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Ways I Achieved Pain-Free Living After Being Diagnosed With RA

In November of 2007, I began experiencing levels of pain I had never experienced before. I felt like I had been running a marathon, every day for a month. My joints hurt, with excruciating pain, for four months without me knowing the cause. Health issues had never been a problem for me before. I had no idea what was going on with my body.

Every morning, when I stepped out of bed, I could hardly walk. I felt stiff all over and every step was strenuous and exhausting. My feet hurt, my shoulders hurt, my knees hurt and my joints hurt everywhere. My normal routine of getting ready for work became an overwhelming, painful nightmare.

In the shower, I couldn’t extend my arms into full range to shampoo my hair. My hair never completely dried because using the hair dryer hurt my arms and shoulders. Getting dressed was painful, especially zippers, buttons and lacing or buckling shoes. I felt throbbing pain throughout my joints. I lost full extension in my fingers. What kept me going was that my dedication to my teaching career outweighed my pain. I had a class of 5th graders to educate and prepare for middle school.

I met with my rheumatologist in July of 2008. She had received the blood work from my family doctor. My blood test results showed my rheumatoid markers were extremely high, far above a normal range. I was diagnosed with moderate to severe RA. I began taking five Methotrexate pills, a common medication for RA, every Saturday. In October of 2009, I began to focus on relieving my pain. I asked myself, “What foods do I need to remove from my diet that activate inflammation?” Nutritional health food books became my guides, leading me to foods that could help relieve excruciating pain caused by swelling.

I kept reading about the potential side effects of gluten. Gluten is the most common grain ingredient in food after wheat. Genetically modified wheat has increased gluten content to 90%. The immune system reacts to gluten, producing inflammation in the body.1 Grains containing gluten include wheat, barley and rye. Therefore, bread, cereal, pancakes, pizza, some salad dressings –even candy – usually contain gluten.

I was off on a new adventure, keeping myself busy for hours in grocery stores, reading labels on food products. Products that contained gluten could not go in my shopping cart any longer. Some food chains, such as Trader Joe’s, have an itemized-by-food-categories list of all the gluten-free products in their store. Ask them to print a copy for you. This list makes your shopping time much faster when you are first learning what to eat and what to avoid. Within a few weeks of avoiding gluten, I experienced a significant reduction in swelling. A good indicator was that my rings felt looser on my fingers, and I could wear them again, which was so encouraging.

This is just one story of many stories I’ve written about how I have reduced inflammatory foods in my diet. However, everyone’s RA is different and what has worked for me may not work for others. Focusing on removing wheat and replacing it with gluten-free products has helped me achieve pain-free living. If you are living with RA and you have not tried this strategy, I hope you will try it. You can start gradually removing foods containing gluten for two months before you decide if it’s working for you or not. Less inflammation was a source of motivation for me.

During my first year of clean eating, I allowed myself one cheat meal per month to indulge my cravings. An example is pizza. I didn’t feel deprived and was better able to stick with my gluten free diet most days. Gradually every year I added an additional cheat meal every two weeks per month.
Year Cheat Meals
2010-2011 1 cheat meal per month
2012 1 cheat meal every 2 weeks
2013 2 cheat meals every 2 weeks
2014 3 cheat meals every 2 weeks

After five years of clean eating, every two weeks I have a cheat breakfast, lunch and dinner within 24 hours.

I wanted to shift from a world of hopelessness, discouragement and depression, to a world of hope. Over the last five years I have maintained a different way of eating. I exercise daily and feel healthier than I have ever felt before.

I would also like to share some specific foods, which shows years of my personal research on the effects of gluten in my diet. I replaced foods containing gluten with foods that reduce my inflammation. Some of my favorite gluten-free foods are:
Breads. All New Cascadia Gluten-Free Breads, Tapioca Loaf, Glutino Gluten-Free English Muffins, Franz Mountain White Bread.

Breakfast Cereal & Bars; Any gluten-free granola by Kind LLC, Organic Crunchy Maple Sunrise Crunch by Nature’s Path, Trail Mix Bar by Open Nature, Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes by Arrowhead Mills.

Noodles & Pasta; Brown Rice Pasta(Lasagna)by Tinkyada, Brown Rice Pasta (Spaghetti Style, Maifun Rice Stick by JFC International (used for salads and salad rolls), Quinoa Pasta (Spaghetti Style).

Toppings & Spreads; Orita Hummus Veggie Dip (Roasted Garlic only) *, Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread, Flaxseed Meal by Bob’s Red Mill (1 tbsp. on top of cereal daily), Cucumber Hummus by Eat Well Embrace Life*
*All varieties of Glutino Gluten-free Crackers

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

Jessica Black, The anti-Inflammatory Diet and Recipe Book (Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 2006), p. 31.

