This summer, I am coming up on 7 years since my official Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. If you haven’t read my full story, check out my blog post here where I share my story.
After my diagnosis, I felt powerless and as though I had no control over my body. I initially spent time feeling sorry for myself and watching online videos of people documenting their MS struggles. I would cry while thinking about the future and the possibility of losing my vision, being wheelchair bound, or not being able to feed myself.
In the weeks to follow, I began to do a lot of research and decided to first attempt to manage my MS symptoms by overhauling my lifestyle. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the potential side effects of the MS medications were not something I was ready to resort to at the age of 24.
I dove in to my new lifestyle and began to see results. I was amazed at how good I could feel when fueling my body with whole foods. I became consumed with spending my spare time researching the latest on autoimmune and neurological diseases and the more I learned, the more empowered I felt to help others.
Today I run my own nutrition practice in partnership with my husband, Krishn and work with others who have reached their ‘tipping point’ take control of their health. As I reflect on my journey over the last 7 years, here are 9 things my diagnosis with MS has taught me:
1. Health is not determined solely by the numbers on the scale – like many, I long thought the only reason to eat well was to maintain or lose weight. My MS diagnosis made me realize for the first time in my life that there are so many reasons to nourish our bodies beyond weight. While being under or overweight can certainly impact health, seeing the desired number appear on the scale does not always equate to good health.
2. Health isn’t valued until you (or someone you love) becomes sick: we live in a society of convenience and often give little thought to the state of our health until faced with a health challenge. We now know through the field of epigenetics that while our genes are a factor in disease, it’s our environment and lifestyle choices that determine which genes are actually expressed. This means we must focus on our health before we get sick in the first place.
3. State of mind matters: after being diagnosed, my symptoms immediately got worse and continued to do so until I started to feel empowered and have hope. A positive attitude and employing healthy strategies to reduce stress can go a long way in addressing health problems.
4. The need for nutrition education – our food system is broken and people are more confused than ever when it comes to nutrition. Years of lobbyists influencing food policy, an abundance of processed foods and bad nutrition advice has left people both without a basic understanding of what nutritious food really is and how to best prepare it.
5. The importance of being my own health advocate – it’s nearly impossible to achieve optimal health by taking a hands-off approach. No one else walks in your shoes – you are the one who must educate yourself and decide what’s best for you. Every day there is new research emerging that could factor into how you address and maintain your health.
6. How to listen to my body – over time I’ve been able to identify the primary diet and lifestyle triggers that make my disease symptoms worse. Knowing these triggers and avoiding them helps to keep me feeling my best and my disease symptoms at bay. When it takes a week to recover from consuming a food that causes inflammation or aggravates my symptoms, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s just not worth it.
7. How to say no to unsupportive people and activities – friends, family and acquaintances may seem unsupportive of your efforts to adopt a healthier lifestyle or even worse, downplay the diet or lifestyle decisions you make. Don’t feel the need to defend or justify your choices. Explain you are doing what is best for your health at this point in time and you hope that they can support you. Find a buddy, online community or other group that can help keep you accountable and inspired to stay on track with your health goals.
8. Life is too short to not follow your passion – for over 10 years I had a successful career in public relations. While I didn’t mind my job, I wasn’t overly passionate about it and felt indifferent to my work. My diagnosis, combined with my dad’s passing when I was 7 months pregnant made me realize life is too short not to do what you love. Helping others to take control of their health makes me feel empowered, happy and fulfilled.
9. The importance of evolving – my journey over the last seven years has been one of constant change and growth. As new information emerges its important to evaluate and adjust your beliefs accordingly. I don’t believe everything I did seven years ago and hope my views and approach continues to be very different another seven years from now. If you’re not evolving, you’re not growing as a person.
While my diagnosis with MS has been challenging, frustrating, scary and filled with uncertainty at times, it’s also changed the course of my life in so many positive ways. It’s given me courage, hope and purpose. Now, more than ever before I have perspective on what means the most to me and a clear vision for what I truly want out of life.