Has Clean Eating Really Improved Your MS?

Has Clean Eating Really Improved Your MS?
Is cauliflower even worth it?

My next edition of Ask Me Anything About MS addresses the controversial topic of diet and multiple sclerosis. What’s in your smoothie seems innocent enough, but as I started to write this post, I realized this is a very layered discussion with, spoiler alert, a very ambiguous answer.

dmrut asks:
How long have you been clean/healthy eating? Have you noticed any changes or improvements to symptoms? What are the most noticeable?
Tori wants to know:
Have you felt a difference from changing your diet and clean eating?

And Barbara asks:
…What goes in your smoothie? Does any of this have an impact you can sense?
Food makes me feel good. Or it doesn’t. Trying to honour that is a daily commitment. Food lets me feel like I have the opportunity to do something good for my body, good for my MS every time I eat; and in a disease that can feel like it’s taken me hostage, it’s nice to feel even a teeny sense of control. 
By now you know that I’m no doctor. There’s no good reason you should follow my diet because I’ve borrowed a few things; but mostly, I just made it up, and anyway, I’m not exactly cured. 
Because kale doesn’t cure MS. 
Or anything else for that matter. I mean, maybe scurvy. But if you have scurvy, what is wrong with you? (Duh, scurvy.) Stop being a pirate and talk to your doctor. 
Before I launch into clean eating, I need to clean up my conscience. Brace yourselves, Trippers, for social media may have misled you. Sure, I dump a spoonful of flax seeds into my morning smoothie, but I’m hardly a paragon of clean eating. More like, clean-ish eating, like my baseboards, or my mind. They’re clean, but they’re not like, clean-clean. I start every damn day with a bucket of black coffee and end it with a glass of wine, or a martini, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s recommending that. I believe food fights disease, but I don’t profess to know how (inflammation? magic?), and so I try to find the balance that works for me, and that balance includes booze. And chocolate. And if I’m being really honest, sometimes chips.  
Over the years my diet has changed more than a few times. I grew up in simpler times, in a family of five with two working parents, where convenience was king and avocados weren’t yet a thing. I drank soda and ate margarine, and never thought twice about it; it was the golden age of processed foods where bright orange ‘cheese’ slices were considered a legit source or calcium and bowls of tiny cookies counted as cereal. My dad used to make something he liked to call “pig shit and dandelions” for dinner, which I believe translates to ground beef and iceberg lettuce, which back then we just called lettuce, because there was only one kind. Believe it or not, I wasn’t always so sophisticated. 
My obsession with healthy eating began about 10 months and thirty pounds after my MS diagnosis. I was 23 and had returned to France to visit the couple I’d lived with as a teenager studying classical voice. They did not hide their shock and fancy French outrage at my steroid and comfort food-induced weight gain. At a last supper of sorts, I was told I was eating my final bite of camembert and was presented with an encyclopedic tome of how to heal auto-immune disease with diet. 
581 pages, guys. In a second language. So yeah, I needed a stiff drink to get through it.

Normally, when people accost me with miracle cures I lose my mind, but at the time, I was still new to the whole disease thing and I took it to heart. I didn’t know anything about diet and disease and the idea of being able to cure myself this way was intoxicating. The book itself looked so official, so medical. I mean, it was in French, so obviously I believed it. 

I started this super strict, whole food, mostly raw, and completely devoid of joy régime as soon as my plane touched down in Toronto. I dropped all the weight and then some in just 3 months. More importantly, my MS got better. Like, a lot better. Of course I was on interferon and had a disease whose course was inclined to remission, but I gave le diet all the credit. No, that’s not true. I gave myself props too, for being so disciplined and awesome. I wasn’t the only one. My friends and family all congratulated me; proud of how I was kicking some MS ass. I wasn’t like those other people who let their disease get the better of them. I was 

Best. Patient. Ever. 
Of course, you guys know what comes next, but I didn’t. I was shocked when I got sick again. And again. And again. All the credit I’d been taking for my own well-being had turned into disappointment and self-blame. What did I do or eat to make myself sick again? I’d let myself, and everyone around me, down. It had to be my fault. 
And that is fucked up. 
Like, who did I think I was, trying to outsmart my illness? The last time I checked, MS remains an incurable disease. And I should know because I check every five minutes. But just to be safe, let me check again. 

