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By Contributing Writer Needles‘n...

Posted Sep 29 2008 5:40pm

By Contributing Writer Needles‘nPens

  I’d like to hear from others about how menu changes and choices have affected your family and/or your social life.I was raised in a meat and potatoes, milk and dessert home. I always ate what was put on my plate. Depression-era parents taught us not to waste food. Three square meals a day was considered a successful family accomplishment, as were shared table conversations. We all ate spongy white bread made with “new and improved” enriched flour, guaranteed to help us “grow strong bodies, twelve ways.”  Fast forward to today’s world, where families struggle to find time together at the dining room table, and meal preparation is squeezed in after hectic work days and before evening community events. Fast food, processed food, and take out food replaced the wholesome foods once cooked carefully at home. Sporadic efforts at eating healthy might include switching to whole wheat bread; we learn slowly, but we still continue to  grow as adults in that unlucky, unhealthy, thirteenth way. Life has a way of altering routines.   During my late-in-life MS diagnostics, I was frightened by all the possibilities that my doctor was working to rule out. I didn’t want to wake up, after a stroke, and find someone else tangling with my long hair, so I cut it short. Clearly, I feared the worst.As most adults do, I had gained weight gradually, perhaps a pound or two a year. As my clothing sizes increased, I rationalized it by noting that most of the people in my family were “round.”   But facing my new medical fears, I knew it was time to change that long-accepted self-definition. To begin to, as some say, “reinvent” myself, I changed my menu.

 I dropped all red meat first, along with all fried foods, and eventually all dairy products (that was the hardest!) Then, as I was diagnosed simultaneously with RRMS and with high cholesterol, I dropped all meats (you know, chickens come from eggs - took me a while to realize that cholesterol is in poultry!) I tripled the amount of fresh vegetables and fruits in my menu. Three fruits at lunch, with a salad, replaced the heavier lunches that had become my working routine.I’ve kept the potatoes – without salt or butter. I’ve kept the occasional chocolate bar (switched from milk chocolate to dark), and have kept low fat yogurt every other day or so. I drink lots of water and no longer have caffeinated beverages. I’m happy at a restaurant that will serve me a salad and a plain baked potato without asking questions.

Before the icy sidewalks, I was walking 2 miles each evening, with my husband by my side for balance and for quiet conversation. My cholesterol numbers dropped dramatically with cholesterol medication. I’ve lost 50 pounds in 12 months, but am now stuck on a plateau due to this winter’s less-frequent evening walks. I look forward to spring weather and shedding perhaps 10 - 15 more pounds. I’m wearing clothing sizes I’d worn in college 40 years ago!

I “look good”, and hear that all the time at work. My symptoms are quiet right now, but when they do surface, I hide all that I can. I typically experience visual disturbances, poor balance, dizziness, word retrieval issues and some tingling and numbness. I fear being seen as less than valuable at my job if my symptoms become known to others. I need my job, my health insurance and my eventual pension. Staying healthy is, as for everyone else, an essential life goal.

I have to think that the change in my nutrition is helping. I do feel better than I have in 30 years or more. No more headaches, ever, and they used to happen every day. I give myself the daily injections of Copaxone now, and they do hurt for about 30 minutes, but that is bearable. I’m grateful for the medication that doesn’t keep me home from work. I haven’t missed any work in six months.

Food has so many social associations, though. Eating at the family table has been diminished by my choices, to my dismay. My family still eats “normal” food, and they don’t want to switch with me to whole wheat pasta, whole wheat grains, and no meat, no fats. I don’t impose my choice on them, nor do they ask me to eat “normal” foods, but it has affected our family table time. We eat differently, and often separately. That has saddened me.

And going out for a weekend breakfast or lunch with friends is also different now - innocently, someone may question “who told you not to eat meat?” (Or dairy, fried food, eggs, etc.) I don’t usually answer that question in a way that satisfies their wish to see me eat “normal” food. Again, I don’t suggest that they eat differently, nor do I alter what I will safely order for myself. I try to steer the conversation away from the savory menu; it is not always easy.

I know that my food choices are right for me. No one told me to do this - I decided to work at being healthy, realizing that, if I might be dependent on others to physically help me someday, I was going to be a better, more manageable patient size. Those residual fears associated with the diagnostic process remain a hovering image. So I persist in my determination to eat only what I believe will not harm or limit me.

I always resist using the impermanent word “diet” to describe the changes I’ve made, as this new menu is a life-long alteration.   I’d love to hear from others about how such a menu alteration is handled in homes, and with friends. I’m doing what I think will benefit me, and ultimately those I love, for the long run. Please let me know what answers you’ve found?

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Today’s article was submitted by a loyal reader of Sunshine and Moonlight.   If M.S. has touched your life and you’re interested in submitting an article for possible publication, email the piece toKim.  We reserve the right to select appropriate articles based on content, style, and quality.  

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