Why the White Toast Diet Doesn't Work
Nutrition is a big topic when it comes to discussing arthritis, and most people will realize that I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek regarding the title of this article. Even though I inherently know that good nutrition is important for staying healthy and most likely plays a role in making RA better or worse, I don't pay enough attention to it (despite my best intentions).
Paying attention to your nutrition and daily diet can make you feel better (physically and emotionally), help you lose weight, help you to stay well and avoid illness, notice and identify certain foods that might be impacting your health, and can affect any health conditions you may already have, such as RA.
My diet changed drastically over the last month, due to suffering from a nasty bout of gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach) . I'm a lot better now, but I'm still recovering and trying to be careful about my food intake and choices. At the beginning of this sickness, I had extreme constant nausea and stomach pain and discomfort, and I could barely eat anything. As I started to get better, I was slowly able to begin eating food again: very bland stuff, like white bread, saltine crackers, bananas, white rice, applesauce. Of course while this illness was going on, my goals of eating healthy, RA-friendly food went out the window. I had to focus on keeping food down and healing my angry gastrointestinal system.
The good thing that came from these horrible G.I. symptoms is I was forced to give up some bad eating/drinking habits--no more Diet Coke (any soda), coffee (any caffeine), or alcohol. There's nothing like stabbing pain and the threat of vomit to make you say goodbye to your Diet Coke addiction! So I guess I'm thankful for that (oh, Diet Coke, how I miss you...). I may feel like an alien is going to explode from my chest but at least I'm not consuming aspartame anymore. But seriously, it's a very good thing for me to eliminate the obviously unhealthy and chemical-laden Diet Coke from my life, and the coffee (for now) and alcohol (for now) simply for the fact that these three things seem to make my RA worse.
A bad thing that resulted from my extended gastritis attack is the limited food I was able to eat (and I'm still eating, regretfully), with the most notably bad thing being all of the white bread, white crackers, and white rice I was consuming. Processed carbs! I admit I got pretty sick of bananas and applesauce right away and when I was hungry I tended to head over to the toaster and pop in a piece of that gleaming, forbidden, too-soft bread (with sweet memories of childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder Bread flooding my brain). I'm sick! Who cares! Another piece of toast won't kill me. No, it won't kill me, but it will make me fat and even worse, will ignite my RA inflammation--which is what it was doing, I suspect. Not surprisingly, my right foot and ankle began to flare pretty badly, and now I'm back on prednisone, trying to get the flare up under control. I'm mad. And I'm partially mad at myself for giving into the comfort and temptation of gobbling down bad carbs. I might as well just dump a bowl of sugar down my throat and be done with it, right?
Thankfully, I do notice the correlation between the food I'm eating and my RA flare-up, so I'm not totally ignorant and clueless. The hard part is re-training myself to get off of the processed carbs and sugar and to go back to healthier, more mindful eating. This was one of my "New Year Intentions" I had in January and I'm embarrassed and sad to say that I haven't stuck with it very well so far. But I can turn it around! A couple of years ago I made major, positive changes to my diet and subsequently felt a lot better overall--and my RA improved. I know I can do this again and I have to, for the sake of my physical health, my mental and emotional health, and just as a way to live my best life possible.
Two years ago when I made these nutrition changes, I drastically cut down on the amount of gluten and bread/grains I was eating each day. The original goal was to totally eliminate gluten, to see if that would help my RA, but I never managed to completely cut it out of my diet. I think the drastic reduction made a big difference, though. Trying hard to only eat whole foods, no processed junk, was another choice I made. I began cooking my own food a lot more instead of eating those gross frozen diet pasta meals, and cooking with fresh vegetables and other ingredients. This took a lot more work and planning, of course (and money), but I realized I actually liked cooking and trying out new recipes. I felt that cutting out a lot of chemicals and fillers from my food was making me feel better, too.
With these changes my energy level increased, my RA pain decreased, and the most surprising result was the improvement in my mood and mental state. I felt lighter, happier, more positive. Was this just from food? I actually began the process of tapering down and off of the anti-depressant medication I had been on for four years because I felt so good. Wow! That was a benefit I wasn't expecting, but I was glad and excited to take it. The other exciting benefit from making these changes was that I finally managed to lose some weight! Weight loss has been a huge frustration for me while having RA, mostly because of taking prednisone so often and lack of exercise due to pain and fatigue. Eating better and tracking my food and calorie intake diligently helped the pounds begin to melt away. I was so happy.
Unfortunately, all of this whole foods/no gluten/fresh vegetable happiness ended when I went on a trip to Europe that summer to visit friends. My healthy diet flew out the window as I sampled exciting foreign foods in Croatia and Bosnia, and drank pints of delicious beer in Germany and Ireland (with some Berlin curry wurst and greasy Irish "chips" thrown into the mix). How could I resist? I couldn't. I wanted to join in with my friends and not be held back experiencing some of the best parts of traveling--the food. My trip was a blast and I don't regret the fun I had trying Croatian ćevapčići, strong cups of bosanska kafa (Bosnian coffee) that I still dream about, or toasting my friends with pints of Guinness. But when I returned home, I just wasn't able to get back on track with the nutrition changes I had worked so hard to make. I started to regain the weight I had lost, I had more RA flare-ups, and I went back to my usual anti-depressant dose. How disappointing.
Falling off of the healthy nutrition wagon doesn't mean you can't get back on, of course. And that is what I intend to do, even with this annoying and frustrating gastritis setback. At the end of the day I'm the one who decides what goes into my mouth and body. Success was possible once before and I was able to make it past the carb and sugar withdrawal period, which is something I need to keep reminding myself. It's time to start making smart food choices again, because I desperately want to feel better and look better and just be better. So goodbye, white toast. I'm breaking up with you.
When was your last flare?