Article by Nyaka Mwanza, a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there. This article focuses on how important it is for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to have a healthy relationship with food.
Maintaining health by way of a balanced diet is an important part of managing your multiple sclerosis (MS), minimizing symptoms and flares, and thriving in your day-to-day life. A healthy relationship with food can help promote healthy eating as well as better overall mental and physical health, both of which can make life with MS easier.
When it comes to building a healthy relationship with food, it’s important to understand and appreciate how food impacts your health and overall wellness.
Why a healthy relationship with food matters
Maintaining your holistic health keeps you primed to handle multiple sclerosis, whatever it may throw your way. While there isn’t enough scientific evidence at present to recommend any single MS diet, experts are exploring how certain dietary habits relate to MS and its symptom severity. Having a healthy relationship with foods means you can better supply your body with the nutrients it needs to support brain and immune health, while also managing your weight to avoid complications from multiple sclerosis. Food also offers up an opportunity to socialize and connect with people, which can be important for avoiding feelings of isolation with MS.
Proper nourishment and balanced nutrition are important to ensure you’re not exacerbating MS symptoms where avoidable. For example, fatigue is a common symptom of MS already, but getting inadequate amounts of food or skipping meals can further contribute to low energy levels.
Not getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals can also worsen MS symptoms, while getting adequate amounts may actually have protective effects, some findings would suggest.
Biotin-rich foods and those high in vitamin B-7, in particular, may have a direct protective effect on brain cells. Similarly, vitamin D appears to have direct protective effects on neurons and cells that make myelin, as well as some immune cells.
Eating healthily helps you reach and maintain a healthy body weight. MS and weight gain can be a dangerous combination. Weight gain can lead to more health concerns, such as joint stress, heart issues, and respiratory problems. Obesity is suspected to be a risk factor for MS or more severe symptoms and disease progression.
But managing a healthy weight can be a challenge when you have multiple sclerosis because certain MS treatments such as steroids include weight gain among their side effects. Additionally, some MS symptoms such as depression and decreased mobility can cause weight gain while also making exercising a struggle — so for many people, food rather than exercise is the primary factor in weight management.
Pleasure, entertainment, and connection
Food fuels and nourishes our bodies, yes, and it can, in a sense, nourish our souls. When thinking about your relationship with food when you have multiple sclerosis, it’s important not to discount the benefits of food beyond its nutritional value. We eat for several reasons:
- Food brings joy and pleasure
- Food can be comforting
- Food is part of identity, culture, and tradition
- Food brings us together for social reasons
What makes a relationship with food healthy or unhealthy?
Ultimately, eating food should be a balanced and moderate activity in terms of quantity, quality, and emotionality. This means eating what you need and prefer versus being obsessed with the types or amount of food. The goal is to practice balance and flexibility in your eating.
An unhealthy relationship with food usually involves restricting calories or types of food, or it may include overeating past the point of satiety or to the point of discomfort. An unhealthy relationship with food may also include using food restriction as punishment, or feeling shame or guilt upon eating certain foods.
For people with MS looking to build a healthy relationship with food, take stock and ensure your eating habits do the following:
- Comprise more positive experiences with food than negative ones
- Involve eating a variety of different foods, all in moderation
- Are absent of stress or fear
- Avoid allowing food to control your life
- Foster the belief that what you eat does not define your value as a person
- Allow for flexibility when a preferred food isn’t available
- Support a healthy relationship with and sense of one’s self, body and mind
Improve your relationship with food
Your relationship with food is personal and unique, and it may require regular work to keep it healthy.
For many people, building a new, functional relationship with food after a diagnosis of a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis can be a complex undertaking. While you’re working to create a balanced and healthy relationship with food, don’t lose sight of why it matters: The food you eat can support you in persevering over your symptoms and help you avoid complications.
Living the healthiest life you can in tandem with following a treatment plan personalised to you and your MS contribute to a higher quality of life.
- Wellness for People with MS: What do we know about Diet, Exercise and Mood And what do we still need to learn?
- Eating habits
- Weighty Issues
- How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food