I love this topic. It is easily one of the most useful bits of info I’ve collected over the years in regards to autoimmune healing and I want to pass it on to everyone in the same boat.
Maybe you’re thinking it sounds a little boring, but let me tell ya… if I wasn’t taught how to track progress and determine if I was really improving or not, I would’ve given up on my autoimmune journey a llloonnggg time ago. But, I learned, it’s better to be patient than give up too early, because often times you are making progress without even realizing it.
(A big shout out to homeopathy and Joette Calabrese, by the way, which is where I originally learned about this.)
So, to begin, let’s paint the picture:
You have an autoimmune disease with 5 major symptoms:
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
- Pain in your joints
- Digestive troubles / irritable bowel
You set out to reverse these symptoms using a plethora of healing modalities – diet, sleep optimization, supplements, stress management, etc. And you would just really, really love for that pain in your joints to go away right NOW because it’s so unbearable. You figure the other symptoms would be more tolerable if you didn’t have to live with constant pain.
After about 30-60 days sticking to your new healthy habits, you still have the pain in your joints, and therefore feel like you’re not making any progress. Totally discouraging.
However, in the process of that 30-60 days, you were so focused on the chronic pain that you didn’t realize your digestive troubles are now pretty much non-existent. In fact, you forgot you had digestive troubles in the first place.
AH-HA! So, let’s stop here and focus on this before we move on because this is very important:
Sometimes healing doesn’t happen in the order you want.
Minor symptoms might go away before major symptoms, and since you’re not focused on them as much, you might miss these subtle signs that you are indeed making progress.
Sometimes, it even happens in layers, where one symptom goes away but another one pops up – possibly one that’s even more unpleasant than the original. (But, remember, if you beat one, then you can beat all the new ones too.)
Using a health journal and/or working with a practitioner of some sort, who records and asks about your symptoms on a regular basis, keeps you from missing these small victories. Every victory, big or small, is fuel to keep you moving forward. You need that fuel when progress is slow!!
No matter how big or small your symptoms are, there are 3 very important factors to track while determining if you are on the right path to reversing them.
(One of the best ways to track these yourself is by using a health journal and making daily observations. If you’re interested in DIYing your own health journal, I show you how I set up mine here. If not, I review some of my favorite pre-made health journals in this post.)
Are You Making Progress in Reversing Your Autoimmune Symptoms? 3 Factors to Track
This is best explained using an example, so let’s use chronic pain as the example symptom: you experience pain flares in your joints due to Rheumatoid Arthritis (or any other autoimmune disease for that matter). The flares come and go throughout the year, sometimes lasting weeks at a time.
If you’re tracking this symptom to see if a specific diet, supplement, etc. is working, then you’d want to look for improvement over time in at least one of the following three things (you might not see improvement of all three at one time):
Is your pain level reducing in severity?
A number scale helps with this. Some people prefer 1-10. I prefer 1-5. Regardless of what type of scale you pick, tracking the severity daily will give you an idea of which direction you’re headed.
Yes, even tiny shifts in the number scale are improvements. If you start off at a daily pain level of 10, and notice after 2 weeks, you are now consistently down to an 8, that’s a win. You ARE improving. Keep going!!
Is the duration (i.e. length) of your pain flare reducing?
Originally, your pain lasts for 2 weeks at a time before it starts to dissipate.
But, if during your next pain flare, it only hangs around for 1 week, that’s a great sign.
Even though you still technically have the pain, even if it’s still a 10 out of 10, the duration you started with is beginning to reduce. A major win. Think of it this way – that’s one less week of living with pain.
Are you experiencing pain flares less frequently?
If your pain flares pop up once or twice a month, and gradually decrease to once a month or every other month, then you are definitely on the right track! This is actually a huge sign of improvement because the ultimate goal is to reduce the frequency of your autoimmune flares to… never again.
It is possible.
But, I learned firsthand, that even despite showing improvement in these areas, it’s not easy to mentally accept you are indeed making progress. Here’s what I mean…
My Real Life Example
After living with Hashimoto’s for years, I don’t think I had “flares” in the traditional (autoimmune) sense. Honestly, I think I was just in one giant flare for years and it gradually went away as I made lifestyle and diet changes.
But, once I developed new autoimmune symptoms a couple years back, I started to experience flares as I imagine others do. My symptom severity was dependent on many factors – stress, weather, time of year, etc. and some days, weeks, months were worse than others.
After I found a few winning therapies to calm and modulate inflammation, I still experienced flares, but on a lesser scale and all three factors – severity, duration, and frequency continued to reduce.
But, I still experienced some major mental hurdles. Common sense told me I was improving when I looked at the data, but every time a flare came on, I felt like I was failing and all my efforts were going to waste. Of course, I wasn’t failing, but that’s hard to accept when you are still showing signs of autoimmunity.
One of the most important things to remember regarding all three of these factors is that progress doesn’t necessarily mean the complete resolution of symptoms right away. I know that’s what we are ultimately after – to feel no symptoms, but they very rarely disappear overnight. And I (and Frank) had to continuously remind myself of this every time I went into a flare.
As long as that flare wasn’t as long, or as severe, or was spaced out further from my last one, then I was in a good place. The flare itself, wasn’t necessarily a red flag.
A true red flag is when one of those factors gets worse, OR when they improve and then plateau, which happened to me on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. That is the time to go back to the drawing boardd do some digging as to why your body isn’t responding in a favorable way.
Regardless, though, as to whether or not you are experiencing improvement, just the practice of tracking the 3 factors: severity, duration, and frequency, will reveal patterns and information about your body you may have missed otherwise. And ultimately, building that mind/body relationship, and tuning into what your body is telling you is quite possibly the greatest tool in your arsenal for reversing autoimmune disease.
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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?!