“Laughter remains one of the best tools I’ve had for dealing with RA, both physically and mentally.” Matt Iseman
CONFESSION #1: The featured image is “FAKE NEWS.”
CONFESSION #2: I secretly would love to be a co-host on American Ninja Warrior or definitely try the course out myself. Although, I would do anything to be on Amazing Race as well.
CONFESSION #3: Me and Matt Iseman really do have something in common; he also has Rheumatoid Arthritis.
I kicked off my blog beginning of March sharing key facts about Autoimmune Diseases. Although March and the awareness month is coming to an end, my journey and sharing of Rheumatoid Arthritis and other insights has just begun.
If you are a big fan of American Ninja Warrior, then you know who Matt Iseman is. If not, he was the host of American Ninja Warrior as well as the winner of The New Celebrity Apprentice. He began his career as a doctor and then became a full time comedian. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis after trying to determine what was causing him so much pain along with other symptoms for over a year. I am a big fan of how he uses his comedy routines to not only promote awareness, but also as an outlet of pain relief for living with RA. Laughter is definitely an amazing tool for dealing with any problem – physically, emotionally or mentally. Laughing takes your mind off of the issue at hand and brings light and happiness. Below is clip 2 out of a 4 part clip where Matt Iseman talks about what RA is and his beginning stages of trying to diagnose the disease.
You can watch the other clips in the following link: Matt Iseman RA Clips.
What better way to enjoy good laughs then with family and friends. This past week was my father’s birthday. (Special shout out to my dad – HAPPY BIRTHDAY and thank you for all of your love and support throughout the years). As part of tradition, my brother, sister and myself take my father out to eat to celebrate. This year was tough to decide on a place to go, due to the elimination diet. My food choices are slim due to the restrictions of ingredients,
process of cooking and making sure there is no cross contamination that will mess with my results. We decided to go to Charlie Brown’s because they have an amazing salad bar which I knew would be safe (as long as I BYOD – Bring your own dressing). Well my sister thought it was funny to try and catch me sneaking putting my own dressing on in the restaurant. And YUPP, that is me “red handed” in the act. I was
caught! We enjoyed many laughs and I guess I wasn’t as sly as a fox as I thought I was. However, this picture with my niece we took after enjoying our meal proves otherwise.
Last week, I left off with the elimination diet pondering if nightshade vegetables were the cause of increased morning stiffness and pain. I decided to slow down the reintroduction of these types of vegetables. I tried tomato sauce separately. This time I woke up with my “normal” morning pain. My morning pain and stiffness is still very much present.
My best way of describing my “normal” mornings is as if I was the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I slowly get out of bed being careful with the way I put my feet on the ground. I spend the first part of my morning as I get ready as if I am adding oil slowly to my joints. The stiffness goes away with time for the most part, but the pain usually lingers throughout the day. Last time when I tried nightshade vegetables, my “normal” was escalated. This time around with trying the nightshade vegetables, the escalation was not noticeable. I am still going to keep an eye on this food group, but do not see any consistent results with the pain as of yet.
This week we also reintroduced beef and pork. Both which I have seen no issues with. Chris made the steaks and seared
them perfectly. We also enjoyed sweet potato fries and a side salad on this night. My mouth watered last week thinking of the steak, and it certainly did not disappoint. For pork, I made pulled pork, but with not your typical bbq sauce. However, I made my own compliant BBQ sauce with the foods you are allowed to have and was pleasantly surprised with the way it came out. The discovery of coconut aminos has been our new favorite to add for flavor. Coconut aminos is a good substitute to fulfill the rich, sweet, savory taste we have been missing. Plus it is gluten free, organic, vegan, non-GMO and also includes health benefits for the heart and disease prevention.
CONFESSION # 4: I absolutely miss bbq sauce and being able to get out of bed like Gumby rather than Tin Man right now. However, LITTLE wins are BIG wins. Little wins like discovering coconut aminos and still having oil in my tank every morning to become un-Tinman like. I WILL TAKE IT!
“5 little wins each day = 150 wins in a month = 1800 wins in a year” ~ Robin Sharma
CONFESSION # 5: My husband had to drag me out of the Easter candy aisle at the food store because I was drooling over three of my favorite things that are all out in the same aisle at this time. 1) Cadbury Eggs 2) Peeps 3) Starburst Jellybeans
CONFESSION # 6: Which really should be a sub confession of #5. I might just secretly hoard them until I can possibly eat them again. If you want to hoard them for me and give me them at a later time, I will not judge you. I promise. Pinky swear. (wink wink)
CONFESSION # 7: I LOVE TO LAUGH.
