A Month of Gratitude

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving and the whole upcoming holiday season. On Thanksgiving, while I don’t spend a lot of time meditating on things that I am thankful for, I do try to spend a few moments remembering the purpose of the day and express gratitude internally towards my situation. I recognize that I have a lot to be grateful for and I probably don’t spend enough time appreciating all of those elements in my life.

I decided that rather than spend the month discussing things to do around the home and things to do with children for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would use each post to explore some element in my life that I have gratitude. I may have consciously acknowledged this gratitude in the past (internally or externally) or this might be my first time really exploring the topic on a concious-level. It will make for an interesting series of posts that will range from superficial stuff to more complex parts of my life.

The purpose of this month-long exercise will be to increase my awareness for all the stuff in my life that I am and should be grateful about. By doing this, I will be more present in my own life (rather than focusing on the past or what might happen in the future), see increased health benefits, and increase my level of compassion for myself and others. Read about the researched benefits of gratitude here.

I think this will also help get me more into the holiday season as well: these last few years I’ve found it rather difficult to feel gratitude or want to celebrate despite having Jai in my life. I have worked hard this past year to take steps towards self-improvement, so spending some time focusing on the changes I’ve made and appreciating everything about the changes and my life is important to continue forward.

With each post, I will invite readers to take a few moments to find their own elements of gratitude in the same area of their life and either share it in the comments or share it with whoever should hear it.

It will be an interesting journey for November to be sure.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


The Importance of Movement

It’s fall, which means colder weather makes it difficult to get moving to either exercise outside or make it to the gym. Perhaps because of the season, it is more important than ever to keep moving. As we head into winter, chances of weight gain increase along with seasonal mood changes that might be mitigated with some form of exercise.

Yesterday, researchers released a study regarding the importance of exercise and health. It’s something I’ve known a long time from health class and personal experience: exercising makes me feel better. If I sit still long enough (even in the span of a few hours), I start feeling bad.

That was the point of this study: the longer we sit during the day, the more danger we put on our health in the long-term. Sitting for vast spans of time and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. This study wasn’t providing new information, this article from 2014 discusses how dangerous sitting for hours on end is for our bodies. But this study was another confirmation of what researchers were saying: movement is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While the studies weren’t talking about the emotional impact of a sedentary lifestyle, more of the long-term impact, aerobic exercise is a form of anti-depressant for those suffering from major depression. A person should never quit their drug-regimen in favor of running without consulting their healthcare professionals first, but adding running or some other high-aerobic workout to the routine might increase the anti-depressant impact for mental health management.

This information is great to have to make informed decisions without an autoimmune disease that impacts fatigue levels, but living with MS, getting out of bed can be a hardship some mornings.

What to do when your body works against you?

I count myself lucky with my MS: my disease is rather benign and easy to manage compared to someone with PPMS, SPMS, or even some versions of RRMS. But it can cause my mood to swing, my depression to kick into high gear, and send my fatigue into overdrive for no reason other than “just because.”

Getting out of bed to go for a run some mornings is particularly rough when my body just does not want to move. Additionally, I’ve suffered from being overweight and depressed, so I understand how each individual factor can impact personal motivation and ability.

So what can you do?

  1. Speak with a trusted healthcare professional about what you can do to increase movement in relation to your particular health concerns or limitations. You want to find an expert who will be sensitive to your situation to provide positive encouragement, but also one who will point you in an appropriate direction for the types of exercises needed to get you started.
  2. Even if your doctor is providing you with generic information, use that information as a starting point with your own research.* Find simple exercises you can do from bed or the couch while watching television. From there, you can build up your type of exercise and the amount of time spent.
  3. Drink water. Water helps energize muscles to help prevent fatigue, protect joints and the nervous system (a huge plus for MS), and decrease MS symptoms.
  4. Keep your goals reachable and manageable. If you know that getting out of bed will be difficult most mornings, see about adding a different type of exercise that can be done from bed until you have a good day.
  5. If you have to miss a day or forget, just plan to restart tomorrow. Don’t look at a day off as a failure, but just something that happens. Try to maintain an attitude of moving forward rather than dwelling on forgetfulness. Don’t overdo it if you do miss a day – with MS that can set you back from exercising tomorrow.

*Note: your own research must be done with extreme caution and consideration to your ability levels. Do not put yourself at risk.  Read my disclaimer about health advice here.

