Healing is all about B A L A N C E. It's like we're walking on a beam, trying our fucking hardest not to sway too much to one side because falling off means we find ourselves in the middle of a flare. What keeps us steady is maintaining a diet that works with our body, exercising enough (not too little and not too much), drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol, balancing our blood sugar, regulating our hormones, taking dumps that would make our Nutrition Therapists proud… whew. That’s a lot.
In the beginning, the hardest part is figuring out how to stay on that damn beam. What works for some people doesn’t work for all of us (hellllllloooo bioindividuality), yet we get lost in articles making blanket statements about what we HAVE to do if we want to heal our bodies.
Let me tell ya something. When I first started the Autoimmune Paleo Diet I was a crazed lunatic about it. Like, I flew home from a trip and my husband had made me some salmon. He made the salmon with olive oil though, and I refused to eat it because it had been broiled -- and I read that olive oil should be used at a low heat -- and basically EATING THAT SALMON WAS GOING TO RUIN MY PROGRESS. My husband had done something so kind for me and I ended up feeling resentful towards him for not knowing exactly how to prepare my food.
I also avoided a lot of social gatherings because I felt uncomfortable about my diet. One night, our friend-family was heading out to Dim Sum to celebrate someone’s birthday. I agonized over whether or not I should go for days (it even interfered with my sleep).. and ultimately ended up staying in because the restaurant cooked with non-compliant oils and I couldn’t find anything I could eat on the menu. I’ll never forget how I completely unraveled in our living room seconds after my husband left to meet up with everyone. I felt so very much alone. (More on how I bounced back and started to find social balance another day.)
I was so fixated on not breaking AIP, that in addition to being chronically ill, I was becoming chronically stressed (which does NOT help your gut heal, people). It was heartbreaking that my means to healing was only creating more sadness for me. My approach was all wrong.
When we read about the Autoimmune Paleo diet we’re told that we CANNOT break it, ever, or we technically need to start over. I was obsessed with this idea. I believed that one slip up would ruin my progress and I would have to be on AIP forever. If I approached the diet with that rigid perspective, there was no way I was ever going to be able to handle the pressure of being perfect (soooo not a perfectionist).
I finally started getting better when I began looking at healing as a journey. I knew that AIP was the roadmap I would follow to get better, but think about it.. when we're on a road trip, things come up! We have to pull over for gas (heated olive oil), possibly get a flat tire (gluten free pizza), or veer off the highway to check out some weird dinosaur attraction (I mean what? I’ve never done that…/glass of chardonnay). Do those things slow us down? Sure. Do they stop us from getting where we want to be? Not when we get right back on the road and avoid any potholes (or pizza joints) in the future.
I mean, I’m not telling you to go binge eat a large pepperoni pizza and wash it down with a couple of beers. I just think that everything we do once we decide to start healing is teaching us something. Like, say you’re on AIP for a month, you’re feeling SO great and you are like “maybe I can handle one glass of dry white wine” and you drink it. Maybe you end up feeling like shit for a a few weeks (sadly, this can last longer for some) and decide not to do it any more. Cool. You learned a lesson that drinking doesn't work for you and go back to square one with your protocol. The world didn’t end, did it? The opposite might happen, too. You might feel great drinking one glass of chardonay because it makes you feel NORMAL. You know that it causes inflammation and isn't helping your healing process, but feeling normal was so good for your mental health that you decided to give it a try. Will it RUIN your progress? It might. Alcohol isn't great for your gut health or your immune system, but you CAN get back on track afterwards. I've allowed myself a few glasses and my thyroid antibodies STILL went down (but again, all of our healing journeys will look different).
The point is, you are on this healing journey for the LONG HAUL. Everything you do once you start is teaching you a lesson about what does and doesn’t work for you. I believe the most important part of healing is listening to what your body is trying to tell you and balancing your emotional and physical health. You know yourself better than any doctor, nutritionist, massage therapist or acupuncturist ever will.
If I sense myself wanting to have a food that doesn't align with my diet, I ask myself if my body really wants it/needs it (usually no), or if I'm craving it because I'm bored, tired, sad, or want to feel normal. My body typically craves non-compliant foods for an emotional reason and I have to determine whether the repercussions of eating it are worth it.
I made a little flow chart to encourage me to stop and think about the consequences of breaking my protocol and ultimately help me decide whether it’s worth it. I figured I’d share it with you guys!
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I want you to know that doing a strict AIP elimination diet, without budging, is the fastest way to figure out your trigger foods. It allows you to go forth as an empowered eater knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into with every bite. I also want you to know that if you have a few hiccups, you’re still on your way to healing. You’re just taking the scenic route.