In a couple of my past posts I have mentioned food and nutrition as a tool for improved health. I’ve even posted a couple of recipes. I also recently wrote a rave review of The Paleo Approach. But I haven’t said much about what my own diet looks like and how it fits into my healing “toolbox.”
I’m the first to admit that it can be super confusing to decide what is healthy and what isn’t. It seems like the “experts” are always changing their minds about which foods are good for us and which aren’t. This is even more true when you are dealing with complicated health issues, and there are various “camps” touting their particular diet as THE path to true health.
I have tried many different styles of eating over the years, including vegetarian, whole foods, vegan, raw, gluten-free, anti-candida and now the autoimmune paleo protocol. And I’ve researched many other types of diets. What’s best? Well, that’s hard to say.
First, diet (as in what you eat) is just one piece of the puzzle. I think in most cases someone with complex health issues, such as autoimmunity or chronic disease, requires a holistic approach, addressing body, mind, and spirit. Nutrition is definitely crucial, but good nutrition alone may not bring you the results you desire. As a long-time vegetarian (20+ years), I am willing to entertain the idea that a vegetarian (and later vegan) diet was not bringing me the radiant health that I wanted. In fact, I seemed to just get worse and worse over time, even after eliminating gluten and soy, and later dairy and eggs. I looked with envy on those lucky souls who bragged that after eliminating gluten for one day, they felt amazing and all their symptoms disappeared! Or those whose lives were forever changed by their new green smoothie habit.
Truth be told, I never felt any improvements with any of my diet “experiments.”
My latest “experiment” is with the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (aka AIP, or the Paleo Approach). I’ve been at it for over 3.5 months now. And I’ve been strict, too. The only exception being that I have been following an herbal protocol to eliminate various infections, as prescribed by my doctor. Some of the ingredients in the herbs are not AIP-compliant.
So, have I seen improvements while on AIP?
Well, no, not really. The skin on my face is looking (and feeling) really good, which makes me happy. My face used to go through phases of being excessively dry and slightly irritated and inflamed. My guess is that the gelatin I’ve been consuming is helping my face. Other than my face, I haven’t really gotten the results I was hoping for – not yet, at least. I still have pain and inflammation in my elbow (my chief complaint), my energy level and sleep still aren’t where I would like them to be, and I lost weight, which I didn’t really want to lose. (I know, I know, cry me a river!) And for the last 6 weeks I have been experiencing uncomfortable digestive issues. The funny thing is, before AIP I only very rarely had any digestive issues. Usually my digestion was just fine, thank you. It raises some questions for me, ones I am investigating now. I think I will be making some changes soon… and I will keep you posted.
So what do I recommend in regards to diet?
First of all, you are an individual, and as such, your diet has to be individualized for you. I don’t think there is truly a one-size-fits-all type of diet. I do, however, think there are some guidelines that most everyone should follow for improved health. This is especially important if you have an autoimmune disease. Sarah Ballantyne says in “The Paleo Approach” that leaky gut has been identified in all autoimmune diseases in which it has been studied.
Here are my general recommendations (keeping in mind that I am not a trained medical professional or dietician):
- I recommend everyone follow an elimination diet, such as AIP, for at least 30 days before carefully challenging certain foods to see how you react.
- What is one thing all the different popular diet trends have in common: lots of vegetables! I may be wrong, but I can’t think of any expert who recommends eating less veggies. I aim to follow Dr. Terry Wahls’ recommendation of at least 9 cups of vegetables per day, and most days I eat more than that. The aim is a nutrient-dense diet. Pack your meals with the highest quality, most nutritious food you can get. But keep in mind that some veggies might not work for you either, for example nightshades can be problematic for some people, as can FODMAPS. Some people have trouble digesting raw veggies. Again, you have to tune into your body and see what combination of foods works for you.
- There are some foods that I believe most of us, especially those of us with autoimmune issues, should eliminate. They are gluten, processed soy, and processed foods in general should be severely limited.
- Avoid excessive sugar. I’m not saying to never eat a sweet treat again, but I think sugar should be enjoyed in small quantities, and then natural forms, such as raw honey, maple syrup and fruit are better choices.
- Choose healthy fat sources, such as coconut oil and avocado. Pure olive oil is good, too, but not heated. Animal fats are also considered healthy, though I admit to not using them much.
- Create a good environment while eating. Focus on your food, on chewing thoroughly, on relaxing. Food should be enjoyed. Stress does not make for good digestion!
- Above all, learn to listen to your body.
- Finally, it would be wise to work with a trained medical professional or nutritionist who is experienced in working with people who have chronic conditions. A functional medical doctor is a good idea, preferably one who comes highly recommended.
Other than those guidelines, there are some things that I believe would help most, but maybe not all people, with inflammation or autoimmune issues:
- To balance blood sugar, I think it is important to eat some protein, fat, and carbs (preferably vegetables or perhaps fruit) at every meal.
- Fermented foods are a good addition to most people’s diets, if you can tolerate them.
- Egg whites and pasteurized dairy are difficult to digest and can contribute to leaky gut for a lot of people.
- I love nuts & seeds. I really do. They have a lot of good things going for them nutritionally, too. I’ve missed them most of all while on AIP; however, they can also be difficult to digest. If you eat nuts and seeds, they should really be soaked first to improve digestibility and don’t overdo them.
- Eat a good variety of foods, and rotate them so you are not eating the same foods day after day, which could lead to a sensitivity if you have a leaky gut.
There you have it! The guidelines I myself follow for getting the most I can from my diet. These are recommendations that I give based on my own years of experience in healing my own body and research I have done. What works for me may not work for you, but I think this list provides a good starting point.
Tell me in the comments what has or has not worked for you!