I’ve had inflammatory arthritis (Ankylosing Spondylitis) for over 12 years, but it was a little over 5 years ago when I first heard nutrition could potentially play a role in managing my joint pain. A friend suggested a book on gluten, which outlined the connection between inflammation and food sensitivities. After reading the book I decided to cut it out and see what happened. After a year of gluten-free living I realized that, while my digestion felt better, my joint pain hadn’t changed at all. It was easy to feel defeated and conclude that food didn’t make a difference, but my journey didn’t stop there.
A year after I gave up gluten, my partner took me to his naturopath and this was the visit that changed the course of my life. She was the first person to tell me that food could absolutely make a difference and I needed to change the way I thought about food if I was ever going to feel better. I quickly set to work changing my diet, but I soon realized that there was an entire emotional change I had to make if I was ever going to enjoy the new lifestyle I was focused on implementing. It was easy to tell myself that I was going to change, but I couldn’t imagine myself as a happy and content person in this new life.
Our society is filled with temptation, from our ‘normal’ morning coffee breaks to our sugary snacks and restaurant meals that we often take for granted. I missed these comforts more than I anticipated. My transition was too abrupt, I took away too much too quickly and I lost who I was in the process. This led to an internal fight over the old life I wanted and the new and more challenging one that lay ahead.
This was the transition that no one had prepared me for and it hit me hard. It took three months to accept that this transition was okay and I needed to take responsibility for the changes I wanted to make. I was lacking support. I didn’t know anyone else with arthritis or an autoimmune condition that was using nutrition as a complementary addition to their healthcare and I didn’t know where to find them. I was working through my PhD at the time, which didn’t help the loneliness of fighting an autoimmune condition with nutrition, but it gave me the tools to research and find my motivation.
I found scientific studies about the connection between autoimmunity and diet. I realized that there was a wealth of knowledge available that I hadn’t heard of before. The microbiome, which is the bacteria that live in symbiosis with our own cells, is a very hot topic of research and there is a fascinating connection between what we feed that bacteria and how much inflammation we have. I set up a Google Scholar alert for “Arthritis and the Microbiome” and watched the research pour into my inbox. I was excited because I now had evidence to support my belief in food as medicine.
My research also led me to stumble upon support groups of others using nutrition for chronic disease and I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were others using nutrition to not only feel better, but to heal. By this time I had already been experimenting with nutrition for over a year. I used protocols for testing which foods worked for me, with personalized changes for my body along the way and application of my holistic nutrition training.
It has been four years since my journey with nutrition began and I am now pain free, pharmaceutical free, and in clinical remission of inflammatory arthritis. I am in control of my autoimmune disorder and that has been the most amazing feeling and biggest reward. My entire journey has taught me that nutrition is powerful, but it requires an emotional shift in how we view the world and our relationship with food. This transition wasn’t quick or easy for me and I know there are many roadblocks preventing this in our society. Before I could completely buy into the notion of food as medicine, I had to experience it firsthand, match my results to the current research, and find others doing similar experiments. I knew food was my new passion, but I also knew that I had to make it my life in order to live as happy as possible. This took me on my next journey towards studying holistic nutrition and the new career path I have today. Stay tuned for a future blog post on this journey to find my purpose in this new field.