We’ve actually known each other since Ivy was in 8th grade and Andy was a junior in high school. We met at The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, FL when Andy was assigned to be Ivy’s math tutor. We had a lot in common (a good dose of chemistry didn’t hurt!) and we became good friends from the start. We stayed in close contact when Andy went away to college and we maintained our friendship while Andy went to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 1998, almost ten years after we first met, Andy was finishing medical school and Ivy had just graduated from college when a major health crisis brought us together. Ivy had just received her American College of Sports Medicine certification and was working at a hospital wellness center when she began experiencing a series of bizarre symptoms. What initially began as three bladder infections a month escalated to severe bladder urgency and frequency; Ivy was going to the bathroom every 15 to 30 minutes in the middle of the day and waking up six and seven times in the middle of the night. She then developed severe incontinence. Ivy started making the rounds to the local urologists and every visit turned out to be a dead end. The doctors were stumped.
The doctors became even more baffled when Ivy began having numbness and tingling in her leg. She then developed intense muscle spasms and a very strange weakness in her right leg that made simple tasks such as climbing a flight of stairs a challenge. The strange symptoms persisted for about three months and Ivy spent the entire summer trekking from physician’s office to physician’s office… and getting nowhere fast.
A Shocking Diagnosis
Ivy’s medical ordeal came to a head one night when she thought she was getting another bladder infection and drank nearly four cups of watered-down cranberry juice to “flush” the infection away. After force-drinking the fluid, Ivy headed to see the movie The Horse Whisperer. Barely making it through the first scene, she had to go to the bathroom almost immediately. When Ivy got to the ladies’ room she couldn’t go a single drop. She rushed to the emergency room and the E.R. doctor told her he thought the urinary retention was a sign of something serious. Ivy left the E.R. wearing a catheter and headed down to see a urologist at the University of Miami. After extensive urological exams, the urologist said he thought the problem was neurological. Ivy was referred to neurologist Dr. William Sheremata who did a neurological exam and sent her for an MRI of her brain and spinal cord that evening.
Ivy was then given the shocking diagnosis of being in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS). She was given three options: 1) begin one of the disease-modifying medications, 2) enter a study group for a trial drug, or 3) revamp her diet. The idea of being a “guinea pig” and entering a study for a drug that hadn’t yet been FDA approved didn’t appeal to Ivy one bit—so that option was out from the get-go. At first going the mainstream medication route seemed the most appealing and logical choice.
However, after learning the disease-modifying medications administered by injection would be contraindicated during pregnancy and can cause very severe negative side-effects (including suicidal ideation) Ivy began to have serious second thoughts. Although she knew very little about nutrition, changing her diet was looking like it might be the best option.
A Natural Treatment Approach
Although a dietary change seemed appealing, Ivy was not 100% confident that something as simple as nutrition could impact a disease as serious as MS. It was her skepticism that prompted her to reach out to Andy for advice. Andy was finishing medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and she knew he had the resources to help her.
Ivy’s diagnosis of MS came as a huge shock to Andy, but the recommendation she change her diet as a form of treatment came as an even greater shock. Andy was highly skeptical that dietary therapy could impact the disease in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, he was open-minded and very impressed with Dr. Sheremata’s credentials. (As a full professor at the University of Miami, Dr. Sheremata had published over sixty high-quality peer-reviewed research articles in this field). Andy ended up spending hours at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical library reading all of the available literature relating to diet and MS. Only then—to his surprise—was he able to confirm that research doesin fact support dietary therapy as an effective way to treat the disease. Andy then flew down to Florida to personally meet with Dr. Sheremata at the University of Miami. After their meeting and additional individual research, Andy was convinced that a healthy diet based on “eating clean” could indeed help Ivy improve her quality of life. Most importantly, the dietary change wouldn’t have any negative side effects. And, if the need arose, Ivy could always add the medication later.
So, it was with Andy’s support that Ivy decided to makeover her diet and to learn as much as she possibly could about nutrition. At that point in our lives, both of us had a tremendous amount to learn regarding what constituted a healthy diet. Nevertheless, we poured ourselves into medical dietary research, and soon began to understand the sweeping benefits of nutrition for a plethora of conditions way beyond MS.
The more we learn about MS and other chronic diseases, the more we learn that the brain and body are constantly remodeling themselves. For example, in MS patients the brain has a significant reserve capacity that it can use to repair itself. Activities that exercise your brain and body appear to be critical to the development of the cognitive reserve needed to “work around” the areas of damage caused by MS. In fact, an important emerging theory is that disease progression in MS happens because the brain is no longer able to repair itself. On average, you renew about 1% of the cells in your body daily, and those new cells come in either stronger and “younger” or weaker and “older;” your overall lifestyle plays a tremendous role in cell regeneration—for better or worse. Exercising regularly and giving your body the right nutrients, eating anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods, and eating the right types of fats (especially the omega-3 fats) all work to keep your brain “flexible” and “fluid” giving it the “edge” it needs to manage MS. And of course MS isn’t the only disease that can benefit tremendously from lifestyle choices!
