There are many options for treating and managing autoimmune disease naturally using diet & nutrition, supplements, and more. But, how do you choose which direction to take, especially when so much of the autoimmune health advice and recommendations conflict with one another? Here’s how you can pick your path forward with confidence.
There’s nothing like that sweet feeling of hope in the air after learning that it is indeed possible to reverse autoimmune disease. Many of us were told the complete opposite of this upon our initial diagnosis, but what could be better than putting the brakes on a lifetime of degradation?
Except, one thing can crush those hopeful feelings, and it’s when you realize just HOW many different autoimmune diets, books, programs, doctors, tests, and supplements there are, AND throw in the bonus of it all conflicting with one another.
(If you don’t know what I am talking about, and would like to see a plethora of these autoimmune diets, books, etc., you can subscribe by clicking the button below to gain access to our list of the Best Autoimmune Resources included in our Autoimmune Starter Pack.)
Just with diet alone, you’ll find success stories of autoimmune reversal using the carnivore diet, a raw vegan diet, and everything in between.
What starts off as hope, morphs into a swirling vortex of…
How do I know which direction to take?
What if it doesn’t work?
What if it actually makes me WORSE?
Why does this have to be so complicated?
Why can’t someone just tell me what to do?
What if I spend 3 or 4 months trying this super restrictive diet and it doesn’t actually work for me? I don’t want to put myself through all of that for nothing!
And so on.
It’s paralyzing, so much that some people never even take a step toward improving their autoimmune condition because it’s SO overwhelming and there is so much fear of going in the wrong direction.
And it’s going to be okay! While information overload can be overwhelming, there are so many positive, useful things to take away, that by the end of this article, you’ll be feeling a whole lot better. Trust me 😉.
What to Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Conflicting Health Advice for Autoimmune Disease
So, let’s start feeling better now! Positive news items #1…
1. Change your mindset: be thankful you have OPTIONS!
There are so many different protocols and programs, which means a wide range of options for a wide range of people.
Just for diet alone, you have the plain ol’ gluten-free diet, or the paleo diet, or the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, or a raw vegan diet, or a carnivore diet, or the GAPS diet… the list goes on. And you know what? They’ve all worked for someone out there.
Imagine how frustrating it would be if you only had one option for your autoimmune disease? What if that one option didn’t work for you? Now what?!
By now, many of us know that the one-size-fits-all approach to health is failing at a rapid rate.
A more holistic and personalized approach to health, especially autoimmune disease, is necessary for creating great health. But it’s unique to YOU, your disease, your situation, your environment, your health goals, your personality, and many other factors.
Options give you the necessary flexibility to explore and experiment with different autoimmune diets, doctors, practitioners, supplements, lifestyles, and habits to find what works best for you.
But, still, the overwhelming feeling persists due to all these options (a true paradox), so there are a few pieces of advice I can give based on my experience of navigating this issue.
*I am an autoimmune patient, not a doctor or practitioner, so I am not biased toward a specific doctor, diet, program. I simply want to feel better, just like you, and have been interested in all the different ways to manage and reverse autoimmune disease since my Hashimoto’s diagnosis in 2010. But, remember, this is not medical advice!
So, the next most important thing I would recommend is to…
2. Pray. It works.
As mentioned, it is a gift to have many options to return back to health. It’s an even greater gift that God made us all unique, even if the result is for our health journeys to vary and make it harder to understand the right direction.
Here’s why: this uniqueness is what draws us closer to Him. If the same healing approach was used for everyone, we wouldn’t be individuals, special, and beautiful, which we all are in God’s eyes. Knowing that (especially) YOU, are wanted by Him, because you were made one of a kind, is why uniqueness matters.
Not only does God have the power to heal us, but He purposely designed our bodies to self-heal, and even provided all of the tools we need to make the healing happen.
So, what better thing to do, amongst confusion, than to lean into God and surrender it all to Him and ask for His direction? He is the Divine Physician.
There is simply no one else who can give you better direction than God. NO ONE.
I firmly believe that if you approach God with willingness and openness to let Him guide your path to healing, He will respond, because any act of total surrender is pleasing to Him (reference… basically the entire Old Testament, but 2 Kings 5 when Naaman is cured of Leprosy is a good example).
So, ask Him… “Lord, I am ready to feel better and give my body the things it needs to heal so I can better serve You. I give it all to you and I desire to have my will align with Your will for my life… tell me, what do I do next?”
