A few weeks ago, I got a very surprising diagnosis from my doctor.
I am 37 years old – I’m a fitness instructor and Personal Trainer by trade, having recently moved into this area from the IT sector.
I love running, interval training, being outdoors, making good food, I’m a wanna-be surfer, an energetic mum-of-one to a 5 year old daughter.
And I was just given the news that I have rheumatoid arthritis.
My first thought was “Seriously? I’m only 37 – and I’m fit and healthy. Isn’t this the sort of thing that old people get?”
I smugly thought that because I was active, had a pretty good diet and was “aware” of these types of afflictions with my clients that this is something that would not affect me.
But I was wrong.
Just to clarify before I continue – there are two types of arthritis. My one (see, I’m taking ownership of it!) is rheumatoid, which is an autoimmune disease.
The other is called osteoarthritis, which is more common in older people and is often caused by “wear and tear” of the joints, which is associated with aging.
And since I found out about my condition, I have been doing mountains of reading and I have realized that autoimmune diseases – such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimotos thyroiditis etc. etc. – are much more common than I would ever have thought.
The causes seem to be largely unknown – in most cases and for some reason, the body triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that, instead of fighting infections, start attacking the body’s own tissues.
The root cause is also undefined – in some cases it’s genetic, in others it is thought to be lifestyle-related. There is also a case to be made for having a “faulty” diet – not necessarily what we would consider unhealthy, but a diet that includes certain foods that some bodies just don’t tolerate. Some of the most common I have found are gluten (surprise, surprise – this seems to be the root of all evil these days 😉 ), nightshades (such as tomatoes and bell peppers), fungi (“why did the mushroom always get invited to parties??”) and grains.
The symptoms are also as wide-ranging as the diseases themselves – inflammation at joint locations, intestinal problems, extreme tiredness, weight fluctuations, heart problems among others. Inflammation in the body seems to be a common issue and something that I would definitely have concerns about.
So after reading all this and having time to get my head around it, I have to admit I was feeling pretty down about the prognosis.
And I’m not sure if this drop in mood had any impact, but I noticed my symptoms getting worse (I had been relatively symptom-free up until the diagnosis, apart from a handful of what are called “flare ups”).
Since my job is mainly active -either doing or demonstrating exercises – I am also getting concerned that this is going to affect my career. Who wants a trainer who hobbles across the gym floor, and can hardly lift up a weight because her wrists have been immobilised by swelling? I know if I was the client, I’d be a bit freaked by this hobbit-lady trying to instruct me in doing my workout!
So I decided to get some first-hand advice and background. I do know people my own age who have RA (that’s what us in the gang call it 😉 ) so I chatted to some to find out the real deal and how having the disease has affected them.
And I was surprised by how much of an impact this thing can have on people’s day-to-day lives. I was also surprised that it was something that I was so unaware of, and had kind of passed off as just another tick-box when clients told me they had it. I would simply think, “Oh, this person has arthritis – I’ll just make sure to keep an eye out for any joint pain”. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
So, I don’t want to go on with this article sounding like a quintessential Moaning Michael.
“Then why did you even write it then?” I hear you say.
It really is to get the conversation going around these types of ailments and to help people realise that they are not alone.
I also wanted to share some information about how you can help to treat the symptoms of these diseases with diet.
During all my research, I came across a diet (in the nutritional sense, not the weightloss sense) called AIP – the autoimmune protocol.
AIP is to the Paleo diet what veganism is to vegetarianism – it’s a kind-of extreme Paleo and it has been shown to really help sufferers of a variety of autoimmune diseases to either manage their symptoms, or in some cases to heal the disease.
After all that, my plan for 2017 is to address my RA with a combination of medication and dietary changes – ideally, I would like to be following the AIP diet fully by the end of the year, but it’s going to be a case of “slow and steady wins the race”. I’m already on the road to becoming Paleo but the full AIP diet will take work and commitment so I will be following a scheduled plan.
And in the meantime, I’d love to share some good content I found online and that I hope others might find useful.
As a trainer and fitness fanatic, I’m also working on some fitness programs that will be suitable for people with RA and other issues that affect joint movement specifically.
So stay tuned, and check out the link here if you’d like to know more!
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your issues further, please get in touch.
A great resource with lots of info and training on things such as pain management and exercise programs
Some general info about AIP
A great site by two ladies both treating their autoimmune diseases through diet and lifestyle
A really good and detailed post on AIP by The Paleo Mom
A lot of the AIP info is coming from the States so the food is often to American tastes/food available. I really like this blog which is by a girl called Christina who is following AIP and based in Ireland. She shares her meal plans and recipes which is really helpful
An RA-specific post about diet by a nutritionist
Some general info and recipes