Lack of Motivation

I find that the lack of motivation is my biggest obstacle to exercising. I wish I could write, “do this and you’ll always be motivated!” but the truth of the motivation obstacle is this: it varies from person-to-person and moment-to-moment. What keeps me motivated may not apply to another person and what keeps them motivated would never work for me.

When dealing with a chronic illness, motivation can run thin, sometimes without being the individual’s fault, but because of the way the illness impacts brain function. Having physical impairments stacked against you can be depressing on its own.

So how to combat this?

It’s never going to be a “snap your fingers and get over it” solution. That is not possible and won’t work. Rather, figure out what is important to you at the moment. Is it disease management? Depression management? Having more energy day-to-day? Wanting to see the numbers go down on the scale? Figuring out that primary starting place may be enough to get the ball rolling and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Having reports released about the importance of exercise are validating for me on my health journey because it shows that I am on the right path, especially on days when my energy and motivation are at its lowest. I just have to move forward and try not to be discouraged by a bad day or my MS.

What prevents you from exercising? What keeps you motivated to exercise? Relate your stories below in the comments section.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Healthy Vegan Pumpkin Bread

It’s starting to get chilly in the South so grabbing a slice of pumpkin bread becomes more appealing in the mornings. I’ve gotten Jai on board with enjoying pumpkin bread, so much so that the other day he made a very specific request for pumpkin bread.

When my baby asks for pumpkin bread, I make him pumpkin bread.

Jai is a grazer so it’s important to pack whatever he eats full of nutrients and protein. I had some hemp hearts and flax seeds in the house and decided to add those in my recipe to up the protein potential. The first batch, Jai was less enthused about, but when I added in some applesauce in a second batch, it helped sweeten the bread a little more to satisfy his cravings.

Before you take that first bite…

Something to keep in mind with the following recipe is that one slice will go a long way. This recipe is healthy, in that, it is packed with protein, omega 3 & 6, and other nutrients, but it’s extremely calorie dense. Because the bread is high in calories this isn’t a snack food, but one slice is a meal. If you are watching calories I caution limiting your intake to one slice per meal.

See my notes at the end of the recipe for a way to reduce the calories. Read More


Good for the Nerves: Fall & MS

MS is a disease that’s affected by the weather, particularly extreme temperature variables. Summer and wintertime can be particularly rough because of the temperature swings on either end of the thermometer. The temperate or more moderate weather of the spring and fall can offer some relief for those who need it.

I know that for myself when it’s a consistent mid-70’s with low humidity, I am at my most comfortable. I find that I have more energy, able to sleep better at night and find the need for a midday nap to be lower. I still need naps because I have an energetic toddler, but I can skip the nap with minimal impact on my evening energy levels.

I know that my MS situation is different from others, so what is comfortable for me to function may be uncomfortable for others. That’s the unfortunate truth about MS – while fall is the ideal season for me to be my best, it can make others miserable. If fall isn’t your season, that’s okay because there’s bound to be another season that works best with your illness.

Fall Weather & MS (in the South)

All of this is to say that the fall weather makes me happier. I feel like we get more temperate days in the fall than we do in the spring, though if I looked at the temperature statistics I am probably wrong.

In the South, fall means that while we may still get 90-degree days, it feels like the day’s heat dissipates faster in the evenings and takes longer to be oppressive in the mornings. It also brings more rain during the hurricane season, which is less helpful because of the humidity, but ideal in keeping temperatures lower.

More Activities to Keep Moving & Healthy

As discussed on Tuesday, fall festivals are a great way to get out and enjoy the outside with family and friends. Going on hikes, particularly in the South, are more pleasant because the leaves haven’t dropped just yet, so there’s enough shade from the sun in the forest.

Walks are more pleasant to take in the evening, more importantly, less of a mental hassle when you don’t have to consider bringing a bunch of cooling supplies to keep from overheating (for me: ventilated shoes, water, and a hat).

As a runner, I find that some of my best personal records happen between the months of October and April because of the milder weather. I also don’t run into the issues of dehydration headaches after a race that I get in the hotter month. I get these headaches no matter how much I hydrate before, during, or after the race.

If physically able, yardwork is less oppressive as well. Raking leaves is a great cardio activity to get moving, as is trimming bushes.

While hydrating is still extremely important for those of us with MS, I find that it’s not as imperative as it is in the hotter weather. I also find my means of hydrating open up: I am a huge tea drinker and love drinking herbal tea in the fall. While drinking straight water is always recommended, drinking herbal tea is easier to swallow than straight, boring water.

