The First Step

Today I decided that the best thing for my health was to begin an exercise regimen. I wasn’t under any illusions about what my endurance would be. I hadn’t exercised in months. I knew I would not be power walking anywhere or breaking any distance records. The plan was to leisurely stroll until I got tired and then return home. I just wanted get the ball rolling. The first day of exercise is always the hardest. It is something about putting on exercise clothes and leaving the house that first day that always causes me to come up with every imaginable excuse. And wouldn’t you know, I had every legitimate excuse in the world today not to exercise.

The weather channel and my joints both agreed that indeed a cold front would be passing through my area later tonight. If my joints were already sore, I reasoned, wouldn’t physical activity cause more swelling? I also took the first of my bi-weekly shots yesterday. Even though I didn’t have the dreaded MTX headache I did have that general yucky feeling that comes from injecting oneself with a chemotherapy drug. Then my excuse generator tried to tell me that not going for the walk was a good idea because I didn’t want to dehydrate myself and bring on the MTX hangover I had managed to avoid.

It was then I realized that as long as I kept making excuses for myself I would never be able to take the metaphorical and actual first step of my new exercise regimen. I simply had to stop listing the reasons why I couldn’t exercise and focus on why I had to. Exercise is essential to me becoming a healthier person. Although I am stiff and sore I am not in a full blown flare. There may be times where it is physically impossible to exercise. But today is not one of those days. What was trying to limit me was my lack of willpower. And that, like a muscle, will have to be worked and strengthened. Just like I am strengthening my resolve to eat clean I will have to strengthen my resolve to make daily physical activity a necessity.

So I began my exercise routine with a short walk. Once it was over I was already envisioning my walk tomorrow and increasing the distance. I have overcome the first hurdle in this part of my journey to better health. I know that there will be roadblocks and pitfalls just like there are in my clean eating journey. But at least for today, getting started was enough.

Win-Win

289/365 SOUP

289/365 SOUP (Photo credit: cheesy42)

Life is so much easier when you find yourself able to effortlessly multitask.  And today my life just got a little bit easier.  I have been trying to figure out how to balance my clean eating lifestyle with the fact that sometimes I do not have the energy or manual dexterity in my fingers to do a lot of food preparation for a meal.  In the past I have resorted to fast food or a frozen dinner on those days. But now that I have decided to work on my overall health it seems wrong to not nourish my body when it is at its most vulnerable.

I have been researching ways that I can fix quick, healthy meals in a short period of time.  Those were not hard to find.  The catch is finding those same meals that require very little chopping or peeling.  Last week I decided to purchase a Vitamix blender in hopes that its ability to blend ingredients into a hot soup would help me create quick healthy dinners with minimal preparation.

This cold snap has my hands swollen and stiff so I figured today was a great day to take the Vitamix on a test run. The recipe I chose was a simple one I found in the cookbook that came with the Vitamax: chicken broth, potatoes (I used canned new potatoes), frozen spinach, frozen pre-diced onions, and rosemary. The result was a delicious steaming creamy soup with no prep.

What I liked the most about the Vitamax was that it doesn’t have those pesky push button settings like a lot of blenders.  I don’t know why but when my fingers are swollen I have trouble with the push motion.  My fingers seem to buckle before I can actually push the buttons in.  Instead this blender has knobs and switches that I can operate with relative ease.

So today even though I am stiff and achy I was able to adhere to my promise to nourish my body and stay away from fast foods.  All in all it was a win-win situation.  I was able to listen to my body and rest when it needed me to.  I was also able to avoid giving my body empty calories when it needed to be nourished the most.  Overall I couldn’t be happier!

