The definition of balance: an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady; a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
Balance is something I have always struggled with.
I have always been a social butterfly so figuring out how to keep up with my friends/social life, family, school, and sports was a huge challenge during high school. One thing I did have working for me during this time was during the week, when I got home from school or sports, I would do my homework, talk to my family, text my friends, and go to bed. During college I struggled juggling family, friends, school, and a serious, long distance boyfriend; but I learned to manage it after a few rough semesters.
Do you know what has been even harder than any of this? Balancing friends, family, two/three jobs, health and my MS. In high school and college I was easily able to compartmentalize my life and once I completed everything on my list, I could dedicate all my time to friends, family, and my relationships. I quickly found there is no easy checklist for my health and MS though. It is something that I continue to have to figure out. Even after I get home from work, on the weekends, and during holidays, no matter how much I would like, I’m realizing it's not as easy as drawing a check inside of a nice neat box beside “MS.”
(When I first started writing this particular blog, my plan was to make one long blog about balance. The more I reflect on it, though, I have decided to make it into a little series about the many ups and downs I’ve had throughout my MS journey thus far, trying to find my “perfect” balance. So stay tuned!)
When I first was diagnosed I researched all the diets, vitamins, workout routines and even bee venom (some say it helps reduce inflammation where the myelin is being attacked.) I came across Terry Wahl's TedTalk, "Minding Your Mitochondria." She is a physician:
"I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis in 2000, around the time I began working at the university. By 2003 I had transitioned to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. I underwent chemotherapy in an attempt to slow the disease and began using a tilt-recline wheelchair because of weakness in my back muscles. It was clear: eventually I would become bedridden by my disease."
Soon after I watched her TedTalk I went to Barnes & Noble and immediately bought her book, The Wahls Protocol and went home and highlighted, folded and made a booklet of notes summarizing and listing what I should and shouldn't be eating. Wahls researched what supplements were recommended to help protect the mitochondria (the part of the cell that takes in nutrients and breaks them down) within brain cells that communicate with parts of the body to function. She then decided to consume those nutrients through solid food instead of taking them as supplements. I put myself on The Wahls Diet, which is VERY similar to the Paleo Diet. The difference between Paleo and Wahls is that Wahls does not allow any grains or eggs. Dr. Wahls is allergic to eggs which is why she didn't include them in her diet, but I love eggs and knew they were allowed in Paleo, so I allowed them in mine.
Here is a very brief outline of The Wahls Diet:
3 cups of raw dark leafy greens (kale)
3 cups raw intensely colored vegetables and fruit (beets, berries, carrots)
3 cups raw organic sulfur-rich vegetables (cabbage, onions, asparagus, mushrooms)
A FEW TIMES PER WEEK-
Omega 3 fatty acid foods (wild fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring)
Grass fed organic meat
Organ meat (brain, liver, tongue)
Regular bone broth
Any processed foods
Legumes (peanuts, beans)
Grains (bread, rice)
Many different types of oil such as vegetable oil (I used coconut mostly)
Now some of you might read this and think "come on, that can't be that hard, you still get meat, veggies, and fruit." Well, like I said, I love hanging out with my friends and going to restaurants. Ordering a piece of steak (which was probably a strike because I doubt they were grass fed) with steamed broccoli (another strike since it wasn’t raw) instead of the delicious garlic whipped mashed potatoes was not fun. The good part was, my boyfriend at the time, Chris (who I’m still very good friends with), is an ultra-marathoner--yes, he runs 100 mile races for fun over mountains.
When I discovered Terry Wahls, Chris was already looking into going Paleo. So we went to the library one night and checked out every MS diet and Paleo book there. We made a grocery list of about 332489 items, went to grocery store, and bought two whole new pantries. We would make the dishes together and pack them for lunch and dinner. A lot of these dishes would be a gigantic bowl of raw kale, cranberries, cucumbers, onions, and whatever else was in our refrigerators, topped with balsamic vinegar (no oil) or grass fed beef stir fried with peppers, onions, and mushrooms. We were both working at restaurants a few blocks away from each other, so we would bring each other meals a lot. This was very helpful because I had someone who was in this with me and we never wanted to be the first person to cheat. We were very serious about it for about three months. Then slowly we fell off the caveman wagon.
We first slipped up with a piece of bread and then noodles. It was just all downhill from there. I am not saying anything bad about the Wahls Protocol OR Paleo, and if you have the willpower to eat this way, more power to you, but it is HARD. If you do try it, I HIGHLY recommend not doing it alone. I don’t think I would’ve gotten half as far without support from Chris and the fact that we were doing it together. It is so important to surround yourself with supportive and positive people. It is not something that Chris or I could incorporate into our lifestyles. The most important thing that I learned from that experience is that diets for a chronic lifetime disease--or an ultra-runner, or anyone in general--need to become part of your lifestyle.
Every time I ate I felt like it was a chore. I found myself skipping meals because it became such an annoyance to go through so much preparation. Like I said, if you can live by those guidelines, I have nothing but respect for you, but we couldn’t. My whole life was becoming centered around this diet. Chris and I were skipping out on hanging out with our friends and having meals with our families because we were dedicated to sticking to this. We were spending almost every minute we weren’t working either making food or researching and making lists of food we could eat or grocery shopping. It was way too much work for us. As someone that has a GREAT appreciation for food, especially being in the restaurant industry, this was hard. Having something I love become another burdensome part of MS just didn’t feel right to me. I feel like a part of learning to balance is not sacrificing the parts of life that give you joy but figuring out how to change them to make them work within your chosen lifestyle.