This piece was originally posted on Creaky Joints last year, and explains a lot of why I loathe all the faddy diets that are out there, and provides a bit more context for my post earlier this week about starting the 5:2 regime to try and lose the weight I haven't been able to shift, despite a basically healthy diet.
Dragon Dad’s chiropractor, when DD asked if there was anything he felt he could do that might be useful for me with my rheumatoid arthritis: “Well, it all starts with diet. She shouldn’t be eating any nightshades, wheat, dairy or drinking any red wine. They all cause inflammation.”
A well meaning, but ill-informed friend: “I have a friend who’s vegan, and he says if you eat vegan, your RA will be cured.”
From another friend: “I hear that the paleo diet is doing great things for people – maybe if you ate paleo, you’d get better.”
And then there’s the friend who’s both vegan and anti Western medicine, who keeps sending me stuff about diets and alternative medicines, via email, Facebook, and whenever we actually see each other – which means he says all sorts of negative things about my skim milk latte…among other things!
And so on…and on….and ON…
I’ve had RA for twenty-three years now. I didn’t ask to be sick. I don’t like being sick. I’ve been a compliant patient. I’ve also tried all sorts of ‘diets’, because why the hell wouldn’t I, if there was a chance they might help?
Now that my RA is no longer mild, I’ve had a whole bunch of people come out of the woodwork and have another go at converting me to this or that ‘miracle’ diet. Then I got diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) as well, and had the gastroenterologist telling me that he’d like me to try the FODMAP diet. I sat reading the list of ‘forbidden’ foods on his printout, and my stomach sank…
You see Dragon Dad is a bit of a fitness nut. He was an elite athlete and has never really lost the drive to be as fit and strong as possible. These days, that is mostly focused on cycling, and he’s taken up endurance riding, after a career as a track cyclist. Part of his motivation to get back on the bike was that he’d decided he’d got a bit heavier than he wanted to be, and coming up to his 40th birthday, he decided that he HAD to lose weight. He tends to pick up on the latest diet fads pretty quickly and it can all get a bit extreme. So he began a series of different diet plans, all designed to work miracles, so by default, I ended up eating them alongside him.
That meant I got to try paleo, and another one that was very similar but more restrictive (I can’t remember what that was called), and then there was the whole delete ALL carbs thing. It didn’t help that I’d stacked on the weight, courtesy of prednisone, so I also wanted to lose weight, so I let myself be dragged willy-nilly along with him.
Here’s the thing: NONE of those diets have changed a darned thing about my RA. Not one of them. Not even a little bit. In fact, some of them seemed to exacerbate certain things – paleo, for instance, given that since my year as a vegetarian I don’t eat a lot of meat any more, left me with constant indigestion, and gut upsets. The fact that it was remarkably similar to what was allowed on the FODMAP diet my gastroenterologist had strongly suggested concerned me enormously.
Eventually, I got fed up. I got SO tired of being told what to eat by every second person I encountered. WHAT is it about being sick makes people think they have a right to tell you what to do, in a way I’m sure they don’t with well people?!
I went back to eating instinctively. I calculated a reasonable average calorie allowance per day that would help with weight loss, allowing for my fluctuating ability to exercise. I ate within that. I ate my toast for breakfast – a boutique bakery bread with soy beans and quinoa that’s low GI and gives me a massive protein hit, regardless of what I put on it. I kept eating pulses and other grains that also help me maintain a healthy protein intake, even though I don’t eat a lot of meat. I kept up my dairy, because I’m a milk drinker, I love cheese and yogurt, and I DON’T want to add osteoporosis to my list of diagnoses. And, I kept racking up enormous bills at the greengrocer – bigger sometimes than the supermarket bill. I don’t eat junk food – I don’t like it. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so my sugar intake is well balanced. I DO eat chocolate – not much, and when I do it’s good quality dark chocolate. I do indulge in a moderate amount of alcohol occasionally. Without intending to, my regular eating plan is probably closest to what’s being marketed as the Mediterranean Diet.
My RA got NO worse. OMG – I’m eating dairy, some red meat, wheat (GLUTEN…), and what do you know, my RA hasn’t lost the plot! My IBS got better – I still have flare ups with that, but they’re milder and of shorter duration.
There are a LOT of articles out there pushing this or that diet at chronically ill people. Most of those articles call for you to buy a book or DVD to learn more. Most of them tell us that if we adhere to the diet, religiously, we’ll be cured.
Don’t believe it.
Some people DO find that certain symptoms ease if they eat a particular way. It could be that without knowing it, they had sensitivities to some things and eliminating them has helped them feel better.
In conversations with some people, I found out that prior to really looking at their food, they’d been eating a lot of packaged, and pre-prepared foods, so cutting those out had made an enormous difference to how they were feeling – which made sense, since they were no longer eating all the preservatives and other additives, let alone the amount of salt and sugar. Convenience aside, I can’t honestly see how all that stuff could ever make you feel good!
My bottom line, after all my experiences with different diets, has been that there is no one way that works the same for everyone. For me, what works is to eat fresh, local, seasonal produce. Leave the packets on the supermarket shelves. Eat small meals – so many of us eat WAY more than is necessary. Drink lots of water. DON’T eliminate whole food groups unless you have a sound medical reason to do so – ie, eliminating gluten if you’re a diagnosed Celiac. And, most importantly of all, listen to your body. Pay attention to the times you feel bad after eating, and see if there’s something that regularly upsets you and drop that from your diet. That makes much more sense to me than listening to a bunch of people pushing extreme diets who are, more than anything else, out to make money.