Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory or Mediterranean Diet

One of the things that I have found most beneficial for my MS is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. This is because I am lowering my intake of foods that might cause flare-ups such as wheat, dairy, or sugar. It isn’t easy to drop these delicious foods, but it’s doable because there are plenty of delicious recipes available all over the internet and passable alternatives for specific cravings.

Unfortunately, some of the recipes take time and prep and if you are low on energy, that can be discouraging. Making food ahead or finding shortcuts can help minimize food prep-stress.

In the news recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Looking at the two food pyramids for each diet there’s a lot of similarities between the two. So if you were ever considering doing the Mediterranean, or already on the Mediterranean, then you are maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet.

Food Pyramids

*I am linking to them to respect each site’s copyright.

Comparing the two, Dr. Weil breaks down the Mediterranean Diet in further detail, but each food category is in the same area of the pyramid; there are certain foods types you eat more of and others you eat less of and they overlap. While it may not be 100% the same, the overlaps are significant and the health benefits equitable.

The advantage to recognizing the similarity between the two is it can open up the doors for more recipe options with modifications. When starting new diets, it’s easy to get discouraged by recipe limitations. Having more options available can make the diet shift process smoother and more pleasant.

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Personal Health Check-In

Today I will be reflecting on my overall health, how I am feeling physically and mentally, and also talking about my MS Symptoms and if I’ve noticed any changes with the lifestyle changes I’ve made.

Physical Health

I am close to peak health right now. I have lost enough weight that I am no longer in the “overweight” BMI range but in the “normal” range.  I haven’t seen this number since before high school.

I have found that I feel lighter and less sluggish, though that may have more to do with my metabolism. Regardless, I wanted to find a natural way to get more energy and I have succeeded.

With the good, comes the bad: I had a couple of days where my stomach hurt after eating and I wasn’t sure what was going on.  After visiting two different doctors, I found out that I have h.pylori. I suspect I picked it up from contaminated water caused by a water main break back in early March. We boiled water and followed the warnings, but the county was slow on placing a boil advisory and probably too quick in lifting it. I am currently on the recommended antibiotic regimen, and I wouldn’t wish those horse pills on anyone.

To balance that out, since I am destroying my gut bacteria, I have upped my probiotic intake via supplements and drinking a lot of kombucha.

I do suspect that I might have a lactose sensitivity in addition to this infection because my stomach would hurt almost every time I had dairy. The source of the pain was inconsistent because it would happen after eating other foods too, but after eating something high in lactose it would inevitably cause some sort of pain.

On the days where I don’t eat any dairy, I feel absolutely normal. Especially during this minor reset: I haven’t had any stomach pain since Wednesday.

As Ash says, I’ve reset my body to the point that I cannot enjoy some of the foods I used to; my body is now a finely tuned machine and I need to be careful what type of fuel I put into it.

This stinks because if I had always wanted to go back to eating dairy products, I really can’t because I don’t like how I feel afterward. I know there are some measures I can take to cheat now and then, but it is clear that my body is treating lactose the same way it treats sugar: beginning to reject the stuff. This isn’t a surprise because I always suspected I had a dairy sensitivity since I was a kid, but like with sugar, I would ignore any symptoms I had in favor of eating cheese.

I am looking at this as a plus: by removing dairy from my diet I am lowering my flare-up chances. Back when I did research for the week I dropped dairy, I found out dairy contains a protein that can increase my chances of a flare-up. Basically, I can’t cheat and have a nibble of dairy whenever I want.

I am one of those people that, even if I can handle it, I tend to not want to do anything that could inconvenience myself. It’s just easier to avoid dairy and sugar than deal with the consequences of how I feel afterward. I may try lactaid if I absolutely want to eat something with lactose, otherwise avoiding the matter altogether is easier for my well-being.

Mental & Emotional Health

These physical changes have helped with my mental health.;

I am feeling better mentally, with the occasional down moment, but overall I am doing well. Keeping busy with the blog and feeling productive has helped improve my mood. I think by feeling productive, I don’t feel like my MS is bothering me as much as it does.

 

I am finding that I am working very hard to be more compassionate and self-compassionate. That has helped lower my intense emotions significantly. I am finding things don’t bother me as much as they used to which has been really helpful in getting through the day. I feel that I’ve been providing Jai with a good example because of it.

MS Health

Overall, I don’t really notice a huge difference in my symptoms since my last check-in. I find that by removing certain things from my diet helps give me a minor energy boost because I am not feeling bogged down. But the difference tends to be negligible.

