When I was a senior in high school, I read Diet for a Small Planet and became a vegetarian. Although I lived on a farm in rural Iowa, I decided that it was morally wrong to raise and kill animals for food and that a vegetarian diet was more environmentally sustainable.
It wasn’t an easy change; my dad was angry and my mother disapproved. I still had to do farm chores, but I resented having to contribute to the philosophy behind a farm.
When I became a medical student, I lived on beans, rice, whole-grain bread, eggs, cheese, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. I believed that fat and protein were necessary for my high-energy lifestyle. My multiple sclerosis symptoms began during medical school, long before my diagnosis, but I ignored them.
After I had been diagnosed with MS and declined so much I had to get around in a wheelchair, I realized that I needed to take control of my health. I began reading the medical research and experimenting on myself. It was during this time I discovered Dr. Ashton Embry, who believes there may be a connection between MS and diet. Dr. Embry recommends a diet that includes meat and excludes grain and dairy.
After all of this time as a vegetarian, how could I reconcile eating animals?
I prayed and meditated on this idea. Humans had evolved eating plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals. Perhaps this was a way to get closer to nature.
It took me a couple of weeks to get up the courage to begin adding meat to my diet. I began slowly, putting meat into soup. I began to feel stronger, and eventually I transitioned to a Paleo diet without grain, legumes, or dairy. Food was the one thing I could actually control and I wanted to get my health back. I continued to read the scientific papers on nutritional needs and identified nutrients that were missing in my diet.
Eventually, I developed the Wahls diet, focusing on 9 cups of fruits and vegetables: 3 cups of leafy greens, 3 cups brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables. My diet also includes sea vegetables and organ meats.
Today, I no longer rely on a cane or a wheelchair. I ride my bicycle five miles to work every day, do my rounds at the hospital, and feel better than I have in decades. I once was a vegetarian because of my conscience, but now, as a doctor, I can no longer in good conscience recommend it.
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