I've been vegetarian for half of my life, and it's a really important part of who I am. I never thought I'd stop being vegetarian. But, I also have multiple sclerosis. For about 10 years it was pretty dormant but recently it's gotten worse. Not like "wheelchair" worse, but "messing with my life and getting hard to ignore" worse. I realize this sounds like a stupid complaint from someone with MS, but I'm also a runner, and I can't run more than about 4 miles these days. At this point, if someone told me that I could cure my disease by getting a giant "I love Ronald Reagan" tattoo on my forehead, I probably would.
A few months ago, I started reading a book called Healing Multiple Sclerosis. The author cured herself with a very restrictive diet with the goal of healing her gut. Apparently all autoimmune disease is either caused by or related to gut problems. I'd seen the book before and dismissed it as crazy. After all, MS is incurable. Who did this lady think she was, promoting a cure that was as simple as changing what you ate? Who wants to change what they eat anyway? Not this Pop Tart lover. Dumb.
But when my symptoms started getting worse, I bought the book and read it. I wasn't convinced this diet was going to cure me, but while reading the book, something unexpected and amazing happened. I started thinking that maybe my disease could be cured. It was a huge shift for someone who often joked about her "incurable degenerative brain disease" like it was the funniest thing ever.
On March 1, I started following the diet. I immediately felt better, despite the sugar and bread cravings. But after a couple of weeks on the very restrictive diet (my only source of protein was nuts and seeds), I started to feel weak and hungry all the time. I decided to eat some chicken. It was temporary, I rationalized. After a few months on the diet, you could add legumes, and if I could eat lentils and beans, I figured I could cut out chicken.
But something was bothering me about the Healing MS diet. The author prescribed certain foods and prohibited others, but didn't really explain why. This gnawed at me. Around this time I discovered two more books that promised, if not to cure MS, to at least reverse some of the symptoms and stop the progression of autoimmune disease in general. I inhaled The Wahls Protocol and The Paleo Approach.
As a vegetarian, I'd always thought this paleo stuff was crap, designed to make cross fit freaks feel better about their high cholesterol. But when I started hearing that paleo could have a major impact on autoimmune disease, I perked up. Maybe chicken was my gateway drug or something. But the cool thing about these two books - especially The Paleo Approach - was that the authors explained exactly why they were suggesting the foods in their diets. And it made sense. So I am trying it.
So what does my diet look like? I eat meat, fish, and vegetables. That's pretty much it. I eat lots of fat. I don't eat my beloved potatoes. No rice, no bread, no sugar. No packaged or processed foods. I eat some berries every day, and sometimes I have an apple. It tastes like candy to me now.
There have been some ugly moments since I've started making this transition. I've had some major energy crashes while my body tries to figure out how to fuel itself without the massive amount of carbs I used to eat. Sean has become a full time chef, which is pretty hard since he gets up for work at 4:30. I've sobbed like a stupid baby while choking down meat or fish that I never expected to eat again. I try to convince myself it tastes good and that it's good for me, but it's not quite working.
Do I feel better? I'm not sure yet. It hasn't been very long so I'm withholding judgment for now. I don't feel worse.
Vegetarianism is my religion. I feel strongly about not consuming animals, about not wasting the earth's precious resources to grow animal foods in the stupid ways we typically do (i.e., factory farms). I always thought it was healthier to eat vegetarian, and if I had never gotten this disease, I'm sure I would still feel that way. I acknowledge that this whole experiment might fail, and maybe I'll get worse instead of better. It wouldn't be all bad though, cause then I'd get to go back to eating the way I want to!
Not all the changes I've made are food related. I'm also running a lot less, which I like about as much as the bone broth that's currently simmering away on my stove. I hope the running diet is temporary, but it seems like the right thing to do right now. Healing requires that you take it a bit easy. You should still move, but you probably shouldn't train hard, because it will likely take energy away from the healing that your body needs to do. I've often said my health is my highest priority, but then I put running first, crossing my fingers and rationalizing that running is good for my health. But that hasn't been working so well.
I'm doing a lot of things that feel wrong in the short term, with the hope that they will help my health in the long term. Taken together, these are the some of the hardest things I've done in my life. I don't know if it's courageous and awesome or just a desperate pipe dream (or totally irrelevant!), but I'm doing it anyway.
I want to be healthy again. I want to run long distances again.
I'll keep you posted.
Edited: All the diets that I researched over the past few months are pretty similar. The main points are to eliminate refined sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, and legumes, which will help heal your gut and therefore (hopefully) reverse or stop your autoimmune disease. The Paleo Approach, or Autoimmune Protocol (a.k.a. "AIP," which is what I ended up deciding to do) is the most restrictive of them all, additionally disallowing nuts, grains, seeds and seed oils, eggs, and nightshades. But it does allow fruit, which the Healing MS diet does not. I'm using this cookbook heavily, and the food is actually great, despite all the limitations. Anyone who eats meat would love these recipes.