Why Don’t You Just…?

Why don’t you just give up gluten? Why don’t you just stop eating sugar? Why don’t you just go to the gym? Why don’t you just start taking probiotics? Why don’t you just lose weight? Why don’t you just stick to your diet?

Whenever I get these types of questions, I always sigh a bit and think, Why don’t you just SHUT UP?! Of course I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying this and then I try to change the subject to something safer and less infuriating. One of my repeat why-don’t-you-just offenders is my sister, sadly, and her favorite topic of judgment against me lately is my diet. A nagging question that she asks with some regularity is: Why don’t you just stick to your diet if you know it helps your RA? Um…yes, why don’t I? This seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, Sis, I don’t stick to my diet for many reasons, with the main one being that it’s just plain HARD to do. Even when I see noticeable changes in my feet and ankle swelling, I still find sticking with this diet incredibly challenging to do and sustain.

Change is hard

Changing your eating habits is difficult because it’s not just about giving up certain foods or adding new ones. Changing your diet requires that you change your life in many respects. It also often requires breaking old, deeply ingrained habits, developing positive new habits, and dealing with emotional issues related to food. I know that I definitely eat for emotional reasons a lot of the time, like many others do. I often find myself snacking or eating certain foods because I’m stressed, anxious, depressed, tired, bored, or wanting comfort. Associating food with relaxation and “unwinding” at the end of the day is another bad habit I’m guilty of and need to change.

I also have some “food baggage” that I’ve been lugging around with me since age 14 when I found myself on a terrifying path to developing an eating disorder (anorexia). Now, decades later, whenever I try to control and restrict what I’m eating, uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and dread invariably pop up, reminding me of that dark time in my life. Who wants to deal with those old and painful memories? Not me. I would prefer to not have to think about food at all, yet I know this is not an effective or realistic approach.

Something very good that I have discovered over the last year or so about food and my body is that eating a certain diet does help my RA–a diet which contains no animal products, otherwise known as vegan. I began seeing an integrative medicine provider in summer 2016 and she highly recommended that I follow a strict vegan diet (and gluten-free, if possible) in order to help stabilize my RA and lessen my joint inflammation and pain.

Certain dietary changes helped me

I had tried being gluten-free in the past and hadn’t noticed any significant changes or lessening of my RA symptoms, so I was skeptical of trying this “vegan fad.” However, it only took about a week of eating vegan foods (no cheating!) and I noticed some major physical changes, and for the better. Waking up one morning and expecting to once again see my puffy swollen feet hit the floor, I was shocked when I noticed that both of my feet and ankles had shrunk way down in size and looked normal. Did I even see an ankle bone or two protruding? Yes! A miracle! I couldn’t believe it. My feet and ankles hadn’t looked like this for a very long time.

So! It’s a vegan success story, right? Well, this is where the why-don’t-you-just nagging and reprimanding comes back to get me. My sister does have a valid question and point: If I (finally) see some good and real results from eating vegan, why wouldn’t I follow the diet religiously? Don’t I want relief from the pain and swelling of this horrible, life-stealing disease? Yes, of course I do. And I am trying hard to adapt to this new lifestyle. But, simply put, it’s not easy. It’s very very very VERY difficult. Eating a vegan and whole foods diet (which is what I’m supposed to be doing), requires a lot of planning, organization, time, cooking skills, patience, and money.

Despite struggling with “saying goodbye” to a lot of my favorite foods which have brought me comfort and enjoyment and happiness for years, I keep trying hard to remind myself that changing my diet and lifestyle doesn’t have to be a great sacrifice or punishment because of having RA. It is in fact an excellent opportunity to make some big improvements in my health and life. And that, I think, is worth a lot more than a juicy cheeseburger.

Well, maybe. 🙂

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