After my Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis, I decided I was going to tackle my RA symptoms via diet, natural supplements and alternative therapies. Interestingly, lots of people I spoke to told me I was wasting my time trying to heal it through changes to my diet. This momentous decision meant that I had to eat my body weight in chocolate at Christmas, as obviously I didn’t want any temptation when I started the new eating plan! Ahh that was fun!
My first step was to read and research about diet and supplements. There seemed to be so many conflicting ideas about an anti-arthritis diet so, armed with my lists of food that I had read about which were supposed to help or hinder RA, I saw a kinesiologist to have a full food test of my lists to create a diet that was right for my body at that time. I was already wheat and gluten free because it caused bloating and often caused me to be doubled over in pain after eating those foods. Giving up those food groups already was a positive as it was common to read that gluten and wheat were not seen as helpful for people with RA.
The food testing flagged up that I had leaky gut so I needed to do some serious gut healing. I had read in many places that around 80% of your immune system is in your gut, so many alternative specialists advocated that you needed to heal the gut first to start treating the condition.
After the results of the food testing, I cut out all dairy, caffeine, alcohol, yeast, pork, beef, eggs, citrus fruits, processed food, sugar (!) and night shade vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, beef, potatoes and aubergines amongst others), along with continuing to be gluten and wheat free. There were also a few other foods specific to my body, which I needed to cut out, for example, nuts.
What really blew my mind after the food test results was how inflammatory my diet had been, largely due to my gluten and wheat intolerance, which had resulted in me eating lots of gluten free products (which tended to be full of potato starch), plenty of jacket potatoes (a staple gluten free lunch) and also through making my own veggie sauces (in an attempt to be healthy and eat lots of vegetables) but which were full of tomatoes and peppers!
For an absolute sugar and chocoholic, this seemed an incredibly daunting task as I could barely get through a few hours in a normal day without needing a sugar or chocolate fix. It’s fair to say that although my family were impressed by my intentions, I’m not sure any one of them would have waged a bet that I could pull this off, even for a week!!
Well, I proved them all wrong! For the first 3 months, I stayed off all of those food groups and also avoided fruit as this was not helpful when coming off of sugar. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually experience many withdrawal symptoms – possibly because I was so focused or maybe because I was finally giving my body what it needed – a much needed break. It involved cooking pretty much everything from scratch but I quickly became wise to batch cooking and then freezing meals to save my very limited energy and taking up offers of help from family to help with the meal preparation as my hands were still very painful and stiff at that time. It completely revolutionised what I ate – I focused on quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, homemade soup, seeds, lots of non-nightshade vegetables, brown rice, brown rice pasta, coconut oil, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and brown rice milk. I could also still eat chicken, lamb and turkey. As much as possible, I tried to eat organically.
With drinks, I gave up caffeinated drinks, alcohol, squash, juice and soft drinks and I drank lots of water and fennel tea. I found fennel tea amazing for stomach troubles – very soothing and caffeine free, along with chicory coffee substitute (100% chicory – caffeine free), which again I found very good for stomach troubles too.
After 3 months, I then re-tested the food list and perhaps unsurprisingly many of the highly inflammatory foods were still a big no, but I could start to introduce cheese (yay!), eggs, nuts and fresh fruit (except citrus and a few other fruits which didn’t test well with me) in moderation. Wow – fruit, which before had seemed like something I had to eat, felt like such a treat!! I stayed completely off of sugar substitutes for a long time (including dried fruit and fruit juices as these are very concentrated forms of fructose) but then slowly introduced a small amount of organic brown rice syrup into my diet (a maximum of 2 teaspoons a day).
The reason I chose brown rice syrup as a sugar substitute was because it contained no fructose – which is seen by many as an inflammatory source. Albeit it a couple of pieces of fruit a day (eaten whole) was manageable for me after the initial 3 months because it also contained lots of fibre and vitamins. Other sugar substitutes such as honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, date syrup and dried fruits all contained fructose so I avoided all of these (and still do along with avoiding any refined sugar) and relied on organic brown rice syrup for a treat. This opened up a whole new world to me of ‘sweet’ treats and I got creative with recipes to start being able to enjoy dessert again!
I was really pleased I’d started with the food testing (which you can also do via a blood test) as it showed me what was relevant to my body. For example, lots of Paleo diets and auto-immune protocol diets would ban buckwheat, quinoa and seeds amongst other things, but these tested really well with my body so I decided as they weren’t appearing on the high inflammation food lists from my research, I would eat these as they were good for me and provided some sustenance when my diet was very limited.
Overall, my diet started making a big difference to my joint pain and inflammation after 3 – 4 months and I believe it has played a big factor in helping me to eradicate the strong pain and inflammation of my joints, along with so far halting any further damage, without taking any medication. I also lost about 2 stone in weight, which was great for my joints as I am now a healthy weight and not adding any pressure to my joints. Another big plus was that my stomach issues were also so much better after working hard to heal the leaky gut. This also involved supplements, which I discuss below.
I think it is important to note is that I was very hard core in my approach to my diet and didn’t let it slip at all (and I still am hardcore with it two years on and haven’t slipped once – not even for a treat). The incentive of getting rid of the pain and swelling without drugs was a big enough for me to stay on track. I’m not sure how effective it would have been if I’d constantly been sneaking in the food I was trying to avoid! It was hard at the beginning, particularly over Christmas and holidays (and eating out takes some planning) but it has now become the norm and I focus on the quality of life that I’ve gained though the diet. I no longer crave sugar or get bothered if someone is eating something sugary near me as my addiction to sugar has long gone!
If you are considering trying the diet approach but are on medication, I have read that some medications (e.g. steroids ) can sometimes cause stomach troubles, so it may be harder to heal your gut completely whilst on medication. I started my diet whilst on the 8-week course of steroids as I figured at least I wasn’t adding to the strain on my body with an inflammatory diet as well. I then continued the diet after finishing the steroids.
The other thing linked to my diet, which I have found to have really helped, are supplements. Again, I tested for vitamin and mineral deficiencies using kinesiology and I just topped up anything I was low on using good quality vitamins. I have also found turmeric to be brilliant for inflammation – I take 2 of the Pukka Herbs Wholistic Turmeric capsules every day – and it has made a big difference to my joints and tummy. The other big thing which helped to heal my leaky gut was probiotics (I take two different types) to help replenish the good bacteria and flora in my tummy.
If you are thinking of going down the diet route, I would highly recommend doing your own research on anti-arthritis and anti-inflammatory diets and finding out what is right for your body with a trained professional. I know it can be very overwhelming at the beginning if you decide to go down the diet route as there is lots of contradictory information but ultimately, it’s about finding what works best for you and your body.
The next blog post in this series will look at the holistic therapies which have really helped me.
I’d love to hear your success stories of tackling chronic illness through diet.
*Please note: I am not a medical professional and I am not suggesting that anyone should give up or alter any dose of medication that they have been prescribed. I am only talking about my own life experience and explaining what has worked for me. Please seek appropriate professional medical advice and care.
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