All’s Wahl that Ends Wahl: Wahls & Weightloss

food, lifestyle, personal, Uncategorized, weight loss

In the frenzy of promotional e-mails that made up post-Turkey Day shopping, I opened a screaming good deal for Gap Denim, pretty much always excluded from any promotion, was not only included, it was 50% off. Holy shnikes. A shit-storm of emotions swirled around me while my fingers hovered above my home row keys (#showingmyage). I wasn’t just going to buy a pair of jeans from The Gap, I was going to buy a size 14, which I likely haven’t worn since age 14. To understand the weight of this moment, I probably need to brief you on a few earlier chapters.

I’ve alluded to my battles with the emotional abuse of food in my previous post, and that will help to provide context for the feelings of value and self-worth I was taught to associate with a body image I never seemed to possess. You’ll also note from that post, some 28 years later, I’ve come to a process place of acceptance and self-love with my bedraggled bod– loving her in all her forms for all she does and can do– like keep me alive.

Having said this, I won’t pretend that weight loss hasn’t always been in the foreground of my life, even in the many.moments when I did not want it it to be. From third grade forward, the message of my body as a danger to my health, a slippery slope toward chronic illness, was made visible to me by doctors, nutritionists, immediate and extended (oh bother) family members, peers, bullies, and my closest friends. I don’t remember a day that Gym Class didn’t feel like an act of betrayal, a year when Physical Fitness Testing wasn’t demoralizing, or an impending Fall when I thought of all the sports I couldn’t try out for, lest I have to expose my body in a locker room more than required.

In my pursuit of weightloss, tangible results didn’t always evade me. In high school I lost nearly 60 pounds doing The Fat Flush, which I quickly rectified my freshman year of college through a combination of home sickness, drinking for sport, and day-old Toppers Stix. Later, I would rekindle a relationship with Weight Watchers, with a friend holding me accountable, and lose about 35 pounds. With a thousand other stories from then to now, I will simply say: I am a human being who has come to know the ebb and flow of her body weight and the seasonal wardrobes reserved for loss & gain.

With this embodied knowledge comes a keen ability to weather the words of well-intentioned observers who take to noticing your loss and gain. As a very little girl, I remember my (now deceased) great-aunt loudly confiding to my mother that I really needed to lose some weight. Right now, it was cute, but it wouldn’t be when I grew up, and I really could be very pretty if I just shed some of those pounds. In another moment I remember standing in line at Subway with my (now deceased) grandmother as she commented on what I needed to eat to become thin. As a young woman, any momentary weight loss was peppered with phraseology about how “good” I looked “now” and how they “could really tell in my ________ (insert part of my body that does not need your observation or commentary to be worthy, valid, and beautiful).”

Just as I craved food to fill my empty, hurting spaces carved by bullies and the enemy and self-doubt, I also desperately desired to be something so much less, to take up less space, to have a body less like a backpack and more like a kite. I felt the whiplash contradiction in the way I loved and hated food, the Stockholm I came home to in the body I was forced to find harbor. I want you to know that it is hard for me to write about these memories. I want you to know that I don’t have to dig too far to remember exactly how those days felt in my skin, to embody self-loathing in such a visceral way.

I write about this now not to evoke your sympathies, or to reprimand you, or to make you feel badly about your own history with weight loss, but to suggest that perhaps the ways we have been taught to conceive of one another’s bodies are not straightforward or obvious. Losing weight while battling chronic illness (whether it be neurological, mental, digestive, etc) is not the victory road experience we see depicted on The Biggest Loser. Instead, it is wrought with both-ands. Confusion, joy and grief, and an uninvited invitation to fully revisit how you see your own body. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of work for a Monday morning when I’m just tryna put on my work clothes that don’

Right now, my body is shedding excess weight, just as Terry Wahls said it would, as a result of a loss of inflammation, and as a result of eliminating gluten, dairy, and most grains from my diet. And hey, this hasn’t been easy. I am working really, really hard to implement the Wahls Protocol — but I am not doing it to lose weight. I am doing it to fight my Multiple Sclerosis, give me an edge over MS Fatigue, and God-willing, put this disease in check while I am physically capable of doing so. For the first time in my life, I am pursuing relationship with food that has jack to do with the self-loathing I associate with weightloss, and everything to do with a feeling of empowerment and self-love.

