How to Start and Actually Stick to an Autoimmune Healing Diet
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Many are reversing symptoms by using a healing autoimmune diet. Sounds easy until temptation sets in to break the diet. Follow these 7 steps to actually stick with it.
I am going to look you dead in the eye and ask you this one time! Have you ever tried to change your diet and failed?
Don’t you lie to me!
I know the answer is, yes. And it’s totally OK (I’m envisioning us in a gentle embrace now).
Because you didn’t have the information in this article to prevent the failure! And if you have tried, and nailed it in the first round… good for you (but you’re abnormal – in a kind of awesome way).
So, if you have an autoimmune disease or multiple, and you have tried and failed to change your diet to a more autoimmune healing type of diet, or are about to try and would prefer not to fail, then I think it’s time you read on.
How to Start and Stick to an Autoimmune Healing Diet
Step 1: Just pick a diet!
I am required to use my stern dad voice on this one. With all of the information out there today, we either get immobilized or distracted.
You read this fantastic article by Chris Kresser about autoimmune diets, but distraction ends in you seamlessly eating your way through the Paleo, AIP, Keto, and Wahls Protocol diets all in a span of 45 days. Hun, that just ain’t gonna work.
But then there is the other side of the coin that consists of immobility. You’re a rock. Nay, a majestic MOUNTAIN – only erosion from the elements could possibly cause you to move in the slightest. Or dynamite. Picking a diet and moving forward with it is just not in your nature.
However! I am here to tell you that the pressure need not be so high. I won’t TELL you what to do. But, I will suggest that if you are stuck, consider the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. It has autoimmune in the name. It’s the “A” of AIP – a fitting place to start.
If you are on the other spectrum and bounce all over the place like a 25 cent rubber ball, then do me a favor and pick a start date. Mark it on a calendar. Once you’re done with that, count 30 days out from the “X” and mark that as the end date.
Don’t get side-tracked. Just stick with a single diet until the last X, and if it doesn’t work out, THEN you may try another diet.
Believe me I get it.
There is a LOT of info out there on all sorts of diets, but sometimes you just need someone to simplify the “science” of it all and suggest a direction. Then you can course correct from there.
Oh, and I suggest that your initial direction come from a really good functional medicine practitioner. They are awesome adventure guides for things like low-inflammation diets.
*The only thing I ask is this: whatever diet you choose, be sure to understand the WHYs of that diet. For example, if you are choosing the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet, then educate yourself on why you cannot eat certain foods, and also why you should eat other foods (here is a great place to find all that information). Don’t underestimate the power of knowing this information. It really really helps.
Step 2: Put a Plan in Place
Not sure what your personality is like, but success hinges on your level of readiness prior to launching into day 1 of your new diet.
A good roadmap for starting a new diet should look something like this:
Understand what you are getting yourself into.
No matter what diet you choose, it is imperative that you understand something…
Autoimmune/healing diets take dedication, real effort, no cheating (will cover later), time, and the desire to want it to work. Without all of these things, you might as well not even start.
So, feel the burn! The passion! First, get psyched up, and then proceed with your planning.
Pick your diet.
I’m assuming this isn’t done yet? Just don’t be the immovable mountain…
Set a budget
I think this rule should apply for pretty much anything you plan to spend more than 100 bucks on.
A budget gives you structure to maintain peace-of-mind and logic during your lifestyle shift. We don’t want you splurging on $5 bottles of kombucha and 30 pounds of bacon just for the sake of “sticking to the diet”.
You will end up costing yourself out of genuine (good for you) change. A new diet shouldn’t require a second mortgage on your house. However, it does take proper planning and perspective to get you started right.
If you are looking for some tips on how to source nutrient-dense food on a budget, then the Autoimmune Wellness podcast is the best place to start. All of season 3 episodes cover real food on a budget. Click here and scroll to the bottom to view the line-up of season 3 episodes.
The real trick of the trade is to learn how to meal plan.
Start with a good cookbook or two, I recommend these as some of our favorites (“The Healing Kitchen” & “Against All Grain”). Then, once you are more comfortable, you can peruse the internet for old fan favorite recipes from your unhealthier days.
Once you have a series of recipes that you want to prepare for the week – put the ingredients on a shopping list and go splurge (as long as it fits the budget)!
Final pro-tip: leftovers save time, money, and give your willpower a break long enough to recharge and get back in the kitchen (especially if you don’t like to cook).
Find a rock.
Friend, family, or inanimate object (not recommended) – you need someone to lean on when things get tough.
Without a partner or coach, you have to hold yourself accountable, and that is a little too much to take on considering all that a diet overhaul requires. Please choose someone you know will be supportive (spouses, sadly, are not always the best answer… but I do hope you try this route even as backup).
Now STOP! Hammer Time… Just kidding. Write it down!
You might have a photographic memory, and in your case you can skip this step, but for those of us, normal people (sigh)… make sure you write down all of the choices you made while creating your plan.