“Hey Siri…”

There is still no cure for multiple sclerosis.

“How ’bout now?”

Stop asking stupid questions.
These days, there are as many multiple sclerosis diets as there are disease modifying drugs. And just like the drugs, the diets have their die-hard apostles who will insist that their way is the only way; and if you’re not buying it, you must not want to be cured badly enough. I will no doubt get more than one message or comment to this effect. Before you ask me if I’ve tried seahorse tears or whatever else worked for you, please remember that everyone’s MS is different; there is no easy one-size fits all answer. The stakes are high with these diets and the pressure from loved ones, the MS community, and even strangers to just eat our way to health can result in an unhealthy amount of blame and frustration. It’s not the diet that failed, it’s the patient.
What the hell? Are you saying diets don’t work? Can I get back to my Big Mac?
Yes and no, and no. Put down the poutine. I had to learn that I can influence my MS, but I can’t control it, and that doesn’t mean I’m not trying hard enough or that I’ve failed. Diet is just one part of my approach to multiple suckrosis, a compliment to an overall plan that includes conventional medicine, a physically active lifestyle, and a few things that ensure my emotional well-being. 

These days my diet is less restrictive than my French foray, but more restrictive than say, what I was doing 2 years ago. I eat fish and lean meats and lots and lots of plants. I avoid gluten, and dairy (except for organic kefir), and sugar (except when I have sugar), as well as most processed foods (an emergency Kind bar, and like, ketchup, because I gave up cheese, I am not giving up ketchup). I take supplements and look for ketones when I can. 
I feel good on this plan. It’s hard to say what the overall impact has been on my MS; because again, I’m not cured, but I believe that diet is a key contributing factor to my best possible outcome. Using food to help manage my MS, or at the very least feel like I’m managing my MS, is a strategy that works for me. Unless someone slips a peanut into my purslane, there is no downside. This isn’t the case for everyone. If you, like so many, have issues with food and dieting, this can get ugly real fast. At the end of the day, we all need to figure out what is helping and what is hindering us. 
Ahem, still waiting for that smoothie recipe.
Right. Like fruity milkshakes, smoothies are so good, it’s hard to believe they’re good for you. I love love smoothies, and could write a whole post about how avocado is the greatest emulsifier on God’s green earth. Smoothies let me start my morning with a jolt of nutrition. I switch up the recipe every day and if you want to follow my creations you can find them on my insta. In the mean time, I will leave you with this one, because, pink. 

Strawberry Rhubarb smoothie

1 cup frozen strawberries

1/3 cup rhubarb compote

1/4 avocado

1 tbsp flax seed

1 cup milk alternative (I used hemp)

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22 thoughts on “Has Clean Eating Really Improved Your MS?

  1. Wow, I don't eat sugar either! Unless I eat sugar. It is so difficult around here (the US, the world,etc.) to avoid the stern gaze and wagging finger that come with Sage Dietary Advice. I wag my own finger at myself plenty, thank you, I don't need any help. Thanks for adding your wise humorous seasoning.

  2. Love this! I try and follow the OMS plan but, you know, life can get in the way. I try and stick to it because it makes me feel like I am doing something to help myself at a time when everything is pretty unpredictable. But I don’t beat myself up over having something ‘non-OMS’, life is too short x

  3. Thanks for contributing to the questions Barbara. Diet is such a confusing thing to navigate, but the secret to smoothies is that they're pretty hard to mess up.

  4. I bet your diet hasn't really done anything toward the MS but your overall health has maybe improved so it makes you feel better. And isn't that whats important ? The way we feel changes day to day so if there is an easy way to make us feel better (even if its only in our heads or isn't) why not do it. When I was diagnosed 5 years ago I went to an MS clinic and was told that diet had no effect at all on MS( I don't know if that's exactly true or not but it kinda makes sense since they still have no idea what triggers it still after all these years) I don't eat very healthy at all but also not to horrible either and over the last few years the MRIs have shown that almost all of my lessions have become invisible to the MRI machines. I only have 3 that show and i used to have so many in my T spine that they didn't even count them the just said numerous. My c spine has 1 in it and it used to have one that covered almost the entire cord and now its like half the size of a dime, also there were a couple there. I have developed one new one in my brain but its basically just a bright dot on the MRI and the other one I had in my brain hasn't changed. So i have been very fortunate to say the least. I bet if I started to do more with my diet I would feel even better and I would attribute that to my diet which I bet wouldn't really be a good way to think about it. Ah well we all know how MS is and it changes so damn fast and often we have no real idea of whats working or not. Well there's my 2 cents and maybe not worth 1 cent but there it is anyway. Live every day like its your last so you don't miss out on the good days.

