Do you like to dive right into the pool without testing the water first? Or do you poke a toe in, then inch in slowly, allowing yourself to get used to the water?
When you are trying to make significant shifts in your life, there are basically three ways you can approach it: Go all in, transition slowly while you get used to small changes, or somewhere in the middle.
I interact with a lot of people who are attempting to improve their health by making big changes in their lives, especially in what they eat. With the recent popularity of the Paleo diet, and even more recently, the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol and the Wahls Protocol, more and more people are – with good reason – hoping that a radical change in diet will help cure their autoimmune conditions.
I’m in a few facebook groups and message boards comprised of people attempting just that.
There are many people in those groups who will tell you that the only way to have success is to dive right in – 100% compliance– if you want to see health improvements. And they do have a point. For some people, only strict adherence to an elimination of grains, legumes, nightshades, added sugars, dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, nuts and seeds will give them the results they crave – freedom from pain and other symptoms of their conditions. (Keeping in mind that some of these diets are elimination diets, meaning that when you have healed your digestion, you may be able to successfully reintroduce some of the foods you eliminated.)
So I get where they are coming from when they advise “newbies” to strictly follow whichever protocol they are on – all or nothing from Day 1.
But sometimes this advice rubs me the wrong way. It chafes me like ill-fitting shorts on a sweaty day.
I mean, you can usually tell when a person pops onto one of these groups, desperate for relief from their symptoms, yet completely overwhelmed by these brand new rules for eating which are totally contrary to the Standard American Diet way of eating that they have always lived by.
And while I know those kind-hearted souls offering their $.02 really want to help, I don’t think they always realize how difficult it is for some people to commit to such radical change in one fell blow, as it were.
Yes, for some people it is easy to give up all their familiar foods (despite intense cravings), and to learn how to shop, cook, and eat in a whole new way overnight. And if you are suffering from chronic, crippling pain, that is a powerful motivator! If that describes you, then great! And YES, you will probably (though not necessarily) see the fastest improvements in your health through this approach.
But not everyone can – or should – take this route. Such a radical change and huge learning curve can set you up for failure if you are not ready for it. It can create monumental amounts of stress in your life, too, which is totally counterproductive to your healing.
If you place such high expectations and demands on yourself, if you stumble on your path to the “perfect diet,” it is more likely that you will give up altogether and go back to eating pizza and Oreos. (Or even “green-washed,” organic versions of the same sugary, nutrient-devoid foods.)
So, if diving in just doesn’t feel right to you, give yourself permission to ease yourself into these changes. Start by making smaller – yet more sustainable – changes to your diet.
There are, of course, many different ways to go about making dietary changes. (And remember, there are different diets or “protocols” too.) And you need to find the right style of eating and the right approach to implementing it – tailored for you. Your body, your lifestyle, your experience. Take ownership of your body and your health!
Ultimately, it comes down to loving yourself enough to make choices that will support and nourish you. Accept that it may take time. If you mess up and eat something “not on the list,” accept it and move on! What’s done is done. Every meal is a new chance to make better choices.
Here are some tips for gradually implementing dietary changes, or even an elimination diet like AIP. Here goes:
- Avoid packaged, processed foods in favor of one-ingredient foods, i.e. cauliflower, grapefruit, plantains, broccoli.
- Make a plan to eliminate the not-allowed foods one by one. For example, start by eliminating gluten, then get rid of dairy. Move through the food categories that are not allowed one by one, until you are only eating allowed foods. BUT make sure when you eliminate one group, you don’t replace it with other not-allowed foods. For example, when you remove gluten-filled foods, don’t go out and buy all the gluten-free substitutes, like GF cookies, donuts, and breads. In most cases, they are not healthy alternatives.
- Find a few allowed foods that you really love that can help you get through the cravings. For me these are coconut milk, pumpkin puree, dandelion tea, and fried plantains. Try not to eat your favorites every single day, though, or you may find you become sensitive to them, as well.
- Be aware that it takes a lot of effort to create new habits. Tools like mindfulness meditation and yoga can be really valuable complements to dietary and lifestyle changes.
- Most of all, be kind to yourself!
Keep in mind that if you are doing an elimination diet (which I recommend), it will take you longer to get to the point where you have eliminated all potentially problematic foods. You most likely will have to stop eating ALL of them for at least a few weeks so that you can rest your digestion and then attempt to very methodically and slowly reintroduce the foods one by one, observing closely for any adverse reactions. So, like I inferred earlier, this slow transition approach will be, well, slower! But if it makes it easier and less stressful for you to achieve 100% compliance, then you will most likely have more success with this approach. Also, if you chose to dive in from the get-go, but keep slipping up by eating non-allowed foods, you will also be slowing down your progress, if not sabotaging it completely. In this case, slow and steady wins the race.
Like I said before, your approach has to be individual, so it is hard to give “hard–and-fast rules.” But if you have any questions, I’d love to help. You can reach me three ways: leave a comment below, send me an email at Meredith@sheswingsonastar.com, or fill out this form for a FREE 30-minute consultation with me. I’d love to talk with you!
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