Published and interviewed by Mariah Wilson
Interviewed July 12th, 2022
Featuring Melody Sapien
Melody is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Wahls Protocol Health Practitioner, and multiple sclerosis (MS) advocate! Melody was diagnosed with MS when she was 15 years old but has since achieved multiple sclerosis remission. Ever since then she knew it was her life’s mission to guide other warriors and teach them how to gain their own health back. Since 2020, Melody has been running her own business, Autoimmune Wellness Warriors LLC, which helps autoimmune warriors manage their autoimmunity through nutrition and lifestyle habits.
Jump into this health journey:
- When did your health journey with multiple sclerosis begin?
- What is multiple sclerosis?
- What symptoms of MS did you first experience?
- Can people have varying symptoms of MS?
- How did the doctors diagnose MS?
- Why did you start with the Wahls Protocol?
- What level of the Wahls Protocol did you start at?
- Why did you skip straight through to Wahls level three?
- What does a day of eating look like for you?
- What sources of fat do you include in your diet?
- Do you always avoid gluten and dairy?
- Do you allow yourself “treat” days?
- What else triggers an MS flare?
- Is exercise beneficial or harmful for MS?
- What kind of exercise do you do?
- What is the best treatment for MS?
- Did you have mono or EBV before your MS diagnosis?
- Does MS run in your family?
- What is your theory for why you got MS?
- Can MS be cured?
- Is MS preventable?
- Any additional tips for others navigating their health journey with MS?
- Do you still have symptoms of MS?
- What autoimmune resource did you create for others?
Mariah: Thank you for joining us, Melody. We are looking forward to hearing how you were able to achieve multiple sclerosis remission! Before we begin today’s interview where we talk about your health journey with MS…
Melody: Yeah, of course. I’m, Melody, I am 23 years old, and I am a full-time functional nutritional therapy practitioner – and I don’t say there’s one diet that fits all people. For me, I really niche down on autoimmune diseases, and I like to help fellow autoimmune warriors, like myself, find what’s going to work for their specific bodies on a bio-individual approach. I really like to find their root cause and not just “here’s the bandaid fix”. I really like to get to the nitty-gritty details. And then an interesting fact about me is that I’m getting married in less than a month now!
Mariah: Wow, that’s exciting – Congratulations! And thank you for sharing all of that. I would like us to start our conversation at the beginning.
Melody: I was diagnosed when I was 15 years old, but I would say I was feeling MS symptoms for about two years before that. My mom was with me every step of the way because she knew the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t normal for her daughter.
Melody: Multiple sclerosis is when your immune system starts attacking your brain and your spinal cord, and it creates a multitude of symptoms throughout your body.
Melody: For me, I couldn’t even walk around the corner. I felt pins and needles everywhere – almost like someone was throwing knives in my back. I felt the “MS hug”, and an MS hug is just a lot of pressure around your ribs. When I had that, in the beginning, I just thought I couldn’t breathe. I thought I had asthma or that I was having an anxiety attack.
One time I went to the hospital when I was 14 years old and they just told me I had anxiety and that’s why I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
There was also one point where I started going blind in my left eye. There are just so many different and crazy symptoms.
We started doing our own research because I didn’t want to go on medication, and we had told the neurologist that, and he pretty much said, “well, you’re going to end up in a wheelchair by the time you hit college if you do that”. But my mom was there to advocate for me, luckily, because I was in a huge brain fog during that time.
Melody: Yes. So for every single person that has an autoimmune disease, it’s going to look different from person to person. I feel like for me, from the very beginning, it was very severe, but for some people and some of my own clients, it just starts with a little numbness – like you just sat on your leg too long, but it would be reoccurring. Some people are just overly fatigued…so it can be varying symptoms like that.
Melody: It was with blood work, an MRI, and a spinal tap. The spinal tap finally diagnosed me.
Melody: After I got diagnosed, my MS symptoms steadily got worse for a little while until we found the Wahls Protocol.
My mom found a doctor online, Dr. Terry Wahls, and for those who don’t know, she is a doctor who completely believes in conventional medicine, but after she got diagnosed with MS she ended up in a wheelchair – despite being on the best medication and seeing the best doctors for MS.
So she started doing her own research – took her life in her own hands, and found what nutrients and lifestyle changes she needed to make.
She was out of her wheelchair within months, and then within a year, she was biking miles to work every day.
I was like if she can do it, why can’t I do it? That was my inspiration after that, and that’s been my inspiration for almost ten years now.
Melody: As soon as my mom found the Wahls Protocol, I went straight on to Wahls level three. The Wahls Protocol has three different levels.
The Wahls Diet is level one – it’s very standard.
Wahls Paleo is level two.
And Wahls Paleo Plus is level three, which is a more keto-style diet.
I’m going to go through the basic one, which is pretty much just adding six to nine cups of fruits and vegetables (specific ones are encouraged), and then it’s anywhere from 9 to 21oz of protein, and of course, get rid of gluten, dairy, and refined sugars.
Melody: Because the MS was getting bad – and fast…it was a steady decline from the beginning. I feel like I’m the type of person that’s “go big or go home”.
I just wanted everything to stop. I wanted to get back on the softball field. I just wanted to feel like a normal person. I was willing to do anything to have that back.
Melody: So I’m on the Wahls protocol right now. I like to do it every single time I’m going to have a big vacation where I know there could be some traces of things that don’t react well to my body.
Melody: I like to start my morning with a berry smoothie: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
I switch my greens out every morning – spinach, kale, or arugula, whatever I have available to me.
I add two drops of MCT oil and PC (phosphatidylcholine) oil. That oil is something that Dr. Wahls recommends as well. I also add a teaspoon of lion’s mane mushrooms.