A great tool for this step can be found here. I recommend using tactics like those found in the previous link to guarantee your success, because – “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” (Quote from a previous manager).
Now… Plan in place?
Let’s do this thing!
Panicked already? Step 3: Just breathe…
Yes, this is a huge undertaking. Yes, you could fail miserably. Yes, I wanted to come up with three of these but stopped at two…
Diet and lifestyle changes do involve a lot, but they can be EASILY simplified. For example:
Monday dinner – Chicken salad.
- Grilled/baked/boiled/pressure cooked chicken on a bed of organic romaine and spring mix lettuce, tossed with organic cucumbers and red onions. Throw some Primal Kitchen dressing on there (make sure it fits the diet) and you have yourself a delicious, easy and FAST meal!
Once you know your potential ingredient list (easily searchable under “XX Diet Food List”), cross out the things you know you don’t like (add some back in for fun to see if you can learn to like them!) and then look for fast, easy recipes that fit the list.
Lean on your support-person for cooking a meal or two, shopping with you, meal planning with you, and just generally helping you to keep moving forward. Try to have some fun with this – it doesn’t have to be work!
Taking extra time in the beginning to simplify things will help you outlast the burnout that these diets can cause. It can be taxing having to cook all of your food. But, doing the small things like saving leftovers, meal planning, and asking for help, will keep your engine for autoimmune healing, running smooth!
Step 4: NO CHEATING
There is a stern finger pointed at you right now.
Autoimmune diets usually include cutting out some of the most prominent foods in existence. Wheat (gluten), milk/cheese/dairy products, soy products, etc. will likely be on the removal list. Initially, this feels like a gut punch.
But, WHY do you want to do this? WHY do you want to feel better? Let the answer to these questions burn deep into your subconscious so that you DON’T CHEAT!
Gluten, for example, causes inflammation in people with autoimmune disease. Certain sources claim that any amount of gluten will cause inflammation for up to 3 months. That means, a small bite of cake/donut/bagel/whatever once a quarter, equals 1 YEAR of inflammation. Which means that all your hard work of even going 15 days without cheating goes right out the window. Goodbye.
So… no cheating (please and thank you, you’re amazing).
Step 5: Patience young grasshopper
Once you have started the diet you can expect one of two things: to start feeling REALLY well early on, or nothing at all for a long time.
Interestingly though, both require patience.
Obviously, if you don’t have any results you could be on the wrong diet, but you might also just need to let your body do its thing.
An important reminder: your body didn’t develop an autoimmune disease overnight. It took years of fighting off microbes, toxins, and other environmental triggers (tainted food/water/air/light) to finally trip your immune system to always be switched on and attack itself.
So, don’t get discouraged, or start bouncing around to other diets if you don’t see results right away. Be patient with yourself and your body – it deserves a break!
The other side is a little less obvious. If you do see results right away, you need to be patient because you’re not healed. Sorry, but it just doesn’t happen overnight (I think I’ve said this before).
You might feel amazing, and that’s great! But make sure you stay grounded so that you can maintain the structure of the diet and not regress. Keep the momentum and let the reduction in your symptoms continue to boost your desire for even more autoimmune lifestyle changes!
Step 6: Stop trying to keep up with the Jones’s, and the Davis’s, and the Smith’s and… just give yourself a break!
The deepest pitfall of them all is the family gathering (or other get together) in which you cannot partake in any of the food or beverages that are supplied by the host.
Pure temptation, and worst of all, while surrounded by people who don’t understand what you’re doing or going through.
This sucks. I won’t slice it any other way. My heart goes out to you.
However, it helps if you give yourself a break. How? For one, by not trying to attend ALL of the parties possible. It might help your body to heal just by slowing down for a minute.
Otherwise, you can just simply bring your own food or eat before you attend the party. This keeps your temptation low, gives you something fun to discuss with everyone (how awesome you feel from simple diet changes), and reduces the pressure to keep up with the craziness that parties and their food, can cause.
I’m not trying to scare you, but this always seems to be the trickiest obstacle to hurdle. Instances like these benefit greatly from the support of top-flight support-buddies.
Step 7: Enrich your mindset as you enrich your body.
People go into this looking at the laundry list of things you CAN’T eat. Well I’m here to tell you that’s a “recipe” (see what I did there) for disaster, and failure, and you throwing your newly purchased Instant Pot at the wall.
Instead, try the reverse!
Look at all of the delicious (even if you don’t know it yet), nourishing, and healing foods that your body is about to acquire. Feast your mindset on the awesome adventure of new, never tasted foods, and all of the unique preparation methods that you haven’t tried! Exciting isn’t it?
Even if it’s not, people always convince themselves that “eating healthy” is hard and the food doesn’t taste as good because it’s not loaded down with sugar. But if you haven’t already, you will soon find that this just isn’t the case.
