Notes From the Crunchy Journey

So I went to see my first rheumatologist this past week. Overall I felt the appointment was good. The doctor let me just list all my many symptoms (mostly pain related) that have come on over the last couple year. Then we ran more blood work, took x-rays and did a physical exam. I was not sure what to expect, but I really liked that she let me just spew symptoms at her and at the end of our appointment she asked if I had any questions. Which I did (because I went prepared), only one of which was pressing.

All the tests came back a couple days ago and she called me to follow up. Not her nurse or a medical assistant, she phoned me directly. That was nice, and almost a first in my experience with allopathic doctors. She is pretty sure I have early stage rheumatoid arthritis and wants me to start taking heavy dose NSAIDs and a mild first line DMARD.

Even though I really liked this doctor, I am still planning on seeking a second opinion. With something like a chronic autoimmune disease I feel I have to do my due diligence and get at least two opinions. Once I get a second opinion I think I can move forward; decide which specialist to see long term as my rheumatologist and also really start chipping away at the lifestyle stuff.

For me the first step will be to move towards an AIP elimination diet. I have already cut out alcohol (not hard since I never drank much anyway) and coffee as well as diligently adding vegetables to every meal and eating fish 2-3 times per week. Next I will cut out gluten and dairy while adding bone broth and more veggies. I would like to get up to 2-3 servings of veggies per meal. Eventually I would like to do full AIP for a month or two, including weaning off my NSAIDs, followed by reintroduction.

I would also like to get back into restorative yoga once per week to help with keeping my joints mobile and help with mindfulness and stress management.

As part of this journey I would also like try acupuncture, visit a naturopath (and maybe even make a naturopath part of my care team), experiment with essential oils for pain, go on a spa retreat, work to reduce my toxic load with things like all-natural cleaning products, organic cotton sheets and even more all-natural body care and makeup. What things would you add to this list?

If you have an autoimmune disease, what things were most helpful for you to bring symptoms under control?


Favorite Crunchy Health and Diet Books

The number of books on real food, paleo, keto and AIP diets have proliferated over recent years. When I first tried paleo six years ago there were only a handful of titles and a few blogs to guide my journey. Now there are hundreds! While all of these new resources are wonderful, and can be a struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff…. or whatever the grain free version of that metaphor is. So I am here to help! Some of these titles have been out for years and still hold up as some of my favorites, others are more recent publications. All of the below I have personally read and can recommend.


The Best of the Best 

These are my absolute favorite real food books, the information is presented so clearly and pursuasively. I highly recommend them to every reader seeking more information on adopting a holistic health, real food focused lifestyle.

Practical Paleo – This is my go-to book whenever anyone wants more information on paleo. With a great guide to the diet and the science behind it, recipes, meal plans and tear out shopping lists. If you are going to get only one book about the paleo diet, this should be the book.

The Paleo Approach – This book is a great guide to the autoimmune protocal (AIP) paleo diet. Written by Sarah Ballyntine, scientist and autoimmune disease sufferer who uses her science background to explain all the nitty gritty detail of how autoimmunity works and how our food choices can help manage symptoms. (Also available, the Paleo Approach Cookbook)

The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook – This is a practical guide for those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. With guidance for building your healthcare team as well as real food diet recommendations to reduce inflammation and symptoms.

The Keto Diet – This title does a great job of explaining the Keto Diet and appropriate variations, especially for women (though all audiences can benefit). Similar to The Paleo Approach, the early chapters cover the theory and practice and the latter half of the book includes recipes and meal plans.

The Holistic RX – When they say holistic in the title they mean it. This book covers not only the need for nutriet dense foods but also sleep, movement and social-emotional support necessary for a healthy life.

The Wahl’s Protocol – Based on paleo principals, Dr. Wahl’s explains how she used a nutrient dense diet based on large daily servings of vegetables to put her MS into remission. Others have used this diet along with AIP to bring great relief to neurodegenerative and autoimmune conditions. (Also available The Wahl’s Protocol Cooking for Life)

The Primal Connection – A follow up The Primal Blueprint (see below), this book takes a holistic view of health, including not just antiinflammatory real food, but also movement, sleep and other lifestyle habits that encourage overall health.

