Emily shares how eating a healthy diet helps her manage her symptoms26 May 2023
Emily, 30, was diagnosed with seronegative arthritis ten years ago. After a particularly painful flare-up, she decided to completely overhaul her diet, and she hasn’t looked back since. Here she shares how eating well — alongside medication, lifestyle changes, and physical activity — has helped her feel in control of her condition.
Which type of diet is helpful for arthritis?
Although there are no diets or supplements that will cure your arthritis, some people do find that their condition is affected by what they eat, how much they weigh and their physical activity levels.
Research has shown that a Mediterranean diet may be helpful for some people with some types of arthritis – and this is true for Emily.
“I looked into whole foods, plant-based foods and a Mediterranean diet,” she explains. “Then I started to notice a difference in my swelling and pain levels. It’s genuinely helped me manage my condition.”
A Mediterranean diet includes foods like:
- fruits and vegetables
- beans and pulses
- nuts and seeds
- cereals and grains
- unsaturated fats, such as olive oil
- some dairy and lean meats, such as fish and white meat.
Creating a foodie community
Emily scoured the web but couldn’t find the advice or community she wanted – so she decided to create it herself.
She started by creating a food and lifestyle blog, and after receiving a positive response online she went on to write her debut book, Beat Arthritis Naturally, for people with arthritis.
“Before I started the Arthritis Foodie blog, I didn’t know any young people with arthritis,” Emily says. “I’ve made so many virtual friends. It's nice to have that support. Versus Arthritis offer that too through support groups across the country. It instantly makes you feel less alone.”
Now, along with the help of healthcare professionals, Emily’s written a second book, Eat Well with Arthritis, which is packed with recipes and advice she wished she had when she was diagnosed. Both of Emily’s books have had contributions from healthcare professionals, as well as sign off from rheumatologists and a qualified nutritionist.
Emily’s favourite foods for coping with arthritis symptoms
From week to week, the recipes Emily cooks change. But there are always a few staples you’ll find in her cupboards. “I'll always have essentials like extra virgin olive oil, which I can use to make a salad,” she says. “I also have lots of tinned goods, such as chickpeas and kidney beans, as well as a variety of spices and herbs like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary and thyme.”
One of her go-to recipes from her cookbook is a vegan chickpea curry, which is packed with nutrient-rich spinach and sweet potato, and lots of healthful spices. And her favourite sweet treat is an apple and berry bake, which includes lots of antioxidants.
Tackling misinformation: trusting healthcare professionals
There’s a lot of myths and misconceptions about what foods should or shouldn’t be on our plates. At times it can get a bit overwhelming, so Emily recommends sticking to the science as much as possible and trusting the professionals.
“You can go down a bit of a rabbit hole of what you should or shouldn’t do. You’re told not to eat tomatoes or to put cabbage leaves on your joints. That’s fine if it works for you. But there’s not really any science to back it up.
“I was really conscious when writing both books that I would get healthcare professionals to really check out the research.” With that in mind, she spoke to nutritionists, rheumatologists, physiotherapists, doctors and other experts.
Understanding your triggers
While there’s no miracle diet or food for arthritis, some people find that their symptoms are affected by what they eat. What works for one person might not work for another though, so listen to your own body.
“Our bodies are different, and our guts are different,” Emily explains. “Get to know your body, your triggers, what helps and what doesn’t. For me, lack of sleep is a massive one. Alcohol and excessive sugar are a real trigger for me too.”
If it helps, you could keep a pain diary and check if dietary changes work for you. “But don't blame yourself if you do get a flare up,” Emily adds. “Be kind to yourself.”
Tips for cooking if you have arthritis
When you’re tired or in pain, cooking can feel like an uphill battle. But there are small ways you can make it easier.
“The most important thing that I do is batch cook,” Emily says. This simply means cooking more than you need and keeping it for later. That way, Emily says you “don’t have to worry about having to start something from scratch every day.”
To help make her groceries stretch further, Emily also recommends freezing meals. “If I’m making dinner, I’ll make portions for the next 2-3 days and I’ll freeze a load. Then I’ve got a portion that I can defrost whenever I need it,” she says.
Pacing yourself is about conserving your energy and breaking big tasks into smaller chunks – and it can be a helpful strategy when cooking.
“Do it at your own pace,” Emily says. “Let’s say I’m making a butternut squash salad that has quite a few steps. I’ll peel and chop the vegetables in the morning and in the evening I’ll roast them. I’ll also sit down to chop food. If you can get help, don't be shy to ask for it too.”
For Emily, eating healthily isn’t a chore anymore. It’s almost a way to show herself some care.
“There was a time when I used to find cooking quite a hassle and I didn't enjoy it, but now it's completely the opposite,” she says. “I really enjoy the process of it. I find it quite mindful.”
Advice for newly diagnosed people with arthritis
If you’ve just been diagnosed with arthritis, you might be feeling a lot of big emotions.
“Allow yourself time to get your head around the diagnosis and every emotion you’re going to feel," Emily says. "Your life isn’t going away. It’s just going to slightly adjust.”
“Figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself. There's always something you can do to help yourself, even if it is small, and there are plenty of ideas in my books to get started. Also, speak to the people around you because that will provide support for you as you go through this journey.”
Photo credit: Louise Rose Photography.
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