To bring all of this back into conversation with these damned blue jeans, let me just say I spent 5 years slinging Gap Inc denim to lean and sensibly curvy and average-sized female bodies to put myself through college. I salivated over the knee caps that could fit into non-stretch denim without grunting and pulling. I winced with envy at how easily their waistbands demanded a belt, for fashion and function both. And I spent plus-sized chunks of my paychecks on the sizes not sold in stores, that never looked quite like the silhouettes I unpacked, folded, stacked, and faced just so.

So this year, noting that my formerly size 18 jeans no longer fit, and my size 16 jeans gap in the back and sag in the crotch, I thought, what the heck– why not– let’s order a pair of the highly exalted Gap jeans of our youth. This past week, the laughable size 14 jeans arrived on our doorstep. I unboxed them in the bedroom and giggled to my husband, “there’s no way that these are going to fit.” I shook them out, and decided to humor myself. I wriggled the jeans on, and in a near-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants moment, zipped them without even pulling a muscle. I looked at my thighs and hips in the full-length mirror and felt a sense of satisfaction coupled with a dizzying sense of dislocation. Why now?

Let me take this moment to apologize in advance for my body and brain’s knee-jerk response to compliments regarding my physical appearance. In fact, you may have already heard my snappy comeback to the tune of “Thanks, MS is doing wonders for me.” or “Yeah, multiple sclerosis is really paying off.” And if I have offered you these platitudes, please, oh please, consider it in the framework of the girl, the young woman, the me, outlined above. Know that she fought for weightloss for the greater part of her life, and having been freed from the chains of that prison, isn’t seeking after losing these days.

Wearing the new jeans out and about, I have cautioned myself to weather my confidence with a healthy sense of remembering the reckless ways I have fallen into bed with weightloss before. How I hurt myself and commanded my body to shrink in order to be valuable or worthy of praise. I hug my thighs (perhaps a little smaller now) and remind them that at any size, they are beautiful. They have been beautiful. Not just now, but always, and frankly, forever.

Forever yours in blue jeans,

Sarah Jean




Letting Down My Wahls: Autoimmune Eating Insights from an Emotional Eater

food, lifestyle, personal

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I am pretty sure I felt my insides get tugged on by an invisible thread that connects my person to the candid author and foodie extraordinaire, Andie Mitchell. After reading her book, It Was Me All Along, I honestly felt like I had just read a page out of one of the many journals I kept as a kid, teen, young adult, young woman, and hey, maybe last week. Without going into too many of the personal parallels we share (family problems with alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, over-worked mama, falling in love with gay men) I want to wax poetic for a moment about my abusive, lifelong, relationship with food.

As a kid, I remember grabbing at my sweet cherub love handles and pressing curse words into them with every ounce of self-hatred I could muster. I remember writing diary entries about the horrors of back-to-school shopping because none of the clothes I wanted to wear (like the iconic Old Navy Polar Tech Vest or the sensible velveteen jumper) fit me. I remember hating my body for the things it wasn’t and wouldn’t be for me– for the ways it made itself visible without my permission and made me invisible at the same time. Like Andie Mitchell says — a part of me is grateful for my Rubenesque kid body. She forced me to develop a personality and to learn to take the hits life presents with a grain of salt.

