In my 20s, I was living life to the fullest, when one night I woke up with unbearable pain that left me unable to even move my legs. I was referred to a rheumatologist and diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). At 25, I thought this meant my life was over. Most of all, I was terrified that I would have to give up doing the one thing I loved the most: cooking.
For a long time, I let my disease define who I was. I gained weight, I stopped being active and I let myself feel angry for days at a time. My life was spiraling out of control.
Finally I realized that I had to take action. I decided I was going to take control of the challenges I was facing. I stopped ignoring my health and met with a doctor who put me on a biologic treatment plan. Within four months, my life had started to change -- for the better!
As part of my healing, I started to get back into the kitchen. Things were different but I slowly started to learn new ways of doing things that allowed me to adapt, whether it was using other parts of my body to lift pots and pans, or using special tools designed for people with RA.
When I wrote my book, A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis, I kept those early struggles in mind and over the years, I have come up with some tips and tricks to ensure cooking could be as pain-free and enjoyable as possible. Here are my top five tips:
1. Take the first step. Don't let rheumatoid arthritis diminish your passion for cooking! Ensure you're on the appropriate treatment and care so that your condition doesn't limit you from doing what you love.
2. Prepare your space. Conserve your energy by keeping everything you'll need within reach. Place spices and canned goods on lazy Susans and arrange kitchen cabinets so that lighter, easy-to-handle things are placed on upper shelves and heavier items are on lower shelves.
3. Get the right tools. Surprisingly, everyday items can be turned into helpful tools. Thumb rings for example, can be used to open jars. A padded rubber mat placed in front of the stove can prevent back and leg pain. There are also many arthritis friendly tools available such as a food processor, lightweight utensils and electric jar openers.
4. Make modifications. Try to incorporate other parts of your body in the lifting process. For example, use your shoulder to help get platters on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Choose to sit instead of stand when doing prep work such as peeling potatoes or shelling peas.
5. Respect your limits. Cook at the time of day that works best for your energy levels. On good days, try to prepare extra food and freeze it so you can still eat healthy even on days when you cannot cook. And on bad days when you're not feeling well, give your body time to rest!
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis doesn't mean you can't do the things you love. I follow the treatment plan prescribed by my rheumatologist, and thanks to my determination, I continue to pursue my passions. For more information about rheumatoid arthritis, you may visit insideRA.ca.
What are your own tips for managing arthritis in the kitchen? Share them in the comments section below and bon appétit!