Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not a one-size-fits-all health condition. For many, finding the right combination of medications takes a lot of trial and error. Plus, an RA diagnosis often causes you to pause and look at the habits you are currently following. You look for ways to control the inflammation that has taken over your body. Diet may be at the top of the list.
Are you ready for a healthy change?
My journey with RA has prompted me to work toward becoming an overall healthier person. My relationship with food has been a central part of my life with RA for the last 14 years. I have been on numerous elimination diets, some with success and others without. Changing your diet always comes with some ups and downs. Here are some tips and words of encouragement for taking charge of your diet.
It’s an investment in your health; not a cure
Beware! Diet changes probably won’t magically make joint pain disappear. However, by changing your food history, you are making an investment in yourself. You are telling your body that you appreciate all it does for you daily and that it deserves a little TLC. Plus, cutting out processed foods and adding in more of the good stuff is never a bad idea.
You can regain some control
For many, the uncontrolled flares and unexpected feelings that come with RA often leave us feeling defeated and out of control. A consistent diet has the ability to put us back in the driver’s seat and feel we have some control over our bodies again. I may not be able to stop my knee from swelling, but darn it, I can stop that second piece of chocolate cake from entering my body.
Researching and selecting the right diet plan can be exhausting. There are so many options, all with claims of controlling your symptoms — Automimmune Paleo (AIP), Whole30, an elimination diet, or going vegan, or gluten-free. Where do you begin?
Define your personal goals
Before moving forward on a diet that may take a considerable amount of your precious time and energy, think carefully about the reasons for the diet. I have found that when I have definite goals in mind, it is easier for me to stay focused. Some possibilities include:
For a diet to work, it needs to fit with who you are as a person. What works for your best friend may be totally wrong for you. Find a diet that makes sense to you. Some questions to consider:
Will it take more than it gives? Some plans take a considerable amount of prep time. Do you have the spoons to make it work?
Does it meet your personal values about food?
Will it work with your budget and schedule?
Is it sustainable? Will you be able to maintain it on a day-to-day basis?
Making it work
Great! You have found a plan that meets your energy levels, available time, income, and food values. Now it is time to put it all together so that you can see the full benefits of the investment you are making in yourself. So, what’s next?
Work with a professional
with a dietitian or naturopath. Both will have suggestions for staying motivated. Another benefit of working with a professional is they can make sure you are supplying yourself with all the necessary vitamins and minerals your RA body requires.
Prepare foods ahead of time
Coming home at the end of the day tired and possibly flaring is a sure way to end a successful try at changing your diet. Always plan ahead. Knowing the day before what you will eat for all meals and even preparing as much as possible ahead of time will make it easier to stick to your new plan.
Have a backup plan
Warning: You will have days you didn’t plan for. Don’t panic. Instead, have a backup plan.
Food stored in the freezer
A list of your favorite ready-to-go veggies and precooked meats at a convenient grocery store for quick-fixes (Personally, I love the zucchini noodles found in the produce section!)
A few trusted restaurants that will keep you on course
Dealing with cravings
Diets require that you eat in a new way. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to miss the foods you previously ate. Find alternatives to the foods you know you will crave. A few things that work for me are:
Instead of wine with dinner, I put unsweetened cranberry juice with sparkling water in a wine glass.
For chocolate cravings, I eat a handful of almonds.
When you are following a specific diet, it can be tough to eat socially, but not impossible.
Eat a light meal before leaving so you aren’t tempted to munch on foods that don’t fit your diet.
Most hosts will ask guests about food sensitivities. Consider offering to bring a dish to share.
Suggest restaurants that serve foods you can eat or check the online menu of a preselected restaurant so you know exactly what to order when you sit down.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: “Does this soup contain gluten?” “Do you have vegan options?”
One step forward, two steps back
Just when you think you have this diet under control, life happens. You work extra hours, the kids are sick, and you are flaring. All you want to do is tear open a bag of chocolates and head to bed. It happens. Accept it. Enjoy it. Throw the guilt in the empty bag of chocolates. No need to berate yourself. You are human. You are a human with a chronic illness. A new day is very forgiving.
Remember, you are amazing!
Changing your diet means you have decided you are worth the effort of becoming a healthier you. Congratulations! As you move forward, remember that this diet is for you. You have set your intentions and if the food changes aren’t meeting those goals, revise them. You are always the expert when it comes to your body. You know it best. Good luck!