All at once, I rejected my body, sought after diets from 3rd grade forward — but found solace in food. If my brother hurt my feelings, my mom could comfort me with a spin through the drive-thru for a double cheeseburger and fries. If that asshole Tim Swan was mean to me in Catechism class (which he was), I could walk a block to the laundry mat behind our house and fill up on vending machine candy bars to take back to the safety of my bedroom. In high school, my friend and I would circle the grocery store after particularly bad days and buy whatever looked like a hug, bring it back to her room, and fill up. On those days, I went home to torment myself in my ashamed fullness, and she disappeared to her bathroom for similar reasons. I spent time attempting to purge after the binges, but I could never bring myself to see it to fruition. I am wildly grateful for that, now.

Somewhere in my early-mid 20’s, I stopped hating the body that carried me through life. I started to be more tender with her. I held her, even in the places we both know caused us hurt. And just as I surrendered to the body I have, I started to give her permission to do the things she wanted to do but never felt allowed to try. We did yoga together, in public. We learned to devour food we cooked ourselves and truly savor every bite. We lavished other people with our cooking, unashamed to let another person see us eat.

Somewhere concurrent with this timeline, we gave ourselves permission to stop trying to lose weight. The great majority of my life was spent implementing crash diets and failing, and failing, and failing. And just as I surrendered to the weight of my body, I started to find that I was developing a shape in my midsection, definition between my ankles and calves, and something of a feminine jawline. At every turn, I remind myself that I made a decision to love my body in its entirety, how it moves, its hows and whys — and that this change did not negate or amplify that love.

Skip ahead a couple chapters to when this recovering emotional abuser of all things food and body shaming is newly married to the kindest human being, and learning to feed herself along with another human. In my first year of marriage, I believe my husband started to witness my patterns with emotional eating. It was easy to hide my occasional reactionary food ways in the year we spent long-distance. But when I ordered pizza on a whim after a particularly horrific speech team meeting without telling him, as he sat next to me on the couch, it wasn’t so discreet any longer.

Seeing the way I treated myself after moments like this, my sweet husband was fully on board for our first round of Whole 30 in January of 2017. In doing this elimination style way of eating, I looked at whole foods in a way I had not before. I thought about vegetables and proteins as puzzle pieces I could fit together to create something balanced, nourishing, vibrant, and delicious — revaluing the way I derived the “comfort” in “comfort food”.

In the Choose Your Own Adventure version of the diary of my life, I probably wouldn’t turn the page to an MS diagnosis. But in the real diary of my life, not too long after that first round of Whole 30, that’s exactly where the story led. By now, you likely know that I have implemented (with stumbles and shortcomings) The Wahls Protocol as a means of fighting my MS fatigue — and ideally– healing some of the damage this pesky autoimmune disease has wrought on my brain.

Even as I choose to embark on this way of eating as a means of healing and loving my body, I still carry with me that girl told to hate her body, while splitting open Double Stuffed Oreos to ease the sting. All that to say, what does it look like to continue to recover from emotional overeating and binging while you’re knee deep in a program like Wahls? I will tell you, first, it’s not as sexy. If that pizza binge comes knocking, the pizza at the door has a gluten-free crust and no cheese on it, and just doesn’t have the same grease-sparkle it once did. Second, ever the crafty emotional eater, you learn how to abuse the healthy choices you’ve introduced into your daily life. Did you know that sweet potatoes are particularly high in sugar and carbohydrates and taste exceptional with melted coconut butter and cinnamon on top? Did you know that unrefined, virgin coconut oil, when melted with cocoa powder and maple syrup makes an incredible, insatiable, chocolate ganache? Or, that there are myriad gluten-free, dairy-free sweet and savory treats gracing our grocery store shelves, at this VERY moment, WITHOUT SUPERVISION?! Did you know?!

Certainly, the moment exists for all of these delicious foods. But as a human being with a tendency toward excess, my body is learning a new vocabulary for what the emotional abuse of my food looks like. To be honest, in an elimination program like Wahls, there are sincere moments of feeling like the toddler screaming at the grocery store because Mom won’t buy (or let you eat) the cookies you want. In some moments, I do miss the me that ate Chinese buffet with abandon, ate stuffed crust pizza backwards, and skipped the bowl when Ben & Jerry’s was in play. The emotional labor required to do the work of meal planning & prepping is (dare I say) HARDER than the alternative.

