A costume designer’s riveting story about dealing with Multiple Sclerosis through food
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When noted costume designer Mridul Patwardhan (39) was diagnosed with the potentially debilitating condition of Multiple Sclerosis—it was undoubtedly a devastating moment—but also the proverbial turning point. Not one to accept defeat, despite being told the condition had no known cure, she began to explore the link between disease and diet. The fitness program she embarked on saw her lose 40 plus kilos—but even more importantly, to get a grip on her symptoms.

Taking her endeavour a notch higher, she formally trained to be a nutritionist and today is a firm advocate for a healthy diet being the first line of defense against disease.

This is her story and this is how she tells it.

"Every bite you take is either fighting disease—or feeding it. And it's a choice you make every day—so it helps to be aware of what one is eating, when and why. As I speak further, you will understand how all-pervasive this truth is, and why all of us must comprehend its magnitude.

Life was perfect a decade ago. I was a well-established costume designer within the Marathi and Hindi film industry and my work was respected. I had won awards for my work in movies like Harishchandrachi Factory, Shala and Ab Tak Chhapan. Sure, I worked crazy hours, given the rough and tumble of the film industry, but there wasn't much to complain about. On a personal level, I had a lovely, supportive family with a husband and two children who were proud of what I did, and parents and in-laws who were equally appreciative.

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Along the way though, I lost track of my health. There wasn't much time either, given the demands of my schedule. The kilos had begun to creep up, but I convinced myself that the physical activity I packed in a day was enough by way of exercise. My hours were erratic, and as it followed, my diet was too.

Little by little though, unnoticed and incognito, a serious disease had begun to close in. It started with little, seemingly unrelated symptoms such as seeing double images, a sudden current running from ankle to spine. A part of my body would vibrate from inside, almost as if a phone were ringing. Colours began to look dull, I began to lose bodily balance. At work, I could not remember simple details and was tired all the time. Most cruel of all was the bowel and bladder incontinence—something I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Despite all this, it took multiple check-ups before the medicos declared their verdict: Multiple Sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system eats at the protective covering of nerves.

To say I was shattered would be an understatement. No one in my family had it; in fact, I had never heard the term before. My doctor simply folded his hands by way of sorry: no one knew why MS happened, and there was no definitive cure.

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As my head spun, I knew just one thing: No way was I going to accept that there was no cure. The doctor had casually mentioned 'bed-ridden' and 'wheel-chair' as my possible future and the scary picture gnawed at me night and day. The only medication available was glatiramer acetate, a drug that would act as a temporary decoy, preventing the immune system from attacking the nerves. Nevertheless, the relapses continued.

Even as I sat at home, depressed and fatigued, a close friend and I decided to embark on an exercise program. Perhaps losing all that weight would help me feel lighter. Reluctantly, I agreed. My toes would cramp up, every step was a challenge. But I stayed on.

Sometime around this time, my husband got me a book called "Wahl's Protocol", a book on food science.

As I read on, I began to bring about lifestyle changes, bit by bit. The kilos came off, and my determination to study the effect of diet on health grew. I lost 40 kilos, coming down from 110 to a healthy 70.

The effect on my appearance was the least of the benefits. My outlook on life had changed—I felt healthy and positive. What's more, the MS symptoms were less prominent, and the relapses fewer.

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Along the way, I put myself through formal programs on diet and nutrition and emerged as a qualified nutritionist.

Helping others get back their groove is as rewarding as my own improved health. A sustainable eating program is like a good genie who pulls out one happy surprise after the other: improved sleep, better concentration, revved-up immunity, healthier hair and skin and yes, fat loss.

Though I customise the diets to the client's requirements, a single thought binds them all: they must be interesting, balanced and steeped in the local ethos. As the saying goes: think global, but eat local. On any given day, your eating plan must include eggs, milk, nuts, fresh fruit, veggies, and cheese. Stay away from gluten and simple sugars, though. Combined with regular, moderate exercise, and consumed at the right time of the day, keeping the body's biological clock in mind, your food is your best friend and doctor. Eat without fear, but be mindful about what you are consuming.

As for me, my MS is in control—and I look forward to the future with hope, positivity—and the intention to explore healthy eating for myself and those around me."

As told to Kalyani Sardesai

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

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