Saturday, October 30, 2010

How virgin is our extra virgin olive oil?

In order to minimise my MS, I have recently started following the Overcoming MS approach. This includes a diet with very limited saturated and altered fats, which means a shift to cold-pressed oils and pretty much exclusive use of extra virgin olive oil for cooking purposes. Imagine my surprise to read Choice Magazine's rather damning review of the 'virgin' status of many extra virgin olive oils on the Australian market. The facts are here. Thanks to Robskee for pointing this out. I am going to rethink my consumption choices (yet again - sigh) based on this information.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dosing up

So, last night I took my first full dose of Rebif, the drug of my neurologist's choice to assist with minimising the progression of my MS. Rebif is one of a class of beta interferons - proteins that are produced by our bodies to kickstart our immune system responses. I have to inject it three times a week using a very groovy automated device that makes robot noises and lives in my fridge between shots. The side effects of this medication, which are experienced by the majority of its users, include flu symptoms, needle site infections and necrosis. Hey, it could be a lot worse. One of the medications my neuro suggested I consider has a higher success rate than Rebif, but can also result in a fried brain. Hmmm, I passed on that one. Anyway, so far, it seems I am in the small category of lucky folk who don't experience significant side effects. Apart from the odd lump and bump, it's been smooth sailing thus far. But, is it doing me any good? Who knows.

This is my first foray into taking serious medicine on a sustained basis. The jury is out for me on whether this will be a lifelong commitment. I don't really mind the injections (although, travelling with a virtual fridge by my side is going to be a bitch), but I'm not yet convinced that the available medical responses are quite the ticket for a life free of MS symptoms. Anyhoo, more on that another time. What has creeped me out about this whole experience is the pervasiveness of the drug industry the minute I was confronted with intervention choices. My neurologist told me about the available drugs but strongly recommended this one. He's the expert, right? So, I went with that. Soon after, the 'community nurse' dropped round for a visit. She is employed by the drug agency. She was very nice and she told me her job was to help me get used to taking the drugs. Nanoseconds later (and I'm not sure if this was a freudian slip or just a boutof honesty), she told me her main job is to make me stay on the drug. Durr! What I found more alarming than this was that my neuro and the nurse could have been reading from the same script in terms of how they described the drug, the side effects and the benefits. It made me wonder, just who does this doctor work for?! Anyway, paranoid responses aside, this is a whole new world and one I'm not sure I like at all.

Banana and pecan loaf

For the last six weeks, I have been adapting my diet to align with George Jelinek's Overcoming MS approach. This basically means a whole foods plant and fish based diet extremely low in saturated and altered fats. The science is explained in his book and summarized here. So far, I'm doing pretty well. It's only the baking that I'm having trouble getting my head around. So, I was very happy last night to produce this tasty and easy banana and pecan loaf.

1cup self raising flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 shot espresso
2 ripe medium bananas
1 egg white
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (supermarket brand is best as this is the least flavoured and aromatic)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Pinch of salt

Line a loaf tin and preheat oven to 180 degrees c.
Mash bananas and steep in espresso for about 10 minutes. Add golden syrup and sugar and mix well.
Add oil, egg white, flour and salt and mix until just combined. Fold in nuts.
Pour into tin and cook for 35 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
Turn out and don't burn your fingers rushing for the first piece.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What does it feel like to have MS?

MS is such a variable disease, that no one person can describe what it's like. All of us who have it are looking at different combinations of symptoms and different trajectories for progression. For those of us with the relapsing-remitting kind (as distinct from the progressive kind), having MS can feel dramatically different from day to day. For me, today, MS feels like a small electrical fire has started in my right foot and is creeping its way up my leg. Thankfully, today, MS for me doesn't feel like vision impairment, cognitive problems and extreme fatigue. Here's hoping for tomorrow, and the next day....

Living in the now

I am currently on Day 16 of the Chopra Centre's 21 day meditation challenge. Apart from sounding disturbingly like some kind of reality tv show spin-off, this has been a great experience. Every day, I tune in for a guided meditation; 10 minutes or so to breathe, be mindful of self and surroundings, and be in stillness and silence. There is much to be said for stopping doing in order to be for a short time every day.