  5. Sandra Schneider

    I've done a gluten-free vegetarian version of the Swank diet. Was very strict on this and still had attack after attack when I had RRMS. I also went completely carb-free for a while after I transitioned to SPMS. These diets made no impact on my MS or well-being. So, I don't go holier-than-thou on anyone for any choices they make or choose not to make to manage their MS. (Well I do judge people who use tobacco or abuse alcohol, but I probably shouldn't do that either.) Those anecdotals from people who've reversed their MS with the best-bet diet and Terry Wahls program do make me feel guilty, though.

  6. I used to believe you couldn't get more than one disease at a time, but turns out I made that up. So, yeah improving my overall health was a good move.

  7. My son was dx at 39 years old. Health nut like you've never seen. With MS, became a salmon, kale, salad etc nut. Tried it all and with PPMS "progressed" to bed and five years ago, to leaving this earth. Lots more details, of course, but nothing, nothing, nothing changed MS.
    If it works for you, go for it, but don't think that MS is compliant for some. I got so tired of making kale chips and to this day cannot look at salmon. Love your frankness , topics and vocabulary.
    George's (Greek from Detroit) Mom

  8. I try to eat healthy, but I say; ‘if I end up dead and I didn’t eat any cake, I’m going to be so pissed!’ Guess what?! We all end up dead, with or without MS. Eat the friggin’ cake sometimes…..

  9. This was a great post! I have heard so many diets that are "supposed" to be good for MS, but I am not sure any of them really do any good! Thank you for sharing this information and I am looking forward to continuing to read more of your posts!

  10. Whether you're religious or not, our Western Judeo-Christian culture can't escape the judgement and moralizing. It's kinda built in at this point, and it creeps into everything. "Clean eating" is just another manifestation of this inability to slap a value judgement on everything.

    Now granted, it's a very old connection – food and purity, and it's a connection in more religions than Christianity. But even without knowing the religious connection, the label of "clean" always holds its opposite, even if it's unstated. Eat some sugar,or gluten(the food substance that we're demonizing this decade) That's not CLEAN. You're not dedicated enough, self-abnegating enough. You're probably making YOURSELF sick. Sound familiar? It provides a convenient club with which to bludgeon others, but especially ourselves. If you don't eat "clean"(ly) (so sue me, I'm a diehard fan of the adverb) you're to blame for your own plight.

    MS takes so much away from us, and I get that diet is one area that we can CONTROL. And that illusion of control can be pretty seductive. But as many here and in other forums know, there isn't much controlling this beast, and clear causal relationships between anything we do or did or ate or drank or contracted, are actually pretty slim. As Tripping is saying, attribute your good periods to what you DO, to how much you've denied yourself, or how hard you've worked, and MS will rear its head and bite you on the ass damn near every time.

    So ditch the spasms of beating yourselves up. Eat the diet that makes you feel best, but do it because you know it's best for your general health, and not because it's going to keep the beast at bay. And don't deny yourself every joy – like that occasional cookie, or the coffee, or the martini. Especially with MS sucking at our joy, life is just too damn short.

  11. This is a great post and such a realistic way to approach diet and MS. I have been struggling with my MS and looking into diet to see if I get any improvement in symptoms, but have been worried about the frustration that I will feel if symptoms don’t improve. After reading your post, I am going to eat as healthy as I can, but not much too much merit on my MS being “cured”.

  12. Eating healthy for me in general is tricky because I don’t really like very many fruits or veggies for that matter

  13. Joanne K Dickey

    Enjoy the blog. I’m new to it (MS) with a twist, I have degenerative disc disease too. Your blog is the only one I have found that is humorous and informative. I feel less alone just reading. Thank you.

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