2016 – A Work-in-Progress

By: Matt Cavallo

Last year at this time I wrote about how small changes can make a big difference in the New Year. Some of the advice from that post included: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. I used this advice to make major changes in my life which led to a year of self-renewal. This doesn’t mean that I achieved all of my goals. Rather, I found that at the start of 2016, I am still a work in progress. Let me explain.

Exercising was one small change in 2015 that led to a big difference in how I felt. Let me first state that I am no workout warrior and have spent a lifetime of avoiding working out, but I knew that it would make me feel better so I took the leap. I started going to the gym three days a week. Not only that, but I was riding my bike back in forth to the gym to get in 10 miles of cardio each day. I started to see real results in about three months. Then, during a routine work out I felt that I tweaked my neck a little bit. Because of my past multiple sclerosis episodes and ensuing cervical fusion, I wasn’t about to risk further injury. So, I called my neurologist who scheduled an MRI and referred me to physical therapy. My goal for 2016 now include starting physical therapy to strengthen my neck so I can return to the gym and resume my previous work out plan.

Developing a financial plan, setting attainable goals and sticking to a schedule were also critical to my 2015 success. My wife and I set a goal of being able to quit my day job and pursue my writing, speaking and clinical education full time by 2016. In order to do this we needed to get our finances in order and create a schedule that allowed me to build my business while still completing my full-time commitments. This required a lot of work and sacrifices. However, careful planning allowed me to make sure that I fulfilled all my commitments while remaining balanced with family life. In December of 2015, I was able to leave my full-time job and pursue to my business full time. We knew that starting a business while having multiple sclerosis and a family is a big risk but now I am living the life that I always wanted to and my multiple sclerosis is not getting in my way.

The one resolution for 2015 that I failed was controlling my eating habits. It is hard to eat right, especially with traveling for work and raising young boys. As I celebrated my last birthday this past summer, I realized that the pounds were not melting off the way that they had in the past. The holidays added some extra weight and as I am writing this I am ten pounds heavier than I was last year. Those extra ten pounds create fatigue and numbness for me and my multiple sclerosis. Now in the New Year, I have started eating salads for lunch each day and cutting back on refined carbohydrates. I am also riding my bike again. I realize now that the metabolism of my youth is not coming back and that my eating decision can affect my MS symptoms. In 2016, I am making a commitment to make change in my diet for my health and well being.

The thing about it is I have realized that I am in charge of all decisions I make in life. Some of the risks I have taken or the changes that I have made have been tough. The easy thing would have been to do nothing. With hard work and determination I took control of my life and you can do the same with yours. If you are reading this post maybe you want to make changes but don’t know how. The MSAA has great resources in all of these areas from financial planning and fitness to goal-setting and diet.

To start 2016, I am still a work in progress and that is OK. The first step in change is making the decision to do so. Once you have, you’ll be glad you did. From my family to yours, Happy New Year’s. Believe that you can be the change you want in 2016!

*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 : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Nutrition and Multiple Sclerosis

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As we wrap up this month focusing on reaching out to supportive professionals, there is one other group of professionals that plays an important role in the overall health of individuals with MS. One of the top questions asked in regards to MS care is around the idea of a diet for MS, or which foods to avoid for individuals with MS. Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer as there has been no hard science that indicates that any particular food groups are specifically beneficial or not to those with MS.

With MS being a very individualized disease, meaning that it affects each person in a different way, it is difficult to say that one thing will work for everyone.

Just as MS is a very individualized disease, understanding and creating a nutritional plan must be individualized as well. Meeting with a dietitian or a nutritionist may help to better understand the foods and nutrients that your body needs in order to work properly. By working with a professional, he or she can help to safely monitor the changes occurring in your body based on the foods that you add or withdraw, depending on your plan.

Talk to your doctor about a referral to a dietitian or nutritionist in your area. You may also wish to reach out to your insurance provider to learn about insurance coverage for these visits. Licensing and education can vary between those in the nutritional field, it is important to do some research on the professional and their background and beliefs about nutrition. Some nutritionists may have a belief in herbal supplements and other forms of natural healing while others may not. Knowing what you are comfortable with in regards to your treatment and matching that with the appropriate practitioner can aid in the overall process of crafting a healthy regimen for you.