Then, with faith and openness, start searching for answers through books, doctors, web searches, friends, family, etc. and see where He leads you.
If, after praying this repeatedly and with a sincere heart, you feel weary for answers, meditate on the following after you pray:
Matthew 7:7 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
If, even after praying and asking for your will to align with the Lord’s will, you still feel confused on how to proceed, I have found the following excerpt from Saint Faustina’s diary to be very helpful and comforting:
“When one does not know what is best, one must reflect, consider and take counsel, because one does not have the right to act in the incertitude of conscience. In incertitude (if the incertitude remains), one must tell oneself: whatever I do, it will be good, provided that I have the intention to do good. That which we consider good, God accepts and considers as good. Don’t be chagrined if, after a certain time, you see that these things are not good. God looks at the intention with which we begin and He grants the reward according to this intention. It is a principle that we must follow.”-Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of the Servant of God, Sister Faustina Kowalska, Marian Press, 1988, No. 799)
So, as you begin your journey into prayer and asking God for His guidance, the next best thing I’ve found to be helpful time and time again amongst confusion is to…
3. Focus on the Similarities & Basic Principles
If you take a look at the resources in our List of the Best Autoimmune Resources (you can gain access by subscribing to our Autoimmune Starter Pack below), you’ll begin to notice similarities between ALL the autoimmune protocols, diets, and programs.
These similarities are key. They are the basic building blocks of an autoimmune-friendly lifestyle. Once you address these building blocks, you open up the body’s ability to heal.
You’ll also begin to lift your dependency on traveling from doctor to doctor, hoping they’ll hand you the magic formula, and start placing the control back in your court (which is where it belongs).
There is a quote by Harrington Emerson that I heard on Dr. Ruscio’s podcast that describes this phenomenon perfectly.
“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”-Harrington Emerson
Which means bouncing from autoimmune “protocol” to “protocol” (or methods), without understanding and implementing the fundamental principles of what makes the protocol (or method) work, will likely result in a longer and more frustrating journey.
So, now, maybe you’re thinking… “I get it, but what are these basic principles shared by all the autoimmune programs and protocols?”
Some of the BIG Similarities of Autoimmune Protocols
You will find a vast array of opinions on what the “best” diet is for autoimmune disease. From raw, whole food, plant-based/vegan to full-on carnivore and literally everything in between.
This is probably one of the most confusing areas when it comes to autoimmune healing and everyone seems to have a different opinion on what “healthy” food actually is.
But, I can tell you this – Frank and I have yet to see an autoimmune diet that emphasizes fake and heavily processed foods, industrial seed and vegetable oils (like soy, canola, cottonseed), synthetic dyes, preservatives, obnoxious loads of sugar (even if it’s “real”), soda/energy drinks, artificial sweeteners, fast food, or any other Standard-American Diet staple.
Many of the diets eliminate grains, especially those containing gluten, at least initially. Many of them also eliminate dairy. Some of the most successful ones emphasize nutrient density, and have set guidelines for how many vegetables, protein, etc. to eat in a day.
Bottom line – an effective autoimmune healing diet will always emphasize REAL foods filled with all the macro and micronutrients your body and cells need to function optimally. Not foods that have been filled with sugar and salt, and fried or processed to smithereens to the point where your body can no longer even recognize them as food.
So, if you use real food as your starting point, and focus your attention on nutritional labels, buying things with only real food ingredients, or better yet, buying foods like whole produce that don’t even have nutritional labels, you are one massive step closer to putting your body on the path to healing.
I want to stress that for most people, this is not the perfect solution, as there are even some real, whole foods that can be inflammatory for people with autoimmune disease and cause symptoms or block healing, but it’s one of the easiest and most impactful first steps you can take.
From there, you can (and should) make more tweaks based on the various autoimmune diets available, to see what works best for your body.
Sleep & Stress Management
Poor sleep and lots of stress is a fantastic recipe for generating inflammation. But, when you prioritize sleep by building better sleep habits, and manage stress effectively, you give your body the room to enter into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous state, which is where optimal healing occurs.
I have yet to see a holistic autoimmune program that ignores these two major factors in calming and modulating the immune system. They are critical and it’s hard to reverse symptoms without them.
