I was officially diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis in January 2017 after developing Optic Neuritis in my right eye in November 2016 and then in my left eye in January 2017. This was the most life altering moment I have ever experienced. It felt as though every aspect of my world was turned upside down and inside out. In just a matter of days, I was seeing more doctors and having more tests done than I had in my entire life, and I was a healthy person! I ran. I lifted weights. I played collegiate volleyball. I was a pescatarian. This diagnosis made no sense to me. To say I was in complete shock is an understatement. I am a physical therapist and was very familiar with MS and its presentation but still could hardly believe this was happening to me.
My initial symptoms included right and left optic neuritis, brain fog (difficulty finding words and concentrating), slight slurred speech, fatigue, and occasional joint pain. It was later determined that a bout of liver failure I experienced in college could have been an early sign of MS or at the very least autoimmunity that would eventually develop into MS.
Luckily, I have an amazing group of family and friends who rallied around me to get me over the initial shock of the diagnosis. Even more fortunate for me was having an aunt who was willing to walk me through some alternative ideas and functional medicine treatment methods for dealing with my diagnosis. One of these methods was adopting the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) lifestyle – a way of controlling and managing MS through diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and self-care. AIP is often done in conjunction with conventional treatments and interventions as necessary. Living an AIP lifestyle meant another huge shift in my life. Prior to my diagnosis I was an almost 10-year pescatarian, avid long-distance runner/workout queen, bending over backwards at work and at home to exceed expectations, and rarely if ever taking breaks or time for myself. The AIP lifestyle changed just about all of that, and I am so thankful.
AIP meant adopting an omnivorous diet – a diet heavy in nutrient dense, organic meats, produce and healthy fats – as well as eliminating inflammatory foods like gluten, soy, dairy, grains, legumes, processed vegetable oils and additives, added sugars, nightshade vegetables, and nuts and seeds. If this sounds like a lot that’s because it is, at least at first. Eventually, through AIP, I was able to identify foods that triggered my symptoms and reintroduce foods I had originally eliminated that I tolerate well and reintegrate them into my diet. By eliminating the foods that increased the inflammation in my body I was able to keep my immune system in check, preventing it from attacking the central nervous system and causing exacerbations or progression of MS.
So far, since adopting AIP I have not had an MS flare up and I have not needed to take the traditional immunosuppressive or disease modifying drugs. I am not suggesting that everyone should strive to be medication free, because that is not the answer for all cases, but I do think that everyone can benefit from a healthier lifestyle especially if it can reduce symptoms, and possibly even halt disease progression! Some happy side effects of my lifestyle and dietary changes have been improved skin health, reduced GI issues that I had always assumed were “just normal”, weight loss, and reduced brain fog.
I think one of the huge benefits of AIP for me, aside from reduction in symptoms, is having something to do – something that gives you even the smallest feeling of control over MS and its impact on your life. I know when I first got my diagnosis, I felt helpless, like my life and my heath were on this one scary path and there was nothing I could do about it. AIP gave me a huge opportunity to take control and leave that feeling of helplessness behind. It is so empowering to prepare a meal knowing “hey I just made this and it is going to actively help heal my body.” Now instead of falling into a trap of worry and powerlessness I am actively pursuing my health and wellness. I decided to pursue the AIP certified coach designation in hopes of helping empower other people in similar situations.
My boyfriend and I took to social media to create an account chronicling our “adventures in AIP” and our fight against MS. We share our favorite recipes, tips, and tricks we’ve learned over the last few years hoping to help others make the changes necessary achieve the best health possible. We are overwhelmed by the amazing community of people out there traveling the AIP path, managing MS and other autoimmune diseases!
Even in the worst moments we have opportunities, no matter how small, to take control and make things better. I hope to encourage others to fight for their health in every way possible.