A young woman who dropped nearly 100 pounds in just over a year claims the weight loss cured her of her severe multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Marleen Wardalazarr, from Toronto, Canada, was diagnosed with MS in 2015, and immediately overhauled her diet and exercise plan in favor of a more healthy lifestyle.
She began experiencing severe symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, lack of balance and difficulty walking in 2014, and went to the doctors afraid she was experiencing a stroke.
After months of testing Marleen was diagnosed with relaxed remitting multiple sclerosis.
By completely changing her unhealthy diet and adding in fruits, vegetables and fatty fish, such as tuna, she claims the symptoms have disappeared.
The nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, essentially serves as a pathway for the brain to tell the rest of the body what to do, according to the National MS Society.
Messages send from the brain, down the spinal cord, and then into optic nerves in different parts of the body that deliver these signals. When a patient has MS, the immune system attacks the optic nerves, and more specifically the protective coating around them that helps the messages move more quickly, called the myelin sheath.
This makes it difficult for those messages to travel, and the delay causes the symptoms experienced by MS patients.
While weight doesn't directly impact the disease, extra weight can intensify symptoms like fatigue and speed up the body's deteroiration.
Growing up, the 26-year-old legal assistant said she was a heavy child.
However, her weight escalated to an unhealthy 250lbs while she was in college and juggling her studies with different waitressing jobs. At one of her restaurant jobs, she got into the habit of snacking on Chinese food to keep her going.
'I was so stressed out between work and school, I didn't even have the time to see how much weight I had gained,' Marleen explained. 'I was not getting enough rest or alleviating any stress from school, nor putting any nutrients in my body, just a lot of fried foods.
In November 2014, Marleen started suffering from numbness in the left side of her body. A few months later she struggled with her vision, her speech was slurred and her mobility reduced.
'I noticed that I couldn't feel what was in my pocket, my left hand was numb. I started to realize the numbness was not only in my left hand but the entire left side of my body - from my forehead to my left foot,' she explained.
'I went to the hospital that night, I thought I was having early signs of a stroke, tests were done at the hospital and a referral was made for me to see a neurologist. There was nothing else the doctor could tell me other than I wasn't having a stroke, so he sent me home,' she continued.
'I started developing various new symptoms, such as; dizziness, a lack of balance and difficulty with walking. If you saw me you would have thought I was drunk.
'I was bed-ridden for a month, I was forced to drop out of school to save my tuition, I was put on sick leave from work. After so many doctors and so many hospital visits, I was sent to do a vertigo test in Toronto,' Marleen said.
In February 2015, she went in for a vertigo test, and was instead diagnosed with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis.
'The morning of my test I could not talk. My speech was slurred, I was choking on my words. I kept my conversations to a minimum, the test was conducted by a nurse who could tell I didn't have vertigo,' Marleen said.
'She would not let me leave without meeting a neurologist who assessed me and told me he was going to book me in for a MRI scan. It was confirmed that I was diagnosed with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis.
'They started me on a course of steroids straight away. The following few months were the most difficult months of my life,' she said.
MS is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, resulting in various symptoms, including problems with arm or leg movement, sensation, balance and vision.
Even with medication, Marleen experienced relapse symptoms every month until May 2015, including complete loss of mobility, cross-eyes, inability to chew or swallow food and impaired vision.
'With this diagnosis of MS neither I or my family really understood this disease. We did as much research as we could and everything we read kept taking us back to my diet,' Marleen explained.
This spurred her to overhaul her diet and exercise and she has now dropped to 150lbs. But the journey that led her to this golden weight was not an easy one.
'A lack of vitamin D is a big factor with MS patients, but I feel your diet and what you put into your body plays a bigger role. The weight loss, I wouldn't say was intentional, I was so focused on healing myself with the foods I ate,' Marleen said.
'Once I changed my diet and my lifestyle I started to see the change in my body, I started to feel great and I saw the effects the diet changes were making to my body, that is what kept me motivated to continue doing what I was doing.
'I'm not completely back to normal but I have developed a new norm that I can live with. I did go back to work after a post-diagnosis a year later and I returned to school and graduated,' she explained.
While a healthy, balanced diet has not been proven to prevent the chances or symptoms of MS, from personal experience the transformation Marleen went through helped her massively in reducing the impact of the symptoms.
On top of attending the gym once or twice a week, Marleen's diet now consists of a lot of greens and a handful of fruit each day. She also eats tuna once or twice a week, which contains fatty acids omega-3 and omega 6, and keeps away from red meat after 5pm.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are directly related to myelin health.
And in addition to changing what she eats, Marleen also times her meals and has breakfast an hour after waking up, snacks at 12pm and eats dinner no later than 4pm.
'Just seeing how I feel and not having had a relapse in over a year is proof enough for me that the food I was eating was playing a big role in my symptoms,' Marleen said.
'I understand the timings may sound early but they allow you to burn off the food before you go to bed. I did this for a year and I felt amazing. I have so much more confidence in myself, I have so much energy than ever before. Even with my MS I have never been happier.
'The bond between me and my family and has grown even stronger and we are much more health-conscious. We live in a time when it doesn't take much to harm ourselves. I've come to find that a lot of harm can come from the simplest thing, in food for example,' she said.
The hardest part of Marleen's weight loss process was cutting out chocolate and sweets, which she said were her favorite treats prior to her diagnosis.
'I had the biggest sweet tooth but the easiest way for me to keep away from them is just telling myself that my health is more important than pleasing a craving,' she said. 'If I can share my story with my friends, hopefully they will understand you not only have one life to live but you also have one body to do it in.
'My advice to anyone wanting to lose weight is to start as soon as possible. It's not about the numbers on your scale, the bigger picture here is not how we look but about how our bodies function and feel.
'Read the labels on your food, understand how much sugar and sodium you're taking in, keep sugar to a minimum and make sure to do your own research.
'A lot of people complain and argue that healthier food is so expensive, but medication for the rest of your life is so much more expensive,' Marleen said.
Secondary progressive MS is the second stage of MS that comes after relapsing remitting MS. According to the MS Society, exercise and diet are among treatments used to managing the condition.