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Multiple Sclerosis: Barriers to Healthy Eating

Being alert to some of the ways that multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms can interfere with healthy eating can help you stay on track. Even with the best of intentions, maintaining good eating habits can be difficult. For example, consider these troublesome symptoms:

  • Fatigue: If just getting through the day takes all your energy, putting time and effort into healthy meals can seem overwhelming. So rather than eating balanced meals, you may find yourself grabbing the nearest (unhealthy) snacks.

    Or you may reach for the quick fix — a blast of something sugary that gives you a momentary boost but then leaves you feeling tired and hungry — rather than protein, which reduces fatigue and helps you maintain a more consistent blood sugar level. Pretty soon you have a vicious cycle going, with fatigue contributing to poor nutrition and poor nutrition fueling your fatigue.

    A nutritionist can recommend healthy dishes that are easy to prepare. An occupational therapist (OT) can give you lots of energy-saving tips, including recommendations for helpful cooking gadgets and tools, ideas on how to arrange your cooking space, and strategies for simplifying your shopping trips. Call the National MS Society for referrals to specialists who are experienced in MS (800-FIGHT-MS).

  • Depression: Like fatigue, depression is common in MS. And, unfortunately, people who are depressed may experience significant changes in their appetites — either eating a lot less or a lot more than they used to. Neither extreme is particularly healthy.

    If you've lost interest in food or don't seem to enjoy eating the way you used to, or if you find yourself eating a lot of not-so-healthy comfort food to boost your spirits, be sure to let your doctor know. Other things, like fatigue and certain medications, can cause appetite changes, but it's still important to find out if depression is the culprit.

  • Accessibility or mobility issues: Sometimes people have difficulty putting together healthy meals because they can't navigate the stores or their kitchens the way they used to. For example, foods may be on inaccessible shelves, pots and pans may be stuck in out-of-the-way places, the kitchen may be too small to accommodate a scooter, and the counters may be too high.

    So, when things get more challenging, you may find yourself skipping meals or relying more heavily on prepared foods or take-out. We're not big fans of either of these strategies. If you find yourself eating more prepared foods, be sure to check out the ingredients because many frozen foods are high in sodium or fat, which can raise blood pressure and cause you to put on the pounds.

    A nutritionist can point you in the direction of some healthier products and can also suggest simple menus that are a snap to fix. Also, an OT can help you figure out how to make your cooking space more organized and accessible so that the items you need are within your reach.

For detailed information about MS and nutrition, and practical strategies for food selection and preparation, check out the National MS Society's booklet, Food for Thought: MS and Nutrition, or by calling (800) FIGHT-MS.

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