Frank and I often joke that managing an autoimmune disease is totally résumé-worthy. All the skills employers love to see are all there:
Working with difficult people (aka doctors)? Check.
Critical thinking and problem-solving? Are you kidding me? Reversing autoimmune disease is like solving the world’s most complicated puzzle, and the pieces can move!
Project planning? Lol. Try the Autoimmune Protocol diet without any planning. Let me know how that goes.
Truly – living with and managing autoimmune disease is one of the greatest self-improvement projects you’ll ever experience. And bonus – it’s lifelong.
Take any time to browse our blog and you’ll see that we talk about using diet, lifestyle, habits, and mindset to manage our autoimmune diseases (and if you want to see how, here’s a day in our life). This works very well for us and allows us to manage our conditions without the use of immunosuppressant or biologic drugs. It also works very well for countless others and offers hope for the most severe autoimmune conditions.
It’s also not easy. We say this often.
But what does that really mean? What do we really mean when we say this isn’t easy to do?
Well, it’s time you hear the cold-hard truth about what we mean. And I’m going to give it to you… just keep reading.
For the record, I’m not doing this to complain, play the victim, or scare you away. In fact, I’ve debated for weeks now whether or not I want to write this because I’m afraid of scaring people away from adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and building an autoimmune-friendly life.
But here’s the thing – anyone who overhauls their entire diet and lifestyle inevitably runs into obstacles. Because of this, I fear that painting a pretty picture of an amazing lifestyle that requires no effort or challenge, will cause people to throw in the towel during their first hardship.
I’m hear to say that no one is immune to these hardships. We all experience them. Perhaps if we talk about them openly, instead of pretending they aren’t there, we can offer up the much-needed support we all crave. And maybe, together, we can see that this lifestyle isn’t meant to deprive us, but empower us (and in more ways than you’d think).
So, here’s the list of all the things that suck, for lack of a better word, about an autoimmune-friendly lifestyle. I promise though, if you hear me out, you might just see that all these “downsides” carry a bit of benefit, not only for you, but the autoimmune community.
1. An autoimmune-friendly lifestyle is inconvenient (especially if you are on a strict healing diet).
True story – Last year, Frank and I cancelled a family vacation at the last minute and forfeited our $300 deposit. At that time, I was battling some serious symptoms from my unspecified autoimmune disease and was on a strict Autoimmune Protocol diet because it was giving me tremendous relief.
We admitted that it was probably going to be an extremely stressful trip. Due to my dietary restrictions, eating out at restaurants was a no-go. We didn’t have access to a kitchen, so cooking food was limited to grilling 100% of the time on our portable grill, probably in the parking lot because we didn’t have a balcony in our room.
The trip was also the same amount of money as the ozone machine my doctor recommended to help treat my issues at home, and due to all of the supplements, doctor’s appointments, and dietary costs, we were strapped for cash.
Given that this trip was with two toddlers, we knew that it wasn’t going to truly be a vacation. Our kids don’t sleep well in foreign places, and neither do we as a result. I knew just from the lack of sleep alone, I could push my body into an even bigger autoimmune mess.
At the moment we decided to cancel, we really felt the inconvenience of our diet and lifestyle. How awesome would it be to just pack up the kids and go, without having to worry about where and what we were going to eat? And wouldn’t it be nice to drink a bunch of coffee to get us through the day if we had a poor night’s sleep?
This type of scenario perfectly illustrates the downsides of using diet and lifestyle to manage autoimmune disease. So, you’re probably wondering, what could possibly be good about this?
The Good Part
You know what these inconveniences have personally taught us? To SLOW DOWN. At that time, my body was screaming at me to take it easy, and support it with the right food and sleep. If it wasn’t for the inconvenience of our lifestyle stopping us from taking that vacation, I would have likely come home sicker than before.
Generally, convenience (even on vacation) means less movement. Crappy food. Higher cost. More toxins. All for the perceived benefit of decreased stress (which must not be working all that great because Americans are busier, more stressed, and sicker than ever before).
Starting to catch my drift?
Convenience is a driver of chronic disease. If you take a look at the key traits of the elders interviewed in the Human Longevity Project, for example, you’ll notice – they didn’t enjoy lives of convenience.
