“It’s not about meds versus no meds. It’s about giving your body what it needs to thrive. Never in a million years would I have believed I’d be where I am today.”
“I was a pizza guy, party guy,” says Tony Ferro.
But Tony wasn’t just any pizza guy. He was the pizza guy. His family had long owned a popular pizzeria in Buffalo, NY.
In his early 30s, Tony worked long days in the family business and then regularly stayed out drinking until the small hours with his buddies. Besides the restaurant’s pizza and pasta, his diet mostly consisted of processed food that he grabbed on the go.
Then, his right hand started going numb, followed by other parts of his right side. His hands began shaking. As he lost depth perception, it became difficult to walk steadily or get his hand in the right place for a handshake. And brain fog and fatigue were constant drains.
At more than 500 lbs. at the time, Tony was admittedly overweight, but the weight didn’t explain his new symptoms.
Still, he put off seeing a doctor until his symptoms became too much to ignore. In January 2012, an MRI and spinal tap led to a devastating diagnosis: multiple sclerosis (MS).
“At the time, I didn’t even know what MS was, but doctors told me I would be in a wheelchair in 10 years,” he says. “Time stopped for me. I didn’t hear, feel or understand much. My mom came with me and was devastated and started crying in the office. That moment of weakness for both of us was eventually turned into a positive strength.”
The day of his diagnosis, Tony’s doctor sent him home with three binders containing exhaustive details about his medication options and asked him to make a decision before the next appointment.
As he read, “The side effects scared me more than MS did,” he says.
From Party Guy… to Paleo Guy
Tony had never been much of a studier. But his diagnosis lit a fire, inspiring him to search for anything he could learn about multiple sclerosis treatment.
“There was nothing positive on Google,” he says. “But I wasn’t convinced that things had to be that way.”
A friend with MS recommended that Tony see a naturopath, who suggested that, by reducing inflammation, Tony could potentially put his MS into remission.
The potential for remission intrigued him… but the path to get there would require nearly inconceivable diet and lifestyle changes: saying goodbye to gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol. Each one of those would be tough for Tony.
He began weighing those diet changes against taking the recommended medications that his doctors and family were urging him to begin. As hard as it would be, he wanted to try diet first.
“My neurologist was hesitant but agreed to support my decision and monitor me,” he says.
Tony began swapping his beloved pizza and burgers for nutrient-dense foods and smoothies. Each meal became a test of his willpower.
“It was a lot of swearing and yelling as I battled the old versus new me,” he says.
But most of the time, he stuck to it. And with focused effort, his symptoms began easing, he lost weight and he regained his energy.
Within the year, MRIs showed that his brain lesions, typical signs of MS, were shrinking and disappearing – spurring him to keep at it.
Next-Level Healing with Wahls Protocol
Meanwhile, Tony continued researching ways to reduce inflammation. He eventually landed on the YouTube talk of Dr. Terry Wahls, an M.D. who discovered a lifestyle approach to treating her own secondary progressive MS – eventually enabling her to graduate from a wheelchair to walking.
The Wahls Protocol involves a nutrient-rich diet that includes organ meats and copious amounts of vegetables to help the body heal at the cellular level, and eliminates inflammatory foods such as gluten, grains, dairy, legumes and sugar.
“It’s not just what you give up. It’s what you add,” Tony says. “It’s about adding essential vitamins and minerals, and adequate water.”
If Tony could do paleo, then he believed he could comply with Wahls as well.
However, as Tony felt progressively better – on paleo and then Wahls diets – he rewarded himself with occasional cheat meals. Why not enjoy a night out every so often of drinking and eating some of his old favorites?
But occasional flares, including one that numbed him from the neck down, arrived as glaring messages from his body.
“I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” he says. “I used it as a lesson. I wasn’t working hard enough at making the Wahls Protocol work. I thought I deserved a cheat date, but with autoimmunity, there are no cheats.”
After three to four flares, he had had enough. By that time, Dr. Wahls had published the book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, giving Tony renewed motivation and a roadmap to follow.
Along with diet changes, he added supplements to refill low nutrient levels, such as methylated B vitamins and vitamin D.
As he followed the protocol strictly, he found his mobility further improved. His brain fog dissipated. The numbness began easing such that he could start his car or put on socks without difficulty. And eventually, he dropped 154 pounds.
A Lifestyle 180
While nutrition was key, it was just one of the pillars in Tony’s health strategy. He also started exercising, and sleeping longer and more regular hours.
He began hitting the gym five days a week, doing strength training, stretching, cardio and sometimes yoga.
And just as critical was Tony’s state of mind. In fact, this former party guy now meditates.
“I let go of emotional baggage and my body became my priority,” he says, adding he got through with a lot of self-love and acceptance. By putting himself first, he realized, he could better help others. That mindset bolstered him through the often-difficult course.
Now, when he wants a treat, he does so with recipes that are compliant on his diet, such as paleo pumpkin pie or Wahls fudge.
A New Mission: Supporting Those with Autoimmunity
A decade after his diagnosis, Tony remains on the Protocol and has eliminated 95 percent of his multiple sclerosis symptoms. And with strict adherence to his regimen, he’s been flare-free for more than two years.
Once a year, he sees his neurologist for a check-in, and with his progress, has her support. He’s also received the full backing of his family, friends and girlfriend, for which he’s grateful. His mom put together a cookbook of clean-eating recipes and his friends and family threw fundraisers for MS.
Beyond elevating his health, Tony’s lifestyle changes altered his career. He’s now dedicated to being a beacon of hope for others facing this disease and other autoimmune conditions.
“I walked away from the pizza business,” he says. “I couldn’t promote one way of living during the day and another in the evening.”
Tony went back to school to became a certified functional therapy practitioner and a Wahls Protocol Health Practitioner to guide other individuals looking to improve their health with lifestyle changes.
He also formed a nonprofit, ChangeMS.org, to support, advocate, educate and raise funds for research, services and programs to help those living with multiple sclerosis.
For others looking to ease their multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions with lifestyle changes, he offers the wisdom that comes from walking that hard road himself.
“It’s a lifestyle, not a diet,” he stresses, “and understanding it will help you stay compliant. It’s not about meds versus no meds. It’s about giving your body what it needs to thrive. Never in a million years would I have believed I’d be where I am today.”
What works for one person may not work for another. Consult your health practitioner for professional health advice before trying any new approaches.
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