Deep Nutrition – As the title would suggest, this book is all about we need whole, nutrient dense real food for our bodies to work at their best. Not just our own bodies either, but the bodies even of our children and their children.

Whole 30 – If you haven’t heard of the Whole 30 yet you might be living under a rock. Though the program is available for free online, this book is a great way to compile all the core information in one handy reference guide. It includes the principals of the plan (basically a strict paleo diet) along with recipes. (Other titles by Melissa Hartwig are available as well, see below)

Real Food: What to Eat and Why – This book (recently re-released) was the book that first started me down the whole food path. It is the reason I use real salt and butter to this day and always try to choose the best quality meats, fruits and vegetables that I can afford. Even if you are not interested in going paleo or keto or AIP – this book has great advice on following a real food diet that is well within reach of anyone.

Some Other Great Titles

These books don’t make my Top 10, but are still great resources for recipes and further guidance, inspiration or information on particular topics.

What “crunchy” books have you enjoyed lately? Any books you love that I missed on the list? Share in the comments!

Updates on the Crunchy Journey

Six years ago when I first started paleo I did great! I easily lost 40 pounds (of which I have kept 20 off), had great energy levels, good sleep most nights. Then I moved and started a new full time job and after a few months fell off the wagon – I’ve yet to get back on for a sustained amount of time.

In the meantime I’ve struggled with GI issues, fatigue, anxiety and in the last year numbness in my extremities, muscle fasiculations, back pain, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal pain above and beyond my usual IBS symptoms. This started me down the path of blood tests and imaging studies, visits with neurologists and GI specialists, even a liver biopsy. Somewhat scary lab results (like a high ESR and CRP) and most recently to autoimmune markers that point to a strong likelihood of RA (though I have not yet had an official diagnosis of anything).

As somewhat scary as it is to have a probable autoimmune disease, I’m also happy that after four years of progressively feeling worse we are finally nearing some answers… When I told my mom that they found autoantibodies that pointed towards RA she commented, “I’ve never seen someone so happy to find out that they might have rheumatoid arthritis!” But when you have been feeling bad for years and are convinced something more than just poor sleep or being overweight is the cause of your issue, finally getting some evidence that you were right all along feels like a win!

Sadly, I know my story is the norm when it comes to autoimmune disease, because at first the symptoms are so vague and general that it really could be just poor sleep, life stress and/or lifestyle factors… (even with autoimmunity those things are super important)… Symptoms are also often systemic, and there are not really any autoimmune specialists, rather patients must see specialists for all their varying symptoms. A GI doc for their digestive issues, an endocrinologist for their thyroid, a rheumatologist for their joint pain and of course their GP for general wellness check ups and to get referals for all the specialists. According to the AARDA it takes an average of 5 years (and five doctors) before a patient receives a diagnosis. By that metric I am right on time to be (hopefully) nearing a diagnosis.

Now again, I don’t know for sure that I have RA, there are still other tests to do and the autoantibodies they found in my bloodwork can also be present in other autoimmune conditions and even non-autoimmune conditions (like lung infections and cancer). Once we have pinned down a more firm diagnosis I will definitely follow up. Nevertheless…

I’m thankful that my healthcare providers believed me when I said my troubleshooting wasn’t helping and I still wasn’t feeling well. I’m thankful they were willing to order tests even if the likelihood was low that anything would turn up. I’m thankful we are working to find answers and not just fix symptoms. I’m thankful that I have insurance and even though the bills have been pricey, they have so far been manageable. I’m thankful that I have a job that has allowed me to take the time off of work that I have needed for doctors’ appointments, testing and PT. I’m thankful to have a job I enjoy which makes it much easier to come in and find meaning and pleasure in your work even on days when you aren’t feeling great.