Multiple Sclerosis

Motivation to Follow the Wahls Protocol During the Holidays

December 4, 2023

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How to Stay Motivated on the Wahls Protocol with Nutrition Coach Alene Brennan

Following the Wahls Protocol is hard on an average day let alone the holidays. There’s so much good food around. Everyone is making their favorite dishes and it can easily feel like you’re stuck with the same smoothie and salad that you eat every other day throughout the year. You don’t get to indulge in the cookies, candy, pies and the spreads of delicious food.

So, is following the Wahls Protocol during the holidays really worth it?

Or should you just “enjoy the holidays” and start back once the New Year rolls around. If this sounds like the ongoing debate in your head, you’re not alone, and this post is for you.

Let’s talk about strategies to stay motivated to follow the Wahls Protocol so you can keep feeling your best all season long. (Listen to this episode on My MS Podcast.)

My First Holidays on the Wahls Protocol

I remember my first Christmas on the Wahls Protocol. 

It felt like everywhere I turned was another spread of amazing food – food that made my mouth water and my heart so sad. 

Seeing all the food that everyone else got to enjoy but me was just a tangible reminder that I had MS, and now my life had a new set of rules… ones that were far more strict and quite honestly boring than before my diagnosis. 

Basically, I couldn’t eat “the good stuff” any more. 

I really debated if I really had the motivation to never eat these foods again.

Never is a long time!

Each milestone I hit after starting the protocol, I thought, oh wow am I going to stick to this on Thanksgiving too?

And then Christmas was right around the corner and I was like, okay I guess that’s happening too. 

Following the Wahls Protocol Rules

It was the rule follower in me that kept me going. I really felt like I would get in trouble somehow if I “cheated.” 

Like someone would know if I had a bite of my Uncle Joe’s stuffing on thanksgiving or french toast and cinnamon rolls on christmas morning. 

Someone would be looking in my kitchen if I baked holiday cookies… with flour, milk and eggs. 

Those foods were like scandalous now! 

Driven By the Fear of Multiple Sclerosis

So the first year, I was really driven by fear – fear of my new diagnosis and fear of what would happen if I cheated on the Wahls Protocol. Would it trigger new symptoms or a flare? I didn’t know and I didn’t want to find out. 

So fear kept me focused on following the protocol. 

And I know many of you can relate to this feeling. 

You’ll do anything to stop this disease from progressing, so you’re eating all your veggies. 

But here’s the funny thing that I also hear from so many people in our community. 

Once you start to feel better that fear wears off and you start to wonder, if maybe you just got better on your own. 

Maybe it wasn’t the food. 

I mean you’ve always eaten gluten and dairy before your diagnosis, but now you apparently can’t eat it or it will make your symptoms worse?

Am I the Exception to the Rules?

That might be true for others, but maybe you’re the exception. 

I mean isn’t this how many of you think and feel?

And if that thought is happening around the holidays, it’s so easy to convince yourself to again, just take a break and enjoy the holidays by eating whatever you want.

Maybe you don’t have a reaction immediately, but then a few weeks pass by and you’re feeling tired, foggy and bloated. It came on so gradually that you didn’t even realize it was happening until it now feels like you’re back at square one. 

Again, if this sounds like you, you’re not alone! So these are my 3 tips for staying motivated on the Wahls Protocol during the holiday season.

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

I know, I’ve heard it 100% before too, yet I’m forever holding myself to such a high standard that often is no’t realistic. 

And that constantly has me feeling discouraged. I start telling myself that I didn’t try hard enough… I need to do more… and be more efficient. 

Now I’m fully aware that I’m telling myself this as my body is completely exhausted. And that prompts the next thought.

I just don’t have it in me to do it though.

So, my goal gets pushed further and further away… as does my motivation to do it. 

The Brain + Big Goals

When you have a BIG goal set for yourself that feels so far out of reach into your future, your brain doesn’t believe it’s possible. 

It’s too big of a leap.

And because it’s so different than where we are today, your brain has a hard time figuring out how to actually get there. It starts to doubt that it’s even possible, so it doesn’t really look for ways to make it happen. 

Identify the Small Steps + Milestones

If you can help to close this gap from where you are today to where you want to be in your future, your brain can start to identify the small incremental steps to get there. 

It more easily sees the first step and all the little milestones along the way. 

It starts to see your progress as something that’s possible so it brings your attention to opportunities throughout your day to make it happen. 

In other words, perfection discourages your brain from even trying. 

The greater the leap the more skepticism your brain will have. 

Stop focusing on perfection and start focusing on progress – the milestones that are currently within your reach. 

Small Steps for the Holiday Season

So bringing it back to staying on the Wahls Protocol during the holidays, instead of focusing on getting in the 9 cups of vegetables that has yet to happen even on your best day – just focus on getting one more serving of veggies than you did yesterday. 

Or try just putting one serving of veggies on your Christmas plate this year when you previously never made room for them, because you piled on the stuffing and potatoes. 

You could also focus on having a green smoothie 3 times a week because you feel better from the leafy greens in your smoothie and that’s the easiest way to get them in. (P.S. If you need some good smoothie recipes, check out my 5 Day Smoothie Challenge.) 