Then I have a normal breakfast after that. Right now I am tolerant to eggs – not all people with autoimmune disease are… so I have eggs, bacon, and any vegetables that I can find and I saute it together.
Melody: Then for lunch, it’s always some huge salad, I feel like it’s the easiest way to get greens in. Then for dinner, I like to structure my meals. I like to cook a protein with fat and then add veggies. So all my dinners pretty much are structured like that, but it’s going to look different each and every day.
Mariah: Awesome. So it sounds like you’re eating low carb, higher fat, and moderate protein. Is that something specific for MS or do you think that’s something that other autoimmune conditions could also adopt?
Melody: I completely believe that other autoimmune conditions could adopt it because we’re beings that are made of fats. Our foundation is different types of fats. It’s just getting the right fats in our system.
Melody: Healthy fats like coconut oil, MCT, even ghee, if you tolerate it, and avocados.
Mariah: Regarding low-carb foods, do you avoid even vegetables that have a higher carb content?
Melody: I do not. But I do avoid potatoes when I’m on Wahls level three, so I always switch between Wahls level two and level three. Since I’m going to go on vacation very soon for my honeymoon, I try to avoid it as best as I can.
Melody: I feel like at the beginning of my wellness journey, I would try to see if I could have a little bit – just a bite. But I would quickly find out that it was not okay. I would feel it in my body right away, and I would feel a complete difference. I feel like it’s a critical part of a wellness journey to know the night and day difference. Even though it does suck, there are substitutes you can find, depending if you tolerate it for your body.
Mariah: Can you explain how your body felt different? Did you get a relapse of symptoms?
Melody: Yes, I got a relapse of symptoms…all my symptoms came back right away. All the symptoms I got rid of to achieve multiple sclerosis remission. So for me, I was very fatigued, I felt many pins and needles throughout my body, and my brain felt like it was on fire. That was another thing, too, that I left out. I had really bad migraines that felt like a burning sensation in my brain.
Mariah: That sounds awful. So when you were a teenager, you would allow yourself to have these treat days every once in a while to both find and perhaps push your limits. But now that you’ve gone through everything…
Melody: No, not at all because of the night and day difference, I feel like I’m glad I learned my lesson early on, and for me, I love feeling my very best, and I love that I get to help people feel their very best.
Melody: A personal trigger for me, because I feel like this is different for everyone, would be nightshade vegetables. So peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and a few others.
Melody: Exercise is probably one of the best things for my own MS. I feel like it’s a huge stress relief for my body. I really believe in the saying, “if you don’t move it, you lose it”, and I feel like that’s especially true for MS.
Melody: I really like to lift weights. I also like to do yoga and then I go for walks a lot.
Melody: For myself, it’s definitely diet and lifestyle habits, but I wouldn’t give that advice to every single person since everyone needs something a little different.
But for anyone, even if they’re on medication, I really feel like if you go gluten-free and dairy-free and if you add nutrients, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s only going to benefit you. That’s what I would say to them.
Mariah: Now, I do have a question because I saw a recent research study linking the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and mononucleosis (mono) with multiple sclerosis later on in life.
Melody: I did not. I got tested for EBV – nothing came up.
Melody: No, it doesn’t run in my family.
Melody: I’m thinking that my diet before I was diagnosed was pretty bad. It was the standard American diet.
Since I was working out so much, I thought I could eat everything I ever possibly wanted (ice cream, brownies, etc.) because I wasn’t gaining weight. But what I didn’t think of is the other repercussions that may result from my diet. That’s my theory about what led to this.
Mariah: So it sounds like your diet before was high in processed foods, high in sugar, low in nutrients?
Melody: Yes, that’s exactly how I would explain it.
Melody: MS cannot be cured. But it can be managed. There are three routes I like to think of.
One is medications. Some people do amazing on medications, others do not, and that’s when people turn to diet to see what diet and changing lifestyle habits can do for them.
I have a lot of clients who do both, who use medications and the diet/lifestyle route, and that works perfectly for them. Everyone’s going to be completely different on what works for them.
Or it’s someone like me, who was able to achieve multiple sclerosis remission by changing both my diet and lifestyle and by figuring out what my personal body needs. So that’s three ways to manage it: medications, diet, and/or lifestyle.
Melody: Is it preventable? I like to think of my own story and how previously eating only a standard American diet (exacerbated my symptoms), yet, having an abundance of nutrients in my body seems to act preventatively (i.e. reduces MS flares).
I like to think of Dr. Wahls’s quote, “a disease is just a matter of turning a gene on or off”. So in that sense, it’s really just being in the correct environment, with the correct lifestyle habits, and the correct diet and nutrition, and maybe that could prevent this gene from getting turned on.
Melody: I would say to them that although this journey is tough, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still live a really beautiful life. It’s just figuring out how to find hope and how to find the light back in our journey, and that it’s 100% possible. It really is.
Mariah: I think you’re a really good example of that too because it sounded like your MS symptoms were quite severe and now you have achieved multiple sclerosis remission.
Melody: Because I am in multiple sclerosis remission, I have no symptoms, and it seems to stay that way as long as I don’t get tainted with food. Also, if my stress levels are through the roof, then I start feeling symptoms.
Aside from those scenarios, I have no symptoms at all. But as I said before, if I am tainted, or if I do have an excess amount of stress, my body reminds me that my MS is not cured – it is just managed, and it is still there.
Melody: It’s an “autoimmune wellness journey recommendation list”. I’m going to have it straight on my website: https://www.melodysapien.com and people can follow me on Instagram at: @autoimmune.wellnesswarriors