But, as I continue to find, day in and day out of implementing Wahls — my body — that same body I decided to love in her every capacity, can do so much more if I feed her this way. She finds that her nasal passages are clear, not puffy and constantly in need of Flonase & antibiotics & Mucinex to facilitate breathing. She finds that her body hurts less, and feels lighter with each step. She finds that in the morning, she can lift herself out of bed, and find joy in the opportunity to strive toward 9 cups of fruits & veggies (even when she falls short of the goal) that day. Some days are harder than others to keep tumbling forward, but the vitality I am only beginning to feel is pretty unparalleled to any other moment in my adult life. (And that’s WITH the MS diagnosis, y’all.)

Lest you thought this #wahlsnewb had it all figured out,

I will forever miss pizza.

Love & light to you on your own healing journey,

-Sarah Jean



Turkey Day 2017: Balls to the Wahls

food, lifestyle, personal, Uncategorized

My first Wahls Protocol Thanksgiving has officially come to pass. And it did not pass modestly, y’all. It passed like the giant turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That is, if the float got a hole in the side and took off air-screaming down the parade route. What I mean to say is, this holiday was a true whirlwind from the 17 hour drive that started at dawn til the last bites of my inaugural Wahls feast were consumed at dusk.

The fear: My goal in implementing Wahls for my family was to make it taste and feel like Thanksgiving. Could a dairy diehard family like ours feel satisfied with an entirely dairy-free meal? Wouldn’t we feel deprived? Would my family smile and offer me their support while quietly feeling a little cheated? For this reason, I did not go gently into that good night. I prepared and planned to produce an entirely Wahls compliant rendition of our family’s turkey day faves.

The fatigue: When I arrived in Wisconsin 4 days before T-day, I took care to plan out my menu and grocery shop in advance to avoid overwhelming crowds and allow ample time for being choosy about my ingredients. After a trip to Costco, the local natural food store, good ol’ County Market, and (oye vay) the neighborhood Wal-Mart, I had acquired the produce + high quality cooking oils + gluten free flours necessary to get down to bidness. What I perhaps neglected to consider (or give weight to) was the way my body would feel about taking on this uncharted turkey day challenge. MS fatigue for me is not like, I feel groggy and could use a nap. It’s like, if I didn’t set an alarm in the morning, I might actually sleep for days.

When I am being diligent about Wahls and fighting to get my 9 cups in, I can actually slice through this fatigue pretty swiftly and with pep in my step to boot. But, a 17 hour cross-country drive with stops at chain restaurants and the Ohio Turnpike’s finest rest plazas doesn’t necessarily yield ample opportunities to find + fill myself with 9 cups of deeply colored, sulfur-rich, nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. I’m not saying my hands were tied and I was forced to eat a Whopper, friends. But even while being mindful about the choices I did make on the trip, my body was beat up, achy, and that glorious devil MS fatigue reared its ugly head. One morning home, I woke up feeling like my arms and legs were made of lead and wondered how I’d convince myself to get out of bed. Update: I’m still in bed and this post is just a fanfic about what I wish I’d done on turkey day.

KIDDING. I kid. I know that (unfortunately, EFF YOU, MS) many folks in the MS community with disease far more progressive than mine legit have days like that. I’m not trying to make light or be irreverent. All that to say, (whines) I was tired & achy & experiencing these super painful cluster headaches behind my right eye for about 3 hours a day for about 3 days solid. When T-Day arrived, I was assisted by my incredible mom (talk about role reversal), and my loving hubby, there to give backrubs + hugs whenever needed (which was often).

