It’s been amazing to hear how a good friend of mine, Erika Ehlers, has used a plant-based lifestyle to address Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in which she was diagnosed just a few years ago. Today is her two year anniversary going all-in plant-based. Another great story that developed was Erika learned how eating plant-based would help her body she also made changes in how she lived her life with products containing animals. Here, Erika will share her background, what transpired, and her path forward.
Describe your diet growing up through adult hood
I grew up with the Standard American Diet (SAD) – meat and potatoes…LOTS of dairy. Eating that way continued into adulthood – meat was the center of the plate, along with a starch (probably covered in cheese), and vegetables were pushed to a tiny corner of the plate.
What sparked a change?
2017 was a really stressful year for me in a number of ways. In September of that year, a few weeks after starting a new job, my left leg went numb for a couple of weeks. I wrote it off as just a pinched nerve. Then in November of that year, I started getting some foggy vision in my right eye. It progressively got worse, to the point that I couldn’t see at all out of that eye – my eye doctor sent me to a neuropathologist. After a bunch of tests, he said I had optic neuritis and gave me a referral to Johns Hopkins Neurology. After another battery of MRIs, blood tests, and a spinal tap, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. All of a sudden, a lot of wonky things that had been going on the past few months, like fatigue, numbness, weird electrical tingles…all made sense. And…getting diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease will definitely make you reevaluate your life choices.
When and why did you explore plant-based?
I started making tweaks to my diet after my diagnosis. I also have psoriasis (autoimmune disorders like to travel in packs), so was trying to focus on more anti-inflammatory foods. I found when I cut out dairy it helped tremendously with my fatigue. But I was still a pescatarian who ate eggs. Then I watched Cowspiracy. The scene with the duck changed me on a dime. From that point on, I was 100% vegan – I not only changed the rest of my diet, I changed my lifestyle – no more leather and wool; I started using cruelty free and vegan toiletries and cleaning products.
What were some of your challenges when making the switch?
While I always thought giving up cheese would be the hardest thing, it actually ended up being eggs. I love breakfast foods and it was tough to let go of eggs – omelets, scrambled eggs, egg salad…not to mention eggs being in so many baked goods. But learning more about the cruelty of the egg industry, paired with some of the amazing products, like Just Egg, that are on the market made it easier to make kinder choices and leave eggs behind for good.
What were the positives you noticed early on?
Not only did I find I had less MS fatigue, I actually found that I had a LOT more energy. I felt ‘lighter’ and less sluggish. I was sleeping better.
What are some of the positives you notice now?
All the initial positives are still there, plus I find I’m less anxious. It may sound new-age-y to say, but I feel more centered. It feels good to know that the decisions I make every day about what I eat not only have a positive impact on me and my health, but also on the animals and on the planet.
What are some of the most significant things you have learned?
I always knew that the farming industry wasn’t pleasant, but I was shocked and disgusted to learn just how torturous and cruel factory farming is – not just for the animals but for the humans that work within it as well. Even if you don’t care about animal welfare, there’s nothing remotely healthy that comes out of that process that we should be putting into our bodies.
What resources were most influential in your switch?
There are so many good resources! It’s a great time to be vegan! How Not to Die/How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger, Forks Over Knives (movie, book and app!), and a lot of great vegans on YouTube have been a huge help with vegan recipes – Sweet Simple Vegan, Pick Up Limes, Cheap Lazy Vegan, Edgy Veg, AvantGarde Vegan. I took the Plant Based Nutrition course from eCornell, which was fantastic. There are also some great bloggers that have been a big help in going cruelty free beyond food – I really like Logical Harmony and Cruelty Free Kitty.
What is next?
I’ve become a monthly donor for The Farm Sanctuary (if you aren’t following them on Instagram – go do so now!) and plan to go visit their New York sanctuary once Covid restrictions are lifted. I want to start looking more into how I can advocate against factory farming and animal testing.
I also want to continue learning more about plant-based nutrition and the connection between diet and autoimmune disorders.
Any other things not covered you would like to share
Bonus plot twist – my husband has now gone plant-based as well! He’s the chef of the family and has really embraced trying new recipes, especially during Covid when we have been cooking more at home.
I am thankful Erika and I have crossed paths
What a great story of a person taking action on what they can control when they are dealt a most challenging situation. Erika and I have known each other for over two and a half years and I have learned so much about her in that time frame. She is filled with so much energy and compassion. We share many vegan stories, recipes, pictures, social media posts, etc. that fuel our purpose to live a healthy life while supporting animals and the planet. I am so happy I have her as a friend and we will continue on this plant-power lifestyle and exploration together.
You can find Erika on Instagram at @elfin1210.
– Add Health to Your Life