From Junk Food Junkie to Health Food Nut: My New Year’s Resolution

By: Jeri Burtchell

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m starting fresh, determined to make this year better than the one before.

I try not to make unrealistic promises to myself in January since I’m not so “resolute” when it comes to my resolutions. Instead, I set the bar low so I can cross it–even if I have to trip and fall to make it over.

This year I chose only one goal: to eat better. I figured if I can do that, maybe there will be side benefits like losing weight or feeling better.

I confess I’ve been a junk foodie in the past. I use air quotes when I say the word “food” as some people would beg to differ. Yes, I’ve eaten leftover french fries from the bottom of a McDonalds bag a day later. Am I ashamed of that? You bet.

It’s hard to be a freelance writer covering MS and ignore my own bad habits. The latest news regarding the gut microbiome and how it can influence a whole host of diseases has been in the news and on the internet so much I can’t help but feel guilty hoisting a Coke to my lips as I look on and take it all in. Maybe there’s no definitive proof that diet influences MS, but if I can control what goes in my mouth on the off chance I might feel better, don’t I have an obligation to do that?

So enough was enough. I slurped up the rest of my Wendys frosty and pledged to tighten up my definition of food. I mentally stationed a miniature bouncer at the corner of my mouth who only lets the good foods pass.

I wish this bouncer had a wallet full of cash, though. My first stop after I (loosely) defined my resolution was the grocery store. Who knew eating only organic whole foods and raw honey or cold-pressed virgin coconut oil was only a pastime the rich and famous could afford?

The upside to taking out another mortgage in order to eat right is that you are hyper-aware of expiration dates and the gradual decomposition of your quality fruits and veggies. If I wanted everything to turn to compost in the vegetable drawer I would have cut out the middleman and simply buried my hard earned dollars in the back yard.

Not everyone in the house is on this health food bandwagon, however.

My teenager hates vegetables and my 91 year old mother is set in her routine, and she’s in great shape. “She’s earned the right to eat what she likes,” said her doctor, and I swear I saw Mom stick her tongue out at me.

Even though this is my resolution, I’ve found myself asking “every day??” when I think about how often a person is supposed to eat like this. For a terrible cook (another confession), eating things that aren’t ready to “microwave and enjoy” has been a huge challenge.

So I started out with something easy. We all like shakes, and smoothies are like shakes, right?

I got out the old Hamilton-Beach blender and blew the dust off. I looked at all the fancy stuff I’d bought at the grocery store and began flinging in a handful of this, a spoonful of that. I topped it all off with a generous heap of kale (because you can’t toss an Oreo cookie without hitting a story about how good kale is for you), and I set the blender spinning.

It looked…disgusting! The green of the kale, combined with the red of the strawberries gave the concoction an overall brown color. Even though it looked kind of like a chocolate shake, my teenager wrinkled his nose, well aware there had been no chocolate involved in the making of his mom’s new drink.

Ignoring my own urge to pinch my nose closed before gulping it down, I sipped mine and smiled, nodding to him to give his a try.

It turns out we both loved it so much it has become our daily ritual–and the uglier the better. We throw every healthy thing we can find in there.

Besides the smoothies, I cut out processed foods, refined sugar, and carbs. I have no clue how–or if–it affects my MS, but I can tell you this: in the 22 days since I began, I’ve lost 5 lbs., I don’t need afternoon naps, and my brain fog seems to be lifting.

I can’t wait to see how I feel a month from now. Unlike past resolutions, I think I just might be able to keep this one!

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.


My MS New Year’s Resolutions

So, the usual New Year’s resolution has to do with being healthier, losing weight, etc. I’ve decided to make a resolution, but it has nothing to do with what I just listed.

So what’s my ‘big’ resolution? I plan on working on not being SO STUBBORN! I know that seems odd, but if you continue reading, you will understand.

