Elimination Diet: Less Is More

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

Vegetables
Vegetables
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10216416@N00/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy was surprised at the number of private replies that he received yesterday, in response the Sunday Break post which mentioned that he was on an elimination diet. As I complete my first month with these dietary restrictions, I realize that I have never written much about this issue, other than an occasion reference here and there. So I thought it might use today’s post to go into a little more detail.

Plus, I think it would be nice if we could have one public conversation that we could all benefit from, instead of a collection of separate private conversations. (Although, if someone still feels shy, please feel to still private message me.)

I started this elimination diet a month ago for two reasons.

The first was that I had just gone into another major flare. On top of months of physical therapy and acupuncture, I was also nearing close to three months of Arava – and had already been on Prednisone for a few days. To be honest, I was getting impatient. Even though I had experienced a slight uphill improvement over the past couple of months, here I was – once again – dealing with intense pain and inflammation.

I felt a little exasperated.  In addition to the above treatment items, I was doing my yoga routine as frequently as possible. I was writing on my blog every day about my experiences. I was visiting my psychologist once a week. “What more could I possibly do?” I thought to myself, “I’m already doing everything that I possibly can.”
I then told myself that there was always something else that I could try, even though I might feel like I had already run out of options.

“Diet!” entered my head.

A few years ago, when I stopped taking my methotrexate, I immediately started a gluten-free diet. I improved almost overnight. I’m not saying it was all due to the diet, as I think that finally stopping a medicine that clearly was not cooperating with my body helped as well. But I started to learn the ins and outs of gluten-free eating, and I loved it. This change seemed to be working in my favor.

I once even spent a month in Paris while on this diet. Luckily I found some small organic grocery stores that had a wonderful selection of gluten-free products…far above and beyond anything that I have encountered in the United States to this day. I walked home a happy camper, with my personal basket cart on wheels full of gluten-free croissants, baguettes, pastas, pizza crusts, and cookies. (I must admit though, that walking by the windows of the pastry shops on every other street corner was pure torture!)

So the thought of once again going on an elimination diet was not completely foreign to me, although this time I told myself that I was going to expand it to include other food items.

The second reason for starting this latest elimination diet: one of the things that I had noticed during the past few months was that my RA always seemed to have some of its strongest peaks on Sunday evenings. It became so obvious that I could no longer ignore a possible connection between my diet and my rheumatoid arthritis.

You see, if there was ever a day of the week when my meals are almost exactly the same, it is on Sunday. We always have a late brunch that includes waffles or pancakes, a large fruit shake of papaya, banana, and milk, and a huge bowl-sized mug of coffee with milk.

First on my elimination list: gluten, dairy, and caffeine.

And if I’m going to do this I might as well do this right, no? So I added beef and chicken. I added the nightshades (tomato, potato, bell pepper…I don’t include eggplant because I never ate this anyways.) And lastly, in order to reduce my consumption of soda (which is not too high, but it still usually beyond where I would like it to be) I added corn syrup.

At first I thought it was going to be difficult to maintain this diet, but a month in I don’t even have any desire to start reintroducing any items to see if they act as inflammatory food triggers for me.

One of the first triggers that I seem to have identified, somewhat accidentally, was dairy. A couple of weeks ago I was offered some homemade chocolate mousse that I could not pass up…what harm could it possibly do? Well, a few hours later I realized the “harm” it could do. This morning I drank a cup of (caffeine-free) coffee with lactose-free milk. Still no go – a few hours later I had once of my worst peaks in weeks. So for the moment, dairy will stay on my list.

(I have had coca cola on a few occasions – I do have to mix my rum with something during Friday’s happy hour! But my corn syrup restriction has prevented me from buying a lot of knock-off salad dressings and condiments in the grocery store, which is a good thing.)

Other than that, I’ve stuck to my diet. I continue to be fascinated with the wide range of other food items that are out there, that I never previously enjoyed. In general, I feel like my overall energy level has risen. And as people who have been following my blog already know, a little less than two weeks ago I have a major overall improvement unlike anything that I experienced during the past half year.

Did my diet play a role in the drastic reduction of my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms? I have no doubt it did. Was my diet the sole cause of my improvement? It’s hard to say, especially since I continue to simultaneously implement a handful of other treatment options. Am I going to make any changes? Certainly not anytime in the near future!

So this is where I stand. And my meals haven’t suffered in the least! For example, last night’s dinner was pan-fried trout (fish on the weekends is still something that I allow myself to eat) served with pesto fusilli (made with rice and quinoa flour) tossed with cooked portobello mushrooms, sliced olives, and fresh chopped basil – all topped with a few drops of garlic-infused olive oil. To put it bluntly, the quality of my meals has actually increased since I started this diet!

If you are thinking of starting an elimination diet or already currently on an elimination diet, please do share your experiences with the rest of us. While each one of our bodies is different, I have no doubt that there is quite a bit of good information that we can learn from one another.

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Here are a few other recent posts that also discuss RA and diet:
The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
The Truth About JRA

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Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

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Update: Angie from RA and Me also runs a blog on dairy-free diet – you can find it at The Non-Dairy Queen.