By Liana Jacob
THIS YOUNG woman dropped more than seven-stone in just over a year after doctors gave her a shock Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis and now says her severe symptoms have been lifted.
Growing up, legal assistant Marleen Wardalazarr (26) from Toronto, Canada was a heavy child. However, her weight escalated to an unhealthy 17st 12lbs whilst at university where she juggled her studies with waitressing jobs and snacked on Chinese food from one restaurant to keep her going.
In November 2014, Marleen started suffering from numbness in the left side of her body. A few months later she struggled with her vision, her speech was slurred and her mobility reduced.
In February 2015, she was diagnosed with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis after doctors suspected she had vertigo.
This spurred Marleen to overhaul her diet and exercise and she has now dropped to 10st, 10lbs. The journey that led her to her golden weight was not an easy one.
“I was so stressed out between work and school, I didn’t even have the time to see how much weight I had gained,” said Marleen.
“I was not getting enough rest or alleviating any stress from school, nor putting any nutrients in my body, just a lot of fried foods.
“In November 2014, I noticed that I couldn’t feel what was in my pocket, my left hand was numb. I started to realise the numbness was not only in my left hand but the entire left side of my body – from my forehead to my left foot.
“I went to the hospital that night, I thought I was having early signs of a stroke, tests were done at the hospital and a referral was made for me to see a neurologist. There was nothing else the doctor could tell me other than I wasn’t having a stroke, so he sent me home.
“I started developing various new symptoms, such as; dizziness, a lack of balance and difficulty with walking. If you saw me you would have thought I was drunk.
“I was bed-ridden for a month, I was forced to drop out of school to save my tuition, I was put on sick leave from work. After so many doctors and so many hospital visits, I was sent to do a vertigo test in Toronto.
“The morning of my test I could not talk. My speech was slurred, I was choking on my words. I kept my conversations to a minimum, the test was conducted by a nurse who could tell I didn’t have vertigo.
“She would not let me leave without meeting a neurologist who assessed me and told me he was going to book me in for a MRI scan. It was confirmed that I was diagnosed with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis.
“They started me on a course of steroids straight away. The following few months were the most difficult months of my life.”
MS is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, resulting in various symptoms, including problems with arm or leg movement, sensation, balance and vision.
Even with medication, Marleen experienced relapse symptoms every month until May 2015, including; complete loss of mobility, cross-eyes, unable to chew or swallow food, vision impairment.
Marleen says that living with MS has made her so exhausted that even lifting her head took a lot of energy out of her.
“With this diagnosis of MS neither I or my family really understood this disease. We did as much research as we could and everything we read kept taking us back to my diet,” added Marleen.
“A lack of vitamin D is a big factor with MS patients, but I feel your diet and what you put into your body plays a bigger role. The weight loss, I wouldn’t say was intentional, I was so focused on healing myself with the foods I ate.
“Once I changed my diet and my lifestyle I started to see the change in my body, I started to feel great and I saw the effects the diet changes were making to my body, that is what kept me motivated to continue doing what I was doing.
“I’m not completely back to normal but I have developed a new norm that I can live with. I did go back to work after a post-diagnosis a year later and I returned to school and graduated.”
While a healthy, balanced diet has not been proven to prevent the chances or symptoms of MS, from personal experience the transformation Marleen went through helped her massively in reducing the impact of the symptoms.
As well as attending the gym once or twice a week, Marleen’s diet now consists of lots of greens, a handful of fruit and she eats tuna once or twice a week with no red meat after 5pm. She times her meals and has breakfast an hour after waking up, snacks at 12pm and eats dinner no later than 4pm.
“Just seeing how I feel and not having had a relapse in over a year is proof enough for me that the food I was eating was playing a big role in my symptoms,” Marleen said.
“I understand the timings may sound early but they allow you to burn off the food before you go to bed. I did this for a year and I felt amazing.”
“I have so much more confidence in myself, I have so much energy than ever before. Even with my MS I have never been happier.
“The bond between me and my family and has grown even stronger and we are much more health-conscious.
“We live in a time when it doesn’t take much to harm ourselves. I’ve come to find that a lot of harm can come from the simplest thing, in food for example.”
Previously, Marleen says that since chocolate and sweets were her favourite treats, saying no to them was the hardest part of the weight loss process. Seeing how her friends react to her transformation has made her appreciate it even more and she shares her new-found dietary secrets with them
“I had the biggest sweet tooth but the easiest way for me to keep away from them is just telling myself that my health is more important than pleasing a craving,” she said.
“If I can share my story with my friends, hopefully they will understand you not only have one life to live but you also have one body to do it in.
“My advice to anyone wanting to lose weight is to start as soon as possible. It’s not about the numbers on your scale, the bigger picture here is not how we look but about how our bodies function and feel.
“Read the labels on your food, understand how much sugar and sodium you’re taking in, keep sugar to a minimum and make sure to do your own research.
“A lot of people complain and argue that healthier food is so expensive, but medication for the rest of your life is so much more expensive.”
Secondary progressive MS is the second stage of MS that comes after relapsing remitting MS. According to the MS Society, exercise and diet are among treatments used to managing the condition.