Would it be nice to be able to go on vacation without all of these restrictions? Of course. But I’ll take those inconveniences any day over living with debilitating autoimmune issues for the rest of my life.
2. It’s expensive.
If you subscribe to a holistic way of living, your medical care probably isn’t covered by insurance. This includes: functional medicine doctors who don’t take insurance, supplements, alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic, health coaches, etc. And then of course, the organic groceries and nontoxic personal care and cleaning products.
It can literally take over your budget. Unfortunately, some people won’t be able to afford some of the most effective therapies for their condition because there is no insurance to offset the cost.
The Good Part
Obviously I’m not saying it’s fun to be tight on money, but if you ever felt like you needed something to prioritize and focus your budget, this is it. Autoimmune disease is a total money makeover.
You might find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do – cutting Netflix (WHAT?!) and other subscription services, bargaining with vendors at your local farmers market, simplifying your meals down to the very basics, traveling from store to store to find the best prices, using services like Thrive Market or Amazon Subscribe & Save, etc.
Personally, we’ve learned a ton from tightening our budget. Perhaps the biggest one is just how much we once spent on junk we didn’t need, and how letting go not only freed up our money, but helped us vote with our dollars and support businesses that actually contribute to our health and well-being (instead of places like McDonald’s).
3. It’s time-consuming.
Remember the inconvenience I mentioned? Well this goes right along with it.
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet, for example, means a ton of time in the kitchen on a daily or weekly basis (depending if you choose to batch cook or not)
And then, if you’re looking to save money and want to make your own non-toxic cleaning or personal care products to help your liver out, then you’re looking at extra time spent making them.
I could list a hundred things about this lifestyle that are time-consuming.
The Good Part
Just the other day, I saw three young-ish kids ride by on their bikes. On their phones. All 3 of them. Not even looking to see if there were cars coming! And then they rode by again, and the same thing – still on their phones.
I look around at a doctor’s office, and everyone is on their phone. I look at entire families at restaurants and the kids AND parents are on their phones.
Look, I’m not saying I’m perfect here. I’m not. And I’m not judging these people because phone addiction is a very real and serious problem that too many people suffer from, including myself.
But when you are forced (for the sake of your health) to fill your time with productive things that are good for you, your family, and your health, you don’t even have time to browse the depressing dark-hole of social media and political news. All these things do is increase stress and inflammation.
When you choose to spend your day on tasks that will reverse your autoimmune disease and ultimately lead to a healthier, happier life, it gives you the peace of mind to lay your head down at night knowing that your day was not wasted. Not a single moment was wasted.
It’s easy to overlook the significance of simple tasks that are “just” time-consuming or inconvenient. Things like preparing and eating a meal together, as a family, without phones. It might take 3 hours from start to finish, but that’s 3 hours of quality time with the people you love.
4. It’s socially isolating.
When everyone around you is drinking coffee or alcohol, eating pizza, or participating in a variety of other events that you can’t take part of because of your dietary and lifestyle restrictions, you’re going to feel left out. On top of it, you’ll probably suffer a little bit from the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Then, you think that everyone thinks you’re weird.
I’ve been there. Here’s my take…
The Good Part
You might not be there yet, but there does come a time where you start to feel so good from all the changes you’ve made, that you no longer feel left out from partaking in food and beverage choices that make you sick. The cravings literally just melt away and you’re totally comfortable not eating them.
There might be some slight awkwardness if everyone around you is eating, and you’re not. But this also seems to pique the interest of those around you. You’ll probably be asked – “Why aren’t you eating?”
I view this as an opportunity to plant the tiniest of seeds, and mention that I’m using diet as a means to heal from autoimmune disease. It doesn’t have to be preachy – just more of a matter-of-fact.
Personally, I’ve found that the majority of people are understanding. Some will take it further and say “Hey, I’ve got a friend (or family member) who has that disease… tell me more.” And all of sudden, you’re opening their eyes to an option their doctor never gave them.
Believe me – just your example alone has the power to change multiple lives. Don’t be ashamed of the way you live. Own it, and others will follow.
