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20 April 2018

Stress, diet and how the Overcoming MS Program helps

Carolyn explains why stress can have such a big impact on our ability to keep track of our diet, and explains why the Overcoming MS Program can be so helpful.

We are great believers in the power of individual stories that are shared by our community. Having a wide range of perspectives helps us to ‘keep it real’ and acknowledge that not everyone’s journey is the same. Here Carolyn Kaufman, in searingly honest style, shares her personal struggles about managing her diet.

Alright, so I messed up. I started cheating on my diet. I didn’t know why I was doing it, but once I started, I just couldn’t seem to stop. In 2014, I started the Overcoming MS Program right after a flare-up that took away the feeling on my entire right side.

For four months, I struggled to walk, write, or feel sensation along half of my body and I was desperate for change. I did my research and discovered the Overcoming MS Program and jumped on the diet immediately. Within a month, I was feeling better and for the next 18 months, I didn’t veer from the diet once. In 2016 I thought I was on top of the world. 

I had just quit my job to travel and was feeling better than I ever had in my life. I was over 145 lbs down (that’s 66 kilos!) and my cane was starting to collect dust in the back of my closet. The Overcoming MS Program had truly saved my life and between the diet and exercise, I felt like a new woman!

Well, until life circumstances happened. I still hadn’t learned how to use stress management skills and I’d only started meditating a few weeks earlier. My defenses were weak and no matter how hard I tried to focus on the program, I found myself back on auto pilot, standing in the candy aisle of the supermarket.

A few peanut M&M’s couldn’t really hurt, right? My brain was looking for relief and trying to trick me, but with a long history of binge eating, I knew I was tip-toeing on dangerous territory.

Losing control of my diet

Over the next few months, a few pieces of chocolate turned into ice cream and some chips. Soon, instead of feeling on top of the world, I was on a landslide of cheating every few days.

I felt like a fraud which made me stress even more. I was struggling to find the balance between eating well for my health and falling back into a 27-year habit and the autopilot feeling really scared me. On a particularly rough day, I decided to take myself shopping.

I wasn’t feeling good about my body and didn’t want to try anything on, so I found myself at an ice cream shop instead. I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. After ice cream, I moved to another place in the mall to get a piece of pizza. I knew then that I’d lost control. I hopped to restaurant after restaurant, binge eating only like I’d read about in books

That night, I went home and broke down into a cacophony of negative self-talk in between sobs. Clearly, I was broken beyond my ability to manage. I knew I’d truly messed up and within the next week or two, I paid for it.

My decline was rapid and intense. Everything was numb. My skin was on fire and I couldn’t pick myself up off the couch. As the months passed and my MRIs showed new damage, I wallowed in my own self misery. I had no choice but to change my focus. I had to focus on my lack of stress management skills.

The effect of stress on our system

After researching stress, how it affects the body and how people practice stress management, I started integrating those exercises into my routine. I discovered that stress triggers our ‘fight or flight’ instinct which not only increases inflammation in the body, but also burns our sugar stores.

These give us fast-acting energy in case we need to fight or run from a threat.  If we’re burning glucose, then the moment we relax our body has to work on refueling those sugars so we have enough energy to survive.

This is where the autopilot comes from. This is why we need to hit the vending machine at 4pm or binge all night after a “perfect” day of dieting. The body’s will to survive is significantly stronger than its will to hit a goal. So, when we stress through the day and push ourselves too hard, we set ourselves up physiologically for failure at night.

What to do if you find yourself slipping from the program

If you do this, your symptoms will come back (or get worse), so it’s important to be mindful of your stress and know what tools to use when it feels overwhelming. Just like the messages that are sent from our brain and spine to tell our body what to do, our thoughts also travel along the same neural pathways.

  • Focus on how you talk to yourself and start to replace the negatives with positives
  • Calm yourself down periodically through the day with deep belly breathing
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time in nature

These are just a few options for stress management that can help you stay focused and nice to yourself if you fall back on old habits. The big message here is that you can have control over your illness and your coping mechanisms by managing your stress levels. Invest in yourself by following all of the parts of the Overcoming MS Recovery Program:

It’s possible to live without the weight of MS – you just have to know your body and understand how to work with the signals it’s giving you. Remember to be grateful that your body works so hard to keep you alive. Learn about it, pay attention to it, and adjust your actions accordingly.   Love & light,

Carolyn Kaufman