There is a lot of discussion on blogs, websites, and Facebook pages about the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and diet. Many people try a gluten free diet for a month or two and then deem it useless and move on. Some people remove processed foods for a while and then decide it takes too much work. Others say diet is a waste of time. Making dietary changes is hard, I agree. But whether or not diet “cures” rheumatoid arthritis, I believe it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself when dealing with RA.
My own personal journey with rheumatoid arthritis and diet has not led to a cure of the disease as I originally hoped for. Instead it has allowed me to focus on how my individual body reacts to foods. It has improved my skin, my digestion, weird twitches in my nose and fingers, and more. This did not happen by eliminating a food for a short time – I was lucky to work with a naturopath who insisted I eliminate foods until I saw some obvious changes. After eliminating wheat, dairy, nightshades, citrus, sugar, and peanuts and focusing on making all of my own food for about nine months, my inflammation rates went down and I was able to stop taking prednisone that I had been on for a while.
Initially I focused only on diet as a way of lowering my inflammation rates, but once I started eating well, I found I had a new respect for my overall self. I started digging deeper into who I am. What were my life goals? My relationship goals? My spiritual goals? What was preventing me from accomplishing what I wanted in each of these areas? I started meditating and respecting my need for lots of down time. I started working out in a new way using more weights than cardio workouts. I found that I like having a strong body. I worked on relationships. I cried a lot as I worked at finding a better, more content me. With each of these changes, I found that my body felt better. Diet gave me control over my life at a time that it seemed everything was out of my control. It was the first step towards creating a better me.
Many times when living with a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis we ask, “Why me?” We get angry at people for not understanding how we feel or saying the wrong thing to us. But what if we took our current situation, rheumatoid arthritis, and focused on it as being a lesson in life that has been given to us not only to make us a healthier person but also to make us a more content person? While I may not be able to stop a flare, I do know from paying attention to my own body that by reducing stressful situations, I can prevent many of them. I know that consuming too much sugar is going to give me stiff hands the following morning. I can become aware of the day to day signs my body gives me that I am not treating it well.
Diet is a starting point to making our overall selves healthier.While I don’t think rheumatoid arthritis is a punishment for anything we have or haven’t done in our lives, I do believe it is gift that has many lessons to teach us. I also believe that diet can be the first step towards giving ourselves the respect and attention it deserves. Once we figure out that eating crap day after day is not what our body is asking us for, we can move on to figuring out more of what our body does want from us.
Right now my weight is up about 15-20 pounds. Maybe that doesn’t seem a lot, but on a 5’0 frame, it makes a huge difference and I don’t feel happy where I am at right now aesthetically, but more importantly because I know that the extra weight does not create a healthy me. Rather than hurrying to reduce calories and lose weight, I am focusing on why I have an extra 15-20 pounds of weight on my body right now. What is the lesson here? I trust in the wisdom of my body and my body is holding onto this weight for a reason. It is my job to get to the root of it. I still have much to learn about myself and this extra weight I am carrying around is just another reminder to me that I have work to do. As I do good things for myself like skip the glass of wine that sounds so good or pack a nutritious lunch for a busy day, I know that I am not only controlling my weight but also treated myself with respect. I feel lucky that my body gives me signs something is out of whack and I am glad that I listen. Without diet, I don’t think I would be to this point. So, while it may not cure the disease, diet definitely has an important place in our rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan. It makes life easier and transitions us to learning more about ourselves which in turn makes us happier and healthier.