Why Me?

Why me?  That’s the question I asked myself sitting in a specialist’s office this past December.  While no life-threatening diagnosis came out of her mouth, a chilling and potentially life-altering one did: degenerative rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  Then came her other comment; “You’re really young to have this but we’ll figure out what meds we can use and we’ll manage the pain.” – MANAGE?!  Then I got depressed and a little mad, then a lot mad, then totally pissed-off all the time thinking, why me?  Stupid.

January rolled around and we cleaned up the house after Christmas which always makes me see the world a little more simply and clearly, and one morning I opened my medicine cabinet and got pissed again.  A pill for this, then two, a pill for that which might cause some other unpleasant side effects so a pill for that and now we’ll find the right meds to manage your pain?  I’m only in my 40’s!  What the hell is 50 going to bring, let alone 60?!  If I am going to outlive you all, something needed to change and soon!

So then my brain said – HEY!, you’re a smart guy, use the tools you have and ping the network you know and find a different path.  So I started researching.  I looked around first at my friends and family.  Some are doing paleo, others were vegan, several family members and friends are gluten free by necessity and even we had been cutting back significantly on refined foods and learning to cook gluten free for those family and friends.  Then I talked to a friend who pointed me to more research with direct links to RA and then emailed a couple more who pointed out even more along with new options.  The surprising thing is, not one doctor has asked me about diet, not one has said let’s look at what you’re putting into your body along with these drugs, which are doing who knows what in combination.

I’m a skeptic by nature (a scoffer even) when it comes to changes from the norm, especially where it is food related.  I also generally believe doctors know what they’re talking about – they’ve been in school for half their lives!  I’ve heartily subscribed to Julia Child’s “Moderation. Small portions. Sample a little bit of everything.”  For goodness sake, how can a croissant or a crusty hard roll be a bad thing?!  However, I was beginning to suspect there is a real connection between what food we put into our bodies and what happens to our bodies and it isn’t all quantity based (but quantity still does matter).

There are a couple of culprits I was most concerned about; wheat and soy (OK and maybe beans in general – dang it!).  Today’s modern and heavily hybridized wheat (largely without the benefit of scientific testing) bears little resemblance to the ancient einkorn wheat or other heirloom varieties consumed by our ancestors and has been increasingly linked to multiple health disorders.  Soy is added to darn near everything today and yet has compounds that are known toxins, especially the non-fermented varieties (but is also touted as a “superfood”).  With all the data and conflicting information, I was still skeptical (and was a little sad/afraid I might find this all to be true).  Then I started looking at what I eat.  As a rule, I don’t overindulge and I eat reasonable portions but recognized that I would significantly benefit from losing weight.  What I found was that wheat was in nearly every meal and soy was in almost every processed food on the shelf in our pantry (and don’t look at fast food or any other restaurants).  If you want to scare yourself – pick up a can of low fat Hormel Turkey Chili and read the ingredients list (can we say chemical sh*t-storm).

The data were mixed to be sure but staying on the course I was on wasn’t going change anything and as I remind my kids, doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  Change. It. Must.  Plus, the only way I was going to prove this one way or another is to make some dramatic changes and see if they work.  No one else was going to do this for me.

So, I assembled a new army of clean ingredients, turned my chef brain on and jumped into this food cause and effect thing head on.  I did a fair amount of research on how to start but determined Whole30 was the most promising for me.  Essentially from the start day – no sugars, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no additives like msg, carrageenan, sulfites, no dairy, no potatoes (except sweet potatoes). Then at the end of 30 days, you can start to add things back (or not).  My family wholeheartedly supported me and went gluten free along with me to see if there was a positive benefit for them and to prevent us from going insane in the kitchen.  I met one last time with my specialist before embarking on this journey and she gave me the thumbs-up to go for it.  So I assembled new ingredients, finished up my research (and my gin) and we transitioned into this new approach and began to incorporate new food ideas and test new recipes. We kicked in full gear late in January.

What did I hope to get out of this?  Well, hitting the physiological jackpot would be good, as many seem to have done.  I’d settle with more awareness around what my body says yes and no to.  I would love to really kick the meds, ALL OF THEM eventually.  Which means, I want to be pain free so I can go back to enjoying things like running again.  I knew 30 days wouldn’t give me all of this, skeptic, remember – already there.  However, 30 days makes a habit, it also gives real data around what my body is actually doing.  I hoped it would give me the insight to know where to keep it up.  And I hoped other family members experiencing various issues commonly linked to gluten sensitivity would also see relief by going gluten free. So, why not me?

Epilogue:

Well that Whole30 came and went along with an unbelievable 30 pounds!  I found that I and my daughter have an adverse reaction to wheat when we eat it (I call it getting glutened).  I also found out that dairy in large quantities is not my friend either.  The whole family liked what we saw though and decided together we were sticking with a paleo/primal based approach to eating.  Since then another 25 pounds have come off my frame.  During my annual physical all of my blood work and vitals came back spectacular (they weren’t before) and even my doctor commented that I had the results of a teenager.  Most importantly, my RA has become a whisper in the night.  What once often prevented me from even the simplest of movements has nearly vanished.  I run again, I do weights again and I’ve never felt better in all my life!  I’ve completely come to believe and understand that food IS medicine.  It is our strongest ally and can be our most deadly poison.  You can do this too, even if you don’t want to go the whole paleo/primal approach.  Make some changes; find that balance of food and exercise that works for you.  Happy eating!

 Resources:

The Whole30 Program – http://whole9life.com/2012/08/the-whole30-program/

Updated 8-26-2013
Copyright © 2013 “The Culinary Cave Dad”

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4 comments to Why Me?

  • Christine N.

    Paul, Thank you for sharing your story! I love a happy ending. Yours is the type of story I’m hearing more and more often these days. Heck, substitute generalized inflammation and crippling depression and toss in a kid with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and it could be MY story. Food is medicine, food is love, food is joy. We can have all these things with a little attention and creativity! All the best to you as you continue your journey.

  • Paul A.

    Christine, Thanks for the encouragement! You’re spot on about food and that’s absolutely part of our mission. We need to move away from food is fuel to food can heal, food can inspire and food can bring us together!

  • […] Missy is just one of the amazing people I’m honored to share our Cave with.  She’s been through a lot in her life, and like most of The CaveDwellers, she’s as much interested in supporting others as she is in need of support from them.  In fact, she runs a great FB page, The Face of RA-The Paleo Way, which is all about living with and treating Rheumatoid Arthritis using a Paleo diet-based approach. Our own Culinary Cave Dad has written about his own battles with this monster here. […]

  • Wonderfully inspirational reading…loving it…knowing it…and now hopefully kicking the bad stuff and DOING it ….thanks Paul ✨