If a job that requires you to consume lots of beef and booze sounds like a dream, then you probably don’t have gout. The disease affects an estimated 8 million Americans, including a disproportionate number of people working in the high-end food business — chefs, restaurant critics, and other people who eat and drink for a living. But in Washington, DC, a restaurateur named John Fielding shows it’s possible to overcome the double whammy of a challenging job and bad genes. Here, he talks about how he beat gout.
HealthCentral (HC): How’d you decide to create a career in food?
John Fielding: I grew up in the DC area, in Bethesda, Md., and have been in the food business since I was 19. My first job was at the Bethesda Co-op, so I got to work around natural foods and produce. I started in the restaurant business when I was, like, 21 and have doing that pretty much ever since. For the last 10 years I’ve run Broad Branch Market. Being in the food business is a blessing and a curse.
HC: A blessing and a curse — how so?
John Fielding: You’re constantly tasting and trying things to be knowledgeable about your craft and you’re eating things that a lot of people don’t necessarily eat, like sweetbreads and foie gras. You learn to enjoy that stuff over time, just because you eat it so much. I got gout young, when I was 30. I’m 44 now.
HC: So you’ve had gout for a while now. When did it start?
John Fielding: The first time I got it, I was down in Austin, Texas. I ate a bunch of chicken-liver pâté and drank a few beers and that night my big toe started hurting terribly. Like they say all the time when it comes to gout, even the weight of a sheet on top of my foot felt like a cinder block.
So I actually called my mommy and told her and she said, “Oh, it sounds like you have gout. My dad had it. What did you eat?” That started my experience of Googling gout and trying to learn more about it. I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours on the web reading about it, researching it, and going on to blog threads about people’s experience with it.
HC: Did you discover anything useful during all that Googling?
John Fielding: I kind of tried everything hoping the gout would just go away. Like, “Oh, there’s a medicine out there,” or cherry juice or apple cider vinegar or whatever. There’s a lot of pseudo-science about gout. I found, like a lot of other things in my life, actually taking real action to try to make my health better was where I found relief.
HC: What kind of action are we talking about?
John Fielding: I decided, “I need to transform my body.” I stopped drinking a little over two years ago and that really made a big difference in how often I was getting flare-ups, because alcohol is probably the biggest trigger there is. I steer clear of offal (animal entrails and organs). I probably eat about half as much meat as I did and really try to fill up on fruits and vegetables throughout the day. I think meat protein in general is a trigger for everybody who has gout.
My flare-ups were getting in the way of my exercising but once I stopped drinking the flare-ups reduced. Plus I got to a point where I was able to work out right through a flare-up. I would just find an exercise that didn’t affect the joint. Once I got over the hump, all of a sudden, things were way better. Now I work out six days a week, doing what they call high-intensity interval training.
I weighed 265 pounds and now I weigh 205 pounds. But I didn’t just lose the weight, I got in shape. I don’t know chemically why that helped with the gout but my body just seems to be working better. I had high cholesterol, I had high blood pressure — I’m not saying that’s why I had gout, but I don’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol anymore and I don’t have gout anymore either.
HC: Do you think people with gout are talking about the disease more openly than they used to?
John Fielding: People definitely talk about it more than when I first got it. I don’t know if that’s also because when people know you have something, they come to talk to you about it when they have an issue. It’s definitely not as taboo. For a long time, it was considered this “fancy man’s disease.” It’s actually pretty common within the Latino community. I know a bunch of guys who’ve had it.
Interview has been condensed and edited.