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New Year’s Resolution Follow Up

By: Matt Cavallo 

Raise your hand if you have stuck to your New Year’s resolution. Believe it or not, we are a quarter of the way through 2014 and reserving the right to recycle our resolutions for next year. I’ll be the first to throw myself under that bus! Seeing as we are a quarter of the way through the year, I wanted to follow up on some of the goals that I set and challenge myself to recommit to my original 2014 goals.

In January, I wrote that I was carrying about twenty one pounds of extra weight. This extra weight was making my legs weak and numb, my fatigue levels were high, and my clothes were uncomfortable. I resolved to lose twenty one pounds. My thinking was that in addition to my multiple sclerosis, the extra weight was contributing to the weakness in my legs and fatigue. My plan was to eat right, eat less and exercise more.

Eating right is a challenge to me. My line of work has me traveling the country almost every week. Seven out of eight weeks between January and February, I traveled. In fact, I am writing this right now on a flight from St. Louis back home to Phoenix. Between living in hotel rooms and the demands of my job, I didn’t have the strength or energy to get a healthy meal when there was a convenient drive-thru option. These eating decisions were the reason that I was struggling to button my pants!

Despite traveling extensively, I was determined to not have to buy new pants. I made the decision that I was going to lose weight on the road by changing my habits. First, I started with breakfast. The hotels that I stay at always have a breakfast buffet. There is an endless supply of bacon, eggs, toast and pastries. Most mornings I can smell the bacon long before I reach the buffet. As much as it pains me, the first change I made was skipping out of the buffet line and heading right to the yogurt and fruit. This change has been hard for me, and there are some days that I can’t resist a big breakfast, but I find that starting the day on the road with yogurt, fruit and a glass of water can be fulfilling and helps my digestive process.

For lunch, I have also been eating lighter. I work in hospitals, so I generally eat lunch at the cafeteria. The cafeterias generally tempt me with yummy burger, pizza or fried chicken options. Again I hold my nose and walk past temptation to the salad bar. I typically eat a salad and top it with some chicken. In the past, however, I would have smothered my healthy salad with a nice creamy ranch dressing, but lately I have opted for the lighter vinaigrettes. These dressings coat the salad easier, so you use less, and they are typically fewer calories than the creamy dressings I prefer.

These decisions that I make for breakfast and lunch afford me some slack at dinner. While my preference at the end of a long day of work on the road is for a double-stacked greasy drive-thru burger, large fries, and chocolate shake, I have been choosing healthier options. Instead of driving through, I place orders that force me to get out of the car. Instead of greasy, fried goodness, I have also been choosing lighter, grilled options.

The other thing that I am doing is consuming smaller portions. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t want to buy new pants, but I have found that once I cut back on my portion size, my body got used to it pretty fast. When I was consistently eating heavy meals, I needed more food. Now that I am eating less, I find that I get fuller faster. I am by nature a fast eater, who in the past would clean my plate before others around me had barely started. I now make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy the food. By doing this, I don’t always have to clean my plate. Drinking more water throughout the day has also been a daily goal of mine. I found that some of my hunger may have been more related to being dehydrated than actually hungry.

With all of these changes, I have lost eleven pounds, which is halfway to my goal weight. My legs feel lighter, and I am less fatigued. And yes, my pants are now less of a struggle to button!

While I am winning the battle with diet, I am losing with exercise. I have made my annual post-resolution trip to the gym. I worked out, felt great and haven’t been back since! There is a free gym in every hotel where I stay, but I find myself alone in my room catching up TV shows or movies that I can’t watch at home because of the kids. I do tend to take the stairs instead of the elevator and keep true to my daily walks, but I know that I would feel so much better if I could just commit to working out.

So, a quarter into the year, and I am doing OK with my resolutions. I have lost half of my goal weight by making better eating decisions which included eating healthier and having smaller portion sizes. It was a struggle at first, but I feel better only ninety days into this year than I did last year. While I am doing well with diet, I have not followed through with exercise. Much like diet, once I establish a routine, I’ll be used to it and it will become natural. I am not there yet. However, New Year’s is not the only time for resolutions. You can recommit to feeling healthier anytime during the year. Are you accomplishing your resolutions? What are you going to do to get back on track? Invest in yourself because you are worth it, and be the change you want to be.

*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 : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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