While food is an extremely part of the healing process, I don’t believe that dietary restriction is the most effective way to improve autoimmune symptoms.
Changing our diet is necessary to give our bodies the nutrients that it needs to restore balance and function. But we need to be careful with our approach and I explain what I mean by this later in this post.
A Functional Medicine approach
Autoimmune diseases affect millions of people around the world, causing a range of symptoms from mild to debilitating.
While there is no cure for these diseases, there are ways to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. In the case of Functional Medicine, we focus on the root cause so that we can restore health in without solely relying on diagnosis and treatment. We know that our body has several interconnected systems made up of organs that need to be in balance in order to function together in harmony.
In the case of chronic illnesses like autoimmune diseases, since the immune system is out of balance inflammation can run rampant- much like a smoldering fire inside our bodies, This contributes to weight gain, chronic pain, disease, and more.
This is where an anti inflammatory diet is extremely helpful. It is the first thing I look to implement to lower their levels of inflammation and provide relief from pain and suffering.
The idea is that certain foods can trigger autoimmune symptoms, and by eliminating them from your diet, you can reduce inflammation.
But if we are not mindful of each person’s unique requirements, dietary restrictions can become excessive and cause more harm than good.
Understanding the line between healthy choices and disordered eating habits
This is what happened to a client of mine who was asked to go off gluten, dairy and grains without being given any proper guidance as to what to actually eat instead. In her case she started losing her hair, her energy levels plummeted and she was feeling worse than before. She was also a cancer survivor and would have needed higher levels of nutrients than most other people.
When we started working together, I added back some grains, plenty of plant based foods and healthy proteins and fats for every meal. This and other forms of support to improve her digestion slowly helped her body to improve her energy levels and feel much better overall.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t remove anti inflammatory or trigger foods like gluten, dairy, and corn.
It’s really about customising the diet for that unique person’s requirements and making sure that we make these changes that her body can handle.
This is because restrictive diets can actually worsen autoimmune symptoms, by limiting nutrient intake and causing stress on the body
Also, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind
focusing on what foods to avoid can make people feel overwhelmed and stressed about their dietary choices, which can be counterproductive to their healing process
constantly thinking about the foods they can’t eat can create feelings of anxiety, depression, and even guilt when they do indulge in something outside their diet
and finally, the idea of dietary restrictions can also be daunting for people who have already made significant changes to their diet and lifestyle and may feel like they have already sacrificed a lot
A comprehensive approach to managing autoimmune symptoms would mean that we identify and address underlying causes, such as inflammation or nutrient deficiencies.
Do these four things instead of focusing on restriction
I ask my clients to follow one simple rule at the beginning-
Focus on the variety of foods you can eat, rather than the foods you need to avoid.
1. Instead of focusing on restrictions, it can be more helpful to focus on the nutrient-dense foods that you can eat to address nutrient deficiencies and imbalances and support your body’s unique healing process. These included foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. There are also multiple positive impacts of nutrient-dense foods on your overall health and well-being. For example, improvements in energy levels, mood, and cognitive function.
2. Moreover, a “crowd-in” approach, where you gradually add in nutrient-dense foods while reducing the intake of less nutritious options, is usually a more sustainable and less restrictive way to approach food as medicine
3. You can derive much pleasure and enjoyment that can come from eating delicious, nutrient-dense meals. There are many resources for exploring recipes and meal ideas that are both nutritious and tasty.
4. And finally, focusing on what’s good for you can also help shift your mindset from a place of deprivation to a place of abundance. So rather than constantly feeling restricted and limited by your diet, you can focus on all the delicious and nutritious foods you can eat, and find joy in discovering new recipes and ingredients that support your health.
Remmber that dietary interventions are just ONE part of a holistic approach to healing and you need to be gentle with yourself and focus on progress, not perfection.
This is because celebrating your success will help you stay motivated to continue making positive changes in your diet and lifestyle over a longer period of time.
I have written about why you need to let go of a “perfect diet” in help your body to heal and you can read it here.
As Remy Blumenfeld had said,
“Eating good food is a form of self-respect. And when you respect yourself, you take care of yourself. And when you take care of yourself, you feel better, you look better, and you live a better life.”
You can watch the video below to learn about three practical tips that you can implement to shift your mindset and focus on what’s good for you