A few years ago I started having random unexpected pain in different parts of my body. Most of the time the pain would be so bad that I was unable to move certain body parts. For example, one day I wouldn’t be able to lift my left arm and the day after that I wouldn’t be able to bend my right knee. I remember one day I started to get pain in both of my shoulders so my daughter and I went to the gym so I could soak in the hot tub – big mistake! Instead of helping, the stiffness got so bad not only did my 15-year old daughter have to help steer the car home, but when we got home she literally had to cut the shirt off my back because I couldn’t lift either of my arms. There were even times the pain was so bad I would have to crawl to get from room to room – the pain was so unbearable at times that I scared my daughter to the point of her constantly worrying about me.
I was having trouble figuring out when the pain would hit. Then I started to notice a pattern of the pain showing up 1 to 2 days after a specific physical activity. For instance, if I walked the dogs on Monday night, then on Wednesday I couldn’t use that wrist or hand. I went to my doctor and blood tests were ordered to find the problem and to rule things out. When he ruled out everything, except for rheumatoid arthritis, he sent me to a specialist. This new doctor found my symptoms to be somewhat inconsistent with rheumatoid arthritis and was reluctant to give me that diagnosis. I did appreciate him being careful by not just throwing out a quick diagnosis. After he finally felt positive about this being rheumatoid arthritis, he put me on a medication, called methotrexate. I started the medicine, which had many very scary side effects. Within 6 to 8 weeks I started noticing my symptoms and my pain was lessening quite a bit. Unfortunately, after being on the medicine for several months, my pain starting returning, so my doctor increased my dosage and it subsided once again. Things were good for several more months, however, I was back to not being able to do any extra physical work like walk the dogs, use scissors, run around with my kids, or do gardening. At this point the medicine kept me pain free only if I stuck to gentle activities. This was not okay with me!
I also noticed that I started getting pain in my left hip and left foot – this was a huge problem for me because I was born with a birth defect in my right foot which has caused me to have poor balance on that side. Whenever I would have a problem with my left leg, foot, or hip I could no longer walk. I would have to call out of work with little or no notice. I work at a company that is very compassionate, but they were starting to be concerned about all the time I was missing. I began to feel I was at risk of losing my job.
When I told my doctor how bad things were getting he told me it was time to add another medication, Enbrel, to the one I was already taking. He gave me some pamphlets and asked me to call my insurance provider to see how much it would cost me – this new medication can be quite pricey. He even showed me how the self-injection was made to be easy for people to use. Injection! How Often? And the cost was crazy! (Over $20,000 per year.) I was so sick of not being able to do anything that I resigned myself to the fact that I now had to go with this costly new medication. I made the appointment. I was sitting in the lobby of my doctor’s office waiting for my turn and I freaked out! I told the receptionist, “I’ve got to go…I can’t do this!” I ran by the older ladies hooked up to their arthritis “medication of choice” and went home. I knew I had to try some other way to get better, even though I wasn’t sure what that was going be.
My flight from my doctor’s office happened around the same time the company that I work for was coming out with a healthy eating initiative for its team members. Information we received at work suggested that foods we put into our bodies could actually be the reason for many common ailments. Could this be happening to me? I started taking foods out of my diet, but I was not consistent enough to see any effects. Then my company started paying for their team members to attend one of three Total Heath Immersion Programs. (Dr. McDougall’s program was one of the three). A friend and co-worker had attended the 10-day live-in McDougall Program in November of 2009 and came back a changed person. It was her enthusiasm and encouragement that made me try to get my health back by changing my diet at home.
It didn’t even take 10 days for me to see relief from the pain of my rheumatoid arthritis. In 6 days I had zero pain and no inflammation at all! I was so hooked on the McDougall Program that in February of 2010, when my company was sending more team members to these health immersions, I signed up. After this intense experience I was able to understand the “why’s of eating this way” and the science behind it.
Before attending the McDougall Program I had all the time in the world to do nothing, and that’s about what I did each day. Oh, I went to work, picked up the kids, read a book now and then, ran some errands – you know the usual day-to-day stuff. But if I did anything else like walk the dogs, ride my bike or any other physical activity I would have an arthritic flare-up. Even if I used scissors…the next 2 days I wouldn’t be able to use my hand!
Now, because of my new way of eating, I am taking 28-mile bike rides, 4-hour kayak trips, taking stairs instead of elevators, going on 4-mile walks just to name a few. These are not once in awhile activities – it seems I am always on the move. Even at work I tend to walk to find a team member rather than page them over the phone. One day last month after an 8-hour work day I noticed that my elderly neighbor’s lawn had been destroyed by grubs so I headed over there with some lawn bags and pulled up their lawn with my bare hands for 4 hours and then I cut my own lawn. Work, work, and more work, and the crazy thing is I love it. I have never had so much energy and stamina. Dr. McDougall is right about the Program paying for itself…no more rheumatoid arthritis medications. I have been off of them for 6 months now – crazy!