General Outlook & Spiritual Health
This is all lumped into the same category because it’s a general theme we see and they all kind of run together depending on how you view them, but basically…
- Your general thoughts, outlook, and how you talk to yourself each day has a major effect on your health and health goals.
- Lack of forgiveness, whether it’s refusing to forgive yourself, or refusing to forgive others, is detrimental to all aspects of your health – physical, spiritual, and mental.
- Determining a bigger purpose behind your health goals (aka determining your WHY) that goes deeper than just simply wanting to feel better, ensures sustainable success with dietary and lifestyle adjustments/changes.
- Always seeing yourself as the victim and keeping yourself in the victim mentality will keep you stuck, no matter what you do. Only when you take ownership and responsibility for your life and health will you begin to see real progress.
The health coaching industry has skyrocketed over the past five years because we are learning, doctors especially, that simply telling patients to “eat healthier” or “exercise more” doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work because eating well and exercise require behavior change, and that isn’t easy, especially when the patients are lacking the critical information and tools they need to make a change in the first place.
If you take a look at the majority of autoimmune programs, protocols, and diets, finding the right support is highly emphasized and recommended for success.
Simply put – some of these changes are HARD. If you struggle to implement diet and lifestyle changes to manage your autoimmune disease, or continuously run into roadblocks, that is NOT a sign that something isn’t working for you.
It is a sign that you need a support system, whether that’s a health coach, spouse, friend, group program, whatever, and it’s common for people with autoimmune disease to need this support.
It’s Never Just One Thing
The most important common principle is that healing requires more than ONE thing. It’s not just going to be a single diet, exercise/movement, a specific supplement, or a good night’s sleep, but all of these things building upon one another.
As you go along, you need to remember that a diet may work better if you are following it strictly AND sleeping well AND practicing stress management techniques.
All of these individually may have a small impact on your health, but when combined, their benefits, and the chances of you noticing the positive effect, increase tremendously.
4. If you try something, try it well.
If, after taking a look at some of the various autoimmune diets and programs available, you feel one piques your interest or God is leading you in a specific direction, and you’re ready to take the leap, then take a moment to prepare yourself.
Instead of jumping right in, educate yourself on the ins and outs and develop a plan to help you get to 100% full commitment.
Many autoimmune diets and protocols are very restrictive in the sense that they remove a bunch of foods and harp on avoiding “cheats”.
I remember when I first learned how even “one bite” of a seemingly, harmless food could cause noticeable inflammation and damage. That entire theory seemed so extreme to me, until I experienced it myself with dairy, nightshades, and a few other foods that gave me immediate, inflammatory reactions.
I started to understand just how important it was to follow the “no cheat” advice, at least for a period of time, while my body sorted itself out.
Therefore, if you really want to see if a certain diet, protocol, or path is working, then it’s important to follow it 100% for a set period of time before you make a determination if it is working for you or not.
I know… easier said than done. But… I’m saying it!
If you are going to try something, do yourself the favor and try it well… not half-way.
I can’t tell you how often we hear that someone “tried gluten-free”, for example, and didn’t experience any relief, only to find out that it was really gluten-free for 75% of the time, or “for a week or so.”
Some of the inflammatory reactions from these foods can last for days or weeks (just ask Frank when he is accidentally “glutened”), so it would be very difficult to ever know if removing it from your diet would be helpful, unless you remove it completely.
This is why the basic principle of “Support” I listed above is so crucial. If you find yourself struggling, don’t back down and quit. Instead, ask for help!
I will never tell you that following some of these diets and healing programs is easy, but the potential healing from giving it 100% of your effort is worth it.
5. Consider everything a data point, NOT a failure.
I understand that the options for autoimmune recovery look primarily like paths to potential failure.
What if you pick the wrong direction and it sets you off into a flare? Or what if you spend tons of time and money overhauling your pantry to follow a specific diet, but feel no progress whatsoever?
These are valid concerns, and you may experience these types of outcomes. If you read testimonials from various autoimmune programs, you are bound to see people say, for example, that they tried [some sort of popular autoimmune diet or program] and it didn’t work for them, or they’ve been to 10 doctors (even functional medicine doctors) over the years and none of them helped.
If you find yourself in this situation, where you tried something, and you gave it your all, 100% of the time, and you still found no relief, this is NOT a failure. It is a data point.
