I'm often asked, "how did you know what to do to beat your RA without medication?". The simple answer is that I didn't. At least not a first. The only thing I knew with absolute certainty was what I did NOT need. When I had my "a-ha" moment of realization, the "those nasty meds are NOT the answer for me" moment, I knew only that there had to be another way. My immune system was angry and attacking my own body, it had to be stopped. There had to be something making it angry, if I could find the cause, I could fix it. It was simple in theory. Find the cause, fix it. Search, and destroy.
My first step was to call my acupuncturist. I was barely out the door of my rheumatologist's office, and in tears, when I called. "I need to see Kim as soon as possible, I can't do this meds thing, I need to make another plan", I told Julie, the receptionist. I began weekly acupuncture treatments and took traditional chinese herbs to chip away at the pain and inflammation and calm my immune system. In the meantime I began my search and destroy mission.
Google became my best friend. I read countless medical journals, books, and magazines. I spent hundreds of hours in online RA chat rooms and blogs. I turned to my go-to integrative health guru Dr Andrew Weil, and I discovered functional medecine expert, Dr Mark Hyman. In Hyman's functional medicine I found my new mantra "treat the fire, not the smoke". Brilliant. And such a perfect way of looking at chronic illness, especially RA. Get to the fire, put it out. Find the cause, fix it. Search, and destroy.
Step ONE: Make a plan!
- schedule weekly sessions with my Acupuncturist
- schedule thrice weekly infrared saunas (is thrice a word? sounds very shakesperean, so I'll leave it)
- start green juicing daily
- change diet/start elimination diet
- reduce stress
The first three items on my list were fairyly easy to put into immediate action, the last two not so much, they took a bit of time. In spite of what my Rheumatoligist had told me, "diet really has nothing to do with RA", my gut told me that diet would have everything to do with my recovery and long term health. Sorry Doc, but my gut brain is smarter than your medical school-trained brain. I made Google and Amazon.com my best friends, we spent hundreds of hours together. I read everything I could find on "arthritis and diet", "inflammation and diet", "joint pain and diet"... the search terms became my mantras. I also re-read ALL of Dr. Weil's books, highlighting pertinent information and dog-earing pages. I took what I considered the best information available from each blog, chat room, book, youtube video, e-seminar, and magazine, and created a diet plan for myself.
Step TWO: Put the dietary plan into action!
- eliminate potential food triggers
- reduce total protein intake
- load up on nutrient-dense plant foods
- emphasize foods containing omega 3's
- pack in the pain and inflammation-fighting erbs, roots and tonics
- rinse and repeat
It's confession time. I'll admit, as a professional chef and staunch nose-in-air foodie, the idea of giving up ANY beloved food was hard to take, but the idea of giving up MANY beloved foods really ticked me off! I knew what I needed to do, but getting to a place where I wanted to do it took some time. I had one or two false starts with the elimination diet. Ok, four or five false starts. It was hard. Really, really hard. I was angry. I would be two or three days into it and then I would spy the goat cheese in the fridge and smoke would start coming out my ears. "NO DAIRY!" I would be slicing my favorite whole grain/flax seed bread for my son and would start to cry. "NO GLUTEN!" Seriously. I was angry. The sight of a friend enjoying a glass of red wine would spark a rage. It wasn't fair. And that's the truth that I had to come to accept. It wasn't fair, plain and simple, not fair. Not fair, not fair, not fair! So what? Get over it! And eventually I did.
I decided that instead of focusing on what I couldn't have (gluten, corn, sugar, dairy, eggs, blah, blah, blah), I would focus on what I could have. I realized that I did not have to stop being a chef or a foodie, I just had to become a different kind of chef and foodie, a wellness chef and wellness foodie. I explored foods I had never tried. Kale? That was for lining catering trays, but eat it? I never had. Beets? Are you kidding me, those mushy, canned things that my mom likes? No, the brilliantly delicious-sweet and vibrant FRESH root vegetables in the produce section of Central Market and Whole Foods. I never knew. I stopped my subscriptions of Bon Apetite, Food & Wine, and Pastry Arts, just too painful, and starting reading Vegetarian Times, Natural Health, and Alternative Medecine. And believe it or not, I even stopped watching Food Network. Ok, I still watched the episodes of Food Network Challenge that I was cast in, but that was it! I explored and tested and tasted, and along the way I found not only a healthful and inspiring new way of eating, but also a new career.
Once I was fully on my new dietary program it took about 3 weeks to notice a notable difference in how I felt. After 6 weeks I was 100% pain and inflammation free. Keep in mind that this chick had previously required 60 mg a day of prednisone to be able to brush my teeth, hold a tea cup, climb a flight of stairs, or wield my chef's knife. Even 40mg per day wouldn't do it for me. And here I was, pain free, inflammation free, without a lick of medication in my system. Hallelujah!
Two years later, I'm still following the same dietary plan. Attempts to reintroduce gluten, and nightshades have all failed, repeatedly, but I'm ok with that. I don't miss those foods anymore. Seriously. I no longer cry over artisan breads or mourn tomatoes. I have been able to add back small amounts of high quality dark chocolate, but only in small amounts, and not every day. I can even occasionally have a sprinkling of goat's milk or sheep's milk cheese on my veggies, but the funny thing is, my palette has changed and those foods no longer give me the thrill that they once did. Go figure.
I'm often asked to label my diet. "Are you vegan?" is the most common question. My purse and shoes are, but no, my diet is not, not entirely. I was vegan for 6 months when I started my new program, but I had to give it up. I was frail and weak and lost too much weight. It didn't work for me, unfortunately, because I'm definitely down with the sentiment behind it and I'm a big time animal lover. I eat salmon once or twice a week, cage-free local eggs on occasion, and organic & humanely raised chicken now and then. I will try the vegan thing again soon, now that my body is stronger I may be able to do it. I hope so. For now I'd say my diet is a gluten, dairy, corn, nightshade, alcohol, and sugar free/whole foods/mostly plant-based/unprocessed/unchemicalized wellness foods "diet". Now THAT'S a mouthful!
Oh yeah, number 5 on my plan, the stress thing? We'll get to that in another post. In the meantime, be well, and enjoy this pressed green juice recipe!
B-A-C-K to Health Juice
1 organic Beet
1 organic green Apple, cored
3 organic Carrots
3-4 organic Kale leaves
1 lemon, peeled
1/2” section fresh turmeric and/or ginger root
Juice it up and enjoy daily. This is the juice I drank religiously when I was still symptomatic. Beets are detoxifying, the lemon is alkalizing, and the turmeric and ginger are anti-inflammatory.