My journey with rheumatoid arthritis started in the spring of 2010. I experienced very strange bouts of excruciating joint pain that seemed to hop from joint to joint all over my body. I lived this way for months before going to a doctor, as I had no insurance. After a few trips to general practitioners, I was referred to a regional rheumatologist and had an appointment set for January 2011. I was scared, but relieved to have action in place, but I had no idea that advocating for myself would ever be something I would want or need to do.
Over the course of 2011 through 2015, I never questioned treatment, medication, or the doctor’s plan for my body. I did what I was told and went through the motions, but my career was physically demanding. I am a degreed pastry chef, and worked as a retail cake decorator/bakery manager for a big grocery chain. Due to this, a few years after diagnosis, my rheumatologist suggested I choose a different career path. I was saddened, floored, and very against this idea, until the pain of working with my hands was something I couldn’t ignore anymore. I went back to school at almost 30 years old to pursue a degree in education, and while working full time in that same bakery, I earned my B.S. in child development, and I started working as a pre-K teacher in the fall of 2014. I look at this change in two different ways. I felt like changing careers was a setback, but I also know that it was a blessing.
Diet and fitness have completely changed my life in so many ways, including how I manage my RA. As a former sugar junkie who used to eat cake and icing on a daily basis (perks of being the cake decorator), changing your diet can be done.
My doctor’s care plan included starting me immediately on daily prednisone (which I took for almost 5 years straight) and methotrexate. I took these prescriptions every single day, and had no idea that there were other options for management. I had a few moments where I noticed certain foods made me feel achier than normal (beef and corn, specifically) and I remember asking my doctor if these foods could have an effect. I was told, “No. Food has no effect on this disease, but, if eating those things makes you have pain, avoid them.”
I watched different health documentaries where people had reversed their autoimmune conditions by following very specific food plans, and it always brought me hope, but also fear because I didn’t believe that I could be successful. It wasn’t until I had lived in pain, with nightly locked fingers, and the feeling that my next rheumatologist visit would leave me with another prescription, that I decided to try.
I had heard of elimination diets before, but knew that I wasn’t ready. Until one day I woke up and felt like I could do it. I had been following a workout program and the simplified portion nutrition plan that went with it, and that gave me the confidence to try eliminating inflammation triggers. The rest is history. An important step to take toward doing anything is owning any small wins in your life. If you notice that eating vegetables and drinking water, versus drinking soda and eating cake, makes you feel better, own that and run with it. I had to do a lot of troubleshooting to understand and accept how I was really feeling. Eating differently gave me confidence. It allowed me to lose a lot of weight (over 100 pounds). And, I took back control of my health, which makes me feel limitless and is absolutely priceless.
Nutrition is everything for my RA. Fitness has built my strength and shown me that I can do things I was afraid to do in the darkest part of my journey with RA, but food has become my freedom. Due to making some simple switches (everybody is very different here) in my daily nutrition, I am now over three years prescription- free, ibuprofen-free, mostly pain-free.
A few of my biggest inflammation triggers are all grains (especially rice, oats, wheat, and corn), pork, dairy milk and cheese, and processed foods in general. In place of pasta, rice, or bread, I eat a lot of meals over a bed of spinach. This has really sold me on the deliciousness of vegetables as the main parts of every meal.
The first step to take is just to begin. It will look messy. It will hurt. It will be difficult, but it is always worth the try. Each new step will teach you how to get to the next one and, before you know it, you are standing on top of the mountain.
Easing into a simple routine is to track how you feel. Thinking of this as a process of inventory is helpful. It may seem daunting, but be honest with how you feel, what you ate, what you drank, etc. This helps you become an investigator and process what is helping and what is not. It is work, but this work could potentially bring you freedom from pain, first and foremost, which, to me, has been worth every second of feeling like a personal detective of my own body.
Become an advocate for yourself by trying new things. I say this as a person who never questioned my doctor and the prescriptions they wrote. My personal advocacy came in finding an alternative to having to go back to that doctor. I am not saying you need to do what I have done, but I am saying you have to stand up for yourself because no one else can. No one has to live with your pain. Let your voice be heard, and allow that to carry you where you want to go.
Living limitless is less about being perfect and more about knowing you are following your heart and gut in the process of actually living your life instead of just going through the motions. It is possible, and it can be done your way.
Nicky's Guilt-Free Unsugar Cookies
1 banana, mashed
1 pinch pink salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut flour
Mix it all together in a small bowl. Once it resembles the consistency of traditional drop cookie dough, you have enough flour. I rolled my cookies in sprinkles, but you can omit these if you are fancier than the nonpareils.
Bake at 300-350 until they start to brown. You could bake these lower and slower for a more crunchy cookie. It would be delicious dipped in some coffee or unsweetened almond milk.
This same mixture can also be used a crumb for cobblers or baked as a “granola” for topping fruits or yogurt.
Play with this recipe. It is definitely not written in stone, but I wanted you to know the simplicity that exists with a banana and a little coconut flour.