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The 80/20 Rule And Low-Impact Exercise Helped Me Lose 60 Pounds – Womens Health

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/a32886208/rheumatoid-arthritis-transformation-story/

My name is Eileen Davidson, and I am 34 years old. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I am a full-time single mom, freelance writer, and rheumatoid arthritis patient advocate.


Before I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I was told my wrist and hand pain was due to carpal tunnel syndrome caused by my physical job as an esthetician. But when I went on maternity leave at age 26, my symptoms never got better. They only increased, and others manifested.

After the birth of my son, it got worse. I struggled to hold him without my joints feeling like they were on fire. And that feeling was no longer just in my hands and wrists, but also my knees, ankles, feet, neck, and back. I also had unrelenting fatigue that I couldn’t shake, no matter how much rest I got or caffeine I drank.

eileen davidson with her son standing in the harbor

Here I am in Richmond, BC, with my son in 2013. This was two years before my RA diagnosis. At the time, I was in pain and struggling with my self confidence in my abilities and appearance.

Eileen Davidson

I returned to work after a year of maternity leave, but I only lasted 12 months.

My aunt had RA, so I was familiar with the signs. She was ultimately confined to a wheelchair, and she also struggled with diabetes. I was terrified this might be my fate, so at age 29, I requested an RA blood test from my family physician who referred me to a rheumatologist to go over the lab work and my diagnosis. Lo and behold, my blood work came back positive for seropositive rheumatoid arthritis. (Seropositive means there are antibodies in my blood to mark the disease.) Finally I had a definite answer and a diagnosis for my pain.

eileen in a hospital gown in 2016

Rocking the hospital gown look back in 2016 before I knew where my RA journey would ultimately take me.

Eileen Davidson

My life changed drastically after that. I was placed on disability, and everyday activities like grocery shopping, laundry, and showering became painful and exhausting. I gained weight and sank into a deep depression. I went through many different medications to treat both my rheumatoid arthritis and depression—over a dozen in the first few years—until we found drugs that worked.

But finding the right medication wasn’t enough. I knew I also needed to make some major lifestyle changes.

So, I educated myself about how to take care of myself and treat my disease. I quickly learned being active and shedding the extra weight I had been carrying would help me move forward in my journey with rheumatoid arthritis.

I started with my diet. What I eat has a significant impact on how I feel, and I wanted to pinpoint which foods made me sluggish and bloated. Through trial and error, I found that these were highly processed foods or foods high in sugar. Eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and choosing wholesome starches (like brown rice or bean pasta, for example) over refined carbs, left me feeling so much better. Plus, they helped the weight start to come off.

I now follow the 80/20 rule.

This means that 80 percent of the time I eat healthily, and 20 percent of the time I eat whatever I want. I also implemented elements of the Mediterranean Diet into my 80/20 style eating because research shows it can benefit inflammatory diseases like RA. I go through a lot of hummus, chickpeas, feta cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, garlic, oregano and lemons in a week.

Living with the very debilitating symptom of fatigue, I stick to simple recipes. I purchase precut vegetables, always keep frozen vegetables on hand and do a lot of pre-making and batch prepping so I’m not devoting too much energy to cooking each day. Sometimes I make dinner at lunchtime because the pain and fatigue tend to ramp up in the evening.

a typical veggie and tofu meal for eileen

I am obsessed with getting as many greens as possible. Sautéed kale and spinach is an easy way to get a ton in! I used peanut butter and Braggs Liquid Aminos to make them less boring.

Eileen Davidson

Here’s a typical day in my diet:

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with raspberries, blueberries, lemon juice, almond milk, spinach, banana, hemp hearts, chia and ground flax seeds with Vega protein powder, alongside some low sugar oatmeal with a touch of cinnamon. I will often freeze a week’s worth of smoothies to make each day easier.
  • Lunch: Often leftovers from dinner the night before.
  • Snacks: Dark chocolate, Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and veggies with hummus or dip.
  • Dinner: A lean protein such as chicken, fish, beans or tofu (pictured above), with whole grains, lots of fresh veggies and salad.
  • Dessert: Whatever I want. It’s about balance and portion size. Fresh fruit will often satisfy my sweet tooth.

    As I started to adjust my diet, I explored exercise.

    I focused on low impact fitness that would get my heart rate up and give me a good sweat. Going for walks or using the elliptical are my favorite cardio workouts because they cause the least amount of pain. I started small with frequent breaks and increased my time and intensity as I got stronger over the years. This got much easier after my doctor and I found the right biologic to help control my inflammation. It was a trial and error process of seeing which exercises my joints could do, and I consulted with a physical therapist to figure out what works best for me.

    eileen flexing her arm muscle

    Rheumatoid arthritis admittedly makes me nervous to exercise in front of others. My balance sucks. I need rest. I sometimes feel weak and sluggish, but in the end, it’s worth it. I love how exercise makes me feel.

    Eileen Davidson

    Now, three to four times a week I focus on strength training to improve my posture and muscle strength. And five to six times a week I will do a brisk walk or elliptical session. I have learned it is a lot easier to strength train before my cardio to prevent fatigue, and it is also easier on my joints.

    Overall, I became more active. Living with rheumatoid arthritis, I quickly learned movement is my friend, and I can prevent pain and increase my energy by starting my day with movement!

    I have lost a total of about 60 pounds, and I went from a size large/XL to a size small.

    eileen weight loss before and after

    Over the past three years, I’ve gained a ton of confidence. I’ve also lost 60 pounds, improved my strength, and reduced my pain and inflammation levels.

    Eileen Davidson

    But the physical difference in how I feel is even greater to me. I don’t have a “goal weight”. I am just taking steps to live a healthier, more fulfilling life with rheumatoid arthritis. Excess weight put more strain on my joints, so losing weight helped decrease my pain and improved my energy levels. Sleep became easier and I needed fewer naps, which significantly helped with my depression.

    I am much happier now. Today, I can handle flights of stairs and grocery shopping—I even rack up 22,000 steps on some days. I still have bad days, but they are few, and I can always rely on moving my body to ease some symptoms. It is a process, but I have learned to move at my own arthritic speed.

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