Diet has been a part of my rheumatoid arthritis plan pretty much since the very beginning . When I was first diagnosed and still in crazy mode, my brother told me about an acquaintance that went into remission using diet alone. I remember feeling like a seed had been planted in my mind with that story. As I started on medications without much success, that seed began to grow. I went ahead and asked my brother to find out more about what his acquaintance was eating. I laugh now because his diet consisted of salmon and pineapple.(A very limited Paleo diet?) That was pretty much it. I knew at the time I didn’t have the willpower to live on salmon and pineapple alone, although that does sound like a yummy meal. Instead, ten months after my diagnosis I met with a naturopath and began a journey of eliminating foods that are harmful to my body and adding ones that nourish it.
Until 2010, a good diet for me was low in sugar, gluten free and mostly dairy free. (In the beginning it eliminated nightshades, sugar, citrus, peanuts, dairy, gluten, and caffeine.) With my natuorpath’s help I completed a successful elimination diet that allowed me to get off prednisone and reduce all medications to their lowest amounts. I went into what my rheumy called, “remission”. I stayed there until I got cocky and started adding a lot of gluten free baked goods back. Sugar is my worst enemy. After many elimination diets, I know this to be true. Things got bad, I went off medications, and a new journey began. I tried the Body Ecology Diet with terrible results (Not that the BED is bad, it just wasn’t good for me.) as well as many other alternative types of treatment.
In 2010, I decided to try the Paleo Diet. What I liked about this diet is it included lots of free range meat (we have been buying from a co-op for over ten years), organic vegetables (participated in CSA’s for many years), and eliminated SUGAR and all grains. It met my philosophy of healthy foods. Having been gluten free for so many years, I found the Paleo Diet to be liberating. I no longer went to restaurants or searched recipe books looking for alternatives to wheat based foods. Instead, I started enjoying the wonderful foods that come from meat, vegetables, and healthy fats. I felt like I had entered a whole new world. Food had never tasted so delicious in its natural state.
I believe diet is key to everything. It nourishes us, provides a happy mood, cleans our body, increases its immunity, and keeps us looking and feeling healthy. For diet to not be a recommended lifestyle change with any disease is a disservice, in my opinion. However, I had to find a common ground with diet that satisfies me. When I set my mind to something, I follow the path I have laid out for myself. What I have discovered over the years is I can be a diet Nazi. The need to feel better has made me follow a diet to the T which also means to the point that I am mentally exhausted. This is where I have grown the most with diet. I have learned to let go a little and enjoy life.
In the past when following a strict diet, I have sat in restaurants watching others eat in fear of contaminating myself with a food. I have stressed myself out with each flare that I ate an unintended food. Although I am still conscious of what might have created a flare, I no longer do that. I now have a few basic rules for myself:
- ALWAYS eat gluten free.
- Enjoy foods like meat, vegetables, and fat. (restaurants provide well for this rule)
- Have fun with meals and relax.
I do occasionally eat grains. Once a month my daughter and I go out for breakfast. We order gluten free pancakes (a huge serving of butter in place of syrup) with eggs and sausage. Doing it feels indulgent and fun! I have a glass or two of wine on the weekends with my husband. I like the relaxed feeling I have after a long week. I add half a serving of rice to my Chipotle meal that we have once a week. Sometimes I like to buy chocolate covered almonds with sea salt at Trader Joe’s (if you haven’t eaten them before, DON’T. They are highly addictive.) These are my some of my guilty indulgences. What I have found is that when I allow myself a list of indulgences, rather than following a super strict Nazi diet, I am mentally happier. This balance is the piece that was missing in the past. I can still feel the stress and pain in my body from past experiences of stressing so much over the food I ate.
The Paleo diet might mean something different to me than it means to someone else. To me, it is about
- Choosing high quality foods for myself and my family.
- Cooking at home 95-98% of the time.
- Avoiding processed foods.
- Finding fun in making things like fermented sauerkraut and kombucha.
- Always having a carcass ready to throw in the slow cooker for bone broth.
- Trying new vegetables.
- Finding contentment in knowing I have a new stock of bacon grease in the refrigerator.
- Discovering a new way to use a vegetable. Rather than using pasta with meatballs and sauce, we used shredded cabbage. Delicious. Vegetables can be used in a variety of ways that enhance a meal.
- Planning ahead so that I always have food with me and not being embarrassed to pull out my own food.. If I know lunch will be served at work, I ALWAYS have a lunch bag full of food ready since generally lasagna or pizza is served. I can’t tell you how many times people have commented that the food in my Thermos smells better than what they are eating. 🙂
- Preparing food in the slow cooker on busy days.
- Understanding that my body needs to be nourished and feeling satisfaction knowing that I am eating healthy foods in their original state.
- Enjoying cooking. I have found that with simple ingredients like meat, vegetables, herbs and spices, along with some fat, creating meals is easy!
- Hearing my son say, “Sweet potatoes with sausage and eggs are one of my favorite breakfasts.” It is one of mine too. I am glad that eating Paleo has also created healthy eating for other family members.
Is my version of the Paleo diet perfect? Probably not. There are definitely a few things that need to be dialed in and when life isn’t so stressful, they will be. But for right now, I think it is perfect for ME. My life is pretty stressed right now with a lot of work and family commitments, so finding a balance of what works is better than letting the diet go completely. What I have enjoyed about my journey with food is that it is always changing and always getting better!