Joy Fennell on Healing Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally through Food

When Joy Fennell was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis back in 2008, the future looked bleak. The New York City-based makeup artist was only in her early 30s, but she suddenly found herself unable to lift her arms over her head or walk without a cane, and the only solution doctors offered was an intensive and side-effect-laden drug regimen. After becoming nearly bedridden, she decided to explore healing rheumatoid arthritis naturally. She took her health into her own hands and found a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan that worked for her and allowed her to go drug-free. Read on to hear her story.  

*This is a short clip from Fennell’s full interview— click here to watch the whole thing.*

You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with Joy Fennell on The WellBe Podcast.

Getting an Unexpected Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

Fennell had had carpal tunnel syndrome in the past, so when her left wrist started hurting in 2008, she didn’t think much of it and just bought a wrist guard. Soon her right wrist started hurting as well, and though that seemed odd she shrugged it off and just bought another wrist brace. “I’m walking around with two carpal tunnel wrist guards on my hands, and it still wasn’t working,” she remembers. “I was just like, ‘Well, maybe it just hasn’t worked yet.’”

Then, Fennell lost the ability to lift her arms over her head and knew that “something was really wrong.” She made an appointment to see her doctor, who had a hunch about what was happening and referred her to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist ran some tests and was able to confirm: she had rheumatoid arthritis. If you’re not familiar, rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the cells in the lining of your joints, resulting in painful swelling that can cause bone erosion or deformities if left untreated. 

Traditional Treatment Going Nowhere

After Fennell was diagnosed, she was immediately prescribed a slate of powerful drugs, including Prednisone and Plaquenil. Each of these drugs had a laundry list of side effects: for Prednisone, there’s weight gain (which is ironic given that excess weight is a risk factor for RA), high blood pressure, and psychological changes, among others; and for Plaquenil (the brand name of hydroxychloroquine, which became a focus of attention during the Covid-19 pandemic), there’s anxiety, blindness (!!!), paranoia, irregular heartbeat, and many, many more concerning side effects. 

Still, Fennell obediently took her meds — but she wasn’t getting better. In fact, her symptoms quietly worsened until she became nearly bedridden. At that point, her underlying apprehension about the drugs came to the surface. She asked herself: was healing rheumatoid arthritis naturally an option?

“I’ve always come from a place of, ‘OK, you want me to take these drugs, but they’re just covering up what’s going on. They’re not actually fixing the problem,’” Fennell said. “I wanted to know: How can I actually solve what’s going on?” 

She felt there had to be a way to deal with the root issue through lifestyle choices — despite the fact that her conventional doctors told her there was no cure for her condition, and certainly not any natural cures for rheumatoid arthritis — and she resolved to find it. If she didn’t, a full-time caretaker would be inevitable soon, plus her livelihood (working as a makeup artist) would be taken away from her if she was bedridden.

Finding an RA Diet that Worked

Only when Fennell began doing her own research did she learn about the impact diet can have on rheumatoid arthritis. She found story after story of people who had beaten the disease by changing what they ate, and determined that if they could do it, she could also succeed in healing rheumatoid arthritis naturally. “I wanted to know, ‘Well, if they could do it, I could do it, but how did they do it?’” she remembers. “And it always came back to diet.”

Fennell knew that her own diet needed some work — she was a  lifelong sugar addict and also 100 pounds overweight at the time. But rather than just jumping into an RA diet, Fennell decided to work with a therapist to change how she thought about food and also to work through unprocessed emotions. “Another thing I read was that [RA] is tied to a lot of anger and aggression that’s inside of you and that you need to let out,” Fennell says.

Fennell began changing how she viewed food, and noticing how it affected her symptoms. “When I ate well, that’s when my symptoms would diminish,” she said. “When I ate horribly, they would come back in full force.” Eventually, she went from being bedridden to walking with a cane. 

Though Fennell didn’t share her exact food plan with us, a typical RA diet is largely geared toward reducing inflammation. That means eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods (berries, extra virgin olive oil, dark chocolate, leafy greens, etc) and avoiding inflammatory foods (alcohol, processed foods, added sugar, red meat, etc). Check out our guide on the anti-inflammatory diet to learn more. 

After a Setback, Healing Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally for Good 

Just as her lifestyle changes began helping Fennell to reclaim her life, tragedy struck: her brother died. At that point, she regained the weight, fell back into unhealthy mental and emotional habits — and all of her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms returned with a vengeance. 

However, she’d had a taste of healing rheumatoid arthritis naturally, and knew she needed to “get it together.” She slowly found her way back on track with the help of a friend and health coach, Charles Chen, and the discovery of Mymee, a symptom-tracking app for individuals with autoimmune disease. She paid close attention to what she ate, addressed underlying sensitivities and allergies, and found a new, healing relationship with food. For instance, she learned that dairy is a huge trigger for her, as well as foods with high sugar content. 

“I frustrate the hell out of my rheumatologist,” says Fennell, referring to the fact that she opts for natural cures for rheumatoid arthritis over the aggressive conventional procedures he prescribes. For instance, she pushed back when her doctors recommended that she get both knees replaced, and later when they wanted to fuse some bones on her neck. “My thing is, I feel like surgery should be the last option. It shouldn’t be your first option,” says Fennell. In both cases she was able to avoid surgery through lifestyle changes like losing weight and seeing a chiropractor.

Today, Fennell walks without a cane and doesn’t take any meds, despite the adamant skepticism of doctors and nurses who said healing rheumatoid arthritis naturally wasn’t possible. As she told WellBe, “One thing that I have learned after going through this journey is that this is my body and I determine what happens in my body, no one else.”

Watch the full interview below to learn which medication she refused from the get-go, the role that Rolfing plays in her recovery, why she doesn’t step on the scale anymore, how she connected the dots between certain food and symptoms through tracking, and much more.

You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with Joy Fennell on The WellBe Podcast.

The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.


  1. Sparks JA. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Jan 1;170(1):ITC1-ITC16. 
  2. Schett G, Gravallese E. Bone erosion in rheumatoid arthritis: mechanisms, diagnosis and treatment. Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2012;8(11):656-664. 
  3. Qin, Baodong et al. “Body mass index and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis.” Arthritis research & therapy vol. 17,1 86. 29 Mar. 2015. 


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