Experimenting with Food
When I was 10 years old I had a sudden and debilitating flare of my rheumatoid arthritis. Almost overnight I couldn’t get out of bed and get to the bathroom on my own in the morning. Even after warming up my joints, I could barely stand and walk so I had to borrow the nurse’s wheelchair at school to travel between classes. I was in deep distress and pain.
We visited my rheumatologist and he started tinkering with my medications, but there was no immediate improvement. Out of hope and desperation, my mother took me to an allergist because of theories that extreme allergic reactions caused rheumatoid arthritis.
The doctor convinced us to try a radical diet and remove all dairy. He said to try it for six weeks and see how I felt. We began with such hope, but how I missed drinking milk and having butter on my morning toast. Then Thanksgiving came and I couldn’t eat my favorite food—mashed potatoes!
We waited and hoped, while my RA agony continued. And it did not improve at all, so we went back to the doctor. He wanted to try more tests, more diets—but we had had enough. Instead, I had a cortisone shot deep into my flaring right hip. Ta da! I practically hopped out of the procedure room!
Although diet changes did not work at that time, I never have been able to eradicate the niggling question in the back of my mind. What if? It almost seems magical—that some specific food combination would poof my pain and joint deformities away. I do know that my body dislikes some foods and feels the reactions, primarily in my gut and sinuses (as allergies).
Trying a Vegan Diet
Several years ago I auditioned for a study examining the effects of a vegan diet on people with rheumatoid arthritis. I ended up deciding not to participate because of logistical reasons (the reporting requirements and meetings were too time-consuming) but decided to try the diet on my own. For six months I cut out meat and dairy.
On the plus side, I discovered some wonderful cookbooks and recipes. (We still enjoy the vegan tortilla soup recipe to this day!) But unfortunately, I did not experience any changes in my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. I did have some positive changes in my digestion and eating a lot more vegetables, but it was harder to feel full and get enough protein.
Lack of protein ended pushing me back into non-vegan eating, as I have already experienced periodic bouts of anemia. We decided that eating some meat was beneficial to my health overall. I also have to say that I never got over missing a splash of milk in my tea and the occasional slice of cheese.
In the end, I have not found any diet to be a panacea for my RA. Rather, I think I’m at my healthiest when I eat a balanced diet with good oils and light proteins. My weaknesses are too much cheese, sugar, and carbs, but if I keep those cravings in check I feel good with what I eat.
While I have not ruled out trying other special diets in the future, I pretty much feel that I have given it a good try and do not have any expectations of huge changes from dietary experiments. However, I do firmly believe that everybody is different, and reacts differently to foods, environment etc. With our unique chemistry, some diets work for people that do not work for others. From my perspective, it’s all about experimenting to find out what works best for you.
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