Relaxing Atmosphere: Less Stress, Less Flare-Ups

Scientifically speaking, fall is a more relaxing time of year: we’ve been conditioned to enjoy it at least in the United States. Fall elicits cozy feelings, warmth, and togetherness ahead of the holiday season. The idea of sitting by a fire pit with a cup of mulled cider, a blanket, and good company is extremely relaxing.

My happy place is Pumpkin Spice Lattes which are a huge indicator of fall. That first sip of the year always relaxes me in the  “ah, fall is finally here” sort of way.

Stress is a huge factor for flare-ups, at least for myself, so having relaxing evenings helps minimize my stress. Any stress that comes during the fall is usually the kind I enjoy, i.e. planning gatherings, parties, events, and outings.

While my first flare-up happened at the beginning of December nearly six years ago, most of my flare-ups happen in the winter and summer months. I think because I have worked hard to make fall a relaxing time of the year for myself.

If you have MS or a chronic illness that is affected by the weather, what do you do to help manage it during your favorite seasons? What is your favorite season and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Recipe Friday: Pumpkin Spice Latte

Anyone who knows me knows that I love this time of year.

I am very basic when it comes to fall. Fall decorations, fall clothing (even when it’s still 90 degrees out because I live in the South), and fall festivals. 

I am especially in love with Pumpkin Spice Lattes from a certain coffee chain. They introduced the drink around the time I was an undergraduate in Boston. I had to pass this chain on my way to classes every day so when I discovered this delicious beverage, I made sure to grab one every day before heading to class.

I know that this is probably where a bulk of my college weight came from. That and the peppermint mocha drink that follows for the holidays. I really couldn’t resist the two.

I think because I had fond memories of undergraduate, Boston falls, and this drink – it’s a little cup of nostalgia every year. When I was pregnant, I started craving the drink in early August. Every couple of days I would comment how much I wished it was PSL time. I know I drove Ash and my mother nuts with how much I was talking about the drink.

When it finally debuted Labor Day Weekend I bought my first cup of the season and a cute reusable mug to show off my love. Because it was my major pregnancy craving, especially towards the end, I insisted on including it in my weekly bump photos. I joked that I was basting Jai in nutmeg.

If he craves pumpkin spice or hates it, it’s my fault.

pregnantPSL

No, seriously. This was my week 37 bump photo. Exactly 2 years ago today.

Pumpkin Spice Drought

But when I quit sugar around this time last year, I had to give up my beloved fall drink. Unfortunately, no matter how I tried to order it, coffee shops found ways to sneak in sugar. In the sauce and in the milk (sugar is the third ingredient in their coconut milk). I found that I reacted the same way to the sugar-free mixes as I do with the full-sugar, which is to say I get headaches, neck pain, and nausea. I also hate the aftertaste sweeteners give a drink or food item.

I went the entire year without my PSLI made it through, but it didn’t feel like fall for me because it was the first time in 10+ years where I didn’t have the drink at least once.

I didn’t want to go a second year without it. It wasn’t that I was craving it as much as it was wanting it for nostalgia reasons. Fall is my season and if I went another year without really embracing the season I was going to feel a little sad. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I found that the holidays didn’t feel the same because I didn’t experience fall like I normally do.

I tried a couple recipes for making the drink at home and while they were good, they didn’t quite have the flavor I was looking for. I tried coconut sugar, I tried straight maple syrup, but it wasn’t that perfect blend of sweet and spice. I didn’t want to make the drink too sweet, as that was a complaint I actually had of the original, and I had to find the right kind of sweetener that didn’t add flavor.

My mom suggested using xylitol. Xylitol is a wonderful sweetener because it melts like sugar and can function 1:1 with sugar. If you are watching your sugar intake for personal reasons or due to diabetes, it’s a suggested alternative to sugar cane.

I do find it can taste a little sweeter than sugar, but that may just be me. It’s a little pricey, so I don’t use it as much as I do maple syrup, coconut sugar, or applesauce in my baking. But for a drink such as this, it’s a great substitute because you can use as much or as little as you want.

I also threw in some maple syrup because I wanted to thin the sauce a bit, but also add a bit of that New England flavor I love. Below you will find my personal recipe for the Pumpkin Spice Sauce to add to your latte or morning coffee.

I used greater proportions so you can make it in bulk rather than one drink at a time.

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