I am a photographer, animal lover, foodie and musician, and at 25, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis.
I was heavily involved in sports at the time, training up to 6 days a week. I would wake up at 4am to go rowing, then go to uni, hit the gym, and go to work. I was gradually developing joint pain that I hadn’t experienced before, but I brushed it off, it was annoying but it wasn’t a big deal. I probably just needed new running shoes.
After 8 or 9 months of increasing pain, and a new set of joggers, I started to worry. I began seeing a physiotherapist who told me that my running technique was putting too much pressure on my joints, and all I needed to do was a few simple exercises each day.
I returned the following week in excruciating pain. I told the physio that the exercises were making the pain worse. I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and was crying out in pain at work. She told me to see a doctor and request blood tests and radiographs. The look on her face terrified me. She suspected the worst.
After several months of tests, x-rays, MRIs and referrals, I finally managed to meet with a rheumatologist who told me that I had something called Non-Radiographic Ankylosing Spondylitis. He was quite nonchalant about it all. Shocked and bewildered, I was ushered out the door with a party pack of drugs and a pamphlet on AS. He didn’t even tell me what it was.
Over the next few weeks I trialled each drug that the rheumatologist had given me for a few weeks at a time, to see how each of them eased my pain. They did not. I was reading obsessively, trying to find clues to how people lived with AS. I refused to accept the fact that I would be taking anti-inflammatories for the rest of my life. And there was no way I would be agreeing to corticosteroids or immunosuppressants.
That was when my dear friend Kate sent me a copy of a book she was reading, ‘The IBS Low-Starch Diet’ by Carol Sinclair. I was sceptical at first. Surely a change in diet couldn’t make my arthritis pain just ‘disappear’. But the further I read, the more I realised that this biography could have easily been about me. Every story, every symptom. I had been living with AS for years without ever knowing I was sick. I always complained of feeling sick after every meal. I was constantly lethargic and bloated. I had recurring headaches, sore eyes, back and neck pain. Sometimes I would wake up with a jaw so stiff I couldn’t open my mouth. I learned I had breathing difficulties when I went for a medical for a job I was applying for and couldn’t fill my lungs to the minimum required volume. These are all symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis.
I stopped taking the anti-inflammatories and immediately cut all starch out of my diet. I saw results within 5 days. Suddenly I could get out of bed with ease. I felt stronger, brighter, healthier. I was still hesitant to credit the diet with this sudden change. I could just be having a good week. Inner turmoil began to eat away at me. I wanted the diet to work so badly, but on the other hand, I couldn’t imagine a life without bread, pasta, cake or potatoes, and secretly hoped it wouldn’t work. But after only a few weeks, I couldn’t deny the radical improvement. I felt like running a marathon. I felt better than I had in 12 months.
A simple diet turned my life around. I can’t imagine where I would be without it. I caught the disease early on enough that I do not have any permanent damage or fusion of my joints. Some people are not so lucky. I want to share my story in the hope that it may help others to prevent irreversible damage and stop living in pain, so they can turn their lives around too.