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 Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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3 Simple Steps to Better Food Choices

For many, the New Year brings along new promises and new goals for healthy living.  Making better choices and eating healthier come hand-in-hand.  Over the years, I have adapted some techniques that I think have helped my family to make better food choices, and I wanted to share them all in this blog.

First, in order to make healthy food choices, you have to surround yourself with healthy options.  If you don’t buy junk food, or have it in the house, you are more likely to make better choices.  Let’s be honest, if it comes down to a cookie or an apple, I am pretty sure I’ll choose the cookie.  But if it’s between an apple and some strawberries, it’s a win-win situation! By planning what is available to you, you are setting yourself up to make good choices.

The grocery store can be very intimidating and stressful, especially if you are hungry, which brings me to my next point:  always have a snack or a full meal before shopping.  This will prevent the cravings purchases, and you won’t be distracted by your stomach.  It helps to have a grocery list with you and to only purchase what is on your list.  I like to look at the store circulars beforehand and make note of the sales and write these items down on my list.  Only purchasing the items on my list helps me to make better choices, as well as helps with my food budget.

Speaking of food budget, one thing that I have found helpful over the past couple of months is creating a weekly “menu” for my family.  Usually on Sunday, I will pull together my local circulars and look at the sale items.  The majority of my food budget goes towards purchasing meats, so this is where I start building my meals.  I have my “go-to” recipes and start from there.  Maybe chicken with vegetables one night, some form of pasta another.  Eventually I have formulated a “menu” for the week.  Now looking at my menu, I will create a list of the ingredients I will need for those items, and place them on my grocery list.  This helps to ensure that I purchase everything in one trip, for all the meals I will be making that week.

The food menu has helped my family make better decisions when it comes to eating.  Knowing what is for dinner and knowing that I have the ingredients to make it prevents the “oh no, what should we do for dinner” scenario-which often leads to bad choices!

It took a while for this to become a practice in my house, and this may not work for everyone.  I encourage you to take a look at your food purchases and try to make some changes that will work for you.

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