OK, so full disclosure, I love to eat and cook. Before my MS diagnosis three and a half years ago I had been a dairy-a-holic my entire life and ate meat most days of the week.
My weekend breakfast usually consisted of too much bacon and cooking the eggs in the bacon fat, lunch was some kind of sandwich with processed meat and dinner was focused around whatever meat we were having with a few sides.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved fruits and veggies too, they were usually just prepared in a way that wasn’t so healthy.
When I learned about Overcoming MS and the recommended dietary changes, I viewed it as a bit of a personal challenge, and knew that staying motivated in the kitchen would be difficult. I stopped the dairy first as I knew this would be the hardest change for me.
All of my digestive issues slowly went away, I was less bloated and felt less fatigued. Feeling the benefits certainly made it easier to continue not having dairy. I then started to cut back on the amount of meat I was eating and completely stopped about one and a half years ago.
There may be many factors that contribute to why following the OMS diet can be challenging – access to purchasing good food, cost, time, energy, etc. Because of this I think it can be useful to try and approach a dietary change with curiosity and openness.
Instead of focusing on what you can no longer have, look at all the wonderful things you CAN eat. Eating well is an investment in yourself.
I encourage you to write out a list of all the great food items that are OMS-friendly (it’s a really long list) – I think you may be surprised at the variety. For most of us, we have probably only been eating/choosing a limited number of items from this list. It can be easy to get in a food rut and eat the same things over and over again.
I tried to look at OMS as a bit of a reset and an opportunity to be creative and open-minded about new foods and ideas.
Whether you love cooking, maybe cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, or you just generally don’t enjoy meal preparation, here are a few things that may help:
I do my best to come up with four to five dinner meals that I may like to eat that week. This helps with focusing grocery shopping as well as not having to come home and then decide what’s for dinner last minute. I also keep a list of meal ideas for breakfast and lunch.
This has been a HUGE time and energy saver for me. I used to stroll around the store for an hour or more, spend way too much and never really have what I actually needed to put meals together. Coming up with some kind of meal plan, and then ordering what I actually need, means I can sit on my couch or in bed, plug in my order online then just arrange for pick up or delivery.
I have less food in my house now, but it’s all food that has a purpose. Shopping this way can sometimes be more expensive, but I have found because I’m making more mindful choices around what I buy I actually spend less most weeks.
Having items in your freezer that are set aside for days when you are busy or tired can make life easier. This is great for items like soups, stews and pasta sauces which freeze well.
I have dinner with my brother’s family once a week. One week we host and the next week they host. It means that this is one fewer meal I have to worry about. My sister-in-law is super awesome and usually give me lunch for the next day too!
I can be a bit of a control freak in the kitchen but I have learned (slowly…) that asking for help with meal planning and preparation makes a big difference. It’s also a great way to educate kids and other family members around the importance of food choices and the impact on health.
It can be easy to get into a food rut and eat the same things over and over again, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Talk to friends or family that love to cook and share ideas, buy a cookbook, go online and look at websites.
There is a way to put together OMS versions of most recipes. Missing cheese and meat in your tacos? Make a filling of black beans and sweet potato and use guacamole as your topping.
Missing meat sauce with your spaghetti? Shred veggies like carrot and zucchini, also adding mushroom, to bulk up the sauce and make it more filling. Missing pancakes with a side of bacon? Find a dairy-free pancake or crepe recipe and top it with your favorite fruit!
Change is difficult. Often our food choices have been with us for a very long time and changing patterns come with time, patience and perseverance. Take one week, one day, one meal at a time and see where you can insert an extra veggie, substitute a meat or dairy item, drink an extra glass of water, and thank yourself!
”Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” ~ Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
Read more: Virginia’s last piece for Overcoming MS, where she describes how multiple sclerosis is like a “silent passenger” in her life.