Exercise DVD Ivy’s Story Part Two

A Life Changing Diagnosis

At the University of Miami I was first seen by a urologist and then by a neurologist. After an extensive and exhausting series of bladder tests and MRIs of my brain and cervical spine the neurologist, Dr. William Sheremata, sat me down, with my parents in the room, to tell me the most terrifying thing I had ever been told. He said I was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS). At this point my thoughts went into a complete tailspin. I was certain a diagnosis of MS meant I would end up in a wheelchair. I wouldn’t be able to walk; I’d never get married or have children. I was convinced my life was over. Dr. Sheremata calmly explained what MS was and what I could expect. In one visit I learned more about MS than I cared to learn. I learned MS changes your brain in a way that can cause depression, anxiety, impaired memory, and loss of mental clarity; in addition, there are physical symptoms, including impaired vision, paralysis, inability to swallow, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

My neurologist said I had the option of going on one of a few disease-modifying medications available to treat MS at the time, I could enter a trial to test a new drug, or I could try changing my diet. I was told about Dr. Roy Swank’s research and his book, The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, and I was told that MS is a disease that is made worse by inflammation but can often be made better by adopting a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammation diet. The way I understood it, the diet wouldn’t cure the disease but neither would the medication. The medications were contra-indicated during pregnancy—so I knew they had to be some heavy-duty drugs—and also came with very serious side effects, including suicidal ideation. I was already struggling with episodes of depression, and I can tell you right now, I did not want to take medication. I was so confused, and I was so scared.

To say that period of time was a low point in my life would be a drastic understatement. As I struggled to accept the fact that I had been given a life-changing diagnosis, I managed to remain hopeful that somehow, someway I would have as normal a life as possible. But I also knew I couldn’t just ignore the diagnosis. I had to do something. Of the options I had been given, the change in diet appealed to me the most. The biggest obstacle at first, to be honest, was I just couldn’t imagine how a change in diet could really be powerful enough to improve my health considering I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t have diabetes, I didn’t have heart disease, and I was exercising all the time.

I trusted my neurologist and eventually learned he was considered among the top in his field, but I still felt I needed a second opinion. It was within days of my diagnosis that I called a dear friend of mine from high school, Andy Larson (who is now my husband); Andy was a medical student and I knew he was incredibly smart so I called to ask his opinion on whether he thought changing my diet would be the best first step. I didn’t have any close family doctor friends to call, and Andy was the only person I knew who was in medical school at that time. He wasn’t at just any medical school; he was at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top three medical schools in the country. I just prayed he knew, or at least had the training and patience necessary to research, whether a change in diet could in fact help me.

Andy was shocked and saddened to hear about my diagnosis, but perhaps even more shocked to hear my neurologist would suggest dietary modification as a means of treatment. He was vaguely aware that some people could lower their cholesterol level with diet and he knew you needed extra nutrition if you were in the burn unit, but he had never been exposed to treating something like MS with food. However, because I was so strongly encouraged and intrigued by the nutrition approach, Andy spent an entire weekend researching MS and diet belowground at the university’s medical library; he still wasn’t quite up to speed with the Internet! Later, he flew down to Miami to meet with Dr. Sheremata, who we came to realize was one of the world’s foremost authorities on MS; he was a full professor and had authored more than sixty scientific papers at that time.

Andy concluded I should absolutely change my diet because the research was clear, crystal clear. He told me the research on diet was too overwhelming to ignore. I remember him saying he actually felt cheated that he had to learn the facts about the correlation between diet and disease on his own. The more we learned about MS and other chronic diseases the more we learned that the brain, and body is constantly remodeling itself. For example, in MS patients, the brain has a significant reserve capacity that it can use to repair itself. Activities that exercise your brain and body (such as Full Fitness Fusion!) appear to be critical to the development of the cognitive reserve needed to work around the areas of damage caused by MS.

After hearing Andy’s opinion I immediately and wholeheartedly changed the way I ate. I adopted a nutrient-rich, whole foods-based and anti-inflammatory diet. I also used my fitness background to develop a workout program that would keep me lean and strong without causing a drain in my energy levels; at this point I was still struggling with fatigue related to MS (fatigue is one of the most common complaints people with MS have) and my body just was not up to exercising for long periods of time. I needed to figure out an exercise program that delivered results in a short amount of time, no more than 30 minutes. I soon realized that my 30 minute workouts were getting me leaner and stronger than the longer duration workouts I had been accustomed to doing for years because by cutting the workout time in half I was able to exercise more intensely. By focusing on quality over quantity I could get results in half the time.

From Illness to Exercise DVD – Ivy’s Story Part Three: Wedding Bells!