Yes, sometimes money and time are wasted. Sometimes A LOT of money and time. You might even experience an autoimmune flare during it all. I’ve been there.
But if you really pay attention to each of these “failures”, they are a gold mine of data points. This is why using a health journal to track your progress is such a valuable tool to help you mine this data, and troubleshoot why something didn’t work for you.
Take a moment and reflect on the period when you tried a specific program or path, you should be able to pinpoint things that made you feel better and things that made you feel worse.
For example, through my own experience following the AIP diet for many years, I noticed fried foods, roasted foods, burned foods, etc. gave me histamine-like reactions and made me exhausted after eating them.
This simple observation led me to a more raw, whole-food plant-based diet like Dr. Brooke Goldner’s and I felt so much better (and still do!) by eating mainly raw fruits and vegetables, and LOTS of them.
But, I would have never known this, or been as open to a mostly raw diet, if I didn’t try the AIP diet and pay attention to what was going on and how I was feeling.
This is just one example of many. It doesn’t have to be just food-related either. It could be data points about your support system, faith, mental health, environment, unexpected obstacles, etc.
There are many layers to be uncovered and much to learn about your body as you move through your autoimmune healing process. These learnings help you to continuously refine, adapt, and build resilience so you can achieve the healing goals you set for yourself.
So, what is the “BEST” autoimmune reversal program?
Some may say the best “program” or “protocol” (meaning diet, lifestyle, supplements, etc.) for autoimmune disease is the one that reverses autoimmune disease completely. That means no evidence of autoimmune disease in your bloodwork, and total reversal of symptoms (within reason, some people may have irreparable damage).
Such success stories exist, but this was once deemed impossible. The overall theory was that autoimmune disease could be well-managed through things like diet and lifestyle, but not necessarily 100% reversed. You may feel a ton better, but there will still be at least some low-level antibodies in your bloodwork.
I thought this was true for me for many years, until I totally reversed my Hashimoto’s Disease. I was SHOCKED. But I am not alone. There are many people who have 100% reversed their autoimmune diseases, with no evidence of disease in their bloodwork. None.
But here’s the problem – ALL of us did it differently. For some people, it may be as simple as going gluten-free. For others, it’s a raw vegan diet like Dr. Brooke Goldner’s. Those are massively different paths in terms of diet and lifestyle.
Plus, while it’s easy to assume that everyone would want total disease reversal, or at least to halt progression of the disease if already at a point of irreparable damage, this is simply not what we’ve observed in knowing and talking with many people with autoimmune disease.
The reality is…
Some people want different results.
Some people are in a phase of life where they are not open, or able, to implement drastic diet and lifestyle changes. Or, they aren’t interested in total disease reversal and are just interested in following a healthier, less restrictive diet to lower their inflammation to make symptoms more bearable. Or, they just want to augment the medication they are on, to improve those outcomes.
So, in their eyes, the “best” autoimmune protocol or diet is going to be different than someone who is after total disease reversal.
This is what’s so great about having so many different tools at our disposal for autoimmune reversal and management.
As frustrating as numerous options may be, these tools are always here, ready to be used at different times, when WE are ready to use them, and that is a blessing.
Some autoimmune recovery methods help in small ways, while others have the potential to totally reverse an autoimmune disease. What you choose and how well it works for you is going to be dependent on many factors:
- Symptom and disease severity (i.e. someone in kidney failure due to Lupus is likely going to need a more intensive recovery program than someone who was just diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and is in the beginning phase of the disease.)
- Openness to lifestyle and diet changes. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s at 21. Even though I was very ill, if you handed me the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet at that time, I would’ve laughed in your face. I was young and enjoying my social life out at restaurants and bars. Now that I am older, my priorities are different, and my openness to various diets has expanded. Sometimes it takes time for someone to open up to more restrictive diets and lifestyles, and having a plethora of autoimmune diets to choose from that range from super strict to less strict is a helpful way to gradually transition into a more autoimmune-friendly diet and lifestyle.
- Budgetary restrictions and access to food, healthcare, etc.
- Availability of support
And many more.
The process of experimenting with all these tools is part of the process of a health journey, and there are many good things, despite how slow or difficult it feels, that you can uncover about yourself, your body, and your relationship with God during this time.
So, embrace it, and rejoice that you are a totally unique individual with plenty of options available to try!
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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, so you can find the healing you deserve.