Back in the saddle again!

Since you last heard from me, my partner and I have moved onto a ranch in SE Arizona where we are caretakers. Most of our duties surround horse care, and although I’m not riding yet, I plan to in the near future.

We took this position for two primary reasons, the first being that as I read more and more on exercise these days, the word is out–20 or 30 minutes of exercise a day is a great start, and it’s certainly better than not exercising at all, but a truly active lifestyle is more important. The second reason was to have our rent and utilities paid in exchange for a few hours of work every day, which would give us more time to write. It must be working, because here I am–my first entry in almost 13 months!

As far as the active lifestyle is concerned, we jumped right in with both feet, literally, and the first two weeks were agonizing for both of us. There was no question; we knew we were severely out of shape, so I’m not sure what I expected, but I experienced more pain in those two weeks than I probably have in my entire life.

I went to bed several nights with a mantra: “There is no pain, there are only complaining muscles.” Believe it or not, it worked to get me relaxed and to sleep–as long as I could lay in one position and didn’t have to move. My partner and I poked fun at each other’s “old man” and “old lady” walk. I did not want to resort to NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, etc. Luckily I remember that someone once told me about a salicylate cream that could be purchased at the dollar store for, yup, just a dollar. Salvation! All thoughts of NSAIDs went out the window once I bought a tube because the cream worked much faster than any pill, and helped me to relax quickly. Granted, there were times when I nearly rubbed it over my entire body, but mostly the pain was in my legs.

One of the first things that happened in my new job was when a horse spooked on me. I really don’t know what happened to me because the horse calmed immediately; I think that in the newness of the situation that somehow my muscles locked and I twisted at the same time because for nearly two weeks I had this severe ache, not in a joint, but just below my knee on the left side of my left leg. Eventually, my right side started aching, too, because it was compensating for the left.

Now that we have been here for a month and are “getting fit to it,” as our horseman calls it, only my knees complain. I was diagnosed in 2012 with osteoarthritis in both knees. I have also been offered new knees twice, but I have this thing–this negative idea–about replacing my body parts with plastic. Nearly everything else that has ever been wrong with me, I have taken care of with diet, so why should I treat this any differently?

Beginning May 10th, I will be getting back in the proverbial undiet saddle in an effort to stem the tide of aching joints. I’m not looking to stick to a regimented “diet”; however, after all this time, I am savvy enough to know that if I don’t rein in certain foods and eat more of others, I’ll continue to suffer, painfully.

So what will this “undiet” look like?

First off, the no’s:

No sugar (no brainer), and greatly reduced saturated fats. I’ve been ignoring the saturated fats warnings since they started talking about saturated fats being more necessary than has been recognized in the past, and as one who does well on a low-carb diet, I’ve been eating plenty of butter, whole milk, eggs, etc. I’m not entirely convinced that I need to cut out the sat fats completely, but I’m going to do this in a form of elimination diet — pare everything down to the bone and then add things back in once things level off.

Besides joint pain, are there other reasons to go on an anti-inflammatory diet?

Glad you asked!  Inflammation has a function as part of our immune system. It’s a warning that there’s something wrong. If you have a sprained ankle, the inflammation is a visible sign that says “Back off! Don’t walk on this; give it a chance to rest.” But interior inflammation is not so easy to see or to heed. Once inflammation gets out of control, all sorts of things go wrong. Arthritis flares up, and research says it also plays a big role in exacerbating obesity, heart disease, and cancer as well as other catastrophic disease.

Inflammation and Gut Health

There is a lot of talk about gut health these days. About time! A naturopath who was treating me in 1997 introduced me to the understanding of leaky-gut syndrome and how cleansing and healing it could revolutionize my health on so many levels. Before I got cleaned up, exhaustion was my middle name. I might be fine all day, but every evening at a certain time, I would hit a wall where I literally could not put one foot in front of the other. All I wanted to do was lay down, and I was so fixated on that thought, no matter where I was, that I would become extremely anxious as the time approached. I started refusing to leave home in the evenings because I could never control where I was when it would strike.

Anyway, it’s pretty simple – eating the wrong stuff causes inflammation in the gut which then starts the immune response which kills off the gut bacteria we need to survive. Sugar is one of the biggest culprits in this pattern, and, according to some, so are leptins, certain proteins found in grains and legumes.

Sugar has got to go, 100% for now anyway. As far as the leptins and sat fats, I’m not so much into cutting out all this stuff because once we get to where I can only eat a few select foods, that’s where my mind starts to rebel, and my new eating regimen won’t last long.

Many of you are aware of my love/hate relationship with bread because I’m a baker. I believe I promised to do this long ago, but I’m going to start sprouting grains to bake with which does away with or vastly reduces the leptins. I’ve already purchased the sprouter, and I’m ready to go.

What to eat?

Let’s start with the things I’m sure about:

Fatty fish (Wild Alaskan red salmon, Alaskan black cod, sardines) It’s expensive. I know. Atlantic fish is so much cheaper. But don’t. Just don’t.

Red vegetables – Beets, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers (also, other peppers if you’re into hot — the capsaicin in them goes a long way to reduce inflammation right now)

Deep, green leafy veggies – Kale, Broccoli, Spinach and others

Nuts (and Seeds) — Nuts, especially almonds and pistachios, have been one of my favorite foods my entire life. But as I age, my teeth just won’t take it anymore. I have to leave it to soft nuts such as pecans and cashews or, better yet, seeds such as flax, hemp, chia, etc.

Garlic and onions — Garlic and onions are good for what ails you, period. Eat as much as you can, and as raw as you can.

Olive oil – Still safe and known for sustainability. Use generously. Forget any other kind of vegetable oil, period.

One new thing

I’ve heard this for over twenty years now, and I’m a believer; it’s just never been a thing in my life, but I’m going to try a glass or two of dry red wine in the evenings.

Like the Mediterranean Diet

It is said that the anti-inflammatory diet roughly corresponds to the famous Mediterranean Diet. I’m excited about that for many reasons, personal, philosophical, as well as just good diet sense. I spent 18 months in Athens, Greece, so I’m very familiar with how they eat. I already addressed this in a post a couple of years ago which I will link here: Of Greeks and Celebrations. There are things I would edit about that article today, but it serves to make my point here. It’s followed by some authentic Mediterranean recipes.

I still stand by what I said in that article: that I’m convinced that I would be healthiest if I was self-sustaining with a few goats, chickens, and a varied garden. Maybe a pecan tree, too. I’m closer to that now than I’ve ever been. I’m glad I’m resurrecting this now in order to remind myself daily of that goal.

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