what's eatin' you?

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My Drug Free RA Diet- The Basics

So, what's eatin' you? You've probably never thought about it. But you should.

If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or any other chronic illness, this is a very important question to ask yourself. When I was first diagnosed with RA I knew there would be important lifestyle and diet changes that I would make to support my treatment. But it was several months before I realized that the lifestyle and dietary changes would BE my treatment. It was several months before I realized it wasn't just what I was eating, it was what was eatin' me.

I spent those months struggling through the initial phases of what I can only call "the mourning process". Learning you have an incurable, chronic illness is a bit like dealing with a death. I'm not trying to be melodramatic here, if you've been through it you'll understand. There's the denial phase, the bargaining phase, the anger phase, and finally, acceptance. I got stuck in anger. Really stuck. Really angry. I won't digress into all the details of what I was angry about, I could write about that all damn day. I only mention it because in hindsight I realize it was a very useful time for me. Anger is an "active" emotion, it's energizing, it's motivating. Anger propelled me towards an understanding of the cause of my illness, namely a malfunctioning immune system. Anger fueled the hours of research. Anger made me look for a fix for my immune system. Anger forced me to ask myself, "what's eatin' me"?

The single most important aspect of my drug-free RA program is my diet. Let me state to obvious: You. Are. What. You. Eat. Think about it. Junk in, junk out. Toxins in, toxins out. Food is information for your body. If you're eating foods that offend your immune system then your foods are EATING AT YOU. If you don't believe me just give this program a try for a couple of weeks. But I warn you, it's not for the faint of heart. Oh no, you gotta have balls to do this. You gotta be committed. You gotta want to heal. But I figure, if I can do it, anyone can. You see, I live for food. I'm a chef and a foodie. I've been in the food industry for nearly 20 years now and part of my anger was tied up in the realization that I would have to give up certain foods that I love. Give. Up. Foods. THAT was a tough one to swallow. Pun intended.

I did the research, I read the books (Dr. Weil, thank you very much!), I frequented the chat-rooms. I decided to go on the most restrictive anti-inflammatory diet I could find. I would eliminate ALL of the potential arthritis triggers for one month, and then, one by one, add them back to see which were offending my body (this is called an "elimination diet" and you can find lots of info about it online). That was the plan anyway. After a couple of false starts (this was NOT an easy transition) I was on my way. Two weeks into it I felt dramatic improvement. My joints moved freely and my pain was greatly decreased. I desperately missed the eliminated foods, especially gluten and corn because they seem to be in every packaged food on the planet. But I felt so good that I resisted cheating. I kept telling myself that those foods were poison to my body. "Poison!" I would shout at myself when I thought of cupcakes or wine or tacos. It really helped me psychologically. After a month I was free of symptoms completely. It felt like a miracle to have my body back.

The time had finally come to add something back to my diet. This was the moment I had waited for! But I couldn't decide which potential offender I would try first. And then I had a thought, "what if it makes me sick again?", "what if the pain comes back?". I decided I was feeling too good to risk it so I waited another week. And another. And another. I was two months along when I decided to test gluten. Fail. Within 8 hours of eating a tiny slice of whole grain bread my wrists tightened and became sore. Ok, no gluten for me. Ten days later I tested corn. Fail. Again, my body let me know very quickly that it did not want corn. That was enough for me. I waited 6 months to reintroduce again. And now, 2 years after starting my program I'm still fairly restrictive. I can eat a little bit of corn or gluten or sugar now and then, but I don't feel great when I do and if I have too much I feel it deep in my bones. I can have small amounts goat's milk and sheep's milk cheeses on occasion, but not cow's milk dairy. My body thrives on a mostly raw, mostly vegan diet. I avoid my trigger foods and emphasize nutrient dense food sources. 

