Ow! My Toe

My big toe hurts.  Try as I might, the only complaint of discomfort I can think of that is sounds more frivolous is, My God!  I have a paper cut. Still, my big toe hurts a lot and has me limping around.  After a week without getting better, I took to using a cane.  Finally, I went to the doctor, thinking it was a sprain but I was wrong. When the blood tests were completed, I was diagnosed with gout.

Gout, or Podagra (when it involves the big toe) is characterized by a red, tender, hot swollen joint and commonly manifests at the base of the big toe.  It is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood which causes crystalized deposits on joints, tendons and such.

So what causes high uric acid in the blood?  There are a number of reasons but really, only one applied to me – diet.  Above-moderate consumption of alcohol, fructose-sweetened drinks and meat can cause gout.  A lifetime of living like a typical American has caught up to me. 

gout-cartoonI thought gout was something that would only affect a seriously overweight person, and I was wrong again.  While I tipped the doctor’s scale at 205 lbs., that isn’t too much for someone 6’ 3”.  Still, it is more than I have ever weighed before and I do have this… belly.  I noticed that when I’m lying on my back and turn onto my side, my stomach follows about a second later.  It wasn’t a warm fuzzy feeling and it is a sign that, while I am not obese, I’ve got a lot of body fat that I don’t want.

So, what does one do when one has been diagnosed with gout in one’s foot and one’s stomach joins the rest of the torso a second later when one’s body is moved quickly?  How do you fix it?

  • Ignore it.  That would be my common response, but it hurts!  Wah!  Left untreated, it would spread to other joints and tissue and so, pain being what pain is, it won’t be ignored.
  • The common, American solution for any health problem  – there’s a pill for that.  I hate taking a lot of medication because it inevitably makes me feel bad in some way.  In a case like this, it would mean taking medication every day, probably for the rest of my life. 
  • There is another choice: Make changes to my diet and eat better. 

Never in my life have I had to diet.  I’ve always had a metabolism where I never got overweight and much of my young life, I was really skinny.  Now, in mid-40’s and limping around with a gouty toe and a bulging belly, the lesser of the two evils is that I need to make changes to my diet.  It wouldn’t hurt to get some exercise too, but let’s not go overboard.

After watching Forks over Knives, a documentary about the benefits of a whole-food diet, Lynn and I were motivated to make some changes in our eating habits and adopt a whole-foods diet or something resembling it, eating less processed food, dairy and meat.  We’ve been at it for two weeks and that is nothing in the scheme of diets, but overall, we’ve done really well. 

Here are our guidelines:

  • Eat more nuts and whole grain breads when possible.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables when you can. Avoid pastries and sweets and have a granola bar instead.
  • Eat lots of beans (we like black beans). They are a great source of plant protein, fiber, phytochemicals, and other nutrients.
  • Don’t eat convenience and processed foods.
  • Stick to sugar-free drinks such as water, green tea (iced or hot), fresh fruit juice, and soy milk.
  • No alcohol except an occasional glass of wine.
  • Avoid fish, chicken and red meat.
  • Avoid dairy – milk and cheese.

· We bought the Forks over Knives cookbook and are having fun trying the different, healthy recipes.  Cooking together is something we really enjoy.

Here are our exceptions:

  •  All bets are off if we are at the ballpark.  What’s the point of going to a baseball game if you can’t have a hotdog and beer?
  • 2 meals a week, we can have meat.  Try not to make it something fried.
  • 2 meals a week, we can have cheese.
  • 4 times a week, we can have a soda or other non-healthy drink.
  • 1 night a week, we can break the 1 glass of wine rule.

forks-over-knivesThe biggest problem I have found is that it’s not easy to eat out and eat healthy, not in Texas, anyway.  I have to be selective about where I go for lunch.   But that’s a small thing and just requires changing my habits.  Straight up, I don’t miss McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

We’ll see how it goes, but so far, I do feel better and the gout has not returned.  Granola bars aren’t bad.

© 2012, Mitch Lavender

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