Cleaning Up Your Body with RA: Tips to Help You Get Started
Last updated: May 2023
I have decided that it is time for me to consider a little bit of “spring cleaning” for my body. I wanted to find out (for me) how my body would respond to some nutritional or gut health changes.
In addition, I want to be more intentional about adding physical movements and spirituality to my overall RA/RD management plan. I’ve allowed myself to fall into some bad habits, and my inflammation levels have paid the price. So it was time to get out the metaphorical mop and broom and get my clean on.
Cleaning up your body with rheumatoid arthritis
Before I go into detail on what I’m doing, I want to be clear that officially, the jury is still out on specific links between nutrition, gut health, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Use science to help you pick the right path for you
A healthy diet can take many forms according to the needs of each person. Making dietary changes can play a beneficial role in your RA disease management plan, according to a study which found the following:1
Dietary interventions necessitate a widespread appeal for both patients as well as clinicians due to factors including affordability, accessibility, and presence of scientific evidences that demonstrate substantial benefits in reducing disease symptoms such as pain, joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness and associated disability with disease progression.1
Gut microbiome testing
You may want to consider getting a gut microbiome test done that can tell you what is going on. That can potentially help you choose or cobble together the right dietary changes for you.
In my experience, in general, I started by eliminating gluten, sugar, dairy, and nightshade vegetables. Then if that doesn’t help, you can get more intense with figuring out by elimination from there. Many people report good experiences with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) and I, too, have had some success with that as well. Others respond to different forms of fasting, plant-based, and carnivore eating plans.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan
The important thing to remember is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for everyone with RA. Do your best to make an informed decision about what could potentially help you and if that doesn’t work, try a different one. Don’t write off dietary changes completely just because you didn’t notice a difference. It might just be that you need to try something different.
Start with baby steps
It is easy to want to convince yourself to be overly “motivated” and plan for major changes. But I have found that while I had the best of intentions, my motivation quickly waned. And within a month I was back to square one. So, learn from my mistakes and any changes should be done in small, tiny steps and especially AFTER speaking with your doctor. Regardless if your doctor subscribes to the idea of the gut health link or not, cleaning up your diet to eliminate things like processed foods and refined sugars can only help with your overall RA symptom management.
I hear you, it isn’t easy
I 100% know and understand how difficult it can be to make dietary changes. After all, I’m not known for my amazing chocolate chip cookies for nothing. But it is important to remember changes don’t have to be major, or even all made at once to have a noticeable impact on your overall health.
Making change feel more manageable
The best thing I did for my body is one by one eliminate inflammatory foods and (this is key) REPLACE them with healthier options so I didn’t feel like I was starving myself. Once you become accustomed to the changes, it is much easier to let go of some of the unhealthier options.
For example, I replaced my (beloved) chips and dip with baby carrots and hummus. By itself, baby carrots and hummus don't sound all that appealing. But the problem is that I fell into the bad habit of chips and dip on rest days. So while it was difficult for me to change the habit of snacking on rest days, I was able to successfully replace a bad habit with one that was a little healthier.
Allow for an adjustment period with realistic expectations
Your body, habits, and gut biome will only compare to before and after the changes. You can’t do it all at once. You need to take the time to safely and practically make changes. It takes time. Especially if you are striving to cut back or eliminate sugar.
When I initially decided to eliminate processed and added sugars from my diet, I actually felt worse for the first week as my body sort of “detoxed” from its addition to sugar. Your body doesn’t make changes overnight, so you need to allow your body to have a significant amount of time before deciding if a change was successful or not.
Speak kindly to yourself
And finally, one of the things that actually made a major difference mentally was when I shifted my mindset away from the dreaded D-word (diet). And instead chose to look at it more like a lifestyle because of all of the negative connotations that I’ve historically associated with the word, “diet.” Positive encouragement and a metric ton of grace can go a long way to keeping yourself headed in the right direction, no matter what the scale says.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
Join the conversation