I still have issues with fatigue and mental fog, but my L’Hermittes Sign and MS Hug haven’t made a reappearance since February for which I am grateful.

I have an appointment with my neurologist later this month, but without an MRI, so I will be updating with his assessment of my overall condition. I count not needing an MRI as a personal win: I don’t hate getting them, but it means my neurologist believes my condition is stable enough that an MRI is unnecessary.

I talked about restarting my drug-therapy once Jai weans from breastfeeding, but I am finding it hard because of how good I’ve been feeling without it. Not going back on Tecfidera means that I will be putting my long-term health at risk of progressing into SPMS, so there is a lot of important things to consider if I do decide to hold off a while longer.

The Takeaway

That’s how I am feeling overall and I would say that I am feeling pretty good. It’s been a lot of work to get here, but I would have to say taking it a little bit at a time has helped. Remembering not to put too much pressure has helped keep me going on the lower-motivation days.


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Healthy Eating Reset

It’s been several months since my last diet reset, so it is time for a small one to refocus my eating habits. I’ve behaved myself these last four months with a few slip-ups here and there. Surprisingly, no major lapses into unhealthy eating. Just an occasional meal every few weeks or so.

I ate the occasional mammal but stuck close to fish and chicken for my meat-based proteins. Dairy started to trickle in which is not good, though I will cover that in more detail in Friday’s post. Because I am focusing on wellness this month, I want to do a minor three-day reset where I watch my eating habits a little more closely and recommit to eating healthy.

This reset won’t be as serious as the last one and because it’s only three days, it shouldn’t be boring, nor will I feel hungry throughout the three days.

Eating Habits During this Reset

This won’t be a strict “track everything I consume” sort of reset, but a “this is what I will avoid and make do with what’s left.”  Hopefully, it will stay interesting because of that. Nothing sucks more than kick-starting healthy eating with boring dishes and feeling super hungry.

What this reset will entail:

  • Plant-based, no animal products of any kind
  • No sugar substitutes, this includes maple syrup or honey
  • No salt, but plenty of other spices
  • No gluten
  • No caffeine beyond green tea

Three days is not enough time to fully reset bodily cravings but meant as a way to give my body a 72-hour break from problematic foods.

For instance: I am a salt lover. I got that from my mother.

Salt is a complicated issue when it comes to healthier eating. Salt is good for you, but in excess, it can be problematic. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, but when I sit down to eat I will add a lot of salt to the dish throughout the meal. Beginning the process of lowering my need for salt will be good for me because I am worried I consume salt in excess.

I also find that while I may have cut sugarcane out of my diet, I still find other ways to satisfy my sweet tooth: honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are all alternatives that don’t leave me feeling bad. Returning to eating fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth will be a good thing and lowering my desire for sweets overall. I don’t plan to cut these alternative sweeteners out of my diet, but to lower my need for them.

Exercise Habits During this Reset

Because I am not doing an extensive reset I am not going alter my exercise habits as much as I did in January.

I will probably do a gentle yoga flow today and Friday but my normal 45-minute run tomorrow. If I find that’s too strenuous, then I will just turn it into a 45-minute walk.

I don’t anticipate this being an extremely note-worthy reset, so I probably won’t reflect back on it anytime soon. I will be doing a run-down of my current health conditions on Friday and may include some final thoughts or feelings about this reset at the end of the post.

If anyone is thinking about beginning a healthier eating routine, doing a slight reset like this is a great way to get started. It’s quick, easy, and isn’t super oppressive. It’s a fantastic way to dip a toe into the healthier eating pond without feeling overwhelmed.


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Final Thoughts for this Week

Today is the final day of my diet reset. Overall it went well and I am feeling better about my eating choices, though it wasn’t an easy process to get through. It got rather boring by the end and I was excited to be eating different types of fruit throughout the day if only for the variety they provided. The food that I made for the reset was delicious, but even delicious can get boring if you are eating the same thing over and over again.

How I am Feeling

I feel much better at the end of the week, a little bit lighter (I lost 2 pounds), and I don’t feel as bloated as I did on Sunday. I think that has a lot to do with the water I’ve been drinking; it certainly helped flush out the extra water weight I retained from high-salt and fatty foods. I also found that I enjoy drinking high-alkaline water, not because I think they do anything specific for my health, but because I like the taste and it’s easier to drink. I learned something new about myself.

