In August of 2017, about 5 weeks before my 52nd birthday, I wrote an email to Dr. Shawn Baker to ask for help.
A few months before, I was in the emergency room for what I thought was sciatica. The pain shooting down my leg was so debilitating that it was impossible to stand without being doubled over.
But the ER physician’s x-rays noted no deviations in my spinal column, such as bulging or herniated discs. This would likely rule out sciatica.
Although she did see that I had arthritis. When I registered surprise, she told me that she would have been more surprised if I didn’t have it. Apparently, arthritis is the rule, not the exception, for men in their fifties.
When I followed up with my primary care physician, he reaffirmed that I had arthritis and the leg pain was caused by it. He was not pleased when I told him I lift weights every day. And when I told him that my weight-training included squats, he actually looked horrified.
He informed me that I would have to give up weight training and take up swimming. And basically consigned me to a diet of boneless, skinless chicken breast and vegetables for the rest of my life.
When I suggested taking up the Atkins diet, he insisted that the Atkins diet didn’t work, and as a testament to that “fact,” he claimed that Atkins had died of a heart attack.
When I attempted to correct him (since Dr. Robert Atkins died of a traumatic brain injury after falling on some ice), he maintained that Atkins died of a heart attack and that he had known Dr. Atkins personally.
Maybe he did know Atkins, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was wrong about how Atkins died.
Reluctantly, I resigned myself to do as he said. But unsurprisingly, after a few days of forcing myself to go to the gym, bypass the weight room on my way to the locker room to reach the pool and slog around in the water for an hour or so, I stopped going to the gym altogether.
And my PC also put me on an anti-depressant regimen. (Imagine that! I was depressed, too!) I also got a prescription for the NSAID Meloxicam for the pain, although he informed me that the benefit of Meloxicam for arthritic pain wouldn’t be great.
I love lifting weights. There’s such a sense of gratification as you exert yourself to the limit, as the weights crawl upward, squeaking out that last rep. And it was a gratification that splashing around back and forth in a swimming pool just couldn’t match.
With the diet, the drugs, the pain and not being allowed to lift weights, I found the joy had been sucked out of my life. The things that I enjoyed most and looked forward to every day had been taken from me.
I don’t know how I happened upon Dr. Shawn Baker’s Twitter feed, but I’m glad I did. Here was a man about my age, who sure as hell didn’t look like arthritis was keeping him down, and obviously did more than swimming to keep in shape.
After inundating him with questions via Twitter, I decided to give Dr. Baker’s approach a try. (At this point, what did I have to lose?) So, I wrote Dr. Baker my story, about what my doctor said, including the diet, the drugs and the exercise, and he was kind enough to write me back.
An excerpt from his response to me: “Just in general terms (and not to be taken as medical advice) a stronger joint is a healthier joint and is relatively more resistant to arthritis. In my view, diet plays a huge role in joint pathology, with meat being the least likely substance to contribute to it.”
After a few false starts (as a nearly incorrigible carb-addict), I embraced carnivory.
Fast-forward to today: Since January, I no longer take Meloxicam (because I don’t need it) or anti-depressants, and I am back in the weight room, doing full squats, without pain.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude for Dr. Baker’s guidance.