Energetic, fit, and unfailingly positive, Jessica Goldman of San Francisco doesn’t seem like someone who sometimes spent 12 hours a day on dialysis in college. But after kidney failure and seizures sent her to the emergency room during her junior year at Stanford University, Jessica was diagnosed with lupus nephritis.

Jessica, a former ballet dancer with vibrant eyes and a constant smile, spent three months in the hospital, then moved home and prepared for a kidney transplant. She put aside pizza, take-out, and a longstanding crab salad habit, and started eating well and resting sufficiently. Her parents shuffled her from dialysis to school, where friends offered encouragement as she began dancing – this time focusing on hip-hop and urban modern styles – and socializing again. “I realized the more support I gave my body, the more alive I’d feel,” she says.

Incredibly, Jessica’s kidneys began to regenerate. She was kicked off the transplant list, and told to keep her salt intake low, because the kidneys filter toxins (like sodium) out of the body. She limited herself to 500 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium per day.

“The problem was that no doctor could ever explain to me where sodium was hidden,” says Jessica. “Cutting out sodium means cutting out packaged foods, of course, but how do you eat out with friends, or when you’re traveling?” She started calling restaurants ahead of her visits, asking the chef to leave a few cuts of meat and vegetables unseasoned. She made cards she gives to friends and servers that explain what she can have, which generate positivity about giving low-sodium cooking a try. And when she travels, she always brings snacks, like low-salt crackers, tortillas and homemade granola. And at home, she uses the freshest ingredients possible.

But Jessica couldn’t always cook. Growing up, she says the only kitchen utensil she could use was the microwave. Reading cookbooks, taking cooking classes, and interviewing chefs, she taught herself to eat practically sodium-free, relying on spices, vinegars, tasty oils and citrus for flavor. Now on her blog, www.sodiumgirl.com, she creates sodium-free versions of normally salty favorites, like Asian foods, and shows readers how to find salt-free substitutes for foods normally high in sodium, like cottage cheese.

These days, Jessica’s lupus is quiet and her kidneys are relatively healthy – she’s even training for a road bike race – but the nature of her disease means she stays diligent about dedicating time to eating healthy foods and resting her body well. She’s recently given up volunteering for the Arthritis Foundation doing community development, because she found her body just couldn’t keep up. “If your life has changed, change your life,” she’s fond of saying.

Now, Jessica focuses on SodiumGirl, blogging daily, researching low-sodium cooking, and writing nutrition-related articles online and for magazines. She’s found the new balance gives her the energy and flexibility she needs to combat the daily fatigue and pain that often accompany lupus, and also allows her to contribute to a community of people in similar situations.

“Whether I’m feeding my soul with things like dance or feeding myself actual foods, I’ve learned I can make myself healthier,” says Jessica.

*Check out Jessica’s 8 low-sodium recipes.