Since I have to be off medicine, I have officially taken a page (or a comedic line) out of Matt Iseman’s stand up routine and prescribed myself the best type of medicine – LAUGHTER! Whether with friends, family or even laughing at yourself, a good laugh can go a long a way when you are down about not feeling well, stress, or any other negative issue. I quickly think of the Mary Poppins scene where they are floating on top of the ceiling singing “I Love to Laugh.” Laughing is contagious. So take your daily dose often. Spread it to your friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers.
CONFESSION # 8: I can’t thank everyone enough for continuing to support me with my blog and helping me continue to try and #SlayRA!
“A negative attitude is like a flat tire, you can’t go anywhere without changing it” ~ Anonymous
This quote takes on multiple meanings for me and it just so happens it was literally and figuratively this past week.
I have seen two different rheumatologists in my hometown over the past thirteen years growing up. When I moved two years ago, I wanted to have a rheumatologist that was closer. I started seeing a new doctor that had two locations; one close to my home and one close to my job. I thought how perfect! HOWEVER, what I did not know was that I was about to give up a doctor who truly cared for me for convenience and close proximity. My new doctor that I started to see had a lot of knowledge about rheumatoid arthritis. My appointments though started to become me paying a co-pay, him spending maybe 2 minutes with me and then me giving blood work. This routine carried on for about two years until January was my breaking point. I stopped my medicine and I had a slew of questions on top of new complications that I was encountering and needed a physician that treated the patient not the disease. That is not what I got though. I felt as if I was being dismissed, my questions were not answered and I left there defeated. I came home after my appointment in such a negative mood and beyond upset. I was experiencing pain that I haven’t felt in a long time and the place which I was supposed to get help at was not doing its job. My husband and I decided that if I wanted answers, I had to look elsewhere and change my “flat tire”. I could have stayed in that negative state of mind, with getting nowhere, but I decided to take action.
After doing research, I came across the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City which is ranked #3 in the nation for Rheumatology. My appointment was last
Wednesday and I could barely sleep the night before. Chris was away for work and my mom was coming with me. Last time my mom came with me to the doctors, I was 18 and it was the time my doctor broke the news that I had Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that there was no cure for. I was anxious to see a new rheumatologist. I was hoping for change and was hoping for the physician that treated me, not the disease. I wore my cure arthritis bracelet that I got from joining the “Cure Arthritis Crew” which is part of the National Arthritis Research Foundation (the charity I am running the half marathon in April to raise money for). I was changing my flat tire and looking toward a more positive response. And that is what I got. I was use to a five minute appointment. However today the doctor sat with me for over an hour. He didn’t try to dismiss me, rather he did the opposite. He asked me questions, listened to my responses and helped me come up with an action plan with moving forward.These are two forms that I had to fill out prior to my appointment with the doctor. The first form went over where I see and feel the most pain and inflammation. The second form had a section where you had to answer different questions pertaining to your ability in the past week. Questions like the form in the second picture make me want to advocate harder for a cure for RA and other autoimmune diseases. Right now I am checking off the boxes that indicate “without no” or “with some difficulty”. I hope I never see the day that I have to check off the column that says “unable to do”. My doctor used these forms as just one part of my appointment and mostly as a talking point to aid our discussion. The thoroughness my doctor portrayed as well as his attention to detail was a breath of fresh air.
After my appointment, my mom and I headed back to the parking garage to get her car. We paid the attendant, got in the car and was about to head on home back to New Jersey when BAM! We got out of the car to find the tire had a blowout and was completely flat. Not figuratively this time, but literally. We could have gotten upset and our moods could have quickly gained a negative tone, but we knew that becoming frustrated was not going to get us home. Just like a negative attitude, we learned a flat tire was going to get us nowhere. At this moment we both thought it could have been a lot worse. We could have been on the highway when it happened or on a bridge or in the tunnel. But instead it happened when we were going under 10 mph and we were completely safe. A positive attitude is one that I like to believe I strive for. The moment I feel a negative attitude creep up on me about the disease specifically, I think to myself it can always be worse. I take a deep breath and look at how I can change the situation so I can go on my way to being positive again.
