How Shunning Sugar Helped My RA

Diet is a hot topic, particularly this time of year. People often use the beginning on a year as an excuse to make big or small changes to their lifestyle for better health. And changing the way you eat is an easy target.

A new year = a new me.

I’m not a fan of fad diets or pseudo-science recommendations on what people should eat or how much they should weigh. Instead, I would rather hear the suggestions of my healthcare providers. But to be honest, only a few of my doctors have ever discussed diet or weight with me.

In the years before my diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, I began having health problems. My weight was considerably obese and my gynecologist (not so helpfully) suggested that I was “slowly killing myself” by carrying around excess pounds. That just made me feel worse about myself and follow-up emotions got crammed down with food. Not the desired action on my part.

There was once that my rheumatologist suggested I consider gastric bypass surgery to reduce the heft of my morbidly obese body. She also thought that Weight Watchers might be a good idea. I didn’t follow through on either of these suggestions, but her concern did prompt me to use a stationary bike at home and I started documenting what I ate. In a year, I lost about 50 pounds. That was success.

After a couple of really tough years, I gained back more than half of those pounds. So last summer I outright asked my primary care doctor (who had never made mention of my weight) about what I should do. Her first question was, “have you tried cutting out sugar?” My response was a meager, “not really.”

Cut out sugar = yikes!

That sounded tough. I frequently used a heaping tablespoon of sugar in my morning coffee and topped my oatmeal with a generous amount of brown sugar. My favorite salmon rub was a combination of brown sugar and smoked paprika. Our family’s traditional, homemade cardamom sweet bread was packed full of sugar.

How do you not eat sugar, I wondered.

But I gave this serious consideration because I had reached a point of being disgusted with myself. The amount of chocolate and donuts that entered our home and was consumed in secret had become ridiculous. I had to make a drastic lifestyle change.

I had friends in various online health communities who talked about what they were eating, or not eating, on a regular basis. One of these friends would share her recipes which always looked delicious. I had another friend who had lost a lot of weight and began to openly discuss how she had begun following a ketogenic way of eating. I was intrigued. So I decided to give it a try.

Cut sugar, limit carbohydrates, and eat sufficient protein to maintain muscle. Sounds simple enough.

I did some research, joined a closed Facebook group, and jumped right in. The beginning was a little rough while my body was detoxing. I followed multiple suggestions of upping my water and electrolyte consumption which helped. My skin began to slough off like crazy so I scrubbed harder to help exfoliate the heck out of it. When I got really grumpy, I tried to avoid interacting with loved ones too much for fear of unreasonably biting off heads. Fortunately, the irritability didn’t last long and I actually began to feel much better, emotionally and physically.

Although I underwent a round of Rituxan infusions, complete with the prerequisite steroid infusions and subsequent water bloat, I managed to pee out an approximate excess 12 pounds of water weight in the first six weeks of this new low-carb way of eating. During the next six months, I have managed to lose 42 pounds and am still dropping. My initial goal is to move my body mass index back into the “overweight” category for the first time in 25 years. I’m only about 20 pounds away from that goal.

Unexpected NSV = Non-scale victories

My reason for giving up sugar had everything to do with weight, but for some people, it has everything to do with health and allowing the body to heal itself. I didn’t really consider other reasons for this new way of eating until I started to notice changes. Before my jeans started hanging off my waist, I began to feel less depression and anxiety. I was happier and had more energy.

Less pain!! It was a few months before I realized that my wrists and knees were not hurting. I had much less RA and OA pain than before. Maybe there is something to eating a non-inflammatory diet that I had not seriously respected.

My complexion is clear and healthy-looking. I even posted a photo recently of myself with lipgloss-only makeup without embarrassment. Even my smile seems to sparkle a little more without getting overwhelmed by multiple chins. I now know the difference between a “carb face” and a “keto face.”

I’m not proposing that anybody goes out and drastically changes their diet without first consulting with their doctor. Please don’t even consider it. I just wanted to share that it is possible to make changes, even for those of us who may have been resistant in the past.

I never really thought that it would be possible to live without bread or pasta, or heaping tablespoons of sugar, but I have very little interest in these things now. Really. They don’t have the same power over me that they once did. At this point, I’m looking to how I feel rather than how I look to be my guide. The fact that I no longer hurt and feel like crap after eating a couple of donuts is a wonderful motivator to care more about what I put in my body.

RA was not the reason I cut initially sugar six months ago, but it may be the reason I choose to live sugar-free.

What about you? Have you made significant lifestyle changes for your RA or other health reasons? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

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