Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferer Figures Out Her Own Version of Paleo

You hear it from Paleo bloggers all the time: make this diet your own. Figure out what works for your own body. Well, this is a story about a woman who did just that, and had some surprising findings.

My friend Rachel has rheumatoid arthritis.

On top of her crippling joint pain, she also suffers from eczema, constipation, and fatigue. And to make matters worse, she’s on a breast cancer drug that causes joint pain, and she’ll be on it for the next 5 to 10 years, as she’s a breast cancer survivor.

But that hasn’t held her back.

She’s a spitfire to say the least. It’s rare to see the kind of fiery discipline that she has, and couple that with her East Coast attitude, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

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She’s an ambitious owner of a small business, rides a Harley on the weekends with her fiancé, and she has a wedding to plan. So all these pesky symptoms just get in the way of her life.

Rachel on Harley

When I first met her, she was a vegetarian and suffering a lot from her symptoms. The second time I talked to her, she was tinkering with Paleo, eating meat, and seeing good results. She was on a very restrictive diet, without eggs, nuts, dairy, fruit or nightshades, plus all the other non-Paleo foods.

She became a client of mine shortly thereafter, and after a lot of encouragement from me and some hemming and hawing by her, she gave up her beloved coffee as it seemed to be contributing to her eczema. She saw some results after doing that, but when she was left with just meat and veggies in her diet and still having eczema, she lost it.

Feeling totally deprived, in her own words, she “went on a little adventure.”

In other words, she started eating whatever the hell she wanted: gluten, dairy, legumes, eggs, fruit, etc. And it did not bode well for her. She gained 6 pounds in 2 weeks, felt so depressed that she “didn’t want to get out of bed,” and her eczema and rheumatoid flared up so badly that she wanted to go to the hospital (but, of course, she didn’t because she’s an obstinate badass).


Then she came to her senses and put herself back on Paleo.

However, it was different this time. Some little voice in her head advised against meat, and assured her that eggs and nuts were actually ok for her. After a long time avoiding those two things, she’d really felt like she was missing out on a lot of food choices, so this was a huge relief.

So at this point, several weeks later, she’s eating a Paleo diet, including veggies of all kinds, nuts, fruit!, and healthy fats, but without meat. She does great with fish every day (she said she’ll eat meat about once a week now). And no coffee.

Her eczema is almost completely gone, her RA symptoms are almost completely gone, and she’s no longer depressed.

I didn’t ask her about her other symptoms, but as she said, “I realized I’m not deprived on this diet: I’m the winner when I eat this way!”

Best. Comment. Ever. To a Paleo nutritionist, that is :)

It just goes to show that everyone is so different. No meat? Who would’ve thought? But she listened to her body, did what she needed to do, and now she knows for sure that this particular way of eating works for her.

I don’t think she’ll be going on any more dietary “adventures” any time soon!

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What do you guys think? Have you experimented with your own Paleo diets and found anything interesting?


  1. I do so much better with less meat than the Paleo diet recommends. Chicken and fish are the ones I can tolerate best; beef or pork once in a blue moon…or never, no grains, no dairy, no sugar. My arthritis has improved dramatically where I can now make a fist when I wake up in the morning. Before, I could hardly close my hands and they hurt most of the time and had swollen red knuckles . I have also lost about 12lbs. I love Paleo…my personal version :-)

  2. I feel better than I have in a long time. Years. And the main reason is not eating wheat and a bunch of sugar. I had a nagging 5 to 7 pounds I could’t get rid of, osteoarthritis joint pain, stuffy sinuses all the time, and slow intestines, if you know what I mean. I’ve been on a Paleo diet for about a month now, and most of that is WAAAYYY better. I hadn’t noticed the stuffy sinuses so much until they WEREN’T stuffy! My skin is smoother and clear, not patchy.
    I’ve still got a ways to go, but considering I’ll be 60 in July, I think I’m doing doggone well!

