The Difference Between Pleasure and Pain: More on Food

Writing about thoughts and emotion is draining, so I am going to be continuing my series “Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse:  The Role of Thought in RA” a little later. 

In the meantime, I have received a comment from a reader that I wanted to address more fully because I don’t think she is alone in her curiosity….

I was diagnosed with RA 9 years ago and it’s been a struggle for sure. I’m just now at a point in my life (turned 30 in June) where I’m reading things such as your post and realizing maybe it’s me….maybe I’m causing this pain to myself? I’ve never thought about becoming a vegan or going gluten-free, but after reading your success with it….it makes me curious. My problem is….I love food….I love flavor and it’s hard to pass on sweets! Not that I couldn’t do it….it would just be 30 years of one habit…changing. Can you give me an example of what a meal would be…being both vegan and gluten-free?

 I love food too.  I am no tofu-eating, wheat grass drinking health nut.  I appreciate good ol’ artery clogging, gut busting American food.  In fact, if you ask anyone who knew me before all this, they would tell you that they would have bet the farm that I would never in a million years change the way I ate.  I just loved food too much.  I was well-known for my sweet potato, apple,  and authentic Nation of Islam bean pies ….made with butter and lard ;). 

There was a point when the symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis just got to be too much.  They were robbing me of my motherhood, my body, and my life.  I would look in the mirror and all I’d see were the black circles under my eyes and my swollen, prematurely aged face.  I always looked exhausted and haggard.  I know I should post some before-pics, but I am just not quite ready to share with the world.  (I am kinda sensitive about pics of myself.)

Few things were as humiliating or infuriating to me as to not be able to simply hold a glass and take a sip from it.  I’d be damned if I was going to sit and allow myself to be assisted with tasks I learned as a baby!  And with that, the food that I loved, even lived for just days before, suddenly just didn’t matter so much anymore.  My self-respect and independence was paramount. 

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  old habits die-hard, especially eating habits.  Too many of us food lovers have a tendency to use food as a comforter in stressful times, so it is important to understand and accept that lasting change will take some time.  I was 28 when I first started to change my diet and my entire food transformation took about 3 years to complete.  It need not take that long, but even if it does, the important thing is that the changes are being made.  Just cutting out gluten can result in significant improvement in flare symptoms.  Removing red meat and dairy along with gluten can yield even better results.  I opted to go gluten-free and vegan because I experienced such phenomenal results. 

It is amazing.  You really don’t know how awful you feel until you get an opportunity to actually experience what it’s like to feel good.  I thought I knew what “good” and “awful” felt like until I went gluten-free and vegan.  I really didn’t have a clue.  It turned out that it good felt SO good, that I didn’t want to ever return to feeling awful.  And awful was a nightmare I never wanted to re-live.  RA’ers take a lot of drugs, but there is nothing like the high of feeling good.  Nothing compares to it.  The only way I know to achieve “good” is through proper nutrition, which for me, does not include gluten or animal protein.

I hesitate to say that we are causing our own pain and disability through the foods we eat and lifestyles we choose to live, but only because it assumes that we all know exactly what we are doing and we don’t care.  I don’t believe that.  If people knew and believed that how they lived and ate were  directly responsible for their unbearable pain, there wouldn’t be so many of us taking prescription cocktails and I wouldn’t have a blog about RA.  The truth is that the media, drug, and food industries are powerful lobbyists with deep pockets.  They need us to stay fat, sick, and dependent on them so that they can stay stinking rich.  They are allowed to convince  us of virtually anything that is deemed lucrative to them, and they do at the expense of our lives.  Our health is our own responsibility, but good advice is hard to come by.  That is why I have started this blog; to try to disseminate the good from the bad advice using myself as the lab rat.  I am here to attest, that yes, foods have an enormous influence over our pain.  In fact, everything we eat is either an investment in our health or an investment in our disease.  Nothing more.  What you choose to do with that information is up to you. =)

Vegan and gluten-free foods have flavor, but flavor does not mean the same thing as it once did to me.  Before, flavor is what I sought to get a fix.  It is what I did to comfort myself when under stress.  Now, flavor is actually the flavor of the food itself, and it tastes good.  I eat to nourish, not to comfort.  Once you separate the emotion from the food, it is a whole lot easier to make the transition and your tastes will begin to change.  Once you experience truly feeling good, that will be the new flavor you’ll crave.

I eat a lot of seasoned brown rice and vegetables,  fresh salads with homemade dressing, smoothies, and juices.  It may sound boring, but only because those foods don’t satisfy any emotional need or food addiction. There are ways of making  cookies, cakes, brownies, and all kinds of sweets that will nourish the body and reduce your pain, while also tasting delicious.   My favorite cookbook currently is Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis.  Doesn’t she look great?  She is awesome and while I don’t recommend starting  with her cookbooks (too hard to start with), I do highly recommend getting your hands on them simply just to look at the pictures of her food.  They are gorgeous and taste as good as they look.

Start by removing just one thing from your diet (gluten). Go at your pace.  After a week or two or nine, take another food out (dairy) and see how you feel.  You may want to get the support of a dietician to help you with this process. They can guide you with an elimination diet to identify and remove foods you are sensitive to.  Keep a food journal of all things you eat, so that you can easily track offending foods.  There are no absolutes; no cold turkey unless you know you will be most successful with that approach.  I still indulge in potato chips, chicken, and sugar on occasion, but the majority of food I eat is an investment in my health, not my disease. 

So much to write.  So little time.  More on food and recipes tomorrow Folks!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer Steffey
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 22:18:20

    Thanks for all the great information…..I’m definitely going to check that book you mentioned and some others. That’s a great way to start….build up your information so you can reference to it and use it as a guide. Rice, Veggies, Smoothies, Juice and Salads don’t sound that bad at all….however I am a big meat & potatoes gal….however slowly but surly I plan to start this… search begins….

    Looking forward to your next posts 🙂

    Hugs right back at ya (pain free of course)


    • PMT
      Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:11:54

      Good for you Jenn, you go girl! Just go at your own pace, keep the right attitude, and you can do anything. I never thought I could give up meat, but now it is easy. It isn’t even appealing really, it has simply become a dead animal, not good food. It’s not philisophical, nor judgemental, it’s just that your tastes along with your perceptions often change once your mind, body, and spirit are on the same page about being vegan. You can do and I, along with so many others are here to help. 😉


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