I also feel more energized, though I am still feeling fatigue from the last vestiges of my flu. Once I have finally shaken off my flu fatigue, I can already tell that I am  motivated to dive into my running again. I just need the temperature to go up a little bit in the mornings. Running in temperatures lower than 20F are rough. I can do it, but it’s hard to be motivated to get out there when bed is so warm.

Cravings I Encountered

Some cravings I encountered throughout the week: fried foods, eating late, coffee, and bacon.

I was really surprised by the fried foods craving since I haven’t had anything deep fried since October. I think that was a carryover from the flu at the beginning of the week. I have learned that when I am sick, I really love to have fried foods for comfort.

The desire to snack after 7 pm wasn’t entirely surprising: that’s when I do the bulk of my snacking during the day. Once Ash is home and Jai is in bed, Ash and I sit on the couch and will snack while catching up on our shows. The snacks may be healthy in nature, but it’s the quantity that becomes unhealthy. There are nights where I will grab a snack just before going to bed because the idea hit me that I was “hungry.” Through this reset I realized that I was less hungry and doing it out of habit.

The craving for coffee was a surprise to absolutely no one. I went from drinking two cups of Americano a day to nothing. I use coffee as a natural means to boost my energy in the morning and early afternoon. I really love the taste of it, especially during cold winter days. I find it very soothing because of its familiarity and I missed that with the cold snap we’ve been going through. I had a few mild headaches that may have been caffeine withdrawals, but I drank a bunch of water and herbal tea to help minimize the discomfort.

I found that I was craving salty protein some of the time, specifically bacon. I don’t eat a lot of bacon, though when given the option, I will take it. This might also be attributed to the cold weather – looking to derive some pleasure in high-fat foods which is fine in small doses, but hard to moderate in the dead of winter.

Some Reflections

The detox/reset went relatively well, but not as well as I would have liked. I ran into some issues following the protocols I had planned by Day Four because life got a little hectic. I wasn’t able to do my morning ritual from that day forward because Jai picked up a really bad cold and needed care as early as 2 am some mornings. Getting up after that to do yoga was really hard despite going to bed around 10 pm.

When experts say to plan detoxes/cleanses around periods of time where it will minimally impact your life, they aren’t kidding. I couldn’t account for Jai’s cold, but considering I just dealt with the flu and he’s in close proximity to me, it wouldn’t be hard to extrapolate that he’d get sick too. So I probably should have delayed given the circumstances.

While this was a good start as far as length is concerned, I think a longer reset would be more effective for me. They say that it can take up to two months for a habit to stick and while I wouldn’t want to spend that amount of time on a reset, perhaps spending at least 9 to 12 days on it would be more ideal. It will help give me more time to break through some of my bad habits and understand my deeper cravings. I believe that the longer I go, the more random and intense the cravings are and I assume those are the really ingrained cravings that I might not normally notice. By bringing them to light, I can decide how to deal with them.

I think that my daily energy and feeling lighter comes from not eating after 7 pm. In fact, I would argue that the best thing I did through this entire reset was not eating after 7 pm. I think I have a lot of psychological energy tied up in my snacking late and this helped show me how dependant I was on it. I think that some of my extra weight comes from eating late and if I go a few more weeks not eating past 7 pm I might see some more weight lost because of it.

I don’t know how this impacted my MS, in fact, I don’t think it impacted it at all. It’s too short of a time for me to notice any appreciable changes in my health, but I did find that focusing on the regimen gave me something to think about and not worry about my MS as much.

Moving Forward

I am going to keep the following things from the reset: no eating after 7 pm and try to be in bed by 10 pm. Even if I don’t fall asleep right away, being in a position of rest helps get me through the next day and feel less tired when Jai wakes up in the middle of the night.

I am, however, going to pick up coffee again. I already have an Americano with my name literally on it waiting for me tomorrow morning. I really can’t go without my caffeine, no matter how healthier it might be for me. I need some vices.

I think I will consider doing some form of a reset every 6 months, almost like a booster shot. I considered doing a 3-day version every 3 months, but I will have to examine I am feeling with my diet at the beginning of March before I make any commitments. Doing it when my motivation is flagging will help keep me going and feeling good.

While I liked this modified version of the Ayurvedic detox, I am interested in examining other types of healthy resets. A juice cleanse, a raw food reset, possibly Keto, or just a very bland diet with nothing special to it. I want to make sure that whatever I try in the future it will be healthy and safe for me. By experimenting with different types, I might find the one that fits best for me or combine a couple into something that works. The whole point is to give my body a rest from all the junk I’ve put into it and feel refreshed by the end of it.

