Warning: It’s about to get all diet-y up in here, and in addition to all the unfair body-image issues we already deal with, for whatever reason, chronic illness seems to invite a whole new level of judgement. Always remember: MS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. If you have any history of eating disorders, this is not the treatment plan for you. This isn’t medical advice. This isn’t even regular advice; it’s just what I’m doing. Always talk to your doctor.
There’s a lot of buzz about fasting and ketogenic diets for brain health and MS; and call me basic, but I love a trend, a fad, and even a craze. So when my naturopathic doctor (ND) suggested I try the Fasting Mimicking Diet™ (FMD), I was like, cool, sign me up. And while you’re at it, I’ll have an aperol frosé after I put on this oversized hat, and dig out my 90’s bike shorts. S’il vous plaît.
|Regular sized hats are so last year.
More than a ketogenic diet (which I’ve tried before), the FMD is a 5-day plant-based plan that tricks your body into thinking it’s not eating, thus thrusting it into survival mode. The idea is to reduce inflammation, boost cellular rejuvenation, reset the immune system, and stimulate the body’s own stem cells.
Intoxicating words for someone with MS.
Here’s a boring link some captivating science you should totally read, or at least make your doctor read, if you have any intention of trying to temporarily starve yourself to health.
While there are different interpretations of intermittent fasting, my ND, Dr. Deprivation, wanted me to try ProLon®, a convenient but expensive kit full of soups and snacks and everything you need to (not)eat for 5 days. Unfortunately for me, ProLon is packed with things I’m allergic to, and since I didn’t love the idea of death by low-calorie diet bar, Dr. Dep and I decided to create the Ardra Protocol (AP): a bespoke menu to match the macros of ProLon (50% fat, 40% carbs, 0% joy), adjusted for the amount of calories it takes to keep my slow-moving, mostly supine body alive.
My instinct was to do the math on how many chips and glasses of prosecco this translates to, but the answer was unlimited lettuce, and not enough hooch. So I instead figured out a smoothie, a soup, and a salad recipe that Dr. Dep signed off on. My FitBit™ (but like, SitBit) app allowed me to log every calorie consumed while simultaneously tracking my macros, making sure my plan was foolproof.
Despite ProLon’s hefty price-tag, I felt a skosh of remorse that I didn’t send them my Starbucks points, or even my Canadian Tire money, for all their efforts at research and development. Normally my cold heart wouldn’t care about this, but the majority of ProLon’s proceeds go to charity. Wow!
On the other hand, the packaged diet claims it was designed for people who are ‘busy’ and ‘on-the-go’, and I am neither of those things. So.
|Can’t talk. Busy.
|Finding 5 consecutive days to fit a fasting fake-out into my life was tricky. I didn’t want to sacrifice my social life, or even one week-end brunch, plus I was advised not to do this during a heatwave. That left me a tiny window in July between all-day mimosas and a reunion with my former university roommate with whom it is understood that gossip and catching up means vodka and Miss Vickie’s–the staples of our youth. (Add french fries to this list, because it’s the potato that provided everything she needed to get her PhD and land a job with the Gates Foundation, and everything I needed to drop out and write about peeing my pants on the internet. We’re both killing it.) The point is, I needed to finish this little experiment by sundown Friday at the latest.
|Don’t worry, girls. It gets better.
Here’s how it went down:
The Ardra Protocol – Diary of What I Didn’t Eat For 5 Days
9:15 am I have 2 cups of coffee, which is allowed on the AP, otherwise what is even the point of extending your life?
12:30 pm My first calories are provided by a strawberry, cucumber, and pumpkin seed butter smoothie that I promise myself I’ll make last at least 30 minutes.
12:37 pm 7 minutes later I’m sucking air through a straw like a philistine. Like, you’re not getting any more of that milkshake, David, but you’re definitely giving yourself gas. I don’t stop.
1:00 pm Despite the speed with which I inhaled my breakfast I feel smug–like this is easy, and I’m the best at fasting. Ever.
1:01 pm I realize I’m only 4hrs and 16min into this lifestyle and maybe it’s too soon to feel smug.
1:50 pm I heat up my zucchini soup. Meh.
4:04 pm I snack on a green apple and am reminded of why I never buy green apples.
|What kind of sociopath chooses a green apple? Gross.
6:15 pm Dinner is a big salad that includes 4 of the expensive olives I usually reserve for martinis. I slice them each into 6 pieces for maximum olive coverage.
8:05 pm I have 8 cherries and they are so good I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
9:45 am Still feeling smugly, I sip my coffee and decide that, so far, mild starvation is not even in the top 5 hardest MS treatments I’ve had.
11:32 am At 152 calories, my first meal of the day is a lower fat, higher carb version of the smoothie I had yesterday. Banana made it better, and I make it last 27 minutes. High five!
|1:45pm I’m already sick of this zucchini soup.