Comments

  • NancyB author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lisa,
    Your feedback in regard to my first post was most encouraging and greatly appreciated. The foods you have eliminated and foods you focus on eating are very similar to my diet. I have eliminated gluten, dairy, nightshades, which include peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant for years plus shellfish and citrus foods for years.
    For years I have gradually incorporated what I call “cheat meals”, into my diet without detrimental results of increased inflammation and swelling. I talked about this in my first post. My first post discusses my favorite gluten-free foods. My second post will discuss my gradual increase in consumption of dairy over time. I enjoy cooking too and have figured out ways to prepare delicious foods that do not contain gluten, dairy or nightshades. Thanks again for your response. It meant a lot to me.

  • lisaforman
    3 years ago

    Congratulations! What an inspirational and heart warming story. I am so very happy to read this here on this site, to which I am quite new. I too, have been pain free for close to six years now, but recently some trigger (stress??) has brought a new resurgence of RA symptoms and enormously elevated blood levels. I have been on the elimination diet for four weeks (i.e. no gluten, sugar, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, caffeine alcohol or chocolate) No relief! But, (and I know this sounds like, “Whatever are you eating”???) but I love cooking and enjoy lots of farmer raised vegetables, lamb, bison and poultry, as well as high omega fish like salmon, mackerel, etc. So, as I wander down this painful path again, it is always a plus to read stories as your own. I must caution you to avoid gluten free products, as I have read from many functional health coaches and nutritionists that have carbs that are unnecessary and some things like Carrageenan and Xanathan that are just plain unnecessary, So check your ingredients before buying. Happy cooking!

  • NancyB author
    3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story with me. Glad you are cancer free but so sorry radiation treatments triggered RA. Your perservance is amazing after 18 months of excruciating pain & surgery. I’m happy that you are going to try gluten-free foods. I spent a lot of years researching too. I will be posting more articles about foods that have helped me reduce inflammation. By the way, I’m 63 years old.
    Thanks,
    Nancy

  • Pwilcox
    3 years ago

    Nancy, thank you for sharing this. My story is similar. For the first 62 years of my life I barely knew what pain was. I had a once a year annual physical and was on my way. In March 2014, my routine mammogram revealed early breast cancer. I required only a lumpectomy and 10 radiation treatments. Should be good news, right? Wrong. Good news I am cancer free. Bad news, the radiation triggered RA and no one could figure it out. It took 18 months of excruciating pain going from Doctor to Doctor (I also had total shoulder replacement in June, 2015 not knowing any better – the Orthopedic Dr. said that would ‘fix’ my pain) During physical therapy for shoulder replacement, the pain in my feet and hands became worse. In Sept. 2015 I went back to my Family Doctor – I sat in his office sobbing telling him I wanted to die. He finally ran tests for RA and my numbers were extremely high. I finally got to a Rheumatologist in October, 2015. I also am on Methotrexate but with mixed results. His recommendation is Biologic transfusions which I will probably begin early next year. I think the gluten free way of living is worth a try. It has seemed like such a hassle to figure out what I can eat and what I can’t and my Rheumatologist seems to think diet does not play a big role – but for you it obviously has. Thank you. I printed out your list of food recommendations and will refer to them along with my own research. Thanks for sharing, my best for you as you continue your healthy approach to combating RA.

  • NancyB author
    3 years ago

    I’m thinking I would like to post this first story on your Facebook. Then they will know the beginning of my story before I post # 2 in your articles and then on Facebook.
    Thanks,
    Nancy Burnett

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Nancy,

    Of course, and we are glad to have you here. Would you like to share your story on facebook, or particpate in the comments under our articles? Either way here is a link to the facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/RheumatoidArthritisDotNet/

    Additionally, feel free to post in our forums and as always we ask that everyone keep in mind the community rules: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/about-us/community-rules/

    Thanks so much for being part of our community.
    Best,
    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • NancyB author
    3 years ago

    Thank you!

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    Nancy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your RA journey with us and your story. It is always helpful to hear others experiences and what has worked for them.

    It is great that you have found something that has worked for you and your RA. You have given such wonderful detail into a gradual plan as well as what foods have worked, which is always helpful.

    You are right when you say everyone’s RA is different and what works for one person may not for another. Thanks for reminding us of that.

    Thanks so much for being part of our community, we are glad to have you here and good luck with everything.

    Best,
    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • NancyB author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lauren,
    Thank you for your encouraging feedback. For my next post I was wondering if you could suggest what steps I might use to share my post on Facebook. I would like to be engaged in comments. Would it be possible to post under, “Healthy Living”?
    Thanks,
    Nancy Burnett

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