One of my favorite things about the holiday season is using leftovers to make delicious meals that last for the entire month. If you follow this blog, you know that I adhere to The Wahls Protocol. This way of eating has improved my health ten fold and has held my MS at bay. At present I still have relapsing remitting MS and have not progressed, at my age a small wonder. Yes, I have used disease-modifying drugs and am currently on my fourth, a strong b-cell depletion therapy, but I am confident that my lifestyle choices have been as important if not more than these medications.
I believe strongly in n=1 experimentation on my body and have found my sweet spot with diet, adequate sleep and exercise. It has taken a few years to get it right, but I can say with confidence that I have it down. Thankfully, I have a wonderfully open and patient neurologist that does not brush aside complimentary therapies. Even though she runs the Neurological Residency program at Cedar Sinai, she often acts more like a functional medicine doctor, looking at me as an entire system and not just what she sees on my brain and spine MRI. For this I am forever thankful.
The holidays can come with strong emotional memories that we often correlate with food. Maybe your family made the same dish every Thanksgiving and it simply does not feel like the holidays without it. Part of the reason for this blog was a need for me to find a healthful alternative to chocolate chip cookies, which are most obviously a trigger for me. Over the course of the years, I have finally come up with some recipes that fit in my new lifestyle, yet satisfies a need for comfort food. This is not without its challenges. Just this week, I used the Trader Joe’s chocolate chips instead of my usual diary free brand to make a holiday dessert. Friday was awful, my whole right side ached and I have pins and needles in my leg for the next 24-48 hours. I knew instantly that there was something in those chips that I could not tolerate, probably dairy even though they profess to be dairy free. After a day of rest, Epsom salt baths and healthy eating I felt much better. It is really that simple, food matters to me, I am not being selfish or picky. If I eat the wrong foods, my body lets me know in the worst way.
Along with food, I always make time for exercise. Movement is not a luxury for me, but a necessity. During the holidays, with the added stress that this time of year can bring, exercise becomes even more important. This could mean a nice hike, a trip to the gym or some lengthy stretching. It really does not matter what I do, as long as I move my body every single day. If I do not, the spasticity comes back and my legs just ache. It feels like a vice squeezing my calves, definitely not pleasant. On most days, I have some level of discomfort, but after working out I always feel much better.
The final part of the equation is rest. Adequate rest and relaxation is essential for mitochondrial health and for making healthful eating decision. If I have a rough night and do not sleep, my brain just does not fire quite right. I “hit the wall” and I am no good to anyone. I value my rest so much that I make it a priority above many other things. If I sleep well, I am much more engaged with life and feel emotionally strong. During the holidays, do not feel bad about prioritizing your sleep. Turn off the Netflix, put the book down and sleep. Use lavender in your bathwater and put some on your neck, wrist and pillow. You will have a restful night and wake up ready to go, more able to make good choices with your diet.
Today, as preparation for the busy last weeks of the semester and the stress that this heavy schedule will surely bring, I made some healing turkey soup with the broth that I saved from our turkey. My broth turned out wonderfully as seen by the spoon standing up straight from the container!
I freeze the leftover broth in small cupcake size portions and use it for stir-fry, butternut squash soup or when cooking vegetables. With healthy choices at the ready, I have no excuse and can make just about anything quickly after a long day at work.
If you are feeling the need to revisit your health this coming year, consider treating yourself to the best gift one can give, the gift of health. Don’t be afraid to begin because you think it will be too difficult. No one starts this journey and achieves perfection right away. I had many moments in which I ate something that I knew I should not have and I suffered for it. It took a few years and many modifications to come to where I am, a place of balance and health. Believe me, It is well worth the effort.