The food: My menu was not unlike what probably graced the table at many (those fortunate & privileged enough to celebrate) American homes this past Thursday. The golden gobbler. The sweet & savory sweet potato casserole. The citrus driven cranberry sauce. The predictable (but oh so necessary) pumpkin pie. And a slew of decadent side dishes harnessing the flavors of the season. I wouldn’t dare claim credit for the recipes that enabled me to make my first Wahls Thanksgiving possible. Pinterest + The Complete AIP Resource Library saved my toosh and gave me so many accessible options to choose from. So, without further ado, here’s the finished product, with links to follow of the humans who helped to harness such magic:

Implementing the Wahls Protocol on a daily basis is challenging & requires persistence. Implementing the Wahls Protocol during holiday time when the expectations of a classic, comforting, + indulgent meal are present is even more challenging, IMHO. To that end, I was lucky to have an internet flock of paleo & AIP foodies helping me to bring this meal to fruition. The turkey was loved up with ghee (I added cheesecloth around the outside to really hold the herbs and ghee close to the skin) courtesy Jay’s Baking Me Crazy. The meat was falling off the bone & so, so, so juicy. The sweet potato casserole came courtesy Cupcakes OMG, and it did not disappoint. Not hyper-sweet like the sweet potato casserole of my childhood, but decadent and warm and so rewarding. The green bean casserole courtesy Cassy Joy was honestly an upgrade from the casseroles of my youth. Not simply the suggestion of mushrooms, but forkfuls of baby portobellos in each bite. Rather than cooking up the traditional mashed potatoes, I took a detour and made one of my favorite potato recipes evaaar. Umami Girl, this recipe is from savory heaven, to be sure.

In keeping with my ever present Wahls inspired desire to get my 3 cups of leafy greens in, I made a big ass salad for my butter loving fam. This salad was harvest-y, sweet, & savory. Curly kale + baby spinach + roasted butternut squash (repurposing Skinny Ms’ recipe for acorn squash) +pomegranates + sprouted toasted pepitas. I let the squash cool fully before adding it to the salad and dressed it with a quick whisk soy-free veganaisse + dijon mustard + maple syrup + apple cider vin + avocado oil. Even my dad took a big bowl of this salad, and he believes iceberg lettuce is the be-all, end-all of green & leafy. Cranberry sauce is typically can shaped in our household, but I took advantage of another Cassy Joy delight and cooked up a spicy & sweet take on the traditionally gelatinous canned-mass.

The sweet finish line for this gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, soy-free feast came in the form of pumpkin pie & vegan cheesecakes. Neither disappointed, and the crust for the Primally Inspired pumpkin pie was yummy and crusty — just as you’d hope. I will say, take care to make sure you have ample arrowroot flour on hand for this endeavor ’cause ya gonna need it. The sweet little vegan cheesecakes courtesy Minimalist Baker could not fool my seasoned Dairyland taste buds, but they did satisfy my sweet tooth with their delicious creamy and bright taste.

The feelings: Nearly 28 years of being fed and feeding myself with gluten & dairy and it is hard to believe these things only find their way into my daily consumption on accident now. I have a *complicated* relationship with food that can best be explained by my ghost-writer and childhood twin Andie Mitchell in her mirror-to-my-life book It Was Me All Along. That being said, my foray into the Wahls Protocol has been the healthiest (emotionally & physically) relationship with food I’ve ever built. I love feeding myself this way, and I want the people I care about deeply to feed themselves this way too. We have grown so accustom to feeling less than in every which way possible, when our bodies are capable of vibrant, stunning energy & light if only we deposit some moolah into our life bank. With this spirit, I cooked for my family and held my breath while they took the first bites. Actually, that’s not true. I was starving from all the cooking and was mowing down on my salad and green bean casserole. I knew it tasted good. I knew even before I took a bite that it would taste good. What I didn’t know was whether it would taste like Thanksgiving — whether this meal would feel like Thanksgiving. I can’t speak on behalf of my family, but they cleaned their plates. I won’t ask you to take my word for it– so I’ll leave you with the following from my brother (ever the honest critic) who offered this ol’ sage: “I really thought this was gonna suck but it is all really, really good.”