The Bigger Picture

So I guess my bigger point here, is maybe you don’t look at it as whether or not you’re going to “follow the protocol” the entire holiday season, maybe you break it down to a smaller realistic goal like the green smoothies 3 times week or going for a daily walk. 

This is helpful because it helps to overcome that mindset that well, I can’t follow the protocol the entire holiday season so I might as well not even try. 

This all or nothing approach can be really discouraging… and sometimes feel so unrealistic that our brain struggles to help us make it happen. 

Remember that which you focus on gets bigger. Focus on what is achievable for you. 

And celebrate all the small steps that you take and milestones that you hit along the way. Celebrating the small wins trains your brain to succeed again.

Pay Attention to the Results

Next up, pay attention to the results. This is something that is so easy to overlook but is really valuable anytime of year, but can help give you a little boost of motivation especially during the holidays. 

Regardless of what you eat, pay attention to how you feel after you eat it. 

Not just immediately after you eat it but literally for the next three days. 

Pay attention to digestion, mood, sleep, aches and pains, elimination, headaches… food affects so much throughout our body. 

And this goes both ways. 

The Good and the “Bad”

Pay attention not only to when you eat something that might be outside your normal healthy habits, but also pay attention to when you eat the good foods too – like the salads, smoothies, side of veggies, when you drink lots of water in a day. 

I’ll be honest I notice more of a difference when I feel like I’m really on my game versus when I might slack a bit. Those leafy greens can be a real struggle for me sometimes because they go bad way too stinkin fast! 

And I don’t really notice a profound difference when I’m not taking them, but when I DO have them in a day, and especially a couple days in a row, my energy is undeniably better. 

THAT is where the best motivation comes from. 

It follows the concept that I talk about so often that action precedes motivation.

Action Precedes Motivation

Motivation is a myth. This idea that we wait for motivation to come before we take action is setting us up for failure. 

Stop waiting to feel motivated to follow the Wahls Protocol this holiday season. 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to keep it real with you. If you’re waiting to feel motivated to follow the Wahls Protocol this holiday season, it’s not happening. 

The temptation is at its highest right now. There’s food everywhere! It all looks and smells delicious. 

If you’re waiting until that moment to decide, you’re likely not going to make the decisions that’s in the best interest of your health. 

Your taste buds are going to veto that vote. 

We think that we have to wait for the motivation to come to take action, but the reality is action often precedes motivation. 

You have to take action even when you don’t feel motivated. 

Small, Realistic Steps

But again, we’re breaking this down to a small realistic first step – like buying spinach so you have it in the fridge. 

Then making a green smoothie. 

When you’re focusing on the small steps there’s less resistance so you’re more likely to start sooner.

And by starting you start to get results and guess what comes with that… the motivation to keep going! 

When you pay attention to the results of what you’re eating you’re naturally more inclined to eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff because you like feeling good.

It’s funny how that works isn’t it? 

Drop the Guilt

Next let’s talk about guilt when things don’t go the way you had hoped for. 

Maybe you ate too much, felt like you ate the “wrong” foods, or maybe you drank more than you wanted or ate too much sugar. I mean there are plenty of reasons that we make ourselves feel guilty about. 

Stop with the guilt. It isn’t doing your body any favors. 

Maybe a day, a week, a month, or even an entire year didn’t go your way, okay it happened. 

Here’s the thing, the longer you focus on the regret, the longer you’re dragging this emotion out. 

It’s far more productive to focus on what you want to start doing differently. 

How do you want things to look moving forward? 

Feeling Defeated by a Sugar Binge

Again maybe you ate way too much sugar this past week. 

You made your first batch of holiday cookies, and gluten free or not, you had way too many and that just opened a can of worms because it only created stronger sugar cravings so you ended up eating the entire batch. 

And now you’re feeling the effects of the sugar. 

Adding guilt, regret and self depreciation isn’t exactly motivating you to make a change. 

And as I say all the time, that which you focus on gets bigger.

You can keep thinking about the sugar and the “mistakes that you made or you can accept that it didn’t go as you would have liked it to go, so know your mindset is, I’m going to make a batch of hot apples so you can have them as your evening dessert, and for any cookies you make moving forward, you going to freeze the majority of them, so you’re not tempted to eat so many at once. 

Drop the guilt. 

Bringing it Full Circle

This actually brings our conversation full circle because instead of the guilt, focus on the progress that you’ve made, even if that progress is realizing how tired and moody you feel after eating too much sugar. 

That’s progress, because before you were likely blissfully unaware, but with the awareness you are not more motivated to choose differently next time. 

Now It’s Your Turn

Let’s keep the conversation. Share in the comments below, what helps you to stay motivated during the holiday season?

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I'm Alene, your MS Sister.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2016, I was scared and felt alone. But as a Nutrition Coach, I knew there was more to healing than what I was being told. I took action and within six months the lesions I had on my brain shrunk and went inactive. Now, seven years later there has been no new lesions and no new activity. As a nutritionist specializing in multiple sclerosis, I help women take back control of their future.

That’s my story, but I’m not alone. It's your turn to start Thriving with MS. I’m here to show you the way. 

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