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.
13 thoughts on “Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis More Than Just a Cure”
I love this post. I, too, have been working with a naturopathic doctor on managing my Sjogren's and one of our tools has been diet. I now follow a Paleo diet which is similar in a lot of ways to how you are eating. I am not perfect with it but I have stuck with it for about 3 months now and those 3 months have been the longest I have stayed off prednisone since 2009.
I am a self diagnosed food addict. Before I started eating Paleo, I lost 77 lbs. over the course over the last 4-5 years, while being on prednisone too. However eating this way, meaning for my autoimmune issues, puts me more in control and I feel much better about my body.
I feel very strongly that most people who make diet changes for autoimmune issues do not give it enough time or an honest try.
Cathy and Christine,
I completely agree! I have been following a paleo or primal diet since January. What that means for me is no grains, no corn or soy, no legumes (incl peanuts), nothing packaged/processed, limited nightshades, dairy and nuts. I am now dabbling with removing dairy and nuts altogether – not because I am in pain, but because I am feeling great and wonder if I could feel even better if I followed the autoimmune protocol of the paleo diet to a “T”. I'm also interested in adding beef bone & joint broth and beef liver – seriously, read the Perfect Health Diet! I have no joint pain (though I do have some swelling/stiffness if I overdo it on chocolate – my one remaining weakness). I am listening to my body and it is telling me to keep doing what I am doing! I have goals again (I want to climb the monkey bars at the local playground before the end of the summer) and it feels so good to be able to challenge myself! I firmly believe that diet is the answer. People just need to commit to it. From now on, I am telling people to read “Eat Like a Dinosaur” – because it is meant for kids & includes easy meals that everyone can make. Now if only I could get my Celiac-diagnosed father to just say no to wheat! Also, if it feels good to walk, do it! If it feels good to run, do it! If it starts to hurt, STOP! Stop, rest, relax and get back out there when it feels right!
Hi Christine. I have been following a paleo diet for two years now. Gluten free for nine years. 🙂 Like you, diet got me off prednisone. Woo-hoo.
Hi Karen. I love the Perfect Health Diet. Great book. Hey, I love bone broth but am not always good about having it on hand. I recently bought http://www.greatlakesgelatin.com/ with the intention of using it on a daily basis. Also giving it to my dog. 🙂 I love your challenges. I am visualizing how happy and complete you will feel when you make it across those monkey bars. Do you have a blog? I would love to see photos of you doing it. Success stories motivate me.
Thanks ladies for sharing your successes!
I will find a way to share a picture with you. Even though we haven't met, I feel your positive energy and know this is something I will accomplish! I definitely am in a “Can Do” place right now, which feels great!
I can't wait!
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy, This is such an inspirational post that speaks to me right where I am today. Thank you for your openness and incredible inspiration!
I read your recent post and hope things go well Tonya. Our bodies are a never ending lesson.
I wanted to give you a little update – a small personal victory if you will. After a few weeks of holidays, I decided on Sunday to test out the monkey bars at the local park. Keep in mind that never in my entire life have I managed to even hang from the monkey bars. On Sunday I was able to go from bar 1, to 2, to 3! I only did it once, but this is a massive achievement for me! It definitely required a lot of visualization (I had to picture my hand where I wanted it to be and believe I could do it) – but I did it!! So no, it's not the entire length of the monkey bars & I didn't flit from one bar to another with the grace of an underweight 6-year old, but still a huge personal achievement for me! I hope to be able to tell you by the end of this month that I can get all the way across – Stay tuned!
I just wanted to say thanks for sahring this article. For my own research, I was wondering if there was some over-lap between a gluten free diet and what I have heard called an anti-inflammatory diet?
I know Cathy will have some answers, but I have been doing my own research. It seems that there is quite a connection between gluten and inflammation, as many people with celiac also have other autoimmune diseases, and many people with autoimmune disease often find improvement/relief from symptoms by following a gluten-free diet. Julie Daniluk, a Canadian nutritionist, has a book called “Meals That Heal Inflammation” and her anti-inflammation diet includes going gluten-free. In fact, similar to a paleo diet, or the Perfect Health Diet, she advises against most grains (but still allows for whole grain rice, and “ancient grains” such as quinoa). From what I have been able to figure out on my own, an anti-inflammation diet would also include removal of other common allergens such as dairy and legumes, and restriction of “inflammatory foods” such as the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes).
For me, concentrating on removing grains, legumes, processed/packaged/refined foods has been my main focus. I am currently testing removal of dairy products from my diet and limit, but do not remove altogether, exposure to nightshades. Hope that is helpful to you! Like Cathy, I have rheumatoid arthritis. I am currently on methotrexate (since Jan 2012) and Humira (since August 2012), but have felt the most “well” since adjusting my diet in January 2013.
Want to see something enraging? (At least I thought so!) Check out this link for 14 Foods That (Supposedly!!) Heal Inflammation: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20705881,00.html
Hi Cathy. Such a great post! Sounds so similar to my journey, and yes, I had to go much further than just diet to find success… I'm a musician too – love the song! So great to see people blogging and helping each other out in this worldwide autoimmunity epidemic! I suffered horribly with psoriatic arthritis and other autoimmune issues, but rejected medication and decided to go my own way with it, studying and experimenting for years until I succeeded in reversing it. This book is my story from diagnosis to success with all the crazy wrong turns and magical discoveries that happened in between (with a foreword by well-known neurosurgeon and biohacker Dr. Jack Kruse). I’d like to just let you know that it is FREE on Amazon Kindle for the next three days from the 26th, so if you’d like a copy, go and grab one. I really hope that my story inspires, and if you’d like to leave an honest review, I’d be very grateful.
Link below to Amazon US, but it is available in all territories.