The elimination diet is one way I have tried to make a change. Last week I entered into Phase 3 where I began to reintroduce foods one by one at least 3 days at a time. During this phase, I am documenting any reactions and searching for any source of new symptoms. If a food causes a reaction, it should be kept out of my diet while challenging the rest of the foods. My first food I challenged was citrus. I did so by adding freshly squeezed lime to smoothies, enjoyed lemon water, and most of all loved having clementines for a snack or part of my breakfast. It is crazy how much more your taste buds enjoy the sweetness after not having it for just a couple weeks. After each one, I did not experience any new reactions. So citrus, welcome back to my life!
I moved into reintroducing “nightshade vegetables”. The most common foods in this group include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant. They produce an alkaloid compound called solanine which acts as a nerve poison that helps a plant defend against insects that are trying to eat them. There is a lot of mixed research regarding nightshades. Some say they have a negative effect with inflammation while other studies show the nutritional benefits behind eating them. For dinner we made brown rice pasta, with chicken sausage, mushrooms, spinach and our reintroduction was a gluten free tomato based pasta sauce with a pinch of red pepper flakes. The next morning I woke up with increased inflammation in my feet, more than “normal” and also had stiffness in my knee in which I have not experienced before. This is where I began to question: Was it the tomato sauce? Was it the pinch of red pepper flakes? Was the weather different? Was this my first aha moment or just a fluke? I had peppers in my salad the day before and I had no new pains the next morning, so what was the variable that could be causing the new change. I decided to slow this reintroduction phase down and extend it past 3 days to see what could be the matter. Tonight we tried the pasta again, but this time leaving out the red pepper flakes. I hope to have some more answers next week regarding night shade vegetables, along with the next reintroduction of beef. Mmmm my mouth is watering just thinking of it!
Two Key Conclusions:
After last post, I can’t get over all of you who commented, liked or sent me personal messages. I can’t thank you enough and express how much I appreciate the responses. I had people all across the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom and South Africa view my blog and reach out to me. I said from the beginning this is a journey, something completely new to me and out of my comfort zone to be writing; especially something so personal. So I am absolutely touched and can’t wait to continue to hear from everyone.
Makes me think back to when I was 18 and diagnosed, the resources and technology were nowhere near where
they are today. I had my rheumatologist as the number one and pretty much only resource I had to tell me about rheumatoid arthritis. Here I was 18, hit with a chronic illness I never even heard of and trying to ask as many questions as I could think of at the time. I knew once I left the office, my resources were limited and I didn’t know anyone my age that could relate. To know that there are many youths out there right now that are in the same shoes I was, finding out they have been diagnosed with RA. Same shoes, but ONE BIG DIFFERENCE, now there are so many more resources at their fingertips. I hope to be one of those resources.
Last blog post was all about understanding and realizing how important knowledge + action = power. This past week I expanded my knowledge even further and became more involved in the Arthritis community by becoming an Ambassador to the Arthritis
Foundation. Last Tuesday I took part in my first Ambassador Webinar briefing. On March 12-13, Ambassador Assembly participants will be on Capitol Hill to meet their elected officials and their staff in person to discuss legislative priorities like reforming burdensome step therapy practices, addressing the pediatric rheumatologist shortage, and even securing funding for research for a cure! On March 13th, at 12:00 pm (eastern time), the goal is to have as many people as possible post their reason why they are advocating for arthritis with the #advocateforarthritis sign to gain attention. As you can see I have my picture all ready to go! ♥ That is me in my featured blog picture with our German Shepherd, Luna, and sporting my Wonder Woman and Racing for a Cure apparel. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out my page about how my husband and I will be running a half marathon in April and see how you can help us! Racing for a Cure
I have officially completed Phase 2 as of today on the elimination diet. In phase 2, I followed a very baseline diet that consisted of anti-inflammatory foods that usually do
not cause a response to the immune system. This phase helps with increasing the nutrients that you benefit the most from while eliminating the inflammatory irritants. For 12 days our meals have been organic, fresh and healthy! My favorite meal so far has been one my husband made; Scallops with shredded coconut, quinoa, and sauteed spinach with mushrooms. We even had chicken wings for an appetizer! SO DELICIOUS!
Friday, my husband left for Florida for a business trip. He has been right by my side this
whole process and knows my RA symptoms, flare ups, and other obstacles I come across better than anyone. With him gone, the food tribe I was talking about in my last blog really stepped up to the plate. Saturday, I went out to lunch and discovered a local organic cafe. I was able to order food that was still compliant with my diet (granted I did bring my own salad dressing) while enjoying the company of my friends. If you google “Organic Restaurants”, you might be surprised with options near you as well. At night, I got together with friends and we did not have our typical girls night; wine and indulging in
snacks. Instead, they kept compliant to my diet and we each brought something healthy and enjoyed a different type of “girls night”. (And yes that is “50 Shades Freed” that is about to start playing in the background lol!) It is truly amazing when you surround yourself with positive friends and family, what you can accomplish. Friends and family that will go above and beyond to help you reach your goals and find out ways to help you slay RA.
