It wasn't easy to hear my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. But I've come to see what I thought was a curse, turn into a blessing. I have never been more health conscious and more in tune with my body in my entire life—and I can thank my confused immune system for that.
I was diagnosed with MS in February of 2016. Before my diagnosis, I was thin but not in a super-healthy way. I lived off of small amounts of all the wrong foods and paid no attention to proper sleep, but other than that, my body felt OK. I got MRIs done to investigate years of chronic lower back pain, and they ended up finding my multiple sclerosis instead. I had one lesion on my spine and several on my brain. At the time, I was a little more tired than usual but couldn’t recall ever having any of the related symptoms. I refused medication because to me, the negative side effects from taking them far outweighed how I was actually feeling.
It wasn’t until that summer that I started feeling the extreme fatigue, heat-related tingling and numbness, and after a particularly stressful workday, I developed optic neuritis. That summer, my husband also asked me if I wanted to go vegan with him. For moral reasons, I jumped right on board. Cutting those products out felt good mentally and physically, so much so that I wondered what else my diet could do for my health, especially in terms of my MS.
The foods that help me control my MS.
A quick Google search of "vegan and MS" turned up the Swank Diet and the Overcoming MS (OMS) Diet. In essence, these are particular diets for MS, which stem from a 50-plus-year study by Dr. Swank, of patients following a low-saturated-fat diet (less than 15 grams per day). These patients saw a 95 percent success rate in halting disease progression. I ordered the book from Amazon and started the very next day.
The Swank Diet consists of the following rules:
- Saturated fat (bad oils) less than 15 grams per day.
- Unsaturated fat (good oils) between 30 and 50 grams per day for more energy.
- Maintain proper rest.
- Keep your stress levels low.
The OMS Diet is based on the Swank Diet and follows a very similar approach:
- No meat or dairy.
- Get enough sun and vitamin D.
- Exercise regularly.
About eight months after my diagnosis, and four months after going vegan and starting Swank/OMS, I had follow-up MRIs done. All of my previous lesions had either disappeared completely or had drastically reduced in size. I cried. Knowing I had control over this outcome made it even sweeter.
Why I'm thankful for my MS.
The positive changes the diet had caused in my health were clear on the MRI, but they didn't end there. Changing my diet and my lifestyle transformed my diagnosis and my life in so many ways. Here are just a few of them:
1. I actually love going to the gym every day.
You can find me there first thing in the morning, five to six days a week, lifting weights and doing cardio. It's something I never did pre-diagnosis! I am always conscious of my disease, but when I lift heavy weights or climb 100-plus flights of stairs on the stair climber, I am reminded that I am stronger than my disease. It gives me the push to keep going.
2. My diet is the cleanest it has ever been.
Because of how aware I need to be of what I'm putting into my body, I have realized how much certain foods truly weighed me down. It’s no longer what I "can" and "can’t" have; it’s what I "will" and "won’t" have—and it's all in honor of my long-term health.
3. I appreciate my body so much more.
I now know that my body is not working against me; it is working with me. This shift in perspective makes all of the dietary changes I've made and the exercise routine feel less daunting and less restrictive. I'm not punishing my body for my diagnosis; we're teammates working to overcome it.
4. I found my calling.
Seeing firsthand how important nutrition and exercise have been to my life, while simultaneously knowing that this is not a popular opinion among doctors, I know it's my duty to try to spread this message far and wide. I want to help others begin a journey similar to mine. It's the reason I became a certified nutrition and wellness consultant.
5. I feel in control.
Through this process I've realized that I have so much more control over my health than I could ever have imagined. I have a say, I may not have chosen to have MS, but I have chosen how I live with MS, and I live with it on my own terms.
Today, I feel better than ever. And it's thanks to a combination of things that I am strong and symptom-free: following a plant-based diet, keeping my saturated fat intake low, incorporating daily exercise, and having constant good vibes. I took those lemons that my MS tried to give me, and I really feel that I've made them into the sweetest lemonade.
And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.