Eating Comfort Food Can Be Uncomfortable With MS

Even in winter, hot meals pose a problem for columnist Ben Hofmeister

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by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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Summer is one of the cruelest times of year for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Thanks to Uhthoff’s syndrome, it’s hard to enjoy all the fun that comes with warm temperatures. I don’t seem to sweat anymore (not that it helps much in our high humidity), so I have to find other ways to regulate my body temperature. This unfortunately means that I spend much of the summer months indoors and have to take extra steps to stay cool when I’m outside.

Fortunately, it’s not summer right now.

It’s almost the middle of winter here in the southeastern U.S. Compared with many other regions, I suppose it’s not very dramatic. Our temperatures are pretty mild and snow falls only once a year, maybe, but it’s still the chilly time of the year. It’s the season of thick, comfy blankets, crackling fires, and hot bowls of comfort food. I guess you could say that it’s also the chili time of the year.

I suppose there’s such a thing as a cold comfort food, but I only think of it as something hearty and warm, if not steaming hot. In my humble opinion, chili fits that definition perfectly and is one of my top five dishes for when the temperatures begin to dip.

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As much as I enjoy it, I started to notice a problem as my MS became more debilitating. After stuffing myself with chili or another hot meal, I began to experience many of the same symptoms that I do when exposed to hot weather. I typically experience extreme fatigue, brain fog, double vision, and numb, fumbling fingers, among others. Apparently Uhthoff’s can come from within as well as without.

I suppose it makes sense. After all, less than a degree of elevation in body temperature can bring on my symptoms. It’s not difficult to consider that a bowl of hot food might do just that, especially if I’m already taking other measures to stay warm. In my past as a medic, I was often reminded that under the right conditions, a person could slip into hypothermia in the summer. I’m not sure why the concept of overheating in the winter didn’t dawn on me sooner.

Does this mean I’ve had to give up warm dishes in the winter months? No more than I had to give up going outside during the summer ones.

The steps to avoid overheating are similar, just modified for the season. It’s not as though I’m pulling out my cooling vest in January, but maybe I’ll take off my sweater before eating a bowl of chili. I also might eat it very warm instead of piping hot, since a few degrees difference in food temperature ought to make a difference in body temperature. I also try to eat smaller portions to both limit the amount of heat I’m putting inside me and to avoid complicating the situation with the dreaded food coma.

This is yet another example of the MS paradox. I’m grateful that I can still enjoy hot (warm) food in the colder months, but I’m not happy that multiple sclerosis makes me take extra precautions to do so. With a rare disease, there are no small joys. There are just joys. Comfort food is one of my joys, and though I may grumble about taking extra steps, I’ll do what it takes to keep it comfortable.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Monalyne Doris Marie Cross avatar

Monalyne Doris Marie Cross

I was diagnosed in 1989, I agree foods play a huge part in our lives. I have learned that foods that have sugar, grains, gluten, dairy and many other forms of artificial additives are so toxic for us.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks for the comment! What we put into our bodies is very important and I'm trying to learn as much as I can so I can make the best decisions for me. I hope chocolate is on the good list.

Kerri avatar


I hadn’t yet recognized my internal temperature being an issue; but I appreciate you writing about this to make others aware. My favorite place in the winter is in front of the space heater; but when I’m there too long, I pay a price. Being in a wheelchair all day without much movement means I’m colder than others whose days involve walking and other movements. When I get in bed, there’s nothing better than a heated blanket, but I move the dial cautiously to prevent overheating in the middle of the night. MS causes problems, but the solutions to them lead to other problems. It seems to follow us everywhere.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Kerri! A hot shower feels wonderful but ruins the next 2 hours or so for me. I never thought I'd have to recover from one, but here we are. My hands get cold and stiff (probably due to less activity like you said) and I've found that compression gloves with the finger tips exposed are very helpful. I may look like I should be warming my hands over a trashcan fire, but function before fashion is the rule.


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