“You have tons of lesions all over your brain, you definitely have MS.”
I stood there shell shocked. After years of symptoms leading me to countless doctors, neurologists and late night MRI appointments, it was the diagnosis that had long been suspected. Even though I knew MS was a possibility, receiving confirmation of the disease hit me hard (not to mention delivery of the news wasn’t exactly how I had imagined.)
As I stared blankly at my neurologist, I felt as though my mind hovered outside of my body. He was going over high-level treatment options, where to pick up copies of my MRIs, my need for an occupational therapist and timing for seeing a specialist. Although I saw his lips moving, I didn’t take in a word he said and left feeling empty and overwhelmed.
My symptoms immediately got worse after being diagnosed. I initially spent a few nights feeling sorry for myself and watching online videos of people documenting their MS struggles. I’d cry while thinking about the future and the possibility of losing my vision, being wheelchair bound, or not being able to feed myself. My legs were weak and I was having so many issues with my balance that going out in public was a huge source of anxiety for me. I couldn’t imagine things getting worse than they already were and was suddenly forced to think about the possibility.
In the weeks following my diagnosis, I did 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 weren’t particularly pleasant (or something I was ready to resort to at the age of 24.)
Given I was dealing with a serious condition, I knew I would have to be very strict with my diet and lifestyle. I dove in and quickly began to see results. I was amazed at how good I started to feel and even noticed improvements to issues not associated with my MS.
I spent all my spare time reading and following the latest research on autoimmune and neurological diseases. I stumbled upon the work of Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, staff physician at Iowa City Veterans Affairs Hospital, and clinical researcher with over 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Dr. Wahls has secondary-progressive MS and was able to restore her health and get rid of her wheelchair using her education and experience in the areas of research, medicine and nutrition. Seeing others like her who were using the power of nutrition to aid in relieving chronic disease symptoms was incredibly inspiring to me. As I continued to learn, the more empowered I felt to help others and made the decision to pursue further education in the field of nutrition.
For the most part, I have continued to thrive since first being diagnosed with MS six years ago and going on to start my own nutrition practice. People are often surprised to learn that I have a neurological condition given I appear to be healthy, but I have definitely had my share of ups and downs over the years.
Last August, while seven months pregnant with my first child, my dad passed away unexpectedly. My grief, coupled with being a first-time mom, took a toll on me. My healthy eating began to slide, I wasn’t sleeping or working out, and MS symptoms quickly began to flare up. I had unbelievable joint pain (especially in my fingers and knees), my balance was off and I struggled to get up with my daughter at night.
I remember thinking about how happy my dad had been to watch me make such remarkable improvements through nutrition – the last thing he would have wanted was for my health to decline after his death. I envisioned chasing after my daughter as she grew up and knew I couldn’t sit back and accept that MS would win the war on my body.
The struggles I experienced after my dad passed reaffirmed my desire to help others adopt healthier lifestyles. They also reminded me that no matter what is going on in life, I must make my health a priority. There will always be obstacles that derail us from the path we envision, but it is our perceived ‘failures’ and darkest times that help us to evolve, discover who we are and what we value the most. It is these realizations that bring about change.
The most common question I’m asked today is whether I am ‘cured’ of my MS. In response, I would defer to the World Health Organization’s definition of health which states that health does not merely mean the absence of disease, but is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Keeping this in mind, we can’t simply assume that someone is ‘healthy’ just because they have never been ‘diagnosed’ with a health condition. This can be demonstrated by cardiovascular disease and the many people whose very first indication of a problem is a heart attack itself.
Yes, my symptoms can appear at any time, but we all have the ability to show signs of poor health. I don’t feel that you can treat the body poorly and expect to sustain optimal function in return. By focusing on prevention, following the latest research and making better choices, I believe that I am adding less ‘fuel to the fire’ and that there is an element of health that is still within my control.
A diet rich in whole foods containing anti-inflammatory and therapeutic properties, in addition to a healthy lifestyle has helped me to best support my body based on its bio-individual needs. Whether you’re tired of feeling crappy and don’t know where to begin, trying to manage symptoms of a chronic health condition, or on the cusp of your ‘tipping point’, you too can learn what makes your body feel and perform the best.
Knowledge is power. Be your own best health advocate… no one else can take control of your health for you.