As anyone who has grappled with autoimmune disease knows, it’s not something you can heal with a pill or procedure. My health coaching clients who are new to dealing with autoimmune disease often feel like they’re living in an alternate reality— like any disorienting experience, it can come with its fair share of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. But when we move past the suffering and denial that often comes before we embrace diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, we’re able to engage in healing in a new way.
While simply following the Autoimmune Protocol is a starting place for many folks, I have seen it trigger a value shift throughout a person’s life choices. It forces you to change your everyday habits and say “yes” to the things that help you heal and “no, thank you” to that which harms. Before too long, my clients begin to view many of their habits — how they shop, products they put on their body, how much they drink, how active they are, when they go to bed — through the lens of, “Is this helping me to heal?” and adjusting their choices accordingly.
It takes significant discipline to heal in this way. It’s so inspiring for me as a health coach to watch my clients move from feeling hopeless and awful and hurt and defeated to a place of empowerment as they learn how to manage their disease better. The transformation of spirit can feel damn close to miraculous to watch! It’s such a gift for me to be able to accompany folks on this journey and reflect their victories back to them. Here are some of the things I regularly see my clients developing as they embark on their healing journeys — many of which are not even directly related to diet.
Owning our own needs is one of the most challenging parts of adopting the autoimmune protocol. It takes a lot of work to get to the place where you can say, “this is who I am and this is what I need,” even if it’s just turning down a piece of cake or a beer at a friend’s birthday party. Our cultural norm is to do what is comfortable, and that’s a very powerful system to buck. I love seeing folks embrace what’s true for them and own it.
A SENSE OF WHAT MATTERS MOST
Over time, folks dealing with autoimmune disease inevitably learn that they can’t have or do it all—in order for the body to heal itself, something has to give. Because I worked in the hospice world for over 12 years, I see living and life from the vantage point of the deathbed. I ask clients to imagine themselves at the end of their lives, and ask what they want their legacy to be. Are they living that life? Framing the question this way brings instant clarity for a lot of folks. The relationship, job, habit, or food that is causing stress on the system has got to go so that they can prioritize what matters most.
Embracing the Autoimmune Protocol can be hard work! Skipping out on fresh baked bread, not eating Aunt Susie’s famous stuffing at Thanksgiving, rejecting that fresh summer cocktail…when you are constantly faced with the challenges of honoring what your body needs, it takes a lot of effort to stay on track. The Autoimmune Protocol promises no quick fixes — it’s not a 30-day diet. It doesn’t save time, and it’s not convenient. It’s the opposite of everything we’re sold in the diet industry! Anyone who has stuck through an elimination/reintroduction process knows that removing all foods that may be exacerbating your problems is really difficult and can take a long time. Even getting to a diagnosis in the first place can be a laborious process, often involving doubt from family and friends. Eating and living this way is a lifestyle choice we make because we are determined to heal at a deep level. Developing the grit to stick with it and see the benefits is one of the most powerful and affirming shifts I see in my clients.
It’s hard to be successful with the Autoimmune Protocol without constantly checking in with yourself, testing things out, and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for your body. We’re often told in our culture to just do whatever feels good/whatever we’re told/whatever everyone else is doing. But with the AIP, you can’t rely on external claims or guidance. You have to be your own guide as you check labels on food, personal care products, and cleaning products to figure out what works for you. It’s like trying to put together a very complicated puzzle, and it’s unique to each person. Encouraging curiosity and a positive attitude are some of the most powerful things I provide as a health coach.
As we develop new awareness and ability to care for ourselves, we take our health into our own hands. I have seen many clients go from being in the victim role — focusing on the unfairness of their diagnosis and wondering if they have what it takes to heal — to embracing the power and knowledge to make themselves feel better. When my clients own that no one else is responsible for their health but themselves, it’s like a light turns on. Suddenly food is an agent for healing.
Once folks start to unlock some success in their journey with autoimmune disease and begin dialing in what works for them and what doesn’t, there is a temptation to feel like they have it all solved. But anyone who has been dealing with autoimmune disease for long enough will tell you that the pursuit of wellness needs constant adjustment. Learning how to trust in one’s body and embrace the idea that things may not always be perfect is difficult, but a growth mindset helps.
While the AIP is largely focused on diet, we know that health and wellness don’t come from food alone. When my clients start down this path, they often recognize that they have a history of health abuse in the form of chronic stress, caloric restriction, soul-draining jobs, negative self talk, or excessive exercise. In our work together, we often focus on stress management, improving relationships, and strategies to set better boundaries at work as much as we work on improving health through diet — and these practices have as much (or more) impact on their happiness. Getting a handle on the disease and finding more happiness in life will continue to feed into one another, because when we feel less stress, our body is a much better at healing itself.
Self respect is key to the healing process. Folks who struggle with self respect look externally for reasons to make changes: they want to look better from the outside, their family wants them to get better, etc. This almost always leads to a yo-yo effect with healing, where sometimes they eat well and sometimes they let everything go with no consistency. The path to more significant change over time can’t come from a place of self aggression. When my clients believe at their core that their lives are better when their bodies are healthy and that they deserve to feel this way, lasting changes are always easier to make. It is such a joy to see my clients make this shift over time.
Much like any struggle in life, autoimmune disease gives us an opportunity to shift our values. We get to learn new skills that give us new ways of showing up in the world. I had a client say to me recently, “I wish that I could just erase all the hard stuff I’ve dealt with and not remember it.” While I agreed that it would be nice to not have pain in her past, I tried to shine a light on the transformation she’s experienced by dealing with hardship and learning to live well. I believe that we make our true mark on this world when things aren’t perfectly easy — and that means embracing our struggles. I’d love to hear about your own reflections on your autoimmune journey. How have you seen shifts in your values or character? Let’s celebrate those wins! Cheers to resiliency.