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Experimenting with Food

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.

No Dairy

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.

Keep Trying

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • suann
    3 years ago

    I slowed on my carbs and proteins , not having as much sugar helped with my flares, now i am trying the keto clarity diet. If this doesn’t help us, I dont see much of any thing far so good, The book will explain it all to you..I have severe ra with many other painful illness’ . I have tried a lot of different things to help reduce my flares, it is worth a try…everyone have a great evening,,

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Keep us posted on the diet experiment! Thanks for writing. Best, Kelly

  • MNwithRA
    3 years ago

    I have tried to eliminate every type of “suspect ” food. There is a balance between being happy with your diet and eating a restricted diet. I also did not find long term sustained benefits from most eliminations . If I had a personal chef perhaps I’d do better. But, sugar, alcohol and dairy definitely need to be limited by me or I do feel worse the next day so I try my best except for special occasions . I think playing seriously with food eliminating is a worthwhile endeavor so you know. Oh ya, processed food, a true trigger for me… sausage etc.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi MNwithRA, totally agree that there’s a balance we need to achieve in diet to be both healthy and happy. Thanks for commenting! Best, Kelly

  • Roxdreamer2
    3 years ago

    I found in my experience over the years–raw tomatoes, grapes, diet coke, and Big Train
    Chocolate Frozen Mocha cause me to have intense flares. We try to have a good diet because my husband is diabetic. I got away from all artificial sweeteners and began using stevia. It has not caused a flare per say, but I haven’t been feeling very well. Until now, I haven’t heard anyone say that they had a problem with stevia–guess I will quit that for a few days and see.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for writing Roxydreamer2and sorry that you are struggling with what may be a new symptom. It seems like you have a sound plan. You may want to bring your doctor into the loop with information on how you are feeling and your thoughts on what is different with your routine/diet. Eliminating a potential causal agent, while maintaining everything else at status quo and monitoring results has a long history in examining causal effects. Of course, this would not mean there could not be some other reason for how you are feeling – a reason for the doctor to be consulted and simply a reality of the fact that RA is unpredictable. Wishing you the best and keep us posted on how you are doing. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Eebtool
    3 years ago


    If it were only as easy as NOT eating Smoked Summer Sausage & Extra Sharp Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese on Buttery Crackers. If it was, I would need to move 1,000 miles away from my current home in Wisconsin to reduce the temptation to do so.

    The way I see it, asking what the best diet for RA relief is, is like going to the Boston Marathon and asking 100 runners at random, What the best running shoe brand is?
    You are going to get many answers, several that would be the same, most would be from runners who are passionate about one brand or another, some would say it doesn’t really matter much and there is always that one guy who runs barefoot and is no help on the topic.

    Not to say that one diet is better than any other, we all need to give several different thoughts a try and see what shoe brand best fits us. A healthy diet is always a good bet, we all know that and any doctor will tell us that. Unfortunately, Cheetos is not in any good food group.

    Hopefully, we all can do our best to eat well and enjoy the wonderful flavors that Mother Earth has blessed us with.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Eebtool, thanks for your comment. Totally agree that a healthy diet is always a good bet for the best possible health. 🙂 Best, Kelly

  • DesertStormTrooper
    3 years ago

    HI Kelly,

    I’m going to chime in and say that I also tried drastically altering my diet when I was at my worst. Like you, it didn’t seem to make much, if any, difference. Additionally, I have come across stories of people that actually teach healthy diet, that are struggling as much as anyone else with RA.

    In the initial onset period of my RA, I actually had someone remark that ‘you are what you eat’, indicating that the reason that I was sick was because my diet wasn’t as clean and natural as theirs. Unfortunately, that narrow sighted opinion caused me to rethink that friendship.

    Now, is diet important? Absolutely and positively, yes. Our body needs the proper nutrients to be the strong machine that it is meant to be. But, unfortunately, my research has brought me to the opinion that RA is virus and/or bacteria based. And, that these bacteria or viruses (mycoplasma, HSV, EBV, etc) have the ability to evade or even manipulate the immune system to their advantage. Meaning…diet changes alone, that normally boost our immune systems and enable a strong immune based fight, aren’t enough.

    So, the immune system fights like hell, with the results being the tell tale inflammation, redness, warmth and even fever. But, these stealth bacteria have the ability to hunker down, inside of our cells, organs and even deep tissue, out of reach of even the best immune system. And, with this in mind, it seems that the best way to counteract this is to take supplements or natural medicines that make our bodies an inhospitable place for these invaders.

    Personally, between full extract cannabis oil and daily vitamins and supplements, I’ve been able to keep the RA monster under control. But…I have not been able to completely eradicate it. Without these extra supplements and the cannabis oil, I, without question, would be deteriorating, regardless of how clean and spectacular my diet might be.

    Thanks for the article. Our RA peeps need to know that diet alone is likely not the magic bullet.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for writing smilagirl. Glad that you found diet changes helpful. Always makes me happy when people can find lifestyle changes that work to alleviate your RA. Best, Kelly

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the thoughtful response DesertStormTrooper. Really appreciate your thoughts. Best, Kelly

  • smilagirl
    3 years ago

    While I agree that diet alone would not be enough to keep my disease under control, though I wish it was, it has helped me tremendously. My rheumatologist told me gluten was the number 1 food sensitivity for autoimmune patients, and that I should give it the “old college try,” for at least 4-6 weeks, maybe longer, to see if I felt any improvement.I was a little irritated by that, as I thought it was the latest fad, and I was more worried about my glucose, which kept rising. I did try it, and have had an improvement of symptoms. I’ve since determined other things that bother me such as; soy, dairy, MSG, artificial sweeteners, Stevia, processed corn like high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and preservatives. There are more, but it’s too long to list! It’s kind of a pain, but it’s easier now that I know what to look for and have educated myself on what I can and cannot eat. It’s very easy to comply with being gluten free as I feel so awful if I eat it, that it is not worth it! Hard to believe I would eat it every day and had no idea. It is difficult, however, if you need to eradicate it from your diet completely, as there can be trace amounts in supplements, medications, condiments, sushi, etc.
    My glucose is down as my inflammation is also down. It didn’t happen overnight, but I felt better and my blood work started to show signs of improvement in about 6 months, I think. It was almost 4 years ago.

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