Tools of the Trade

Vegetables

Vegetables (Photo credit: neonbubble)

When I was first diagnosed with RA I had a near obsession for any information I could find to teach me how to live with this disease.  I spent hours reading patient testimonies, researching the prognosis and complications of this disease, and looking for any home remedies that could make living with a prolonged flare bearable.   My research taught me to take my MTX pills (this was before I switched to an injection) after a large carb loaded meal to lessen the stomach upset.  I learned that a paraffin wax bath was a great way to calm down my screaming hands and feet after a long day at work.  And most importantly, I learned that there are many of us who are afflicted with this disease continue to live healthy and full lives-despite and perhaps because of the lessons RA has taught us.

What strikes me most is the disparity between how easy it is for me to get the tools I need for treating my RA and the difficulty I am having in finding whole foods that promote overall health. In fact all of the tools I needed for my RA arsenal are relatively easy to come by.  I can go to my local drug store to buy an OTC arthritis cream.  A trip to the local beauty supply store lets me find a nice paraffin wax bath.  Throughout the years I‘ve only had a few issues with obtaining my prescriptions.  Even this is mainly due to those infamous MTX shortages they seem to have every few years.  But I have found that the same easy access does not carry over when someone is trying to nourish their bodies by eating nutrient dense whole foods.

I find this frustrating.  First, let me say, I live in a large town.  I don’t have access to much more than a few large chain supermarkets whose main focus is on moving product-not variety.  We do have a seasonal farmer’s market that has limited hours. That means in the winter time there is no access to local grown produce. So for me and I’m sure many other Americans access to whole foods isn’t as easy as popping up at your farmer’s market on the weekend. While I have no problem getting drugs or home remedies to alleviate my RA systems, finding affordable fresh produce requires me to make a 50 minute drive to the year round farmers market. Or I must accept that my weekly grocery bill will nearly double.  If a prescription is not available at my primary pharmacy they are more than glad to call around and even transfer my prescription temporarily to a competitor to ensure I have my meds.  However, my local grocery store needs me to demonstrate “demand” before are willing to offer more organic choices in the meat department.

It is as if the food industry has forgotten that they offer the most potent drugs for health out there on the market.  Instead of bending over backwards like the local pharmacist to ensure their patients have the meds and remedies they need, the food industry makes us beg for those products that will improve our lives. With your health it seems you invest now or pay later.  I am fortunate enough to be in the position to invest now.

Bumps in the Road

Speed bump made of asphalt

Speed bump made of asphalt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems so easy to take control of your health. We know that we need to stop eating nutrient poor foods, remove sugar laden drinks from our diet, and set aside about an hour of your time most days of the week to exercise. But life is never simple. If the formula was easy to apply to the modern lifestyle we would not have an obesity crisis. The world requires that we go-go-go. Many times what is required to maintain a healthy lifestyle seems to only add more items on our never ending to do list. The decision to reclaim your health requires planning, sacrifice, and determination. Over the last week my work schedule coupled with a flare has thrown my journey to health off course. The main culprit has been my failure to plan for the inevitable bumps in the road.

My biggest mistake was underestimating the amount of time and energy it would take for me to be able to prepare nutrient rich meals if my normal routine was disrupted. The last few days my routine was thrown out of the window- and in response I found myself reverting to my old habits. Not because I wanted to eat processed foods but because I did not have a meal plan in place that anticipated the fact that sometimes 15 minutes is all you have for meal preparation.

I am now gathering clean recipes that take only 15 minutes to cook. The plan is now to make sure I always have enough ingredients on hand to fix at least two of these recipes at all times. I also need to make sure that I purposely fix extra servings on a few meals a week so that I can freeze the left overs for the clean version of microwave meals. I’m also thinking about preparing a weekly meal plan based and prepping my meals for the week on Sundays.

This journey to health isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take commitment on my part. I cannot let small failures keep me away from the big prize. I will be as healthy as I can be and diet is a large part in my return to health.

