With that over and out of the way, I am back to feeling like myself again and moving ahead with implementing the Wahls Protocol, which I’ve committed to following this year. I used my downtime to study up on Wahls and get my head around its basic dietary tenants. So here’s the plan in a nutshell. In the simplest terms, I need to eat:
- Colorful vegetables and fruit (When you see white food, think Styrofoam. White food is bad in virtually all forms, except for coconuts. More on this in another post.)
- Organic protein. This means meat, fish, and poultry, but not beans. (Grass-fed, wild caught, organic animals are preferred, but you just have to do your best. If you’re a vegetarian, this is not the diet for you.)
- Organ meat. (It’s time to make friends with liver, but that’s where I’m drawing the line for now.)
- Seaweed (Dried seaweed can fill in for salt, which is not as bad as it sounds.)
- Anything that comes from a coconut. (Coconut milk, cream, chips, and yogurt all provide good stand-ins for dairy. In some cases, I like it better.)
Everything else is pretty much off my table. The list of “No’s” is so long it borders on comic. It includes the things you’d expect from a Paleo diet:
- No sugar.
- No processed meat.
- No gluten.
- No grain.
- No dairy.
- No beans.
- No eggs.
No eggs? Really? Aren’t eggs the perfect food? I was demoralized, but I’m not the only one who has taken exception to the “no eggs” rule. Enough of us gasp at this dictate that on page 95 of her book, Dr. Wahls put a callout box dedicated to the answer in which she explains: you can’t eat eggs because I can’t eat eggs and we’re trying to help you recreate what I did.
Fair enough. Okay, no eggs. Dammit.
In truth, I was with her right up until she said I couldn’t eat eggs. That rule marked the beginning of my negotiations. If you’ve ever been on a diet of any kind you know what I mean: “No sugar? Why? How about honey? What about coconut crystals? Or Steva?” I’m just as set in my ways as anyone else. Plus, I’m a picky eater. When I fry up a pan of chicken liver, I’m expanding my horizons. But I’m not a fan of mushrooms and “tripe” (i.e. cow stomach) is simply out of the question. I also have a sweet tooth, which makes me a baker more than a cook. So taking sugar, butter, and eggs out of my diet robs me of one of my favorite hobbies, in addition to my favorite foods. Between my love of sweets and my dislike of a host of perfectly benign vegetables, I began this diet protocol with a fairly narrow range of choices. Remove some of my staples—for example rice crackers and hummus—and I’m at a loss.
Nonetheless, I’ve managed to stay fairly true to the diet since January 1st without too many deviations. I did a lot of negotiating at first. Doing so helped me understand my parameters more clearly. After pushing back for a while, I’ve settled down to the rules as they’re written. I’ve purchased a bunch of new cookbooks and surfed Paleo and “Primal” diet cooking blogs to learn new recipes. I’ve experimented with creating acceptable Paleo versions of my old standards. I’ve had few nice surprises and a few frustrations. My coconut pancakes came out nicely even without eggs, but I have yet to figure out how to make a decent Key Lime Pie without dairy, eggs, or sugar. Both of these recipes push over the line anyway, but a girl can dream.
That leads me to my first overarching piece of advice: abandon the game of substitutions. For example, the Wahls diet eliminates dairy. If you’re like me and love dairy, then you’ll be tempted to figure out all the weird ways to pretend you’re eating dairy. There is “cream cheese” made out of soy, “parmesan cheese” made from nutritional yeast, and all kinds of fake butter. But here’s the thing: (a) they’re pretty terrible, and (b) they usually have other stuff in them you shouldn’t eat. The only acceptable substitutes for dairy come from my new best friend the coconut. Nut milks work too, but you have to be careful not to overdo it. I’ve learned that embracing my new grocery list and learning how to cook differently is part of the challenge. If I keep focusing on what I’ve given up then I’ll always feel deprived of something instead of satiated by the delights of what I can eat.
And isn’t this an important lesson for life in general? By embarking on this new protocol, I’m focusing on what I can do for myself, not on all the things I can’t do about my MS. Everyday I have the opportunity to make some choices that hold the hope of better health and recovery. And if that isn’t worth learning to eat mushrooms and liver, I don’t know what is.