Just after Erica Winn turned 21, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an inflammatory disease that leads to neurological degeneration. Along with the life-changing diagnosis for a young woman at the beginning of her adult life, came the abrupt lesson that life comes at you quickly and doesn’t wait until you’re ready. Winn’s diagnosis had the power to propel her forward or force her to retreat. After initially fighting her illness, Erica found healing through food and is now a popular Paleo food blogger. She is now at a place of acceptance and is living as the best version of herself.
I’ve always been a driven, self-motivated person—at times to my own detriment. And I have always believed that rough patches in life can turn us into a harder or softer version of ourselves. So when I hit one of those rough patches, being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 21, I was at a personal crossroads. At first I thought I could keep following my path and just ignore or fight back against my disease. Eventually, accepting my disease allowed me to appreciate each and every day and to live my life purposefully and meaningfully.
Before my diagnosis, I was on a path toward ruthlessness. I was charging ahead, with my head down, allowing nothing to get in my way. I had plans and ideals, and I was going to work hard for a payoff later. I was going to work my way “to the top” (wherever that is), and enjoy life after I got there.
But then I hit a roadblock with my MS diagnosis. Initially, I tried to fight back. I believed I could be bigger and stronger than Multiple Sclerosis. Truth be told, it worked for a little while. However, a couple years down the road, I found myself suffering silently, and not just from illness. I had bottled up my emotions and buried myself in a hole because I believed that showing anything but tenacity made me weak.
One day I broke. I realized I couldn’t keep going forward as if nothing changed. Because everything had changed. Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at such a young age completely threw me off my plan. Now I felt like I didn’t know what I wanted or where I was going. Even though I kept thinking I was fighting my MS and the changes it was inevitably going to bring, my diagnosis changed me. And I knew it would keep affecting me.
How The Paleo Lifestyle Transformed My Health
Once I accepted and embraced Multiple Sclerosis as part of my identity, I was able to focus my energy toward healing. I accepted that my disease would have to be a significant driver in how I choose to live my life, because I simply may not have the time to get to all of the things I’ve always wanted to do.
And I knew that I couldn’t ignore my disease. I had to prioritize my health, my diet, because I was actually quite ill. I was exhausted most of the time – I had dark circles under my eyes and was in need of a nap every day (although I rarely had time for one). I wasn’t enjoying life much because I didn’t feel well enough to be present and was often just going through the motions trying to survive. I was getting headaches more days than not and just felt like I was living in a constant fog.
I was desperate to feel well again. While I’d always been a mostly healthy eater, I used to eat a typical diet of gluten, dairy, processed foods and lots of sugar. I realize now that I was addicted to sugar back then. I was eating seemingly “healthy” foods that were labeled organic, but in reality were just processed junk loaded with preservatives and unhealthy sugars.
My brother-in-law had sent me the a TED talk “Minding Your Mitochondria” by Dr. Terry Wahls a while back, and it always lingered in the back of my mind. It was an amazing talk about the power of using diet changes to combat the root causes of multiple sclerosis. As I started researching my disease online, I knew that I needed to find ways to reduce the inflammation in my body. I revisited the Dr. Wahls TED talk, and the more I read, the more I became inspired to try the Paleo diet as a way to heal my Multiple Sclerosis. Could I create my own Multiple Sclerosis diet plan?
Hello, life changes! The first thing I noticed within 4 weeks of changing my diet was that I had far fewer headaches, and I didn’t feel like I had to take Advil as often. Not downing Advil helped my stomach to feel better and from there on, lots of things improved.
Just 8-12 weeks in, I was a whole new person. My Multiple Sclerosis symptoms improved significantly, and I became hooked on this new lifestyle and diet. I used to get numbness frequently (hands, feet and other places like my face). Now it only happens rarely and is typically limited to just my hands, instead of my entire body. Another thing I suffered from before was constant fatigue. Now, I have much more energy throughout the day. No more late afternoon crashes or always feeling like I need to get into bed and take a nap. I felt more vibrant as the brain fog I was under finally lifted. I even lost weight!
I truly believe that changing my diet has reduced my MS symptoms and made them much more manageable. I am able to fully enjoy my life again! I was so inspired by the changes I experienced through the Paleo diet that I created a blog with my husband, Justin, to share our journey with food. We write about our lifestyle, our diet, recipes and struggles to inspire others on their own paths, whatever they may be. I love the way eating real food feels for my body and also the people within the Paleo community – they are the best and most supportive group.
I am Grateful That My Disease Helped Me Become The Person I am Today
I’ve been following the Paleo lifestyle now for over 3 years and I feel better inside and out. I think everyone has to work to find the version of the Paleo diet that works best for them and their own body. I don’t think it’s a change you make one time and then it fits perfectly forever. Instead, you have to learn to listen to your body and be open-minded to taking a left or right to give it what it needs.
Lately, as I am a different stage in life, I’m finding that I need to fine tune and tweak things again to regulate hormones, etc. I still have Multiple Sclerosis, but live mostly symptom-free luckily. I thank my diet changes for that. I expect that I will always be evolving and trying to learn more and do better.
Today, I realize how important it is to live in the moment. Suddenly, all of my old plans and ideas for racing to the top seem silly, like false ideals of how to live life. I don’t have it all figured out, and sometimes it’s just one day at a time, but I have learned that we all need to find our voice, find our passions and build a life worth living.
I am thankful that my diagnosis has softened and molded me into a better version of myself. In many ways I am grateful for it and the person I’ve become from having to deal with it. We don’t always get to choose our circumstances, but we do get to choose how we handle them and how we grow from them. I’ve learned to spend my time working on things that actually matter to me, like being a positive force in the lives of others, being around loved ones, giving back and paying it forward. I hope I am able to touch people’s lives in a way that helps them to find their own voice and to help them start living a life filled with substance and happiness.
Read more about Erica’s Multiple Sclerosis diet journey and find healthy paleo recipes at RealSimpleGood.com.
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