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Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Anti-inflammatory Eating Journey

I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis in 2009. Since that time, I've gone through massive flare ups, long periods with an inability to walk in the mornings, days when I could not climb down steps at all and had to slide down on my butt, massive pain, and so much frustration over the fact that I have to live with an autoimmune arthritis. I was so frustrated about it, in fact, that for the first few years after diagnosis I told very few people what I was going through. I went through the pain alone, fought it, pushed through it, and often made it worse in the process.

I didn't take control of my situation. I felt a victim rather than empowered (I'm happy to say that I now feel empowered). I assumed that whatever a doctor was telling me to do, was the best solution. I'd never met anyone else my age with arthritis. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with that information.

In the past few years though, I've finally shared my story. I have taken control of my experience. I have tried acupuncture (it hardly helped). I've bought orthopedic (but stylish) shoes. I've changed the way I eat.

A few years ago I began to look in to how my diet may be affecting my autoimmune arthritis. I met others with autoimmune diseases. I spoke to them about their diets. I made changes. The first change that I made was to remove lactose and dairy from my diet. In addition to just generally making my digestion work better, I realized that I must actually have been lactose intolerant all along. I do not drink milk, eat cheese, or really consume any dairy products anymore (like ice cream, whipped cream, butter, etc). I feel that removing dairy has impacted my arthritis positively and made my life generally better. 

Despite the fact that removing dairy made a noticeable difference in my health, in 2013 I went through an extremely hard 6 months of flare ups and was having a hard time walking or partaking in my main hobby: swing dance. It was frustrating. So, upon suggestions from a few fellow autoimmune arthritis friends, I decided that I would try to remove gluten from my diet. They all said that it had helped them and I had high hopes that it would help me.  I spent six rather unpleasant months gluten-free. It made literally no difference. I continued to have my worst and most long lasting flare up to date. Going gluten-free was not my solution (much to the relief of my friends and family). It worked for others, but not me.

In the past year, I began to look in to what foods generally cause flare ups and inflammation. I stumbled upon nightshades and a number of other foods to avoid. The prime suspect was sugar. Cutting out sugar seemed hard, though. I love sugar. Like many others, I began to realize that I was pretty darn addicted to sugar. So, I began to look in to what it does to the body. I was shocked. Fructose was pretty much a poison. I'd always been told that an apple a day kept the doctor away and I'd always been told that fruit was fructose. How could it be bad for you? The more and more I read, the more I realized that I needed to cut it out of my life as much as possible. So, last spring I began a challenge where I ate no added sugar OR even things that converted quickly in to sugar. The impact was almost instantaneous. I felt so much better. Unfortunately I was unable to sustain my sugar-free (read fructose-free) lifestyle. In an effort to feel better and generally take control over my body and my health, I've begun the process of really cutting down my sugar intake in a sustainable and manageable way. I'm hoping to get to the point where I only consume a maximum of 5 days of sugar in a month (equaling 60 days of sugar consumption in a year).

I know that sugar reduction isn't the only solution though. I know that I need to avoid other inflammatory foods. I know that I need to take control of my experience with my doctors. I know that I need to continue to try my hardest to make the best of my situation. I am not my arthritis. 

Despite the months and weeks and days of pain that I've gone through since 2009, I am thankful for my arthritis. You read that correctly: I'm thankful for my arthritis. I've had to re-frame my experience. I know that it doesn't make sense, but my arthritis has actually made me a better person.

Reasons I'm thankful for my autoimmune arthritis:
  1. It has forced me to really appreciate when my body is working well and the ways that it moves even when I'm having a rough patch.
  2. It has helped me to become more cognizant of others and both their sufferings and their joys.
  3. It makes me appreciate the people in my life and the adaptations they make to make my life easier.
  4. It causes me to reflect on how my stress and emotions can cause damaging physical effects.
  5. It makes me appreciate dancing and swimming so much more and motivates me to find a solution for my inflammation so that I can continue to feel joy in movement.  
These are only a few of the reasons that I am grateful for my Psoriatic Arthritis. I have built a better sense of empathy from the experience. I have grown so much. I am taking control of my health, my life, and my larger impact on the world. It would be so easy to feel downtrodden by my Psoriatic Arthritis. It would be understandable to be sad. I am not sad, though. I consistently aim to live positively and find the best ways to make my life deliciously joyful despite autoimmune arthritis. 

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