First came the diagnosis, which was terrifying enough. I had multiple sclerosis (MS). That information was overwhelming.
Then, I was told something that was meant to be encouraging, but instead, added more horror to my world. I was told that I could help control the severity of my fatigue and other MS symptoms, as well as my overall health, by committing to… a healthy diet.
I am shaking right now just thinking about it.
You see, my name is Yvonne, and I am a junk-a-holic. Sweets, meats, salty things, starchy things, and all things processed were my main food groups.
Monday’s meal plan: drive-thru.
Tuesday: dinner with my best buds, Ben and Jerry.
Wednesday: a healthy night… frozen dinner.
Thursday: processed pasta, the cheesier the better.
Friday: a social outing, dinner out with friends.
Saturday: takeout pizza, of course.
Sunday: combo night! Leftover takeout pizza and leftover takeout from Friday.
I was not completely hopeless. I knew that my five food groups were not the food pyramid experts recommended, but it worked for me. But the people in the know — and everyone else — insisted that I get serious about my diet.
And I am, but it has been a long and bumpy road, fraught with many nutritional errors and setbacks. So I thought maybe I should share some of the shocking things I learned and mistakes I made along the way to help anyone else on their path to a healthier diet.
1. Reading “Shape” magazine is not enough. You actually have to do what the articles tell you to do.
2. Read the labels. Reese’s chocolate peanut butter pumpkins are not actually made from pumpkins. And thus, they are not good for you. Similarly, a Mounds candy bar does not count as two servings of fruit. (If you get the king size bar, however, that does technically count as half of one fruit serving.)
3. The right store doesn’t mean the right food. This one is really confusing. Just because you buy something at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, does not necessarily mean it is 100 percent healthy. Some of their items may actually be only 60 percent healthy. I know right, what’s the point?
4. Not all yogurts are created equal. This is so frustrating. Not everything in the yogurt section of the grocery store is good for you. For some reason, adding flavors, candy, and cookies to various yogurts greatly diminishes their nutritional value. Doesn’t seem fair, but there it is.
5. Watch where you sprinkle. Some spices can add health benefits to your diet. Cinnamon is a classic example. Cinnamon is good for you. Yet the experts don’t suggest sprinkling cinnamon on ice cream and puddings as the best way to reap its benefits.
6. Choose the right protein. You need protein in your diet, and hamburger has protein. But big, fat juicy hamburgers are not that good for you.
7. And choose the right dairy. Dairy can be very nutritious. But while ice cream is technically a dairy product, a big, fat ice cream sundae is not good for you.
8. You need grains in your diet. Bread is made from grains. But for some insane reason, fried bread dough is not good for you.
9. As it turns out, raw cookie dough is bad for you. This one broke my heart. For some reason, I thought the calories didn’t register until you actually baked the cookies. It is a cruel, cruel world we live in friends.
Try not to be too overwhelmed with these lessons. Basically, what I have had to train my junk-a-holic brain to do is accept that if doesn’t look super delicious, it’s probably good for you.
To offer some encouragement to my MS friends, allow me to end on a positive note: Once you start eating the not so good looking things, you do start to feel a little better.
And before you know it, they aren’t that bad after all.
A version of this article originally appeared on YvonnedeSousa.com.
Yvonne deSousa is living with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis and is the author of “MS Madness! A ‘Giggle More, Cry Less’ Story of Multiple Sclerosis.” Visit her website or follow her on Twitter.