I will be eating a strict plant-based diet (no animal products whatsoever), no gluten, no sugar, and no alcohol. I may need to make a few exceptions here and there, but this will be stricter than I have been since before the holidays. So if I have a day or a meal where I indulge in something, it won’t be continued beyond that.

I want to shoot for June, a full 6 months of eating this way, as that will give my body plenty of time to remove the old stuff from my system, remove bad gut bacteria and allow the good bacteria to flourish. It will also help me determine if I have any allergies or sensitivities I was previously unaware of, like sugar.

2018 Health Goals

I anticipate that during the next 6 months I will reach my ideal body weight for my body type. If I want to be successful in this weight loss, I will need to maintain that ideal weight for at least 2 years. In order to do this, I will want to be more aware of my eating habits and if I re-incorporate anything back into my diet, do so in moderation. Allowing my eating habits to go out of control is what got me to my highest weight originally. I would like to not return to that point again.

When I go to see my neurologist in March, I want him to tell me that I am still doing well and that we don’t need to alter my treatment until I am ready. I already mentioned that I want to go the entire year flare-up free, which I think I can do by eating healthy, being mindful of my stress, and exercising.

I want to get my natural energy levels up to what I perceive is normal for everyone as often as I can. MS makes that difficult to do everyday, but if I can have more days with higher energy levels than not, I will consider that a success. This will be harder to measure, but if I feel that I can go the entire day without needing an actual nap, and just an hour of rest while Jai is sleeping, then it would be considered a low-fatigue day.

I will continue to check-in from time-to-time with how I am doing like before, but I will be shifting my blog focus away from my personal habits and onto healthier living habits overall.

What healthy goals have you made for this year? What are your plans to keep them?


Resetting the Holiday Excess

Holidays can really wreak havoc with our eating habits. Sometimes it is easy to watch how you eat and other times it’s hard to say ‘no’ to that second Santa-shaped ginger cookie.

Now is the time when the weight-loss commercials ramp up for the New Year resolutions. These either work to motivate or discourage us. I will admit, whenever I saw the commercials in the past, I either ignored them or felt discouraged because I couldn’t justify joining a program to help lose weight. It always was a money and time-commitment issue for me.

As I got older, my personal philosophy evolved to this: diets, as they are, don’t work.

Interesting considering a good chunk of my blog is about “diet shifts”?

This isn’t saying that diets are ineffective, they can work if done properly, but diets tend to imply a short-term change to eating habits. Once a specific goal is met, it’s easy to resume previous eating habits and then find that the weight/health concern comes back.

Diets need to be about making lifestyle changes. Actively deciding that any changes in eating habits are not temporary, but are long-term shifts with the occasional indulgence.

Switching to a low-carb diet will be effective in losing weight in the short-term, but if more foundational changes are not made, all progress will be lost once carbs are incorporated back into the diet.

What are these foundational changes?

I am referring to the deeper reasons why we may eat unhealthy or to excess. For some it is an emotional comfort, for others, portions are hard to gauge. The science is clear that the food industry does make food more addictive and therefore it becomes easy to eat high-calorie foods in large amounts without being aware of it. If you struggle for an emotional or hormonal reason, the food industry isn’t doing you any favors.

But don’t let this discourage you in any way.

**Let me be clear: I am not shaming anyone’s reasons for eating the way they do. Everyone’s eating habits are different and their reasons for their eating habits are unique to them. I am referring to some of the more generalized reasons why we eat to excess.**

Sitting down and identifying what is problematic in the diet will help figure out what long term changes need to be made. Then it’s about making some drastic mindset changes to help keep the motivation through the difficult transition periods and temptations.

I don’t think I am a food addict, but I do know that I had issues with food and eating in moderation. It took a wake-up call over the summer for me to realize that I needed to make some deeper changes with how I approached food. I was addicted to sugar and junk food and I needed to change how I approached these types of food. Cutting these food items out permanently may not be the solution for you, but recognizing the need for moderation might be.

Deciding to make the changes for Jai and for myself was enough motivation to keep me going, but see what changes will help push you through to make long-lasting “diet” change this year.

Before starting down this path, consider taking a few days to prepare your body and your mind by “detoxing” or “cleansing” your eating habits.

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