Christine Smothers

IN HER WORDS

I’m a personal trainer and athlete; for a long time I did competitive body building. I looked great while I was competing, but had no idea that I was destroying my body. I think sometimes people just assume athletes are in optimal health, but I learned the hard way that this is not always the case.

In my early 20’s my diet and lifestyle were anything but healthy – I smoked, drank Dr. Pepper for energy, and ate generally unhealthy foods.

Eventually, I started running and it seemed a little weird to smoke after running, so I decided to quit, which was really very hard – more so emotionally than physically. People told me I needed to replace my smoking habit with something else, so I decided to replace it with fitness. I loved the “high” I got from running, and it was even better after I quit smoking. I started thinking that I’d like to help other people with their health and fitness, so I became a fitness trainer. While getting certified, I met some people who were into competitive body building. I found that body building also gave me the “high” that running did, so I pursued that too.

The trainers I worked with gave me what I thought was good diet advice – they had been in the field for many years and I trusted them. They told me that if I wanted to compete and win, I needed to eat a very high protein diet, with minimal fat and carbohydrate. I did what they told me to do – I ate egg whites for breakfast, chicken and salad for snacks, and fish and salads for lunch and dinner. I also ate a lot of whey protein in the form of sports drinks. My meals were all centered around animal protein.

I looked great, but to be honest, I felt bad more than I felt good. I was sick, tired, and irritable all the time. In fact, people did not want to be around me when I was competing because this was when my diet was the most extreme and I felt the worst.

Eventually I decided to go back to school to finish my degree in athletic training and I stopped competing to make time for that. But I continued to eat the same diet since I was used to it and I thought it was healthy.

The real problems started with flu-like symptoms that just didn’t seem to get better. Then I started having episodes of severe pain, numbness, tingling, and even paralysis. This really frightened me – I would feel fine and all of a sudden have an “attack” and I couldn’t move.

I spoke to a physician colleague at school who told me he thought I had multiple sclerosis. I was in denial, but after another episode, I couldn’t ignore what was happening any more, so I went to my family doctor. I spent five days in a hospital hoping the doctors would tell me this was anything but MS, but left with a firm diagnosis. And I left with drugs; drugs for depression, anxiety, pain, and Interferon to control the MS symptoms.

I took the drugs like I was supposed to for five months, and then started becoming concerned about the side effects. I also started thinking about Dr. Pam Popper – I had met her about 12 years before all of this. I remembered the things she said about diet and health, so I decided to contact her.

By the time we met, I was ready to get off the drugs and change my diet. I started the plant-based diet immediately and I got better. In fact, a lot better. I was so excited and felt so good that I decided I wanted to do something to help other people with MS. There are a lot of organizations that are trying to help MS patients, but they really promote drug treatment, not diet and lifestyle.

I had learned about Dr. John McDougall from Dr. Popper, and knew that he also used diet to treat MS, and was raising money to conduct a study. So I decided to raise money for Dr. McDougall by doing a bike tour. Although I had never cycled before, I wanted to try it and it would allow me to see parts of the U.S. I had never seen before. There was another important reason too. Many of the people I know are victimized by their diseases; they are unable to do lots of things. I didn’t want to be that way; I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was not limited by my diagnosis.

MS patients usually cannot tolerate heat. I took hot yoga classes in a 105 degree room and did fine. MS patients usually have trouble with exertion. Well, riding over 300 miles to Canada would prove that this did not apply to me either.

So I recruited a team of family and friends who were into cycling, I approached Dr. McDougall to get his blessing, and we did it! We rode 80-100 miles per day for three and a half days. I did all but 20 miles of it – that had nothing to do with my MS, but I had a knee injury that briefly caused me some problems.

We raised $2000 for Dr. McDougall and I have to say this was the most rewarding thing I ever did other than giving birth to my son.

And this brings me to the most important thing of all. My son used to be like other kids – he ate bad foods, he was overweight and he sat in front of a computer instead of exercising. I tried to tell him to eat better and exercise, but looking back, I was preaching, not teaching.

When I got sick, I decided my son and I were going to get healthier together. We both attended the Wellness Forum classes offered at Dr. Popper’s office and he started changing his diet too. Today, he is normal weight and eats a plant-based diet like I do, even at college! What I went through was frightening, but the great byproduct of my experience has been my son’s health improvement and weight loss.

I learned the hard way how important it is to stay compliant on the diet. The only relapse I’ve had was a result of letting some things creep into my diet that I should not have eaten. I clearly see the connection between what I eat and my health now.

I’m so much better off than MS patients who are taking drugs. I’ve learned that a frightening diagnosis does not have to be a life sentence. You can overcome many things and change the direction of your life. I am not going to be another MS statistic.