“You have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis,” the neurologist said to Nora Gocking as the Kentucky mom — already woozy and partially blind for days — felt the hospital room begin to spin faster. She clutched her husband Brian’s hand as the doctor spoke of brain lesions, drug regimens and future attacks. He’s saying this will never go away, she realized, new panic surging.
Nora flashed back to her worst episode: Unwilling to take an ambulance and too heavy to carry, she had crawled her 350-pound body to the car, then spent weeks struggling to walk and speak again. They’d blamed a virus. But now… “It’s not a death sentence,” the doctor said. If I can’t take care of my kids, it’s pretty close, she thought. Tears streaming down her cheeks, Nora looked at Brian and began to pray. “God, please let good come from this…"
Nora started taking meds to suppress her disease, but continued to battle fatigue, twitching, and numbness. She had no peripheral vision in her left eye, which doctors said was likely permanent. Returning to her job as an administrative assistant, she came home exhausted. Yet she couldn’t just crawl into bed —her son, Daniel, 17, and daughter, Bethany, 9, needed her. So that night, after dinner, she typed “improve MS symptoms” into Google and was quickly drawn to sites that suggested her diet could help. “I can eat to make my body a place where MS won’t thrive,” she murmured aloud.
Soon after, Nora’s ob-gyn pal, Shannon, suggested she look into Whole30. “It’s a way of eating built around only natural, anti-inflammatory foods,” she explained. “It improves overall health and helps prevent the autoimmune attacks behind MS and lots of other diseases.” Shannon said Whole30 eased her ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition, plus got her to a healthier weight. So, Nora checked it out and found the approach could be a miracle for people exactly like her. “This is going to work,” she said to Brian.
Jotting down her first meal plan, Nora felt doubt creep in. After all, she’d been heavy all her life and had tried many diets — even at 1,000 calories a day, she’d barely lose and eventually give up. The scale doesn’t matter this time, she reminded herself. This is about driving out MS. Sure, she’d have to avoid potentially inflammatory foods — anything highly processed, dairy, sugar, grains, legumes. But there was so much good stuff to eat. She could make many of their normal meals with little tweaks. Eggs and fruit for breakfast, salad with hearty toppings (even sausage!) for lunch, chicken with veggies and cauliflower rice for dinner. Even potatoes were okay as long as they weren’t deep-fried. I can do this! she thought.
Then the sugar withdrawal hit. “It’s like pregnancy hormones at their worst,” Nora told Shannon. Yet the extreme reaction revealed the scary hold that certain foods had on her body. So for every headache or craving, Nora told herself, This is a bump in the road. I’m on the path to health! Things soon got easier. The withdrawal passed, her appetite shrank and her energy soared higher than before the MS. It felt easier to get around. And no wonder: When she got on the scale after 30 days, she was down 50 pounds!
After 60 days on Whole30, Nora saw a car whizzing by her out of the corner of her eye, and realized her vision had been her eye, and realized her vision had been her eye, and realized her vision had been restored! She didn’t stop smiling for days. Another happy shocker: Extra pounds continued to pour off.
“I didn’t count a single calorie, carb, or fat gram. I just ate good-quality, whole food until I was full,” Nora recalls. In 90 days, she shed 75 pounds; in six months, 100 pounds. And with every ounce lost, she gained vitality. “When I first got sick, I prayed that good would come from this horrible situation — and that’s exactly what happened,” says Nora, who has been maintaining an astonishing 185-pound weight loss for two years. “I feel better than I did before I got sick. Healthy, happy and full of life!”
As for Nora’s MS, “I’ve had three beautiful MRI scans that show the disease hasn’t progressed at all since I started Whole30,” she says. “Every day is a blessing. I love sharing my story. I want everyone to have the chance to feel as amazing as I do!”
Why Whole30 Works
After attending a seminar on anti-inflammatory foods, nutritionist Melissa Hartwig Urban created a 30-day eating plan and recruited her blog followers to help test it — and just like that, the Whole30 phenomenon was born. The gist: Stick to anti-inflammatory foods (eggs, fish, meat, produce, nuts, seeds, natural fat) for 30 days, then test eliminated foods, adding back those that don’t cause issues.
“It’s very common for this way of eating to trigger weight-loss and improve health issues like fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune conditions,” says The University of Iowa’s Terry Wahls, MD. Why? In terms of weight loss, “you avoid addictive foods and empty calories, naturally eating less but feeling more satisfied.” And since it reduces internal inflammation by up to 82 percent, Whole30 eating boosts overall health and helps prevent autoimmune attacks. Dr. Wahls’ research hints that an anti-inflammatory diet even eases fatigue, anxiety and brain fog in MS sufferers. “If your goal is more energy, better mood, better health and a healthier weight, it’s the way to go!”
Whole30 Sample Day
Breakfast: Eggs scrambled in coconut oil with veggies and a side of fresh fruit. Opt for pasture-raised eggs and organic produce when possible.
Lunch: Natural chicken sausage, boiled baby potatoes, salad, and Whole30-friendly dressing, such as Tessemae’s Creamy Ranch ($14.95, Amazon).
Dinner: Chicken and veggies sautéed in olive oil with herbs and lemon; serve with steamed cauliflower rice and an optional side of fruit
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.