For close to half my life, I’ve had an on-again/off-again obsession with living a healthy life style. I’ve oscillated between lazy and near obsession with fitness, but until the last few years, it was all about not being “fat”, rather than being healthy.
How RA Impacted My Life
At 48 years old, I found out that I inherited my mother’s propensity for auto-immune diseases. Specifically, the one that impacts my life the most is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). This diagnosis explained why, my joints hurt, I was foggy headed and very fatigued.
I believed that if I kept my weight within in the normal range, my diet shouldn’t affect how I felt.
I learned to live with these daily symptoms of the RA for a while. But after two particularly bad flare-ups that had me feeling like a strong flu had taken over my body for 3 days at a time (minus the fever and congestion issues), I knew I had to do something different. I read a lot of articles about inflammation, but nothing resonated with me.
It wasn’t until a friend who was recently diagnosed with Celiac suggested that I try a gluten-free diet that my life changed. At first I was hesitant with all sorts of excuses, like my 50th birthday was coming soon and I wanted to enjoy the celebrations, I travel a lot for work and it would be hard to maintain, and of course, sheer laziness.
Finally I gave in.
Initially it is challenging to truly understand how many prepared foods contained gluten. Thankfully it is easy to find the answer to “is XXX gluten free?” at my finger tips with my smart phone no matter where I might be. I have never enjoyed trips to the grocery store, but the task became more tedious when I began to read labels and regularly look up unknown contents.
After a while, it was a no brainer. Even with all the international travel I do for work, it’s really not difficult most days.
The first thing I noticed just 3 days after giving up gluten was that my joints no longer hurt all the time. Going up and down the stairs several times a day at home was no longer torture. I did not need to take a nap mid-afternoon just to make it through the day. I was able to focus on tasks far better than before I gave up gluten.
Because I am highly analytical by nature (and trade), after a month of feeling so much better, I had to test the waters to see if it really was the gluten that had me feeling so miserable before. The morning after eating just a small amount of gluten, the symptoms returned – just that quickly. I continued eating the same way for two weeks, with the same results – joint pain, fatigue and foggy headed.
I explained the results of this experiment to my Rheumatologist and my Internist. Both agreed there was no point in testing me for the gluten allergy, as I had proven the results already.
The Price and the Payoff
I’m not going to pretend that the change in diet cured my Rheumatoid Arthritis, because I still have to take a low dose of my medications to avoid the progression and symptoms associated with the disease. After some experimentation, I’ve found that I need both the meds and the gluten free diet – neither one alone is enough.
People often ask if I can just have one piece of cake or whatever they are eating that I’ve turned down. The answer is yes, I can, but it is not worth 3 days of pain to me.
Other people think I’ve just jumped on a bandwagon with “the whole gluten free fad”. I doubt they would say that to someone with peanut or shellfish allergies. I’ve come to terms with the fact that they just don’t understand.
Everyone’s journey is different. I’m happy that a gluten free diet, along with regular exercise, has worked for me and improved my daily quality of life.