For many years, I suffered pain in my joints, insomnia and bouts of gastric distress. I was overweight and stressed.

I talked to my doctor about my pain and symptoms, and her response was, “Lois, you’re getting older. It’s osteoarthritis. And people start to sleep less as they get older. Get more exercise. It might help.”

In other words, she didn’t know what was causing my problems and offered no options for curing my health issues. I began to walk daily, watched what I ate and started taking a sleep aid. I slept better, but the stress and pain remained, and I continued to gain weight.

An Important Realization Regarding Your Health After 50

Then I had a moderate heart attack. It didn’t feel so “moderate” to me – the pain was excruciating. I spent four days in the hospital, flat on my back. When they let me get up, I could barely walk to the restroom, but I worked at it, and slowly recovered.

When a holistic doctor I knew suggested that heart attacks and the other symptoms I experienced could be caused by inflammation, I began to read about it. I discovered that inflammation is often caused by an allergic response.

Although I love to cook and have always made most of my meals from scratch using whole foods, the realization that I could be causing my own pain simply by eating was eye-opening.

After reading Is This Your Child?: Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies
by Doris Rapp, M.D., I came to believe that it was likely I had undiagnosed food allergies. Research shows that the top allergy-causing foods are: wheat (gluten), milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, among others.

Dr. Rapp’s single elimination diet process is to eliminate one food for four days, and then add the food back to the diet on the fifth day. I followed the book’s elimination diet, one food at a time, and kept a food journal noting what I ate, and how I felt after eating the food.

A few foods were quickly identified as allergens. For instance, soy milk surfaced as the primary cause of my hay fever allergies. The most dramatic change, however, came when I eliminated dairy products. After four days of no dairy, I realized I was pain-free for the first time in years!

Better eating and stress-reducing lifestyle changes (read: partial retirement) have dramatically changed my health and likelihood to live a good, long time.

What lessons can you learn from my journey? Take charge of your own health! And here are five ways you can be in control of your health destiny…

Know Your Body

You have lived in your body all your life. When healthy, human bodies are not supposed to have pain. If you have pain, it is a signal that something is wrong. If something changes in your body, write it down and tell your doctor. If you keep track of these changes, you may be able to correlate them to something you are doing or eating that is causing the change.

Take Responsibility for Your Health

Doctors are generally brilliant and they do the best they can, but they are not all-knowing. Webster’s dictionary defines diagnosis as “the art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms.” Many diseases or health problems can present the same symptoms. Learn to ask your doctor if your diagnosis is the only possibility; ask “What else could it be?”

Do your own research. Ask questions. If you think there might be other explanations for your health problems, get a second opinion. Be your own advocate. If you don’t think you can advocate on your own behalf, ask a friend to come to your doctor’s appointments with you to question and advocate for you.

Pay Attention to What You Eat

Your gut is as important as your brain. Keep it healthy by eating the best foods you can afford. If you think a food may be causing a problem for you, keep a food journal that includes what you ate, when you ate it, and any changes in how you feel. It will help you and your doctor track symptom patterns.

Reduce Stress

Stress can exaggerate any health problems you have. Find ways to reduce your stress to improve your health. Take time for yourself. Exercise. Light a soothing candle. Take a bath. Have a cup of tea. Do what you must do to take care of yourself.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is absolutely necessary to life. Try to get seven or more hours of sleep each night. Staying on a regular schedule promotes sleep. Eliminating electronics in the bedroom can improve sleep; don’t watch TV or play on the computer right before bed. Try yoga, a bath or sex before bed instead.

What are you doing to take charge of your health? What things do you do to reduce stress? Do you pay attention to what you eat? Please join the conversation in the comments section below.

Lois Carter Crawford Lois Carter Crawford is a freelance editor, writer and blogger. She loves to cook, talk about food and share her recipes on Recipe Idea Shop. Each of her recipe blog posts includes a nutrition label and a photo of the finished recipe. Crawford is also coauthor of Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, a soon-to-be-published sales training book.

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