  3. I have lupus and went paleo over a year ago and also went off of nightshades. Huge improvement in my fatigue. but still some digestive issues. then a few months ago I stopped eating eggs and almonds. And I have almost no digestive issues. I definitely think that for those of us who are paleo due to chronic illness there is a trial and error period to figure what foods cause inflammation for us as individuals. I do not see that I have a problem with meat or fruits. And people wonder how can I maintain such a strict regimen- and it is because I see that it works and I do not ever want to go back to the extreme fatigue that I have experienced in the past. That is enough incentive to maintain this lifestyle!

  4. Stopped eating all grains October last year. Since then I have lost 9kg, without trying. Eat a healthier diet than I have for many years. The pain is steadily reducing and fatigue can still be an issue but is definitely better than it was this time last year. Am finding I don’t crave food the way I used to and can walk past a bakery without being pulled in. I might still drool but I don’t regret. Eat beef about once every 6 months, however eat some form of animal protein every day. Biggest issue is teaching others that grain free is not the same as gluten free. Attended a conference last weekend and hit the roof after not being able to eat anything on the buffet for 2 days and 5 morning and afternoon teas of fresh fruit. Was spoilt rotten once it was sorted out.

  5. I have started to ahve vilent reactions to chicken. Scary because I do enjoy eating it and had been consuming quite a bit of it. I love eating steak, jerky, etc. that I make myself. When the grass finished beef come sin, I plant to make my own pemmican. Most leafy vegetables make me ill. Even if organic. I eat a lot of mushrooms, onions, garlic and squash. I hardly ever eat fruit. I have also had to eliminate nightshade foods. So, yeah, it has been a challenge but I cannot argue with how great I feel!

  6. I’m new to Paleo and whilst these stories inspire me, I’m yet to find my way fully. I’ve managed to give up a lot of things which I do not miss but I do find myself wanting bits of chocolate, cake, or sweet stuff. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, I would just like advice on how to find my way successfully, eliminating stomach issues and to lead a healthy life. I’m yet to see any weight loss which is apparently ok, but I just need some motivational advice on how to succeed. Any comments welcome!!

  7. I am on day 23 of a paleo diet as well as auto-immune protocol for my RA. I have lots of energy and no bloating or IBS anymore (yay!), but I still have the RA pain. It’s exactly the same as it was before I started. I’m wondering if I’ve given it long enough..

  8. I’ve been on a paleo diet since Aug 2012. I have not lost any weight nor has my fatigue lessened. My doc says all the meat is causing inflammation and I need to go off this plan, I love the food but cannot believe I’m not successful.
    I don’t buy any pre packaged foods. Order grassfed meat (mostly) and eat lots of green stuff and only a small piece of sweet potato every morning. I don’t exercise, because my fatigue is extreme.
    I tried dropping the eggs and nightshades for awhile but I didn’t see any difference. My cravings aren’t completely gone, still crave chocolate, a lot. Also I didn’t give up coffee completely, still have 1-2 cups a day, but only other beverage ever is water.

  9. Jenny, to answer your question, healing takes time. I have RA and have reduced my symptoms 90% over the course of a year. If you’re seeing improvements (which you are) you’re on the right track. Stick with it!

  10. jenny. try magnesium for the pain. actually take it when you’re having pain and see what happens . I was very surprised. it’s worth a try, we’re mostly short of Mg anyway, and it’s cheap. I had the good results with mag-citrate. can’t remember the dose, just an average supplement tablet. relief within minutes. back and legs were aching.

  11. Melissa. hi, lots of dogs are now becoming allergic to chicken, when they weren’t before. I don’t know about people, i don’t eat much meat, but they may be feeding or processing chicken differently now?

  12. My RA is better with Paleo and my Migraines are Gone with Magnesium Glucinate

    I have had RA for 32 years and my fatigue has lessened tremendously since starting the Paleo plan about three months ago. I have also lost approximately 30 pounds although I still need to lose a great deal. I have also had SEVERE migraines for the last 16 years. I tried magnesium gluconate and magnesium oxide for the migraines but had no relief. Then several months ago I learned that we do not absorb magnesium gluconate and magnesium oxide well, but we do absorb magnesium glucinate well. It is sometimes listed as magnesium glysinate. I have been taking it ever since and have not had a migraine for two and a half months. I am in absolute heaven!!! I could only find it online at http://www.iherb.com/doctor-s-best-magnesium-high-absorption-100-chelated-120-tablets/15?rcode=kdd072
    I take two in the evening only because it does make you sleepy, but I now sleep better than I have in 32 years with the RA.

