I remember sitting on my couch Googling “rheumatoid arthritis” the day my blood work confirmed my diagnosis. The first statistic that came racing to my eye was from a Johns Hopkins study, “sixty percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis will be unable to work 10 years after disease onset.” Come again? Not be able to work? I am glued to a chair in front of a computer screen or in meetings most of the day. In 10 years, I won’t be able to do that? The tears started to flow. I was just 32 years old with a 6-week old baby girl.
Prior to this, I would have been considered an extremely healthy gal – a dietitian by trade, a competitive athlete, never receiving anything short of a glowing bill of health. Now I was faced with a chronic, autoimmune disease without reliable indicators to predict how quickly it would progress. I was scared and devastated, with the countdown to debilitation ticking loudly in my head. I woke every morning with my body on fire, feeling like I had a never-ending flu, and I was so tired I couldn’t get out of bed. My knuckles were so swollen that I couldn’t get my wedding ring on and my wrists and hands were in so much pain that I couldn’t hold my daughter to breastfeed (forcing me to form a borderline inappropriate relationship with my breast pump).
I indulged in a pretty elaborate pity party while the words of my demoralizing Rheumatologist (“you should feel lucky you’re not in a wheelchair”) rang loudly in my head. But my baby girl and my off-the-charts Type-A personality quickly motivated me to find the answers I needed to beat this thing. Answers other than long-term steroids and immunosuppressant medications, I mean. Their laundry lists of side effects include glaucoma, osteoporosis, weight gain, mood swings and increased infection risk. Reading them almost made the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sound pretty good. In what universe does RA + steroids = vibrant health? Was I really supposed to fill up on medication and feel like a puffer fish, or else be in debilitating pain? These were my only options??
After an underwhelming experience with conventional medicine, I explored more progressive options and in doing so, learned about the havoc food sensitivities can wreak on your system, as well as the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet. What should be concerning (for us all!) is that I’m registered dietitian and I have a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a master’s degree (also in Nutrition)…and this came as headline news to me.
Anti-inflammatory diet? Never heard of it.
Eliminate gluten if you don’t have celiac disease? Can’t be.
The function of your immune system is largely based on the effectiveness of your digestive system. Huh?
Eliminate toxins that can come from non-organic foods and artificial sweeteners, preservatives and additives? That’s a load of alternative health crap.
Isn’t it all about calories in/calories out? Counting your fat grams and carbs? We’re told to eat low-fat dairy and whole grains and we’ll all ride off into the optimal health, tight booty sunset. Right? Wrong. The apple cart was turned over and my REAL education was about to begin.
The first obstacle after fully educating myself was what the hell am I supposed to eat? I used my education (and desperation) to wade through all the questions, and nutritional guidelines, and how many different words companies are allowed to use in an ingredients list so that they don’t have to say “milk” (there are a lot). I’ve stood in that aisle at the grocery store thinking I’m making an easy, smart decision about a food item, only to read beyond the “Gluten-Free!” label to find it’s jam-packed with soy, sugar or corn – all three of which are also not good for my RA. Eventually, I found the short list of foods that did make me feel better, and I ate them in every possible combination to avoid boredom, while I researched what else I could add in. I even went so far as to start my own food company – Clean Cravings – and in the process developed a unique perspective on the allergy-free, gluten-free, natural food industry. I kept my mind and my eyes open, and I realized that the new foods I was putting into my body weren’t just good for my rheumatoid arthritis, they were good for my whole being. Other chronic issues I had previously suffered from – sinus infections, migraines, depression – were also falling away.
My new clean, anti-inflammatory principles quickly expanded beyond diet and into most every aspect other aspect of my life as I continued my research. I am not bathed in patchouli oil or healing crystals (not that I judge), but I became quite discerning with the personal care and other products within my home to lower the overall toxic load to my system. I use nutrition, acupuncture, physical therapy and/or mind-body work for any minor physical ailments to avoid medications that may harm more than help. I use targeted supplementation to address nutrient deficiencies I have due to genetic variations. I still have great respect for the advances of Western medicine, and you better believe I will be racing to the hospital if any serious, acute medical event occurs. However, I believe strongly in the body’s ability to heal itself. And more than anything, I believe in finding and resolving the root cause of the issue, rather than relying solely on a quick, pharmacological fix.
Over 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease with numbers on the rise – and over 30 million Americans suffer from some type of food sensitivity. However, our current health system is doing society a huge disservice. Moving towards an anti-inflammatory lifestyle – altering the foods we eat and the products we put in, on, and around our bodies, managing stress – plays a huge role in managing not only autoimmune conditions, but almost all chronic conditions, and that fact is largely ignored. Guidelines on treatment for RA from the CDC website, states “…there is no cure for RA, but new effective drugs are increasingly available to treat the disease and prevent deformed joints. In addition to medications and surgery, good self-management, including exercise, are known to reduce pain and disability.”
This is as good as it gets? Dulling the pain, going under the knife, and going for a walk (if I can even move by then) is my best approach? How are we missing the elephant in the room here? Not a single mention of nutrition. That’s why I’m here. That’s why this message is needed. People don’t know! They either aren’t being told about the power behind these progressive dietary changes, or they aren’t getting the fine print. There is so much to learn about the ramifications of food sensitivities and how the quality of our food can help. However, it is confusing and overwhelming.
That’s why I’m here. To silence the nutritional noise. To balance progressive theories with evidence. This site and my services are about communicating – louder that the mainstream messages and outdated conventional paradigms – the power of behind progressive diet and lifestyle changes.
I believe there has to be a better way.
To learn more about my story, and the specific steps I took to heal, check out my book, INFLAMED: Discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life.
- Ruffing, Victoria, and Clifton Bingham, III. “Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms.” Arthritis Information. Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
- “Autoimmune Statistics.” AARDA. American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
- “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.