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.
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 Ilose 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.
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 takesupplements 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.