5. It’s awkward.
On the note of social isolation, it’s also worth mentioning that, well… there are some parts of this lifestyle that are just plain awkward. Like when a well-meaning friend makes you an autoimmune-friendly dish but doesn’t take the right precautions beforehand (like avoiding cross contamination) and you know you can’t eat it.
Or when you’re given a synthetic candle as a gift, and just a tiny whiff gives you a headache.
And if you really want to get awkward – just question a doctor. Woah.
The Good Part
Honestly… I think that this is just life. Everyone, regardless of lifestyle choices, faces awkward moments and confrontation.
This is an advantage for us autoimmune folks because the more awkward moments you face, the more practice you have navigating them. And the more you practice, the less anxious you get about confrontation in general. This is a life skill that is rapidly declining due to texting and social media, and one that can benefit you greatly both personally and professionally.
Embrace the awkwardness. It will serve you well. And if you ever need help doing it, this book does an amazing job explaining how to do it effectively so everyone feels like a winner after the encounter.
6. It’s confusing.
With all of the diets, supplements, protocols, books, podcasts, health summits, doctors’ opinions, studies (or lack of studies), anecdotal evidence, etc. it’s guaranteed – you’re going to be confused.
“Take Vitamin D!” they say. Then you’ll have others saying that Vitamin D is literally poison.
Eat the beans. Don’t eat the beans.
Add coconut oil to every meal. Or don’t… because it will kill you.
The Good Part
This is the best part of the autoimmune journey because it highlights one of the most awesome parts of being human: we are all different.
And as much as we would like to be handed a roadmap guaranteed to lead us to recovery, it’s just not going to work until you start tuning into what YOUR body is telling you.
Some people with autoimmune disease CAN run a half marathon and be totally fine (not me). Others can eat beans, or even a completely vegan diet and put their disease in remission. Some need to eat a strict Autoimmune Protocol diet.
And if the Paleo diet is what works for you, then no amount of people screaming for you to go vegan is going to change your mind, because you know what works for your body. It really all depends on what works for each of us, on an individual level.
Remember, much of what you read and learn are guidelines, recommendations, and opinions – not cold, hard facts. Science is, and always will be changing, and so will your body. Listen to it and let it guide you – it’s wiser than any advice out there.
7. You are judged for everything you do (or don’t do).
On the note of a vegan diet above… did you know that I’ve offended people by simply NOT eating a vegan diet? It’s true. And even after explaining why I don’t, I can still see the hardcore judgement.
I’ve been told I’m high-maintenance. That I’m “obsessed” with my health because I won’t eat just a tiny bit of gluten. That I push my lifestyle on others.
I’m lazy and just need to exercise more.
I’m “elitist” because I choose to buy organic groceries. I’m a hypochondriac because I choose to buy non-toxic makeup. I’m a hippie because CBD oil is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
Seriously, y’all. The judgement is palpable. And full disclosure… I really didn’t expect it. At least, not from those closest to me.
The Good Part
I really could write a whole post on just this topic alone, but I’ll quickly summarize three main points:
- You quickly learn to become “unoffendable” and build a thick skin – a trait that will undoubtedly carry over into other areas of life (parenting, career, etc.). There is no use in living our lives based on what other people think, especially when the majority of people do not understand the severity of autoimmune symptoms and side effects of the most common drugs used to treat it.
- If we are all followers, and do what everyone else does just to “fit in,” then nothing will ever change, including our personal health and the health of future generations. Given the rising rates of autoimmune disease, cancer, and other chronic disease, we’ve been handed the torch to lead the revolution to a healthier future.
- This is also one of the best reminders that everyone is fighting their own battles, even if we can’t physically see them. And just like us, they don’t need judgement. They need empathy, compassion, and support.
The Real Truth About an Autoimmune-Friendly Lifestyle
So there you have it.
If you’re looking for the truth as to whether or not this works – well, yes, it does. At least for us. And you can find many stories like ours all over the internet and book stores.
But we want to be real with you, too, and give you the encouragement to push through ALL of these obstacles and know you’re not alone. When you start feeling better – you’ll look back and say “Look at all I’ve gone through, and look at how much stronger I am now.” It really is the best self-improvement project of all time.
And now it’s your turn – what hardships have you run into? What good has come from them? Share in the comments below!
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!