  13. I read something recently from Arthritis Today that talked about following a “a caveman diet” but to exclude pork (among other things), as pork has been shown to cause issues with many people who have RA. I’ve been Paleo for 22 months and have been in remission, but I still have little (quite small in comparison to before) flare-ups that I haven’t been able to figure out. Pork is probably the “dirtiest” of the meats I eat, eating lots of fish, chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef from a local farm. But, then there’s bacon! And sausage (which I never liked before starting Paleo), and pork shoulder roasts in the crock pot. I think after the holidays, I’m going to need to experiment some more. http://www.arthritistoday.org/news/ra-food-allergies.php

    1. Lori – Before you go taking out pork (which, in my opinion isn’t “dirty” unless you buy conventionally raised pork), try removing nuts and seeds from your diet. Or eggs. Those seem to be more common offenders for people with RA than pork. But try them all and see what, if any of them, flare you up.

  14. I was brought up on a diet with a lot of red meat and sugar. I was always in pain with sore muscles, had low energy and felt bad in general. In my teens I started having symptoms of RA. At 22 years I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian and that helped. No more muscle pain without the red meat. I then followed the diet recommended in The Arthritis Cookbook by Colins and Banks and that helped a lot! I learnt how to manage diet and lifestyle so I didn’t have pain at all. (Managing stress is an important part of that.) Recently, at age 62, I’ve started the Paleo diet. I don’t eat red meat but do have some poultry and fish. I feel better than I ever did. Last night I was at a friends house and had 2 small cookies. A little later I had joint inflammation for a couple of hours! Yes..diet makes a big difference! Observe what works for you.

  15. Last summer when I was having knee pain and tendonitis in wrists and elbow and trigger finger and TMJ I tried the Paleo with no grains, dairy, nuts, etc. I only had chocolate and some coffee. I did not feel any better but I think my sed rate went down. I did not know if I had RA. So I stopped the diet after one month. In Late fall started to get much worse with it spreading to feet. Doctor thinks RA. I’ve been avoiding gluten and dairy and nightshades with a few slipups. Still don’t feel better. So now I’m wandering about all that meat. I’m getting tired of trying to figure out what to eat. How do you figure it out. How long does it take?

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thank you for your message, and I’m sorry to hear about your health struggles. My name is Kinsey, and I’m one of the nutritionists here at Paleo Plan. I have also been diagnosed with RA, Lupus, and other autoimmune diseases as well. There is strong evidence to suggest that gut health is intimately connected to joint inflammation, RA, chronic tendonitis, and many other autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. In order to keep my own RA in remission, I eat strict Paleo 100% of the time, with no cheats. In the beginning, I had to follow the autoimmune protocol strictly for almost a year to fully heal my gut. Ultimately, ‘how long it takes’ depends on how long you have been sick, how severe your situation is, and how messed up your gut is. I’ve seen people achieve remission in days, or sometimes it takes years. I will note that to reverse a severe illnesses often requires significant dietary and lifestyle changes, which are extremely difficult upfront, on a multitude of levels.

      After “eating away my RA” with the Paleo diet, I went on to gain my Master of Science in Human Nutrition and studied how exactly my diet was related to autoimmune disease. I wrote my masters thesis on how/why intestinal hyperpermeability (AKA Leaky Gut Syndrome) is connected to virtually all autoimmune diseases, and summarized the research in this 3 part series on autoimmunity:

      The Autoimmune Epidemic: Part 1

      The Autoimmune Epidemic: Part 2 Leaky Gut

      The Autoimmune Epidemic: Part 3 The Autoimmune Protocol

      Ultimately, healing the gut to overcome autoimmunity goes beyond diet. It requires balancing your microflora (gut bacteria), and addressing the sources of stress in your life.

      Please keep us posted on your progress, and hang in there! It seems like a tremendous amount of work upfront, but I assure you, it is well worth the effort to have your body and vitality back! Let us know if you have any questions, or how we can facilitate your journey. We offer private Paleo coaching and also have an eBook about how to follow the autoimmune protocol.

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®

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