We learned the healthiest diet in the world was a “clean eating” style anti-inflammatory diet, based on choosing nutrient-rich whole foods in their most natural and unrefined state. We also learned that such a diet would benefit anyone suffering from any inflammatory condition (such as arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia, etc), obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. And the “side benefit” is hunger-free weight loss. We pretty much stumbled onto a “one size fits all” diet.
We got Married…and Had a Baby!
The spark and chemistry we had back in high school was quickly reignited. We soon became more than “just friends” and were married on March 11, 2000. We moved to Philadelphia while Andy finished his internship at Pennsylvania Hospital, and we stayed up north while he completed his surgical residency. Ivy was pregnant three months after our wedding and our son, Blake, was born one year and three days after our first anniversary. Ivy had a great pregnancy (with the exception of morning sickness), gained a healthy 25 pounds, and never experienced any of the post-pregnancy exacerbations so common among women with MS. Blake was 7 pounds 15 ounces when he was born, and from day one he has been incredibly healthy. Ivy nursed Blake exclusively for the first six months and then started him on the same nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory “whole foods” diet she followed —which, by this time Andy had also adopted. (As a side note: Blake is now thirteen years old and he’s been on antibiotics just once in his life. He has never had an ear infection, he doesn’t have allergies, he doesn’t suffer from asthma, he rarely gets sick, and—with the exception of his regular scheduled check-ups—he doesn’t need to visit his pediatrician.)
Ivy’s 2nd Health Challenge Shapes Our Views On Fitness
Although we were blessed with a healthy baby boy and Ivy’s overall health improving, we were soon faced with another hurdle: hip pain.
Ivy’s hip pain started in 2000 during her pregnancy, and progressed for over a decade. In 2008, she underwent an unsuccessful hip surgery for a labral tear, but the tear came back. It wasn’t until 2010 when we went to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City that we discovered Ivy’s hip pain was caused by“Femoral Retroversion”—an unusual congenital abnormality that causes the femoral head to be rotated 22 degrees “off” of the normal angle. Her femoral head was pressing into her pelvis and not only causing pain, but also deteriorating her hip joint. Ivy’s degree of retroversion was considered severe, and the orthopedic abnormality was causing hip impingement—a mechanical issue that was causing the labral tears she had experienced. With age and without the surgery, her hip would continue to deteriorate prematurely from the pressure of her femur pressing into her hip socket. The only way to fix the problem was with a surgery called “Femoral Derotational Osteotomy,” in which her femur (thigh bone) was broken in half and the shaft was rotated to put her femoral head in the “normal” position. It was a 7-hour surgery, requiring a 5 day hospital stay and over 6 months on crutches. As you can see from Ivy’s x-ray below, she still has a rod and screws in her leg (Click HERE to read more.)
The ten-year hip ordeal taught us a lot, and it began to shape our views on fitness. Ivy used her fitness background to develop a way to stay in shape without putting stress on her joints,and without spending hours at the gym. Ivy would often go months at a time when she was very limited in the type of exercise she could do (often she was unable to do any form of cardio because the repetitive motion aggravated her hip.) What we discovered during the ten-year period that Ivy had hip pain was that the best and most effective way to stay in shape is not with cardio, but instead with resistance circuit training. And best of all, you can maintain a surprisingly high level of fitness doing a resistance circuit training workout just 30 minutes 3 days a week.
We’d Like to Think We’d Be Eating Clean Today …
Although we’d like to say we would have eventually adopted our anti-inflammatory diet and clean eating lifestyle regardless of whether or not Ivy had been diagnosed with MS, we can’t say with absolute confidence that this would have ever happened. For one, we can’t imagine why we would have ever taken the time to research and sort through the ever-shifting, conflicting, and completely contradictory dietary advice that has filtered its way into the media over the past ten to twenty years. Would we have happened to stumble upon an appealing, science-based natural-foods diet book? Maybe. But, probably not.
To be honest, we’re not sure the natural-foods stuff would have been attractive to us anyway. Back then the natural-foods world seemed too “fringe element” to be appealing. Besides, our experience with health food stores was that they smelled kind of “off” (and we had never even heard of Whole Foods Market!)
Luckily, times are slowly changing. In fact, over the past decade we’ve noticed an increasing number of people going out of their way to buy “all-natural” foods. The reality is that we are now just on the brink of a whole foods revolution as more and more people flock to natural foods stores and begin to stock up on items such as gourmet blends of wild rice, flaxseed, artichokes, edamame beans, and “designer” greens.
Gone are the days when a twenty-ounce porterhouse steak is considered the ultimate in dining luxury. Today, an increasing number of people are demanding healthful, better-balanced, whole foods meals. They are also seeking an exotic adventurous style of cuisine offering international flavors, all with the added stipulation that it will help them stay fit and trim. Eating Clean Cuisine is becoming more and more popular by the month. And it’s about time!
We Continue to Learn More about Eating Clean Every Day!
While we thought we were the ultimate healthy living experts back in 2005 when we published our first, book we now realize there’s always more to learn! We are constantly reading and educating ourselves on the very latest as it applies to nutrition, exercise, supplements and healthy living. Our goal with this site is to keep you updated on what we’re eating, what we’re cooking, what exercises we’re doing and what healthy living items we’re buying. Healthy living is a day to day journey but it can be fun and exciting. We’ll show you how our family travels this journey every day, and we invite you to join us along the way. Welcome!