So there you have it. Wahls Thanksgiving, Year the First — of hopefully a shit-ton more. Speaking of which, we’ve got another Wahlsiday just around the corner. Stay tuned in my #wahlsnewb adventure toward bigger health and smaller MS.

| Sarah Jean




Wahls Holiday in the Milk Mecca

lifestyle, personal

A 17 hour drive is all that separates me from holidays spent in the company of my family and friends in America’s Dairyland. The warmth of being with family, and in the place I still call home, will feel familiar this year, but the menu will undoubtedly look different.

Last March I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. After a disorienting bout with optic neuritis, three days on IV steroids, and an epic panic attack / steroid crash in front of a room full of my first year college students, extensive blood-work, and a few MRI’s, I arrived at MS central, feeling pretty shook.

For a while, I marinated in the grief of it all, and got really bogged down with the decidedly risky treatment options I would need to sustain FOR.EV.ER. My neurologist and I decided to take the summer to closely monitor the progression of the disease before settling on a treatment option. In that time, I did my second round of Whole 30, and started reading about Terry Wahls. Summer came to a close, and new lesions had developed in my brain — so foregoing a medical intervention wasn’t a smart option.

Fast forward to the present, where I’ve begun the arduous process of implementing both a medical + dietary intervention to my MS. Because it is my hope that someday I can manage my MS solely with dietary intervention, I’ve been in a serious relationship with the Wahls Protocol since July. My consistent daily eats are Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Refined Sugar-Free, Legume-Free, and Soy-Free.

Q: Without all those things, what’s even left?

A: A shitload.

I strive to eat 9, niner, NINE, cups of deeply-colored, sulfur-rich, and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables EVERY day + plus good quality protein, and occasionally, when I muster up the gullivers to do so: organ meat.

The bottom line for me with Wahls is this: it’s the only dietary (meaning I don’t have to pop pills to wake up in the mornin) intervention clinically demonstrated to fight MS fatigue. For that reason alone (not including all the other dope benefits, like being able to poop regularly) I will fight to keep this way of feeding myself and my body up.

Last year the holiday season in Wisconsin meant turkey slathered in butter, gravy made with white flour and cornstarch, potatoes mashed with butter, heavy cream, sour cream, and buttermilk ranch, pies upon pies made with white granulated sugar, Philadelphia-filled cheesecakes, homemade whipped cream, and beyond fluffy, buttery dinner rolls, sliced and filled with (you guessed it) more butter. I’m not saying my family could kill Paula Deane with our cooking, but maybe a strong and enduring coma.

I don’t disclose the contents of our (and most Midwestern) ((and most American)) family’s turkey day buffet to evoke shame or make you feel bashful about butter. (Girl don’t be bashful, girl back it up.) I salivate fondly over these days and foodspired memories, but recognize in a deep + profound way that I cannot afford to eat this way anymore. With MS doing its best to ravage my body + brain, I’ve gotta fill up my life bank with as much good food monies as I can. Jah feel?

So this holiday season, you’re welcome to join me as I bake my way through my old holiday haunts in a GFDFEF (errything free) kinda way, stumbling and spilling, but hopefully bringing smiles and fulfilled tummies to my family.

TBH I believe everyBODY can benefit from learning to eat this way, but I won’t force it on you. Unless you’re my family– in which case– welcome to dinner, the butter is dead. Well, to clarify, the butter has been clarified… it’s called Ghee now and is free of the dairy things that made my sinuses (see also: my whole body) inflamed for decades and led me to antibiotics every.single.winter.

Thanks for being a Wahls Newb with me. Stay tuned for recipes, insights on my love affair with probiotics + good poops, how I borrow from AIP principles, and MORE.

No matter how you eat your turkey, lets all give MS the bird this year. | Sarah Jean