My Healthy 2020

After 2 Years, the Mediterranean Diet Is Everything I Hoped It Would Be

updated Apr 14, 2020
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Credit: Design: The Kitchn; Photo: Courtesy of Lora Shreve

Lora Shreve, a bookkeeper in Maine, was finally diagnosed with a rare neurological disease two years ago, after five years of failed diagnosis and treatments. She switched to an adjusted Mediterranean Diet and now eats foods as “close to its natural state as possible.” For her, being healthy is about more than just the food. She explains, “If I had just changed what I eat without being mindful or without focusing on my sleep or physical activity, it wouldn’t all mesh together to make me feel better.” She shares her story and how these changes have, as she says, “made a huge difference in my health and my outlook on life.”

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: The Mediterranean Diet

What does “healthy” mean to you?
For me, healthy means making choices in life that work with my body’s natural state, supporting it and strengthening it, not working against it. It is a balance of good food choices, exercise, proper sleep habits, and avoiding all things that might undermine goals I have set to remain in good health.

I appreciate how you point out that you avoid things that might undermine your goals. Can you describe those things and explain why it’s important to you?
I avoid added sugars, baked goods, negative people, and stressful situations. I also avoid places that aren’t good for me. Because of my neurological disorder, I struggle with loud places. I may choose to avoid a particular store if they have very loud music. It’s too overwhelming for me. It’s just better for me not to be overloaded. It doesn’t just affect me for the day or afternoon; I can feel the impact for several days or even over a couple of weeks in fatigue or lack of cognitive ability to process and function. 

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
I eat an adjusted Mediterranean diet, with no red meat, minimal poultry, and no dairy. I minimize processed white flour gluten and eat a bare minimum of added sugar. I focus on prime seafood, loads of fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains. I made this shift to whole foods, not processed, in reasonable portion sizes and healthy snacks. I also changed what eating means and why I eat, and aim to be mindful of each bite. I try to be as moderate as I can be.

I made this change two years ago when I received a troubling diagnosis of a chronic inflammatory disease called CLIPPERS [Chronic Lymphocytic Inflammation with Pontine Perivascular Enhancement Responsive to Steroids]. It’s an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord where all your nerves come together. The treatment was basically a long term course of corticosteroids. I wanted to do anything I could to avoid this. I had already been slogging through years of misdiagnosis and different treatments that didn’t work. 

What were your goals when you made this change?
I wanted to stay off steroids and stave off continued damage from inflammation. I wanted to find a way to age gracefully but also remain active. I wanted to be able to live my life fully because I wanted to be able to play with my granddaughter. 

Farmers Market Salad

How did you make this switch? What motivation pushed you on?
I went all in immediately. I didn’t phase things in or phase things out. I knew this was what I needed to do and I just did it. I was pushed on by feeling better and sleeping better and knowing that in the long run, even if it didn’t keep me off the steroids, it was still better for me. Thankfully, I have not had to take megadoses of steroids for long periods of time (only two short bursts) and I don’t plan to go on steroids. 

What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I have been able to maintain this way of living through a very tough time: my diagnosis, a divorce, selling my home and moving, adjusting to living alone, and supporting myself. I am proud that I have been able to remain off steroids and have had a positive response in the overall level of inflammation and stress in my body. I am so thankful that I made this decision! I know that it is worth any piece of cake or hamburger that I have not eaten.

Choosing to make these lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, mindfulness, and proper medical care have made it possible to decrease the number of flares in my illness and, as a result, this will decrease damage and the resulting disability. This is huge for my quality of life now, and moving forward.  

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
Well, there is nothing like the threat of disability; being a burden to your children; being alone and with no one to help you; and the side effects of nasty medications to motivate change! I think the secret is to not look at this as a diet change. This isn’t a diet, something outside of me that I’m taking on. This is who I am and what I do now.

What’s the one food you love the most?
Fresh fruit with balsamic vinegar.

If you were to recommend a Mediterranean diet to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
Focus on what you enjoy, find new favorites, and don’t zoom in on what you feel you’re missing. It doesn’t take long until your cravings for those old things go away, and you can find replacements that are healthier and just as enjoyable.

Thank you so much, Lora! 

What Is the Mediterranean Diet? Start Here.

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.