On cooking shows likeThe ChewandBurgers, Brew and Que, the charismatic Chef Michael Symon, with his signature bald head and contagious smile, whips up mouth-watering dishes with what seems like boundless energy and enthusiasm. What’s not so apparent are his painful hands, aching knees and ankles, and lurking fatigue.
Symon, 51, was diagnosed in his 20s withrheumatoid arthritis(RA) and discoid lupus, a form of lupus that primarily affects the skin, but also the joints.
Growing (Older) Pains
Symon’s arthritis pain and stiffness affects his ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, and hands. Some of his joint issues stem from broken ankles and reconstructive elbow surgery from wrestling in high school and college – the reason he insisted his own son choose a different sport, he says with a laugh. The pain in his hands is worsened by “30-plus years of cooking, holding a knife butchering – doing a lot of that in coolers, 35-degree temperatures,” he says. Now that he has others do the precise cutting needed in the restaurants, he’s more than happy to give his hands a break at home by buying precut produce and using a food processor.
His primary care doctor suspects he also hasosteoarthritis. “’There’ll be a point where you’ll have to get both knees [replaced], and your hips aren’t great either,’” he told Symon.
As Symon got older, he found himself taking increasing amounts of over-the-counternonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs). “When you’re younger, you tend to grunt through some pains more. As I got older, I don’t know if the aches and pains increased or my pain tolerance decreased – one of the two [happened],” he says.
His Personalized Pain Therapy
Symon, whose grandmother had RA, knows the disease will continue to cause damage if he doesn’t take adisease-modifying medicationto address it. “My grandmother, by the time she passed, it was crippling. I understand that certainly is something the future may have for me, but at [my age], I’m going to continue to do things as best as I can and still continue to enjoy it,” he says.
Instead — and counter to most medical professionals’ advice — he has leveraged his own professional knowledge to try to manage his overall health and arthritis through diet – with mixed results. He tried a vegan diet (he wasn’t a fan, although his wife is vegetarian) to try to lower the tendency to high cholesterol he inherited, but it didn’t budge his numbers. He ended up taking a cholesterol-lowering medication.
But for his RA, he focused on reducing the foods that cause his joint pain to escalate. His hands are a little “crooked,” he says, but he can generally manage the pain.
“I’ve thought about taking something for the RA, but there’s a point [where] I’ve been able to control the pain, I’ve found, with diet. So – right, wrong or indifferent – my choice would always be to take less medication,” he says. “I started playing around with my diet to see if Icould reduce the aches and inflammation through diet. That’s what led to me trying to figure out what my own personal triggers were that affect how I feel.”
It also led to a new cookbook he co-authored,Fix It With Food: More Than 123 Recipes to Address Autoimmune Issues and Inflammation, released in late 2019. He is currently working on another volume ofFix It With Food, which will be released in November 2021.
食谱很简单，即使对我们这些不懂厨房的人来说也是如此。“里面有红薯和椰子炖菜，做起来真的很容易。在商店里很容易找到切成丁的红薯，其他食材也是如此。”“你把所有的东西都放进锅里，慢慢炖，味道会很好。It’s probably my favorite recipe in the book from a flavor standpoint, and it’s not a lot of work to get a meal that feels special.”
Modifying his diet has eliminated about 80% of his joint pain, but “it’s not a cure, it’s maintenance.” And it only helps if he sticks with it.
Unfortunately for Symon, who has a particular love for cheeses and other dairy products, he discovered that what triggers his arthritis symptoms most are sugar and dairy. So now, instead of eating ice cream three times a week, he’ll indulge in ice cream (“a double whammy because it’s sugaranddairy,” he says) or cheese every couple of weeks.
“I’ve learned that dairy makes me feel pretty [bad]. That being said, ice cream makes me feel pretty happy, so there are times where I make a decision [that] I’m going to have the ice cream, and tomorrow I’m just not going to feel great,” he says.
“If I do the right things, I feel great on a daily basis. In the early years of me having [arthritis pain], I’d get aggravated by it and try to push through,” he says. “Now I understand I have to live a certain way to feel better. Instead of getting frustrated, I just get back on track now.”
Adjusting to the Pandemic
《美食频道》的拍摄对他来说也发生了巨大的变化。He already had given up intense competitions likeIron Chef, but he’s a regular on other shows and has his own string of productions as well. He shot the latest,Symon’s Dinners他的烹饪总监和社交媒体经理在家里通过手机给他提供了帮助。他笑着说:“做了25年的电视节目，这还是第一次。”“这些节目真的很好。”
“We’ve always had mastiffs and those kinds of dogs that you walk them to the end of the driveway and they’re exhausted. This is our first terrier. I walk him two or three times a day and he’s never tired,” Symon says, so he still clocks more than 20,000 steps a day. “I try to play golf twice a week just to keep my mind straight,” he adds, and “I do a lot of stretching and a lot of meditation and breathing. Once you realize it makes you feel better, you just get in the routine.”
A benefit of the pandemic is the extra time with his wife and his son and daughter-in-law, whose baby is nearly 2 now. “I’m not a huge fan of all the travel that sometimes work brings,” he says. “Our granddaughter only lives about five minutes away, so I get to see her several times a week and spend time with her, which is great.”—JILL TYRER
Chef Symon’s Holiday Cooking Advice
Plan ahead and start preparing your holiday meal a week in advance. “There are a lot of things you can do five days in advance so you’re not on your feet 10, 12 straight hours or whatever trying to get it all done the day before and the day of,” he says.
Consider what you can make ahead and freeze, like casseroles, he suggests, so you’ll just have to warm them up before serving. “Get vegetables cut, make your stock, do the kinds of things you can do in advance,” he says.
“If you’re super stressed, that doesn’t help的事情,”他说。“真的，在一天结束的时候，COVID教会我的一件事是享受你的家人，所以你最不希望在假期里感到压力大、疼痛和痛苦，而不是享受你周围的人。”
Check out these holiday-appropriate dishes Symon and his culinary director recommend fromFix It With Food–Slow-Roasted Salmon,Loaded Greens With Walnuts and Mushrooms, andPumpkin Pie.