Living with any type of chronic disease can be frightening and life altering. However, with multiple sclerosis, it is also confusing. One day the afflicted can appear quite healthy and the next whirling around in a wheelchair. In my two decades of living with a progressive form of MS, the biggest lesson I have learned is to keep the pounds off. This entails watching my diet and exercising every day.
Does this chair make my derrière’ look big?
MS hit me hard and fast. Within my first year, I was in a wheelchair. My legs were stiff, I hurt all over, and I was too dizzy to walk more than a few feet without falling. These were not my best days. Sitting all day and allowing depression to set in, I gained over 30 pounds over the next few years. This was the first time in my life that I could not balance my calorie intake with exercise. As a life-long fitness geek, I was at a loss — until I decided to fight back.
First, we diet.
Not picturing myself as a balloon on wheels, I focused on improving my diet. Since I do not believe in trendy diets using gimmicks restricting certain food groups, I chose what has always worked best for me. Although it may seem old-fashion, calorie counting while including all food groups has never failed me. With my limited mobility, however, the weight came off very slowly. Nevertheless, within a couple of months, I could exert myself for longer periods.
Three wheels are better than two.
As the pounds slowly disappeared, I stepped up my exercise routine. I began gardening for as long as my body would allow. I found that if I stayed calm — no stress — and did not allow myself to become too tired, I could accomplish much more than I ever thought possible. I found the key: listen to my body and work until it tires. By now, I was also accustomed to the pain, so it did not deter me from moving.
Soon, I could resume my former weight-training and aerobic exercises. Obviously, I was not nearly as strong as I was pre-multiple sclerosis. Nevertheless, to be able to exercise again was priceless. The only thing missing was cycling. I used to ride my bike for miles every day just for fun, but with my balance issues, biking was off my fitness plan …or so I thought. Luckily for me, I live in a city known for cycling — Davis, CA. Three-wheeled cycles are very common here and perfect for those with balance issues. After a few minutes on the tricycle, I was hooked. This became my mode of transportation.
Ditch the chair, slip on the skinny jeans.
It took an entire year to lose the weight and build up my strength. A decade has passed and I haven’t used my chair in over eight years. With my well-balanced low-calorie diet and exercise, I am strong, fit and my MS symptoms are fewer.
My advice to anyone, whether afflicted with a disease or not, is to eat a variety of healthy foods, focusing on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit portion size. Listen to your doctor and take all the vitamins recommended. For me this includes calcium and an extra dose of vitamin D — known to reduce MS relapses. Finally, exercise as if your every step depends on it. It just very well may.
More from this author:
How Multiple Sclerosis Helped Me to Be a Stronger, Better Person
Hot Flashes, Mood Swings, Menopause…Oh My
Living With It: Traveling With Multiple Sclerosis