And you can flip this misconception on its head just by thinking about all of the positives that this diet will bring.
- Reduced symptoms
- REAL nourishment for your body
- More energy
- Delicious organic, sustainably raised/produced foods – they really do taste better!
- Improved mood
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you even get started by taking the approach that EVERYONE else does. Look at this from a positive perspective, and see how much joy you can get from changing your diet.
The winding road to success.
If you have stepped onto the battlefield of autoimmunity, you have undoubtedly suffered the treachery that confronts you day-by-day. But breathe deep comrade, because if you are reading this article, you have decided to take command of your disease!
Thought I would throw in some inspirational pizzazz for the closing…
Seriously though, be inspired, because there are people who have their symptoms nearly, or sometimes, completely go away by changing key components of their life. One key component being diet, of course.
The nutrients and quality of food can impart actual healing to an autoimmune challenged person. But changing your diet to obtain this healing is NOT easy.
So I urge you, beg you, to try as hard as you can to use the advice in this article (and others like it) to make your environment, routine, and ultimately habits – work for YOU!
Don’t get stuck at the beginning of the journey, and hope to feel better. Hop in the driver seat, punch the gas and get to where you want to be. Feel better, and make sure you can be successful by following the steps on this page.
I hope you feel better soon! And if you have any tips for our readers on how to stick to a diet, or discover tips along your journey, please leave them in the comments below.
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Hey there! I’m Frank, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. My wife, Anna, and I have battled our respective autoimmune diseases for over a decade. We have fumbled through and eventually learned that REAL mental and physical healing requires you to be your own advocate, to think for yourself, and to determine what information works for YOU.
We created this blog to teach everyone how to use the resources and tools available to make the best personal decision surrounding any health, faith, and lifestyle choice.
Frank and Anna
This article is awesome! Great writing. It inspired me even though I feel I was doing well! I love you guys!!
D mac, great name. We appreciate the compliment and are so glad you are doing well with your autoimmune diet! Keep up the good work.
What are the specific “autoimmune “ diets?
Hi Sarah! Great question… there are actually many different diets to choose from, but I think this article summarizes the diets that will give you the best results for autoimmune disease. Personally, we have tried Paleo, the Autoimmune Paleo/Protocol, and the Wahls Protocol. Each one revealed a little bit more about what our bodies can and cannot tolerate, and we landed somewhere in between all of them with great results. Thanks for reading!!
Great article! I’ve been reading articles daily for one and a half years,first time I’ve seen one like this. You have given me hope.Due to the extreme pain I can no longer work making it impossible for me to buy organic. Is it possible for the diet to work if I buy regular fruits and veggies? It’s never been a problem for me to stick to a diet but I’ve never given up gluten.Absolutely no medications have helped my pain so I’m on nothing…..I need this to work. Looking forward to your reply.
Hi Kim, thanks for the comment! Regarding your question of organic being a must, the answer is – no. If all you can afford are conventionally grown veggies, then eat away! A good resource to have is the “Clean 15/Dirty Dozen” that comes out each year from EWG.org. The guide explains which foods should ideally be purchased organic vs those that can be purchased conventional and still be considered very “safe”. As for the gluten, there are a number of sources that recommend cutting out gluten for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease. Anna and I both have had tremendous results by eliminating gluten and dairy. Obviously, autoimmune healing needs to be very personalized, but gluten and dairy issues seem to be common among most with an autoimmune disease.
As someone who has tried AIP in the past your article is SPOT ON!!!! The AIP LIFESTYLE (I don’t like the word diet) is a MUST if you have been diagnosed with ANY autoimmune disease(s) I say it’s a must because you FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. I unfortunately did not commit to it and I’m back right where I started… seeing doctor’s, lab tests, etc…
What an awesome affirmation, Tara! Thank you for writing this. Obviously I agree wholeheartedly, and particularly about the lifestyle portion. Diet undermines what AIP really is, a component of an autoimmune life that aims to reverse instead of manage symptoms. I hope you can get back on to the AIP train! Let us know if we can ever be of any help.
Bam, you nailed it with this amazing post and all the helpful links. Thank you.
Thanks, Rachale! I’m glad you found it helpful. 😊
My 16 yr old son has been having autoimmune like symptoms for a few months now, he’s been in and out of children’s hospitals, has had countless lab work, MRI’s CT scans, Spinal Tap and endless doctor appointments. I started doing my own research on how to heal him from the inside out, Im slowly changing up our meal plan & praying this will relieve some symptoms. Thank you for this great article read, it gives mom’s like me so much hope for my son.
Hi, Melissa. My heart goes out to you and your son. I can understand how much it pains you to see your son suffering. Thank you for looking into alternatives on your own though. You are his best advocate, so keep up the great work, and I hope that you will find the direction and answers you need to improve his symptoms. If you ever want to bounce ideas, please send us an email!