3:12 pm I have some green tea, and no green apple. Apples are only allowed on Day One where you’re expected to ease into things, and a few more calories are permitted. Anyway, that apple sucked and I don’t miss it.
8:06 pm I savour 1 cup of fresh strawberries and give three cheers for summer produce.
9:37 am I’ve been awake for an hour and I’m a little dizzy. I decide to add caffeine to that, because I make good life decisions.
10:35 am The room’s a bit spinny and I make my smoothie as fast as I can because I’m pretty confident I’m about to barf. I suddenly remember brushing off Dr. Dep’s warning not to do this at a time when I would be alone all day. I down the smoothie, and 13 minutes later I’m fine. I mean, I’m fine-ish.
11:34 am I open the fridge to an unholy amount of Oscar-the-Grouch-green soup. I decide to ‘accidentally’ drop it, but realize I lack both the strength to lift such a tremendous amount of garbage water and the energy to clean it up. I close the fridge and go lie down.
12:00 pm My afternoon requires that I not faint or barf, so I decide to swap my dinner for my lunch and eat my big olive-y salad now.
|Who says you don’t win friends with salad?
2:55 pm I arrive at my meeting with 426 calories in my belly, praying that the sound of my tummy trying to eat itself doesn’t give away my cheeseburger FOMO.
4:30 pm I survive my meeting, and for the duration, forget about food. On my walk home, a superhero leaps into the intersection I’m waiting to illegally cross, throwing up his hands in a ridiculous display to stop traffic in three directions. This isn’t a diet-related anecdote. Just a day in the life.
8:00 pm Not wanting a repeat of this morning, I decide I need a few extra calories and ask The Banker to please bring me 1 dried fig, 5 cherries, and a small square of dark chocolate.
8:03 pm I send back the fig and ask for a bigger one. He drops the bag on the couch next to me, and I sift through it, touching all the figs until I find the Mack Daddy. The Banker seems annoyed, and I remind him that he chose me.
11:00 pm I put an emergency dried fruit bar and a glass of water by the bed, just in case I’m shaky in the morning.
8:55 am Last night’s fig binge was a good idea, and this morning I feel fine. Bored with food, but fine.
9:34 am I outsmart my body and have my smoothie before I have my coffee. I add the avocado that was supposed to be in my salad just to make sure I don’t get the spins again.
2:21 pm I have 2 figs and a cup of green tea. The figs are off-label, but I feel like it’s fine because I did 20 minutes of cardio on the arm-bike. I’m in the bargaining stage of grieving food.
5:56 pm I eat some homemade kale chips with more salt than the Dead Sea. I briefly wonder what Miss Vicky is up to.
10:00 am I drink my coffee, and stare absently at a mid-morning talk show. I’m struggling, not from lack of calories, but from lack of sleep. I don’t blame the Ardra Protocol; nocturnal nerve-pain keeps me up on the regular.
11:27 am I’m still feeling spacey but I have stuff to do, and I need my brain to work. I add pumpkin seed butter to my smoothie, boosting it to a whopping 237 calories. I’ll make it up later.
1:33 pm I’ll say one thing for ProLon, they don’t make you eat the same fucking soup for five days.
2:15 pm I feel hungry, and I try to embrace it, imagining that this is the feeling of my body repairing itself. It’s not unpleasant when I think of it this way.
3:00 pm I discover that napping is an excellent way to enjoy not eating, and then feel pissy at myself for not having hacked this sooner.
11:00 pm It’s the end of day 5. I did it. I’m in good spirits and feeling like I’ve done something constructive for my MS.
The morning after my five days on the Ardra Protocol I step on the scale and find that I’ve lost three pounds. Wine isn’t really a breakfast beverage, so I make a smoothie and pretend it’s a milkshake. I’m following the rules anyway, as Dr. Dep tells me that what we eat immediately after an FMD is as important as what we don’t eat during an FMD.
Well, FML, because I haven’t stopped day-dreaming about gaining back that three pounds in pancakes and pie as soon as possible.
|I waited a full 4 days to eat this.
When all is said and done I give this 5-day plan 5 stars. Compared to the treatments and therapies that have left me with side-effects like injection site reactions, migraines, flushing, fever, flu-like symptoms, hives, actual vomiting, rash, and secondary-autoimmunity, the AP left me a little hungry, maybe a tad preoccupied with food; but like, that’s it. I wasn’t even hangry; in fact, my mood was better than average, and aside from some touch-and-go moments on the morning of Day 3, I had more than enough energy to go about my daily activities (including exercise).
There is no 5-day plan that will fix your MS. This is about trying to modify the course of my MS over years, not days, and while fasting and its effects on MS are still being researched, I feel like I can commit to repeating the AP every 28 days’ish. Depending on my brunch sched, natch.
In the meantime, I will leave you with this Ted talk by Valter Longo, the OG of the FMD.