Khaleej Times

BEATING THE ODDS

Taking charge: ???Food is my medicine??? By Karen Ann Monsy

Published in Khaleej times wknd Friday, October 25, 2013 

Dubai resident Karan Soni learned to live with multiple sclerosis, but it wasn???t the cocktail of medicines that worked for him in the end ??? just a change in diet

Standing on a golf practice range, preparing for an annual pro golf tournament, is probably not the best time for a chronic illness to reveal itself ??? but as Mumbai-born Karan Soni will tell you: life can be funny that way.

In 2004, the then 25-year-old Dubai resident had just returned from completing a college ???degree in the States, having earned his PGA Tour card and looking forward to a possible career as a pro golfer. But it was when he was practising on the range for the Dubai Desert Classic that would take place later that year that Karan noticed he was trembling uncontrollably. He went home troubled but, encouraged by his mother, got on to the range again the next day ??? only to find that the shaking was worse. ???The club kept falling out of my hands,??? he recalls.

The pair went to several doctors, all of who ???suggested it could be anxiety-related, but Karan ???was unwilling to write it off so fast. It was only when they finally visited a neurospinal specialist in Dubai did an MRI reveal the unusual: a fairly advanced case of multiple sclerosis (MS) ??? which is a typically progressive disease that affects nerve cells and can lead to speech and motor impairment, blurred vision and severe fatigue.

???My parents were obviously shattered,??? says Karan, ???because the first thing you???re told about MS is that there is no cure, since no one knows the cause. I started every treatment they put me on, but it just wasn???t reacting well with my body. My morning breakfast was obscene ??? a cocktail of about 20 different medicines that didn???t really help with the symptoms. In fact, every day, I felt worse: more lethargic, bloated and depressed all the time??? The thing about MS is: no one knows when that nerve is going to get triggered. The docs kept saying they didn???t know when things would take a turn for the worse... That wasn???t very reassuring,??? Karan says, wryly. ???I wasn???t going to wait [for something to happen]. All I knew was I didn???t want ???to pop pills anymore. I know the docs were ???trying their best and I respect them for it, but what I couldn???t figure out was: if there???s no cure for MS, what am I taking all this medication for? That???s when I decided I wanted to leave Dubai, go to ???Mumbai and figure this out myself.???

Was the move critical to the plan? ???Absolutely,??? he says, in earnest. ???Dubai???s a small place and when I grew up it was even smaller. Everyone in my school knew what I did, knew that I???d returned from the States and joined the family business but was also doing what I loved (golf)... When they heard about my diagnosis though, there were just too many ??????Chinese whispers???. I was also tired of the endless hospital appointments from Boston to Kerala to California to the UK, and I finally told my folks I needed to go somewhere where no one knew me so I could work things out for myself.???

 KS before KS after 

BEFORE: Karan Soni, in his teens and before he went from 110 kilos to about 65Karan returned to the family home in Mumbai with no one but a cook and a driver to help. ???My folks had a hard time, especially mom, because I told them they couldn???t visit me for the next six months while I worked this out??? MS was still something I was trying to understand. I didn???t understand why I was in pain all the time, why my posture went from straight to hunched, why my vision got hazy sometimes... There were days when I didn???t want to get out of bed and it took a lot of mental strength to just get going.???

But get going he did ??? though perhaps ???not in the smartest way to begin with???, he admits. ???One thing I was sure of was that I didn???t want to keep popping pills like Tic Tacs. So the first thing I did when I got to India was to throw away all the medication. I???m not a doctor,??? ???he clarifies. ???But there was a time, before going away to college, that I lost a lot of weight (I went from 110 kilos to about 65 kilos). I wondered: if I could control my body in one way (going from fat to lean) through food, what should I eat if I have MS? It was basically me being a guinea pig on myself.???

And so began the experimentation with nutrition and different foods. Karan ??? who is very passionate about cooking and cuisine ??? realised that his body ???heat was extremely high, so for starters, he began alleviating all the hot foods. ???There were foods that wouldn???t affect normal people, but that had a comple-tely reverse effect on me. For example, when I ate rice, potatoes or pasta, I???d sleep for 2-3 days and not want to get out of bed.???

Karan says his diet now may be ???difficult to believe (???I go through about 30 egg whites a day; I???m very protein deficient, so I have a lot of fat-free, ???low-fat cheese??? fish and chicken sometimes??? no rice, no potatoes??????) but it has worked wonders for him, like nothing else has. ???I eat constantly, every hour, by the hour. Unfortunately I don???t sleep; my body???s too awake. It just can???t switch off for more than 3-4 hours. So I still ???have symptoms,??? he says, ???but they???re nothing like they were before. I do have good and bad days ??? but then again, who doesn???t? In the end, I didn???t want to ???hide behind the excuse of MS; it hasn???t stopped me from achieving my goals.???

While those achievements didn???t turn out to be golf-related, Karan found something that interested him far more: the field of nutrition. While in Mumbai, he founded two nutritional caf??s and also supplied meal plans to everyone from Bollywood stars to industrialists to those with medical conditions. ???He also went on to get certifications in holistic and sports nutrition, ???trying to understand what foods give people the most energy???.

Four years ago, he moved back to Dubai to help with the family business but also runs a part-time individual diet consultancy called Aesthetic Diets that has garnered a large base of clients here, simply by word of mouth. Why aesthetic diets? ???When I was dealing with those in the Bollywood industry, most people came to me for vanity reasons. And you???ve got to admit it: that???s what most people go into diets for ??? because they want to look a certain way. So, join for whatever reason you need to but doing so for lifestyle is most important.???

The 34-year-old continues to get tested every six months (???mostly to keep my parents happy???) but maintains a very nonchalant attitude about the doctor visits. ???They have nothing new to say to me,??? he shrugs. ???The docs find my case unusual because although tests show my condition is very much active, I???ve managed to do just fine for the last nine years. The reports show my condition???s moving to another level that???s not good ??? but that???s been the verdict since 2005. It???s 2013. They keep saying they don???t know when something may happen ??? but in that vein, you could step out of the house and you wouldn???t be able to tell when something might happen.???

Since it was first described in 1868, MS has usually been understood to apply to a certain demographic: it was more likely to appear in women than men, those who lived farther from the equator and those aged between 20 and 50. Of course, there were exceptions but Karan notes that of late, these don???t necessarily apply. ???It was unusual for me ??? as an Indian and an athletic person ??? to get it. But lately, race, genetics and gender don???t seem to matter because more and more people are being diagnosed with it.???

It???s different strokes for different folks, and for Karan, the only thing that worked was the change in diet. ???Food has been my medicine,??? he avows. The funny thing is I actually got in better shape and more interested in nutrition after being diagnosed with MS.???

All said and done, he considers ???himself incredibly fortunate. ???I???ve got a phenomenal family and I???m doing ???something I truly love. I???m not a doctor and I???m not professing to cure MS at all,??? he says, simply. ???I just know that this is something that???s worked for me more than anything else. So why not give it a go? I believe food can change your life. It sure did mine.???

(Do you know anyone who refuses to let his/her disability get in the way of their routines and dreams? Write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Weight Watchers

For more information on Karan Soni and his customised diets, visit www.aestheticdiets.com