Along with my arthritis relief, I have also lost weight and lowered my cholesterol. Since starting the program I have lost 45 pounds and even though I have a ways to go, I cannot remember a time in my life when I have felt healthier. I have always considered myself a “homebody” but now I think it was because I never had the energy to get out and do things. I am always making plans to do something on the weekends. My kids are starting to beg for us to “just hang out at home.” My cholesterol levels have always been 200 to 208 mg/dL, but now my levels are running between 174 and 164 mg/dL. I do on occasion eat some shrimp, but if I eat dairy, which for some crazy reason I do on really rare occasions, I have an arthritic flame-up within 2 to 6 hours.
My children are on board and supportive of my “new” way of eating, but I do not force them to adhere to all of the guidelines. With that said we eat the same food, which I prepare, but for them, when they ask, I will put some meat, chicken, or shrimp into whatever dish I made. Here is a funny little tidbit about my 10-year old daughter and our “new” way of eating; she got into an argument with a little girl at the Boys and Girls Club last week. When the other girl yelled an insult at my daughter she replied with, “oh yeah, well, we’re healthy vegan people and you’re not!”
I am the type of cook that just looks in the fridge and pantry and makes something. So I do not get bored with my menu. But I find I stick with the same breakfast of steel cut oats or oatmeal most days with fresh and dried fruit added…and a little agave when I’m feeling reckless. My favorite lunch or supper item, hands down, has to be my “Burrito Bowl” – it is all the burrito fixings without the wrap. I take shredded lettuce top it with cooked brown rice, whatever beans I have available, cooked onions, peppers, sometimes corn, avocado, fresh salsa, lime, and lots of hot sauce. I could eat this everyday!
I am very lucky because of where I work to have quick, healthy options available to me. If I don’t bring my lunch I head out to the salad bar at Whole Foods Market and grab something there. It’s easy to make my “Burrito Bowl” from what is available each day on the menu!
My hope for others with rheumatoid arthritis is that they give the McDougall Program a try. Initially my intention was a commitment to the 10-day online program. The results I experienced in those first 6 days, the 10-day live-in experience in Santa Rosa, California, as well as these months of following the program at home, have been nothing less than life changing for me. I am sure the McDougall Program can be life changing for others with rheumatoid arthritis and for those with other ailments that are keeping them from enjoying their life!!
Dr. McDougall’s Comments:
I too wish everyone would give the Program a try for at least 10-days. Everything that you need to know is laid out in a simple 10-day Program that is free on my web site. The science behind inflammatory arthritis and other moving stories are also on the McDougall web site. Even though the program is free, the foods are inexpensive, the meals are tasty, and the results are universally miraculous (with no side effects), many people find change is just too hard – and so they remain sick and overweight. Some help from above would be welcome.
Physicians need to make diet their “first choice prescription” for the chronically ill. Businesses need to better care for the health of their valuable employees. Community support must rise up with church, health club, and public school associated classes on starch-based eating. Insurance companies need to generously reimburse for dietary education and lifestyle programs, not just drugs and surgery.
Financial compensation for medical care should be based upon results, not hype. Consider the recent case about Multiple Sclerosis. The multiple sclerosis risk sharing scheme set up in 2002 between the British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the pharmaceutical companies was an agreement that payment for MS Medications—glatiramer and interferons (Avonex, Betaseron, and Rebif )—would be based on results. After two years of study, patients taking disease-modifying treatments were found to have acquired more disability than an untreated historical control group. Based on the sharing scheme the manufacturers would now need to pay the British National Health Service (the national health insurance) to make the drugs cost effective. All surgery, drugs, and testing should be held to the same honest standards—payments for healthcare should be based on effectiveness. Obviously!
Unfair business practices must be stopped, such as food and drug companies paying for industry-slanted research, stacking advisory committees with their paid experts, and spending billions of dollars for untruthful advertising. Most recently industry has been dominating the Internet in order to sell bad heath. The Wall Street Journal reported on September 14, 2010 that Gatorade has four full time staffers whose only job is to search the Internet and to post on discussion boards, blogs, chats, etc. in favor of Gatorade.
I believe Gatorade is just one small example of the food and drug industries flooding the Internet with sickening messages. Look at blog sites, such as the Huffington Post, and you will see many examples of vindictive comments, which favor continuation of the status quo: the Standard American Diet (meat, dairy, and junk). The senseless comments that followed my Huffington Post letter to Andrew Weil’s promotion of saturated fats as health food, is one example. Personalities, web sites, and messages on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, supporting low-fat or vegetarian cooking are viscously attacked daily—not with science, but with nonsense. A few people can make a lot of noise and get much attention. If it can work for industry then it can work for others too. The people must fight back.
Victory begins with getting our own health back. There is no denying the truth when it happens to you. Joyce Rossi, and all others, whose health once was ravaged by the American diet, and found healing in a starch-based (low-fat vegan) diet, knows the truth. Speaking out to family, friends, and everyone else who will listen (especially on the Internet) is essential. Do not ignore outrageous statements about diet and medicine that you hear and see. Post your own comments on blogs, etc. My Hot Topics are filled with scientifically backed information that will allow you to speak from an authoritative platform on almost any important subject in nutrition and medicine.