Healthy Eating

Rheumatoid arthritis and nutrition

Kia Peters, a young woman with glasses, hair above shoulders, wearing a purple scarf

Food for thought: One young woman’s approach to nutrition and managing RA

An arthritis diagnosis can change your life. A couple of years ago, Kia Peters experienced her first rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare just before she turned 24. She could hardly recognize herself as she struggled to deal with severe pain, crushing fatigue and medication side effects. After taking a medical leave from her graduate studies and finally finding the right balance of medication and self-care, she is happily back on track—and her studies have taken a new path. “When I was going through my flare-up, one thing that really helped me manage it was changing my nutrition and paying attention to how food affected my body. I became so passionate about it, that it actually changed my career direction,” she says. Today, she’s working towards her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, specializing in Nutrition and Dietetics, aiming to become a registered dietitian with a focus on nutrition for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Let’s take a closer look at her path to wellness.

She got the facts

In the early days of her diagnosis, Kia’s medications left her with stomach pain and indigestion. “I almost had a bad relationship with food because I felt so sick that I never wanted to approach it,” she remembers. So, she started researching nutrition. “I’ve always been interested in nutrition because of my Indigenous background—I’m from Caldwell First Nation. And we’ve always seen food as medicine, so it really just fell in line with my beliefs.”  In her online research, she discovered a lot of focus on foods that are linked to preventing inflammation. “I started trying new foods and found that my symptoms were getting better. It was not really about eliminating things, but adding things to my diet.” She says that she used the Arthritis Society website a lot because she knew she could trust the information. Kia also used her critical thinking skills, honed in her role as a graduate student, to look up research articles defined by science-backed evidence.

She boosts the veggies

At every meal, Kia is sure to include a steamed or roasted vegetable, most often leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. At restaurants she’ll order a side of steamed vegetables or salad rather than fries.

She chooses healthy fats

Kia switched to avocado oil and olive oil in her food prep and often adds an avocado to her breakfast.

She skips the processed snacks

Instead of cereal bars and other packaged items, Kia makes her own snacks like muffins, using whole grain flours and healthy oils. 

She goes for leaner cuts of meat

“My dad hunts for our family. I don’t eat [farmed] red meat, I only eat wild game. And I eat some poultry, and fish that we catch. That’s more of the traditional ways: you gather your own food and then prepare it as a family and then you enjoy it. I like that aspect of food where it’s more community-oriented, more wholesome.”

She enjoys seasonal foods

For freshness and peak flavour, Kia tends to choose whole foods that are in season. That means berries, seeds, melons and mushrooms in the spring and summer, and apples, squashes and root vegetables in the fall and winter. She sips peppermint and cedar teas year-round.

“By getting the proper nutrition routine in place, I’m almost back to my regular capacity before I got sick,” says Kia. “I have so much more energy. I can do full days, I can volunteer and do extracurricular activities and go to school. I can exercise without wanting to fall asleep at 6 o’clock at night!” There are times when she gets a little off-track, of course. “I find when I fall off my routine, where I don't respect my body, is when I tend to wake up and my ankles are a little swollen and I have more joint pain, my brain’s a little foggy. It takes a couple of days to recover from that.”

Kia’s journey wasn’t easy, but she values the outcome. “I knew I had to figure out how to live with arthritis and be comfortable and happy and secure in having it,” she says. “That was kind of my ‘a-ha’ moment and it really made me dig deep and reflect on what was important to me. Family and happiness and health are important to me, and my health really started to improve when I started focusing on those aspects of my life.”