Managing arthritis with food and lifestyle

With over 100 forms of arthritis and 18 million people in the UK suffering from musculoskeletal conditions, there are numerous people living in chronic pain. Arthritis is one of them. Typically associated with ‘getting old’, there are so many forms of arthritis that are chronic inflammatory conditions, also known as autoimmune diseases.

Hands holding daisy

I’ve lived with arthritis since the age of 20, and it is an autoimmune disease-based condition – seronegative arthritis – presenting as being in-between rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. I blog about it over on @ArthritisFoodie.

The only way I have been able to get a handle on my pain and inflammation is through living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle alongside my medication. It may sound outlandish to think of food and lifestyle as factors that are able to help me to manage my condition, but hear me out…

Arthritis and diet 

Arthritis is associated with excess levels of inflammation in the body. This extract from chapter three of my book Beat Arthritis Naturally, explains inflammation in the body and diet.

If we imagine this as an ongoing fire within us, low-grade or not, it will be wreaking havoc. And throwing in an abundance of inflammatory foods, a sprinkling of stress, a week’s worth of inadequate sleep and no exercise could be compared to pouring fuel all over this inner fire, causing it to burn more ferociously.

If we just focus on diet, for now, simply adding one anti-inflammatory food to your daily intake would not be enough to tame the fire. Especially when you are simultaneously still splashing on the fuel, whether in the form of junk food, alcohol or sleepless nights.

Good sleep hygiene is essential to keeping our immune systems healthy and our inflammation in check.

The objective here, then, is to eliminate the fuel completely (it may take time, and it may not be all the time, but it is possible) and replace it with a fire-engine-style hose-down – not in the form of 100 shots of turmeric or ginger, no, but an array of colourful plant-based wholefoods (along with modifications to lifestyle, treatment plans, sleep and more).

The inflammation may not disappear completely – after all, we are talking about a chronic inflammatory immune response here, so it is more complicated than this – but perhaps your inner inflammation might become calmer and more manageable than it was and, as a consequence, you could end up finding some relief.

So, what has worked for me?

Photo of Emily John in polka dot top looking at camera
Emily Johnson

An anti-inflammatory lifestyle

Living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle has significantly reduced the manifestation of my symptoms, improved my pain levels and I am able to live happier and healthier alongside my arthritis. It’s not a cure, but it is a way of coping day to day with this chronic lifelong condition.

It’s not just food. It’s everything from sleep to mindfulness and exercise, to avoiding the more inflammatory things in life:

  • certain foods (like refined and/or processed foods, or trans fatty acids)
  • being sedentary
  • lack of sleep
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • stress

Superfood smoothies won’t do an awful lot if you’re not sleeping properly and you’ve been sat stationary at a desk all day, that’s why it’s a holistic approach to your health and well-being that may help. Also, I am still on medication and would never advise anyone to stop theirs. It’s the things we can do alongside our medication, big and small!

Based on the chapters in my book, here’s a short overview of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle techniques that you can do:

Nutrition

The Mediterranean diet is largely cited as the most anti-inflammatory and healthful diet you can get. It’s where the foundation of all my recipes comes from, keeping recipes packed full of nutritious fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, herbs and spices, as well as unsaturated fats and omegas with a low intake of meat and dairy foods. 

The Western pattern diet, which many of us are accustomed to, is typically highly inflammatory including meat, ultra-processed foods, saturated fats, refined produce, sugar, alcohol and it’s low in fibre.

Exercise 

A study has found that one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can act as an anti-inflammatory. It doesn’t matter how you move, just get moving. For mindfulness and light exercise, yoga or a walk in the park are my go-tos.

Sleep

Good sleep hygiene is essential to keeping our immune systems healthy and our inflammation in check. Things such as reducing our caffeine intake and detoxing our digital devices will help.

Mindfulness

It may sound cliché but breathing exercises and staying mindful actually work. Whether it’s writing, drawing, listening to music or taking a walk in the woods, find time to be grateful for the things you do have rather than the things you don’t.

Healthy relationships

Feeling less alone and sharing how you are feeling with people you love and trust is paramount. And, even finding people who are living with the same condition as yours through social media can help too.

Overall, it is about finding what works for you in your body. With so many types of autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and arthritic conditions, plus noting that we all have different genetic make-ups, guts, bodies and lives, you have to take the journey to find what works for you.


If you have been diagnosed with arthritis and are looking for support through diet and lifestyle interventions, use the advanced search tool to find a nutrition professional and enter the search term ‘arthritis’ in the keyword box.


Emily Johnson (aka Arthritis Foodie) was diagnosed with seronegative arthritis at the age of just 20. After a flare-up in 2018, she decided to take charge of her health and well-being and documented her journey through Instagram, discovering all kinds of natural remedies – diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

Her debut book, Beat Arthritis Naturally: Supercharge your health with 65 recipes and lifestyle tips from Arthritis Foodie (Yellow Kite Books, £14.99) includes delicious, whole food recipes, as well as backed-up expert advice from leading therapists, immunologists and nutritionists and is out now.

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Written by Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a writer, author and the founder of Arthritis Foodie.

Written by Emily Johnson

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