I wanted to address something that has come up a lot lately. People stumble across this site as a result of a link or a google search for natural ways to manage their autoimmune condition. They find out about the autoimmune protocol, and dive right in, but are then unhappy when it doesn’t “work” after a week or two. This can be very confusing after reading stories like mine of people who have been successful using an elimination diet to get to the bottom of their autoimmune disease.
I love a plan. In my search for healing, I tried many diets and cleanses, every time hoping and believing that they would heal me. Every time came across a new diet with testimonies and claims to fix my problems, I was overwhelmed with a sense of hope. I thought that if I could just stick to it perfectly, then my problems would subside. If I didn’t feel well while doing it, I read that it was “detox” or that I “wasn’t doing it right”. This would cause me to push through even though I felt worse, to the point where I could not do it anymore, and in many cases caused my health to be worse than it was when I started.
Eventually I swore off getting sucked into the trap of finding a new diet and instead vowed to go by how I felt. When I discovered the Paleo diet, I was put off by it because I had already spent 10 years as a vegan; I did not want to swap one dogmatic diet for another. I decided to start letting my diet be informed by the ancestral health movement, while paying attention to how I felt and ultimately letting my body decide which foods were best for me. I quickly found out that beans and grains were indeed a problem, but also some foods that were very Paleo – like eggs. I found the autoimmune protocol, and although the diet made sense to me, I was cautious about diving in too soon. I started to research the reasons why certain foods affect those with autoimmune disease, and came across “leaky gut” for the first time.
Next I toyed with eliminating and reintroducing certain foods over a three month period, with no plan or strict elimination phase – I just went by how I felt. After experiencing some surprising reactions, I decided that to do this right, I needed to make a plan with a strict elimination phase. The difference here, was that instead of expecting a cure or healing, I was going to allow myself to be empowered by a process that could help me feel how foods were affecting my body. This was very different than my previous way of thinking about dietary interventions in the name of better health – more gentle and collaborative with my body, instead of forcing it to have a certain outcome.
Obviously I am very invested in the autoimmune protocol, and I know that it is something that can be of great help to many people – I just wrote a cookbook for it! But I will be the first to admit that it is not a prescription that will produce and expected cure for everyone. Instead, it is a framework from which you can build your ideal diet. Yes, the elimination phase has strict parameters and must be adhered to for a period of time. Some people don’t feel better and need to take it even further – like starch, sugar, salicylates, or histamine, for example, before they can experience relief. This can be tricky to wrap your brain around, especially for people like me, who have a history of forcing themselves to go through a difficult process in the name of getting healthy. The problem is, if that process isn’t making you get healthy, you need to know when to stop, reevaluate, slow down, or make modifications.
I am not advocating that anyone with an autoimmune disease give up these foods for a lifetime. Instead, I am trying to give you the tools that you need in order to implement a thorough elimination diet, so that you can find out for yourself where your gut is at and which foods are causing you trouble. Of course, studies and experiences of others can guide our attempts at which foods are more likely to cause problems. The autoimmune protocol is the result of the work of a lot of very smart people who have discovered the science behind what proponents of elimination diets have known for years – removing food allergens can have a profound impact on a person’s health and vitality, especially those with autoimmune disease.
If you have an autoimmune disease and are looking for a way of eating that will best enable your body to heal, the autoimmune protocol is a great place to start. I encourage you to do your research thoroughly, and don’t forget to make the process your own. Those who are most successful accept where they are at, implement change gently, and are constantly checking in with themselves to see if a protocol is working for them. Don’t compare your progress to mine, or anyone else for that matter.
I believe the best diet for autoimmune disease is the one that minimizes the immune response that comes from eating foods that a person is allergic/sensitive to or those that contribute to leaky gut. This can be different foods for different people (with the exception of gluten, which anyone with autoimmunity should never eat). In addition to this, it is very important that the diet is extremely nutrient-dense and full of the fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals that contribute to health and vitality. We may all have a common starting point in the autoimmune protocol, but where we land as far as what our bodies can tolerate may be very different, and can also change with time. My goal here is not to confuse you, but to inspire you to go about this process in a way that will produce lasting lifestyle changes that are in tune with your unique body in order to bring you healing.
How does this resonate with where you are at with your healing journey? Have any of you had a similar experience?