The Check-In

Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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Personal Motivation

Staying Resolute

Being organized is great to keep those New Year’s Resolutions on track, but that’s only half the battle. The other half is finding ways to maintain your motivation when you feel your drive to achieve personal goals slump. Setting mini-goals and creating rewards are the more obvious ways to keep going, but those are things to work towards, and not ways to stay motivated in between mini-goal to mini-goal.

That’s where we need to get creative.

Consider what motivates you. Depending on the resolution or personal goal, I am motivated by bad consequences or personal growth. Neither of these are bad nor correct. They are just what works for me.

After you’ve identified what keeps you going, consider what you need to do that aligns with that form of motivation. Below are some ideas for general motivation and productivity, but consider modifying a few to better suit your own needs.

Continue reading “Staying Resolute”

The Check-In

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?

Lifestyle & Blogging

2017: A Reflection

2017 was a good year for me.

Like many years, it was filled with its ups and downs. If I had to weigh it any particularly way, I would say that it was mostly filled with good times. But as the year closes, it’s important to reflect on the ups and downs to see what lessons the year taught me so I can approach 2018 fully prepared.

The Down Points

  • At the beginning of the year I dealt with a lot of stress with my social media intake. I found that the news and posts I was reading caused me a lot of frustration and took time away from Jai because I would get emotionally worked up. I realized that I had an issue with my internet usage, though I haven’t made many strides to correct that, other than blocking social media temporarily as a form of self-care.
  • I had an Optic Neuritis flare-up in July, and while most of these flare-ups are caused by personal stress, I have no clue where it came from.  I was picking up a project again around that time and perhaps the stress of that caused my flare-up, but I still am not 100% sure of what happened.
  • After dropping sugar, I discovered that I have a sensitivity to sugar cane. When I had some simple syrup in a drink several months ago, I found that I got a massive headache, fatigue, and felt nauseous. It’s rather disappointing to discover that I may not be able to consume normal sugar again. But I suppose it’s a good thing.
  • When I fell off track with my eating habits I found that I feel a little bit heavier, emotionally down, and have a lot more fatigue that is probably MS related. I think that once I do a diet reset and stick to my lifestyle changes, I will feel a lot better and resolve the bloat, depression, and fatigue; proof that food is fuel and what I consume impacts how I feel.

The Positive Points

  • After my flare-up in July, I found out that the brain lesions I previously had disappeared. While I am not sure about the status of the lesions on my spine, I do count the fact that my brain healed itself as a massive second chance I had needed in dealing with MS.
  • In March, my insurance provider reached out to me as a new mother with an accountability program to help get me motivated with improving my health. It was from here that the seeds of change started to form in my mind. The coach I worked with helped got me back into the idea of running, pushing me to do the training for the half-marathon back in October.
  • So far, through all my hard work, I have lost a total of 27 pounds since I started my blog. I am lower than I was in high school, something I never thought I would see again. I am still holding onto the big number from my heaviest weight during pregnancy to now. I am hoping I will reach that goal by March 2018 and announce it here.
  • Watching Jai grow has been an amazing experience. I was looking at some pictures from one year ago and it’s so hard to believe that is the same little boy. He’s laughing, starting to talk, figuring things out, walking all over the place… he is no longer a baby, but a full-fledged toddler.
  • I have made some personal strides in managing my personal stress. Ash and I were discussing it today, while I still get stressed over some stuff, I am light years ahead of where I was last year. I am learning to let things go and not let things bother me the same way as before.

MS//Mommy

I think the biggest change for me this year is having this blog. While I had the accountability coach, I made this my ultimate accountability buddy. If I said I was going to do something here, I made sure to stick with it. If I faltered, I made sure to own up to it as well.

I am grateful for my friend, Lady, for making the suggestion that I create a blog to track my changes. I have always wanted to be a writer, but never really had the confidence in my abilities. This blog provides me with the cathartic outlet to write how I want to with no restrictions. It also appeals to my love of research and compilation.

I am hoping to see this blog grow into something greater, though I am not sure what that will look like yet.

What I’ve Learned

The number one takeaway from 2017 is to “let it all go.” There are plenty of things that do require my worry and concern, but I am realizing that there are plenty of other things that aren’t as important. My priority is my family and my health, and everything else is just extra. Recognizing the difference between the two allows me to let the correct stuff go.

All of this seems cliche, but sometimes it really does take a low-point or a second chance  to get the important moments of self-reflection and accept what they say to us. I didn’t think I could do anything to help manage my disease without medication because I “attempted” to do so in the past.