It's worth mentioning that in the process of eliminating my RA symptoms I also dropped 30 pounds without giving weight loss a thought. I'm also free of many pesky issues that had bugged me for years- allergies, acne, headaches, chronic sinus infections, fibroids, etc. My body feels like a perfectly functioning machine for the first time in my life. And just to reiterate, I take NO MEDS. I support my body with supplements, Chinese herbs, yoga and meditation.

So here's the nuts and bolts of my eating program. This is a basic outline. If you want more specifics just shoot me an email and we can discuss working one-on-one together in my Culinary Wellness Program. Make sure you clean out your pantry of offending foods and stock up on the good stuff. Buy a juicer if you can, they are good as gold and you can get a good one for around $100. Prepare yourself mentally too. It's not easy at first, but it does get easier as you go along. For me, the first 4 days were pretty hellish. But seriously, 4 days of feeling deprived isn't a terrible price to pay for the miracle of healing.

(ADDED ON 11-3-13) PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS A VERY BASIC OUTLINE OF THE DIETARY MEASURES I EMPLOY BUT IS IN NO WAY COMPREHENSIVE. DIETARY INTERVENTION IS HIGHLY SPECIFIC AND INDIVIDUAL. 

The No's of my Anti-RA Diet

No processed sugar

No gluten- wheat flour, spelt, barley, rye, triticale, bulgur, farina, semolina, durham, graham

No oats unless specifically labeled gluten free (I use Bob's Red Mill)

No peanuts

No dairy

No corn

No citrus (lemon and lime are ok)

No eggs

No nightshades- tomatoes, potatoes (sweet potatoes are ok), peppers, eggplant, goji

No red meat or pork

No alcohol

No caffeine 

No artificial anything, no MSG, no preservatives or colors, no high fructose corn syrup, nothing fried, nothing you can't pronounce

The Yes's

Eat vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale, and cruciferous veggies like broccolli, cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts

Eat ginger root and turmeric root

Eat fruits, especially low sugar fruits like berries and green apples

Eat beans (and Beanitos Chips!)

Eat quinoa (this is a seed but is treated like a grain in the kitchen. it's a complete protein)

Eat wild salmon for Omega 3s, if you are vegan then eat flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds (and tahini!). Additionally, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are good vegetable sources of Omega 3's.

Eat rice especially black jasmine rice

JUICE DAILY (veggies mostly, but some low-sugar fruit too, see my earlier posts for some juice recipes)

Push the flavonoids (spinach, blueberries)

Push the quercetin (apples, onions)

Push the omega 3's (salmon, walnuts, flax seeds)

Push the turneric and ginger roots

Drink lots of filtered water and green tea

Foods I Make Sure to Eat (or juice) EVERY SINGLE DAY

beets

berries and green apples

kale & other greens

avocado

ginger

turmeric

broccolli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts

onions and garlic

beans

flaxseeds, chia and hemp

bee pollen, maca powder, acai powder & other superfood powders

probiotic-rich fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, Kevita and kombucha   

Green juices

Superfoods smoothies

Ok. So there are the basics. Give it some time to sink in. It's not an easy program to follow at first but when you start feeling the benefits it gets so much easier. I've discovered new foods and flavors, and have challenged myself in the kitchen like never before. I spend time perusing aisles at Central Market and Whole Foods that I used to skip over, specifically the Asian section and the bulk bins. It can get a little boring if you eat the same things every day, so mix it up. I can make broccoli 10 different ways now and all are absolutely delicious. And if the thought of beets makes you go "eeewwwww...", all I can say is don't knock it until you try it prepared properly! Oven-roasted beets are heavenly! And yes, I'll share my recipe with you in a future post.  

For now, I'm signing off, it's time to head to Central Market to stock up. If you have questions shoot me an email and I'll try to help. If you're on instagram follow my profile, I post lots of recipes and photos there. And remember, you are what you eat, so don't let your food eat at you!

And PS, this blog is not intended to replace medical advice. I'm not your doctor. If you have a doctor you should clear any dietary changes with him/her, etc, etc, blah-blah. You get it.  

Posted on August 26, 2013 .