Deliberate Diets as a Lifestyle with Rheumatoid Arthritis
By Elizabeth Hinojosa
Vectra® Patient Ambassador Beth shares her experience managing her rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and how diet and the Vectra test played a role in her treatment plan.
Receiving an RA diagnosis is like entering a new world where all the rules of engagement are rewritten, and you find yourself having to learn what works, what doesn’t, and all kinds of new ways to manage the body you’ve lived in for years. When I received my RA diagnosis, one of the first questions I asked my rheumatologist was whether this condition could be managed with diet. Immediately and emphatically, my doctor told me that my RA must be treated with medication – otherwise, I would end up in a wheelchair.
My rheumatologist’s response made a deep impression. I wanted to do everything I could to ensure I did not end up in a wheelchair. We started my treatment with one medication, but as I experienced pain and other symptoms and we struggled to find what worked for me, I was prescribed another medication, then another, then another, until I found myself taking multiple medications.
The worst part about all of it was that I felt terrible. Even on treatments I was feeling really sick and desperate. I began to look at diet at the urging of a friend who encouraged me to see a holistic doctor.
I began working with a holistic doctor on my diet and nutrition. I educated myself and read books. When I was growing up, my family, like many others at the time, included all kinds of processed foods in our daily diets, so what I was learning from the holistic doctor and the books I was reading was a huge lifestyle shift for me.
I completely changed my diet. I learned so much about how food affects how you feel, your general health and how it can even impact your medical conditions. With my new diet, I learned to eat things in their natural form, shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, buying high-quality meats and eggs, and focusing on what grew in the ground. As you can imagine, our grocery bill doubled, but my husband was impressed when he tallied our out-of-pocket medical costs and saw that they had decreased significantly.
Even better – and most importantly – I felt so good, so healthy, better than ever before – even though I was completely off all medications, including pain medications. I really believed that this diet was a miracle that had cured my RA. My Vectra Score previously had been 49, a measure of high disease activity. Impacted by my new healthier way of eating, my Vectra Score went down to 37, in moderate range.
Sadly, after a few years, those days came to an end, and I learned a really hard lesson that ultimately, there was no diet cure for RA. Symptoms started to creep back even though I was following the diet very strictly, and I began to feel worse. The pain returned, and I found myself considering again the role of medication in treating my RA.
For me, the right decision was to move back to medication. I’m now on a biologic, and I wear a weekly pain patch. I continue to follow the diet because it changed my perspective and my lifestyle; however, I also believe in balance. Life throws a lot of stressful situations our way, whether it’s the weather, life events, or just general daily stress, and in those times, diet may not be enough. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned and that I’m able to provide a healthier lifestyle for my family.
I’ve been able to utilize my nutritional knowledge and maintain my healthy habits during stressful times like the holiday season when I’m surrounded by foods that aren’t really conducive to healthy living. Here are a few tips that help me stay successful.
Plan ahead. As a working mom, I always prep for the week ahead, using “Monday” through “Sunday” bins that are spread across my kitchen counters. I have a plan for the week and know the ingredients I need for each day. Knowing what’s on the menu for the day and having the ingredients ready makes it so much easier to avoid the temptation of easy, but less healthy foods when I was feeling tired.
Keep healthy snacks available. Most of us like to munch, so when treats are so easily available, it’s tempting to reach for them. I make sure to have nuts, fruits, and berries always available. I find if I don’t have those choices, I end up making bad choices.
Surround yourself with support. As a parent going to various playdates and social activities, it would be easy to get derailed. Fortunately, I’ve surrounded myself with people with shared beliefs on healthy living, which makes it so much easier to follow through.
Start small. I’ll admit that at first, I didn’t follow my own advice – I was at such a point that I just went all in, headfirst. However, I’ve come to understand that even one small change can lead to another, which can lead to another. Before long, you’ve implemented a lot of the change you were hoping for.
Track inflammation levels. Using Vectra to track my RA gives me and my doctor insight into my inflammation and if my treatment is working. I use the myVectra patient portal to view my results and can even track daily symptoms and connect with others in the RA community.
Diet and healthy living are a lifelong journey. Some days I do better than others. The important thing is to have a goal and to work toward it, forgive yourself when you miss, and pick yourself up to try again.
*The perspectives shared in this post are personal to our Patient Ambassador, and do not constitute medical advice. Always consult a doctor before starting or stopping a medication or specific diet or exercise plan.