“Attempted” meaning I didn’t really try very hard. I said I would eat healthy, but I wasn’t actually motivated to make the necessary changes.

But once I realized that I wanted to teach Jai how to be healthy and that I wanted to be around for him (in an active capacity) when he’s older, I decided that I needed to push myself to make the deep, psychological and physiological changes I had wanted to do for so long. Let everything go: mental baggage, physical baggage, emotional baggage.

I feel the healthiest I’ve ever been going into a new year.

Where I Would Like to Be in 2018

  • I want to figure out what foods serve me best and which ones I should avoid indefinitely (or consume on special occasions). I have my suspicions, but I am hoping after spending 6 months away from perceived troublemakers will help provide me with insight of what I should and should not consume. The month of June will be spent testing foods out and seeing how I react to them.
  • I would like to see the entire year without a single flare-up while I am still off of medication. Unless Jai self-weans in 2018, I don’t anticipate starting up Tecfidera just yet. If I can make it the whole year without a flare-up and feeling better without additional medication (amantadine for energy, Ritalin for energy/focus), then I will feel like I have temporarily seized control over my health.
  • Even more relaxed and not stressed out over things. Maintaining the “let it go” attitude, but also beginning to allow myself to feel more comfortable with myself. I haven’t been comfortable being myself for a long time, and since I am taking all these strides to feel better physically, I need to feel better mentally and emotionally. Stop trying to hide my true self in order to please others.
  • Reconsider my internet usage. Working on MS//Mommy is important, but I feel I spend way too much time on my phone outside of that. I’ve already started using the Forest App as a means to keep me off of my phone when Jai is up and about. I will need to consider going on a phone fast at some point during the year to break some bad habits.
  • While I never anticipated losing weight when I started all of this, I now have a weight goal in mind and that’s solidly in the healthy BMI range (+/- some pounds to account for fluctuation). I am just outside the actual range and it’ll be a few pounds more to get me where I want to be. This is low-level goal – so in order to maintain my sanity I am not going to focus as heavily on it.

2018 as a Teaching Opportunity

I think 2018’s motto should be “keep letting it go, no distractions, and push forward.” 2018 is going to bring a lot for me to handle, like any year, but I need to stay focused on not stressing out on stuff but keep moving forward even when the going is tough.

I anticipate hitting numerous walls, which is the norm for any sort of self-reflective/lifestyle change. I need to not let it get to me and keep going even when I feel down. Down days are okay, but what I do with them makes all the difference.

Here’s to a new year.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope it’s a good one.

Information Huddle

Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease

Gluten is delicious. I love gluten. I love bread that is crusty on the outside yet chewy on the inside. I love bread-based sweets like donuts or kringles when I ate sugar.

While I love gluten, it can be problematic for people with autoimmune diseases and sensitivities like me, which is a huge disappointment for a consumate foodie.

What is Gluten?

“Gluten is a mixture of proteins found mostly in wheat, but also in barley, rye, and oats. These grains make up many of our breads, pastas, granolas, noodles, tortillas, and beers.” – Popular Science

In my previous jaunts into veganism, I became a huge fan of Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) to make the ever versatile and ever tasty Seitan. Talk about overdosing on gluten.

If you don’t have any issues with gluten, I recommend either making seitan or going to a vegetarian restaurant with fake meat. Chances are it’s seitan and it’s mind boggling how similar to meat it is in flavor and texture. It’s perfect if you are a newly minted vegetarian/vegan and you still crave that meaty flavor.

Gluten, figuratively speaking, is one of the glues that binds the world together. In it’s various forms it helped civilizations grow and flourish when it was cultivated and it is in plenty of Western recipes that it has a solid place in our culture of eating.

For many people, gluten does not negatively impact or affect their health, though removing it from one’s diet is viewed as a means to promote weight loss. The science is still out as to whether cutting gluten from a person’s diet who doesn’t have an autoimmune disease is beneficial. But going gluten-free in recent years is the thing to do in order to promote personal health and well-being.

As an aside: I think being gluten-free falls into that category of: “if I think it works and I am seeing benefits from it, then it works.” I am not going to judge.

However, if you have an autoimmune disease, gluten can affect you differently and that’s what I want to examine further in today’s post.

Continue reading “Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease”

Food & Recipes

Immune & Energy Booster Turmeric Shots

Several years ago, I participated in a yoga intensive course which required attending classes at a local studio almost daily and first thing in the morning. This was before my diagnosis, but just after I experienced my first flare-up, so fatigue was an issue for me at the time.