SO…How do I currently feel with being on the diet for 2 weeks now? Obviously this diet is not a cure. After 2 weeks, I do not miraculously feel 100%. That is not how autoimmune diseases work. When I initially went off my medicine, I quickly saw a decline when the medicine worked its way out of my system. I had pain throughout the whole day, more bad days then good days and overall was not feeling like myself – active, on the go, and energetic! My husband always asked me how I was feeling. My typical response was “fine” and he always came back with “really fine” or “Tracy fine”. Definition of “Tracy Fine” is that I was adapting to what has become the norm with my morning flare ups, stiffness and pain throughout the day and I learned coping mechanisms to deal with this new norm. My “Tracy Fine”, however, is starting to alter its meaning though. I am seeing progress with the pain and morning stiffness. Pain with my RA has decreased and the morning stiffness continues to not last as long as it was lasting, which on some days it was majority of the day. My “Tracy fine” days are not over, but I am pleased with the progress I am seeing in the morning and throughout the day.
Tomorrow I start reintroducing foods, 3 days at a time (total of 57 days) to see if any new food group is an inflammatory trigger. I am interested in seeing if my body reacts differently to any new foods being reintroduced. I will continue to keep my food journal and track daily how I feel. My goal is to find these foods so I can continue to eliminate them from my diet so I can continue my journey of learning how to #Slay RA.
Week 1 √
What a coincidence and yet perfect way to kick off my elimination diet with entering
into March, which is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. I definitely want to share with you how the first week went, but want to give tribute to the month and share two key points about Rheumatoid Arthritis to help spread the awareness.
Being aware and continuing my knowledge about the disease has played a huge impact on trying to stay one step ahead of the disease even when it tries to push me back 100 steps or at times when it feels like a mack truck running me over. With the elimination diet, I hope to continue my knowledge and learn how and/or if food plays a role in how I feel physically.
Day 1 and Day 2 were phase 1, the detox phase. During this phase, you can only eat
green smoothies and pureed cooked vegetables in homemade stock. Planning so much ahead of time really helped get through these two days. We (my husband and I) had all the ingredients ready to make smoothies and had the soups ready to go for lunch and dinner. During these two days, the immune system becomes calm and it is essentially clearing the gut. Two main things I discovered during this phase: 1) boy do you have to go to the bathroom a lot with all the liquids you are digesting and 2) I really underestimated how much you take chewing for granted. I also noticed I was getting headaches at the end of both nights. This was supposed to be normal though according the forums I read, because your body is having withdrawals from not having sugar, caffeine and other food it is used to obtaining.
PHASE 2: Wednesday marked the first day of phase 2 and we had our first meals all
ready to go and couldn’t wait to eat solids. The first couple days of this phase, I had some minor cramps in my stomach that felt like a stitch along my left side. My stomach and body was getting used to this new way of eating and leaving out items that my body was used to getting. Our first dinner was homemade brown rice tortillas with quinoa, black beans and sweet potato tacos. Our first dinner was incredibly delicious and the recipe book made going into this week much easier.
Every day I have been documenting in a food journal what I have been eating, symptoms I have been feeling and any additional notes. Today is day 8
since I started and still have what I call my now “normal RA symptoms”. These symptoms have become my norm since I have been off medicine which includes morning stiffness, joint inflammation primarily in my hands and feet and fatigue. The morning stiffness and pain lasted for majority of the day on many days. Although I am still feeling the same “normal” pain and stiffness, I do have to say that it is not lasting majority of the day and I have felt relief after a couple hours being up and moving around. I am looking forward to hopefully continue to see this progress.
KEYS TO MY SUCCESS SO FAR:
YES this is the math nerd and teacher in me below! I love it!
Reason 1 + Reason 2 + Reason 3 = Elimination Diet. I have committed and decided that I needed to try something different. I knew I couldn’t just go on being in continuous daily pain with no medication. I had to take matters into my own hands and find a way to be stronger than the disease. Like I said, my mom kept telling me about how Michael Symon on “The Chew” was doing this diet and he was seeing progress. Maybe there is truth behind all those articles my mom and dad kept sending me that I stubbornly just read and said to myself, “No way, I am not going to change the way I eat. That is ridiculous.”
