The Hidden Dangers of Food-Shaming
Last updated: September 2023
Diet and exercise are both essential components of managing multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, but sometimes the pressure to eat the right thing takes a negative toll on us. I am sure every person reading this has had someone else weigh in on what they should or should not be eating.
I have had patients feel crushed by their own guilt and shame, convinced their new lesions were caused by their "bad choices." They have become conditioned to believe that they cannot enjoy an ice cream cone on a hot summer day without suffering dire consequences. I have other patients who restrict their food so much that they make themselves (and their loved ones) miserable. In any other context, this would be called an eating disorder. In the MS world, it is sadly becoming the norm, and we deserve better.
A healthy relationship with food
As a healthcare professional, I always encourage my patients to eat a heart-healthy, well-rounded diet. There is incredibly fascinating research being done on the gut microbiome and the effects of food on our symptoms. Food undoubtedly has the power to change our overall health, both for the better and the worse. Moderation and portion control are important for everyone, regardless of whether they have MS or not. However, having a healthy relationship with food is just as important.
Focus on feeling good
Food shaming is a growing issue that we all need to be more aware of. Strictly categorizing food as good/clean or bad/toxic does nothing but set us up for guilt and failure. When we feel like we have failed to maintain our health goals, we are more likely to give up entirely. Instead, we have to focus on feeling good and finding a lifestyle that is easily maintained.
I eat lots of fruits and veggies, along with dessert and cheeseburgers on occasion – and that is okay! One unhealthy meal does not mean you are a failure, and it certainly does not mean you deserve a relapse or for your MS to get worse.
Health is a highly personal journey
Health and wellness is a personal, highly individual journey. I follow a diet that, through trial and error, I have found keeps me at my personal best. It is also one that easily fits into my daily routine and schedule so I do not have to spend too much time obsessing about when and what I am going to eat. That does not mean everyone with MS should eat what I eat or do what I do.
Every person’s body needs different things from the food they eat, and we each have unique circumstances, like work schedules and cultural backgrounds, that heavily influence our diets. Deciding on a diet should be a team effort between each person and their healthcare team because listening to the endless opinions and judgments of others can get us off track quickly.
I personally love when my patients come to me with questions about diet. It shows me that they are engaged and invested in their health, and allows me to set realistic, individualized goals they can achieve. If you do decide to make a dietary change, it should make you feel good and empowered, not stressed and guilty.
Find a lifestyle that works for you
Maybe my point of view is different than the norm, but I feel good and I enjoy having a healthy relationship with food. I’m always proud and excited when I hear about a fellow person with MS using diet and exercise to live their best lives, but I also recognize that what works for them might not be best for me. The goal of health and wellness is to find a lifestyle that works for you and allows you to live your best life.
So go forth and rock your wellness, whatever that means to you! If you need some help figuring it out, I highly recommend you check out the National MS Society’s wellness resources. Above all, I hope we can all build one another up and encourage those around us to do the same.
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