I was complaining to another student while we were waiting to step into the studio about how tired I was and how I would love to have a cup of coffee (we were doing a strict detox diet as part of the course at the time). She pulled this small bottle* out of her bag and handed it to me.

Her: “It’s a turmeric shot. These things are great natural energy boosts.”
Me: “Turmeric? As in the spice?”
Her: “Yeah, have you heard about it? It’s got all these great ayurvedic properties, but it’s been found to naturally boost your energy. It’s more potent than caffeine.”
Me: “And it’s safe?”
Her: “Absolutely. It’s all natural. Just try half of it and let me know what you think after class.”

I tried it and she was correct. I felt extremely energized. I was almost shaking to get class started, that’s how powerful it was for me. I will add this note: it was the first of any sort of energy drink I had in weeks. We couldn’t even drink green tea, so the results might have been slightly skewed due to my body just going into overload.

I didn’t get a chance to follow up with the turmeric as an energy booster after that experience. But it stayed in the back of my mind and when I read about the natural benefits of turmeric in the diet for brain health and as an anti-inflammatory, I decided to look back into it as something to add into my daily diet to help manage my MS.

The Health Benefits of Turmeric

What makes Turmeric the wonder spice is the curcumin. Curcumin is believed to be a beneficial supplement to fight Alzheimer’s due to its anti-inflammatory and brain boosting properties. It also is found to have cognitive-boosting abilities, though this needs to be researched further. It can also help prevent certain forms of cancer.

These two things alone: inflammation and cognition are issues a person with MS deals with on a daily basis. I am not advocating forsaking all other forms of MS therapy, I am saying that by adding it to my daily diet will help supplement traditional forms of MS therapy. And as a runner, the anti-inflammatory benefits is extremely helpful to recovery.

But the energy/metabolism and the immune benefits? This becomes a universal appeal for a daily consumption of Turmeric. Even if you don’t have MS, having a natural way to get more energy and boost the immune system will be beneficial to your health. It may not cure a cold or completely prevent getting one, but it will give you that extra boost your body might need.

Making My Own Turmeric Drink

Before removing sugar from my diet, I found it harder to stomach turmeric even in a drink form. The taste was too weird and I needed something sweet to help cover it up because that’s how I handled flavors I didn’t care for in the past: add sugar to make it more palatable.

A few weeks after quitting sugar, I bought several shots of turmeric for an early morning road trip I was making to Tennessee. I took some sips and found that I actually enjoyed the flavor and felt quite the energy boost.

Sugar struck again as a ruiner of flavors. Now that it was out of my system, I was able to enjoy something I previously disliked.

But what took my breath away was the price per bottle. I could drink one bottle per day for the health benefits, but my wallet wasn’t going to be fond of the ~$6.00 per 3 fl oz. I knew I could make it even cheaper.

I found a couple of recipes online, but they didn’t adhere to the vegan diet (I wanted something I could drink once I switched over), or they didn’t have the flavors I was looking for, so I decided to create my own recipe. Below the break, you will find my recipe and some ideas for modifications.

Continue reading “Immune & Energy Booster Turmeric Shots”

Personal Motivation

Checking In: Losing the Pounds

When I started to make these lifestyle changes several months ago, my main reason was to keep my MS under control, fight my fatigue, and model good eating/exercising habits for Jai.

It was never about weight loss.

In fact, I anticipated that I would lose 5 pounds TOPS and just continue on my way of maintaining a specific weight range as I made these changes. I lost around 20 pounds in the first few weeks after giving birth, but the weight slowly came back from bad habits formed during the first few months of breastfeeding.

I had fallen into the trap of “I am craving this and because I am burning extra calories from breastfeeding, I can afford to eat extra sugar/fried/foods without extra exercise.” It stung to see myself steadily rise back to my pre-pregnancy weight. That’s when I started thinking about making changes, but not really committing to anything productive.

I started this blog and after the first week of dropping sugar, I lost 3 pounds. Within a few more weeks, it was 9 more pounds. It’s been almost a month and a half since my last weight update and I’ve lost an additional 13 pounds. I have officially lost 25 pounds since I’ve started this blog. I have lost even more from my highest weight, though I am not ready to reveal that number yet.

I’m waiting until I hit a specific weight-loss number from my highest weight before I do a “before/after progress post.” I anticipate that will be within the first few months of the New Year. It’s a good goal to reach for when I recommit myself.

Continue reading “Checking In: Losing the Pounds”