Healthy Mind

Tea Inventory

Tea Inventory (Photo credit: euphbass)

Chronic disease not only weakens our bodies but it also attacks our emotional resolve. I often feel as if RA saps my emotional reserves making dealing with daily stressors more difficult.  The daily emotional bumps and bruises seem to hurt more and cut deeper since RA came into my life.  I cry more often, hurt deeper, and worry about the future more.  And although the doctor prescribed drugs to fight the physical effects of this disease I, like many patients, am forced to navigate the emotional landmine the best way I know how.  This week I had to admit to myself that I am no longer in remission.  This is a crushing blow to my already stressed emotional state.  I also know unless I deal with the mental difficulties of living with a chronic disease I can never be fully healthy.  I knew I needed to do something immediately to help me find my center again after being thrown off balance by the persistence of my RA symptoms.  So I decided to do something- I had a cup of tea.

Not the tea I usually have in the morning while getting ready to work.  That tea is a super strong sludge that I let brew while I get dressed and do my hair and then pour down my throat without tasting the bitter concoction.  This morning I took the time to perfectly brew a cup of tea.  I didn’t drink it in the car where my focus would be not pouring the hot stuff down the front of my blouse.  Today I took the time to sits in the living room with the tv and radio off.  I decided that I would focus on the moment and the act of drinking my tea and nothing else.  I inhaled deeply before for taking a drink.  And then I sat back and sipped my morning tea.  I made the conscious choice to put everything out of my mind that threatened to encroach on my moment of peace.  I concentrated on how the warm cup felt in my hand.  I closed my eyes tried to taste the different ingredients in the blend. I enjoyed the hint of sweetness from the honey.  Any thoughts that threatened to take me back to the overwhelmed state I have found myself in the last few days were banished as I drank my tea.  And then something amazing happened.  By the time I reached the bottom of my tea cup I felt stronger emotionally then I had when I sat down.  The moment I took to center myself had worked. I have always been a fan of tea and its healing properties.  Only today I used it to help heal my mind instead of my body.

Pushing for the Right Things

Here I am exhausted and swollen. And why? Because I am pushing too hard at work. Eleven, twelve, and thirteen hour days tire me out for days. I spend my off days in bed too tired to do the things I need to do- like cleaning my house, doing laundry, or cuddling with my cat. But that all ends very soon. I have made the decision to no longer work like this. I need to spend my time focusing on my health. Right after this string of overnight shifts I’m going to say no to overtime an yes to me time.

Eating for Health

chocolate brownies

chocolate brownies (Photo credit: YayAdrian)

Maintaining a healthy weigh has been difficult for me since my diagnosis.  I slipped into a non-productive habit of soothing my pain with food.  After all didn’t I deserve ice cream and brownies?  I was in pain! However I couldn’t seem to stop myself. With my inability to sweat off my frustrations and fears at the gym I turned to turtle brownies to ease my mental and physical pain.

After my RA was under control I starting trying to lose the weight.  However taking it off has been harder and taken longer than I could have imagined when I first decided to lose weight.  In the last year I’ve done low carb, counted points, and counted calories.  All produced some weight loss but I couldn’t see me adhering to that lifestyle for the rest of my life.  I knew that sustained weight loss would require a lifetime commitment rather than the few months it would take to take the weight off.

That is when I began to realize that a healthy lifestyle rather than simply losing the weight was my ultimate goal. I began to research the idea of eating clean.  This philosophy of eating to nourish my body rather than simply to lose the extra weight appealed to me.  Clean eating aims at creating a body that has the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Weight loss is simply a side effect.  And that is what I want.

So I am slowly cutting out highly processed foods from my diet.  Instead I am opting for a diet high in fruits and veggies. There is no cheating in this lifestyle.  There is only the decision of whether you will eat nutrient dense foods with healing properties or a highly processed meal that does little to help your body work at its highs level. Every meal is an opportunity to nurture this body that has done such a great job of taking care of me except for the whole RA thing.  Sometimes I load my body up with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber.  Other times I feed my soul by enjoying a piece of dark chocolate.  Sometimes I compromise and eat a burger and drink a green smoothie. Last week I lost 3 lbs!  I have not been hungry or felt deprived.  I am simply making better choices to move toward my goal of being healthy!