This is Ziggy, the three legged Ancient. He lives in the now pretty much all the time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


We have been enjoying some wonderful birds in our garden of late. Being from southern parts, I still marvel at the sheer scope of biodiversity that is, literally, in one's face in a Queensland backyard. One of my favourites at the moment is a pair of fig birds, who have been chowing down on the berries in a palm tree that overlooks our front deck. The male is particularly fetching, sporting an olive back, yellow belly and a wonderful red 'zorro-mask'. I could look at him all day!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Today, I ran for 30 minutes on the cross-trainer and burned 200 calories. I then did 3 sets of 12 repetitions on 3 upper body weight machines. This is about 25% of what I was able to do 3 months ago. But, more importantly, it's about 35% more than I could do last Wednesday, and 100% more than I could do two weeks ago. As I was struggling along on the cross-trainer this afternoon, I was feeling the self-pity levels going up (I gave up the cross-trainer months ago, when I braved the possibilities of running on the treadmill, and hadn't looked back til MS came to visit). So, I had a stern word to myself and decided to reframe. 'What's good about the cross-trainer  and not being able to do everything I could do 3 months ago?', I asked myself. Well, the most obvious thing is that I can use it! If I got on a treadmill right now, the lower body weakness and almost imperceptible muscle tremors I have would see me on my arse (or, worse, my face) pretty quickly. But there are other good things about it. The cross-trainer works my arms as well as my legs, so my upper body is getting a better workout than it has for ages. On this note, because of the unsteadiness in my legs, I am also doing more weight training. Frankly, my arms are looking pretty cut! And the other great thing (which I didn't find out until later) is that, an hour after my workout, I was well enough to wash my hair, cook my dinner, and empty the dishwasher. There's no way I could have done all that just two weeks ago. I am reframing. Thiings are definitely looking up today.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Springtime in the Garden

Happy eggplants.

A regenerated curry leaf tree.

Robust rogue tomatoes.

Lebanese cucumber starting to fruit.

Basil fighting it out with the grasshoppers. Who will win?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Well, it's been a long time between posts. A few days after my last post, I celebrated my 39th birthday. For my birthday, I got an awesome new cookbook, a wonderful cooking pan, a renewed subscription to my favourite magazine, Delicious (are you seeing the theme here?) and some weird vision problems. Within days, it became apparent that I had a visual field defect. I am not medically proficient at all, but you know something's wrong when the doctors start looking tight lipped and you magically find yourself having appointments with specialists at 7am on the weekend and getting booked in within hours for medical tests that usually have week long waiting lists. Unbeknownst to me, the main reasons for visual defects are brain tumours and strokes. Fortunately (hey, it's all relative), it turns out I have the lesser of three common evils; relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.

So, I've been getting my head around what this means for me, while also dealing with the realities of being symptomatic (read: feeling like crap most of the time). The good news is, my vision is restored. But every day is a roller coaster of symptoms, including acute fatigue, neuropathic pain that makes my right side feel like it's on fire, muscle spasms and (this one's the best and, perhaps not surprisingly, often under-reported symptom) extreme constipation. So, in the space of three short months, I've gone from being my version of a super-jock and, incidentally, feeling pretty proud of myself for losing 17 kgs through regular exercise and minor dietary modifications, to being barely able to lift my breakfast cereal spoon to my mouth some days.

That's not the end of the story, though. Finding out you've got a degenerative neurological condition is a great wake-up call. I am still busy trying to work out what's important and what makes me happy (this will probably be a perpetual work in progress). But I have already considerably reduced my workaholic tendencies, started meditating and begun enjoying more contact with the people who matter to me the most. All good. I have also become a student of George Jelinek's approach to overcoming MS. His excellent website is here. This means a new lifelong commitment to a diet including virtually no saturated or altered fats. I have said farewell to milk, egg yolks and most cheese (just trying to give up parmesan forever). I use only cold pressed oils and only extra virgin olive oil for cooking. I get to eat a lot of fish but no meat (this is no problem, as I love the former and haven't eaten the latter since 1991!). I can no longer fry or roast at high temperatures, but I can steam, stir-fry, and bake at moderate temperatures to my heart's content.

Prof Jelinek's approach also includes a strong emphasis on exercise. The good news here is, I love exercise. The bad news, which I really hope is temporary, is that the fatigue and balance problems I am currently experiencing is really limiting my capacity for exercise. I have gone from 6-7 workouts/week burning 400-600 calories each session to 1-2 sessions/week burning 200 calories. Still, I am cautiously optimistic that this will change with time. And for now, I am happy that I am still motivated (if not always physically capable) to exercise. I am also happy to report that I have not regained any weight and have managed to keep all emotional eating at bay whilst going through a pretty emotional time.

So, with this change in life, so the blog changes. From now, I start documenting the food, foibles, and fitness adventures of a woman living with MS. Well, maybe not from right now (I'm wrecked from writing this post). But next time, I promise....