I am a very stubborn person in many aspects in life, especially when it comes to my MS. Here are some things I plan on being less stubborn/hard headed about:

  • When someone offers me help, when it’s obvious I’m having a difficult time, I’m going to try and accept the help that is offered instead of being stubborn and trying to do everything on my own. While we don’t want our independence taken from us, and we like to do things on our own like we used to, sometimes it would make life easier to accept the help that is offered because that offer is coming from someone who obviously cares.
  • When my MS gets in my way of doing certain things, I’m usually too stubborn to stop what I’m doing or just take a break. I try and push through it all, but in the end I seem to suffer more in the aftermath of it all. So, I plan on ‘listening’ to my body & MS better, which will of course get on my nerves, but I believe it will benefit me in the long run.
  • When a loved one asks how I’m doing (and isn’t just asking it to be polite), I will not be so stubborn and disregard their question with an, “I’m Fine” answer… if they’re someone who genuinely cares about how I’m doing, I will give them a genuine answer. By doing so, I’m hoping that it will ease some of the tension I gather when holding all the information of “how I’m feeling” bottled up inside.
  • I’m also going to work on not being so stubborn about ‘remembering’ things. I always tell myself that I will remember a certain bit of information and I don’t need to write it down… but I end up forgetting the information in the long run, so I’m going to start making notes on my phone or a small spiral notebook.
  • Finally, I won’t be stubborn at my neurologist’s office, and I will ask the questions that need to be asked, and I will be completely honest when answering questions. I’ve realized that by being truthful about how I’m feeling, which isn’t good all the time, I’m not showing any weakness, but I show strength by being able to communicate this information.

So that’s my New Year’s Resolution…what’s yours?


Sticking to My Resolution for Better Health and MS Symptom Management

By: Matt Cavallo

I’ll admit it. The holidays were not good to my waistline. My pants are tight and hard to button, and it is uncomfortable to reach down to put on my socks and shoes. At the end of the summer, I weighed in at 190lbs. I just got off the scale and I was exactly 211 lbs. With the weight gain, my New Year’s resolution was to start exercising more and eating less.

The extra weight is a problem for me and my MS. That 21 pounds has definitely made a difference in the way I feel. At 6’2”tall I don’t look that much heavier, I feel like a completely different person. The extra weight also seems to increase weakness and tingling in my legs. Also, my energy levels have dropped and my fatigue has increased. I find myself waking up later and later to walk my dog and the walks are becoming shorter. It is already halfway through January and I am not making progress on my goals.

I was talking with my wife who told me that it takes 21 days to change a behavior. Often with resolutions, we start with the best of intentions, but don’t stick with it long enough to change our behaviors. This has been the case with my diet and exercise resolution. I started out strong for the first couple of days, but have regressed to my old ways.

However, my old ways are not good enough for me. In living with Multiple Sclerosis, it is important for me to take charge of the areas of my health that I can control, like diet and exercise. If extra weight is going to make my MS symptoms flare up, I need to fight through the fatigue and get control. To do this, I am going to create a Wellness Journal. This journal is going to track my daily exercise routine and food intake. The reason for keeping these journals is to keep myself accountable. If I keep a record of my progress everyday then I will be more likely to stick to my resolution. New Year’s doesn’t have to be the only time of year we reassess life and develop goals.

Successful Goal Setting Tips

  1. Keep goals realistic: Don’t set yourself up for failure by aiming for something that is completely unachievable.  It is best to start with a small goal and work towards bigger goals as you accomplish them.
  2. Create a plan that works for you: Figure out exactly how you can accomplish your goal and write down specific actions that you will take.
  3. Stick to your plan: Since changing a habit takes about 21 days, perform that habit every day to make it a conscious part of your day.
  4. Keep a daily journal: Write down what you do every day to hold you accountable.  This will also help you identify obstacles that may be holding you back.
  5. Don’t give up: Even if you slip up on your journey, forgive yourself and start fresh they next day.

I am also going to post my 21 day journey on my personal blog at By making my journey public, I am holding myself accountable to all of my readers, as well. My hope is that my story will also motivate others struggling with sticking to their New Year’s Resolutions or any goals for that matter to get back on track.


*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at :