually a restaurant Tom and I would meet up at halfway when we were dating long-distance ... when we got pregnant and were thinking of names, that was the first name we came up with. It reminds us of our past and has such a place in our hearts."
"We spent two years dating hours apart," adds Tom, "and that was the one place that brought us together. It took a lot to get through that, and the restaurant is part of why we're still together today."
The couple kept mum on both the baby's name and sex for a few days after her birth. For the social media reveal, they used a sweet suggestion from a follower, filming Tom sharing Sutton with the world after Rachael asked a classic line from their food videos, "Honey, what do we got?"
"I let Tom have a moment with her," Rachael says of filming the video, which shows an emotional Tom announcing that the baby is a girl. "I had no idea when he turned around that it was going to be a waterworks show with that much emotion. It was way more touching and emotional than I expected it to be."
Tom says sharing his family's journey on social media has been humbling, as both he and Rachael have realized in sharing their own experience with PCOS, food and fertility, they've helped others.
"Daily we get people who pour out a lot," he says. "People sharing they started a family or they're pregnant and our page gave them direction in their journey. I feel like those fueled us to finish writing a book as we were trying to start a family, and it will continue to fuel us to advocate and share our life openly."
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