After years of struggling with chronic pain, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As a chef, I was working long, stressful hours. I wrote off my pain as part of my job, until things got so bad that I had no choice but to acknowledge there was something severely wrong.
I ended up hospitalized multiple times with extreme flare-ups and even had several surgeries as a result of the disease. I gained weight; I felt helpless, sick, and like I was getting sicker — and I didn’t have much choice in the matter.
By 37, I was taking a weekly injection, high doses of pain medication, powerful anti-inflammatories, and even a chemotherapy drug. The medications helped me deal with the symptoms and get to a place of marginal functionality, but I clearly wasn’t getting better.
At 38, I was on the brink of accepting my situation, when I had a near-death experience.
I developed an infection that went from my bloodstream to my brain causing a fever of 106°F and bringing me closer to death than I had ever been. My doctors were unable to figure out what had caused this mysterious infection and I was desperate for an answer.
For me the choice became simple: change or die.
Shortly after I was released from the hospital, I met Dr. Frank Lipman, a Western-trained doctor who practices functional medicine. Frank told me that he wanted to treat not my RA but the root cause of my RA.
In his practice, he often sees that issues like RA, colitis, and Crohn's stem from problems within the gut.
Rather than simply managing my symptoms, we approached my illness using a combination of Western medicine, acupuncture, supplementation, and restructuring my diet and lifestyle.
Within six months of treatment, I was no longer waking up in the middle of the night with night sweats, and my hands and feet weren’t continually swollen. I dusted off my bicycle from my racing days in my early 20s and began to pedal a few easy miles. My body mobility and mental clarity all improved and I was slowly becoming the person I had once been.
It's impossible to say if there was any single aspect of my treatment that was more effective than other aspects, but one thing was clear, the foods I ate had a direct impact on how I felt.
I cut sugar, dairy and grains out of my diet and focused on a largely plant based diet supplementing grass fed meat and wild seafood. When it came to booze, I didn't drink for 2 years (but have since added a little wine from time to time).
Within a year I was off ALL of my medications and there were no longer any signs of RA or any other autoimmune disease in my blood, something I never would have expected a year earlier. As I continued on my journey, my body changed shape; I lost weight, became more flexible, and rediscovered my inner athlete.
I started cycling competitively, riding an average of 150 miles a week, and I started practicing yoga.
My discovery of yoga was slow — I didn’t know any of the poses by name; my joints were damaged by years of inflammation from multiple surgeries and even getting into simple poses was extremely uncomfortable.
But as my core strength, balance, and breathing improved, so did my cycling. I recognized the connection between my yoga practice and every other aspect of my life. Yoga was making me a better athlete, cook, and person.
The human body is a remarkable creation, but it needs to be cared for. It’s not enough to go to the doctor, get a pill, and expect everything to be hunky-dory.
I love the mantra "use it or lose it." The human body needs to be worked and used — that's how we evolved. If we allow convenience to determine our lives, we'll become weak and susceptible to disease, infection, and injury.
I believe in the three temples of health:
Feed your body nourishing foods. This means eschewing modern food-like substances and embracing real, whole, natural foods. Simply put, it means rediscover the joys of cooking and sharing meals with friends and family.
Read the labels on the food you eat; be aware of what you're putting into your body and what effect those foods have on your health. Every time you eat, ask yourself: Is this harming me or helping me?
We seem to have forgotten how to move like our ancestors moved. Try squatting instead of sitting. Rediscover the joys of play.
When we limit ourselves to single movement patterns, we deny the entirety of our ability. I love specialization — I’m a cyclist after all — but include other movement patterns and your specialization will improve.
In the fast-paced world in which we live, it’s important to make sure we take time to connect with nature. Take a moment to slow down, to drink it in, and to allow your mind and body a chance to rest and to come back stronger.
The greatest lesson I learned from Dr. Lipman was that I had to be accountable for my own well-being in order for me to get better. I became an active participant in my own health, which took a lot of discipline and hard work, but I also believed I could get better.
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