If I was going to do the elimination diet, I wanted to know more and I wanted to make sure I did it to its fullest potential and benefits. I began to browse the internet and read more. I came across several different ways to implement the elimination diet. They were very similar for the most part, but I still had questions and still was not positive how to completely see the diet through. I then found the book, “The Elimination Diet: Discover the Foods That Are Making You Sick and Tired–and Feel Better Fast by Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten. The book clearly defines and provides background information about the diet and why each food that is taken out can be problematic. The book also outlines how to properly execute the diet from start to finish including printable resources for each phase, meal plans, shopping lists, and over 125 recipes. The book also has a forum group on Facebook to answer any questions along with online resources. After finishing the book, I had a clear cut understanding and sat down to plan out the first week.
Scrap paper. Day 1 to Day 7 outlined and grocery list planned. The number one step the book states to have in place to support you on your new elimination diet is to “create a food tribe.” My husband, Chris, said from the beginning if I decided to do a diet, he was all in with me. So together, one team, we went to Whole Foods to stock our kitchen with the ingredients we needed to be successful and kick off the diet.
Our kitchen was now fully stocked with the needed items to prep for week 1. The first phase is called “Detox” and consists of the first two days of the diet. During this phase we are only able to eat fresh vegetable juices, smoothies and pureed soup made from homemade stock. “Detox” is explained as your digestive system taking a trip to the spa where you are ultimately clearing your gut and your intestinal system to a clean slate.
We picked out recipes so we can have fruit smoothies for breakfast and snacks and “Creamy Green Detox Soup” and “Creamy Broccoli Mushroom Soup” for lunch and dinner. The biggest part about the “Detox” phase is making homemade stock. We spent the day Sunday prepping the stock and pureeing the soups. We put everything in separate containers to help us with planning during the work week. When all was planned, prepped and ready to go we decided to order out with Chinese food as our last meal going into the diet. I have to admit I was excited to get started, excited to start blogging, excited to hopefully learn more. BUT, I was also nervous that this diet might not work and I might still be in pain. We ate our Chinese food and when I opened my fortune cookie it said, “Patience is the key to joy.” The fortune could not have been more right. I need to make sure that I have patience through this process and remind myself of that through this journey and hopefully I do find some key to joy.
MONDAY, February 26, 2018: Day 1 of Elimination Diet, Detox. First smoothie made, heading off to work. CHEERS to the kick off. Let the adventure begin. #SlayRA #Cheers
I can’t just pinpoint the why I am doing the elimination diet to one reason. There are a culmination of reasons that play a factor into the why.
I am surrounded by so many support systems; my husband, family, friends, co-workers. All who I am so lucky to have in my life that care about me. I can’t even begin to count how many times my mom or dad would find an article about how food can play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. I can recall my dad cutting out newspaper articles and giving them to me. My mom texting and emailing me articles. I would read them, think about doing it, but never follow through. My husband persistently pushed me to try one to the point where he said, “You do it, I will do it right there with you.” I had friends and colleagues do the gluten free diet and would share their success stories. It was not until my mom shared with me that Michael Symon on the television show, “The Chew”, was doing an Elimination diet because he too wanted to try an anti-inflammatory diet.
My husband and I hope to be blessed one day with a family. After speaking with my rheumatologist, I decided that it was safest to stop my medication. I have been on medicine for RA for 15 years. I was currently taking Simponi, which was working effectively. I had my share of flare ups here and there, especially during season changes, but I was able to manage them. However, within just three months of stopping my medicine, all the symptoms came rushing back. Joints were becoming more inflamed with morning stiffness that was lasting longer than normal, chronic fatigue, and new nodules being left on my joints. The “normal, active me” started to question how can I allow this to continue to go on?
With stopping my medicine, I started to become more active with the Rheumatoid Arthritis and other auto immune disease community. I joined My RA Team, a social networking site for those with RA. Here I started to learn how others feel and their daily struggles and wins. This made me want be more pro-active, so I did more research and got involved with The National Arthritis Research Foundation.
REASON 1 + REASON 2 + REASON 3 = My Elimination Diet Why
I had to bring in my love for math!
I have the constant mindset that I am stronger than the disease and I will never let it dictate how I live my life despite it’s ugly symptoms. Ultimately, with not being on medication I want to see if there are other avenues I can explore to help #SlayRA.
So next up is the planning phase and putting the elimination diet to the test. (Yup, a teacher reference 🙂 )