I used to be a serious chocolate addict. Just like I once couldn’t fathom my life without bread, for many years I thought I could never live without chocolate. Now I know there are many things I can live without, including chocolate.
Sometime last fall, I started feeling a sharp pain in my left shoulder. I thought I’d torn a muscle doing pull ups. I got some acupuncture and a couple of days later, the pain was gone. I quickly forgot the incident.
About a month later, I experienced a similar pain, this time in my right shoulder. I had taken several yoga classes in the same week so I figured I had overdone the yoga and that perhaps I was getting old and needed to be more careful about how much exercise I got. This time I had to bend my shoulder awkwardly just so I could move my arm. It hurt badly! I got acupuncture three days in a row and took Epsom Salt baths every night.
On the fourth day I woke up to a fading pain in the shoulder, but now my left wrist was on fire. That’s when I understood this had nothing to do with exercise.
Over the next three weeks, I went through the craziest pain roller coaster I’ve ever experienced. Fiery surges of pain circulated systematically through all the major joints of my body in distinct patterns. Sometimes it was the left elbow and the right hip, knee and ankle. Two days later it would be the right wrist, along with the left shoulder. I started to fear that first movement in the morning when I woke up. Invariably, something hurt.
I tried taking Advil, but that didn’t help much, so I moved onto Aleve in order to function for a few hours. I welcomed the New Year unable to unscrew bottles or open windows, looking for elevators wherever I went, as I was limping about 50% of the time and taking the stairs was hard. I was scared.
I decided to take matters into my own hands. Whatever this migratory joint pain was, I had no doubt it was of an autoimmune nature.
Autoimmunity happens when the immune system goes haywire and attacks its own host — in this case, me. If you’ve ever had an allergy, then you have experienced autoimmunity. Your immune system reacts to a substance that is not necessarily offensive: gluten, pollen, dust, cat hair, etc., because it confuses that with something else that in the past has threatened your health. The immune system is actually doing its job, which is to defend the body from invaders. It just happens to be misinformed.
Most modern chronic diseases are considered to be of an autoimmune nature, or to at least have an autoimmune component. Celiac, Hashimoto’s, asthma, eczema, MS, and most types of arthritis are all autoimmune disorders — and there are loads more. The affected tissue may change, but the principle remains the same: your immune system is attacking you.
On January 10th, I put myself on a very strict elimination diet. In all the years I’ve been experimenting with food, I never foresaw that I’d one day have to be so frickin’ anal about eating. Following the Autoimmune Paleo template, I deconstructed food to bare ingredients and started tracking how every single thing I ate affected me. It was intense, physically and emotionally. I had made many radical changes to my diet before, but having to do them as a result of so much pain inspired a new level of compassion for all the clients I’ve had (and all those yet to come) who, for years, have been desperately searching for relief.
Slowly and steadily, the pain started to give way. I took the last Aleve on January 25th. I’ve only taken it a couple of times since then. I had to quit chocolate — and many other foods I like. Conversely, I started to eat things I didn’t pay much attention to before.
Today, I have no joint pain. I can unscrew bottles, open windows and walk. In fact, I can dance, and run and do yoga.
Did I check with my doctor, you ask?
Well, yes. And no. Let me explain.
Modern health care kind of sucks. And I’m fortunate to have worked with enough people to know that when it comes to the treatment of autoimmune conditions, modern health care really sucks big time.
I did go to the doctor. And I got a bunch of tests done. None of them showed indications that I might be developing rheumatoid arthritis or some other kind of inflammatory joint disease. Unfortunately, the way blood testing is done to determine possible autoimmunity is inefficient at best. If I wanted to get an “official” diagnosis, I basically needed to let myself get really, very sick. Or spend a fortune — not covered by insurance — to get more sophisticated tests done.
I decided that if the elimination protocol had the effects I was hoping for, that would become the evidence I needed to move forward. I didn’t need to waste precious time waiting for my doctor’s validation. The combination of appropriate diet plus listening to my body had never disappointed me. This experience has only reaffirmed that principle.
I’m incredibly grateful for all the scientific, experimental and intuitive knowledge I’ve accumulated in almost ten years of practicing health coaching. And I bow to all the people that today are suffering with chronic autoimmune conditions. May you find the relief you are looking for. (Diet is a damn good place to start.) My heart goes out to you.