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AIP Stories of Recovery is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please let us know by filling out our interest form.
Lana’s autoimmune experience involves the psychological challenge of identifying as an athlete, and learning to redefine her expectations for her body. When her college tennis career caused lower back pain, doctors focused on the sports injury perspective, so it took nearly three years to receive her ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis. Now, Lana has turned her experience into a career as a Functional Health Coach.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
I have now been living with an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis for the past 10 years. It all started in 2012, when I was a student-athlete (tennis) in college. I had constant lower back pain, was feeling fatigued and dealing with some gut issues. All the doctors were looking at my back symptoms from a sports injury perspective, and I got different treatments to alleviate the pain (which only ever worked for a few months). It’s only when I was done with college and still experiencing the same pain, that I really understood something wasn’t normal and I knew I had to look deeper.
I got referred to a rheumatologist in NYC and after all the different tests (HLAB27 positive, MRI/x-rays findings, blood work etc.) I got the diagnosis. It took 3 years from the onset of my symptoms. I am lucky that it was a relatively short process, as for a lot of people living with autoimmune conditions it can take many, many years to get a diagnosis.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
As an athlete, when you can’t use your body the way you want to, it is very tough mentally.
While my competitive career was done after college, I still identified (and still do now) as an athlete. I had to understand that the demands on my body had to change, my lifestyle had to change. The lowest point on my health journey was shortly after being diagnosed. I was happy to finally have answers to why I am experiencing all these symptoms, but I felt so overwhelmed with everything. I was in constant pain, experiencing intense morning stiffness, fatigue. My gut was struggling, I couldn’t digest many foods. I just didn’t feel like myself physically, plus the emotional rollercoaster of the diagnosis. It was hard to get anything done. I wasn’t sure where to start, I felt lost.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
During the difficult phase post diagnosis, I realized it couldn’t stay like this forever. I was so young, starting my work life, wanting to find my vitality again. I worked a lot on my mindset, trying to see what I could learn from this diagnosis. I realized that my pain was a message sent by my body. A messenger for change. Slowly, I was able to distance myself from the victim mindset – “why me?” – and explore what is in my control.
I grew up in quite a holistic and healthy household. We focused on nutrition, homeopathic medication, daily movement etc that I had this inner drive to look for a solution coming from a more integrative approach. After lots of research and reading, I came across Functional Medicine. It all made sense, to look for the root causes of a health condition versus only managing symptoms.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
The first treatment protocol I started for my AS was, with guidance from my functional doctor, to heal my gut. I learned that this is so key to regulating the immune system, and clearly, I was struggling with this, so it felt like a great place to start. It consisted of a mix of supplements and changes in my diet to rebalance my microbiome. After a few months, I experienced fewer gut issues, my energy level was getting better, and not surprisingly, my back pain was becoming less intense. To continue with this progress, I really wanted to address my symptoms from several different angles. That’s when I discovered the AIP approach and the Autoimmune Wellness website. It really resonated with me, the elimination and reintroductions phases, and as important, the lifestyle component of it. Over the years, through trial and learning and different experiments, I understood the different triggers that would put me back in a flare. This gave me the opportunity to explore strategies and tools to reduce the intensity and frequency of my flares. My integrative protocol consisted of – and it’s still the same now – nutrient-dense foods, therapeutic fasting, daily movement, mindful exercise adapted to my needs, a mindfulness practice, learning to slow down, cultivating self-kindness and compassion. It truly works and keep me motivated to continue with this lifestyle. 😊
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
Over the years, I have used many different resources to support the management of my autoimmune condition. One of the most important ones, in my opinion, was to build my support network. To surround myself with friends and family who really care about me and to seek health practitioners who promote this integrative and functional approach. I now live in Germany and was able to go twice to a Holistic/Functional hospital for a two-week stay. This was a wonderful experience which helped me a lot, and a resource I know I can go back to if needed.
In addition to that, I continue to read many different books and listen to podcasts in the health and wellness world. There is so much to learn! Two years ago, I decided to become a Functional Health Coach to help others on their own health journey. This also led me to become AIP certified and Board certified. This knowledge and coaching approach is also beneficial for my own journey.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
The rheumatologist who diagnosed me, wanted me to start taking strong anti-inflammatory medication and biological (immune suppressing) drugs. While I did try the medication for a few months (which caused further gut issues), I immediately rejected the biological. Upon reading a lot about it, it just didn’t feel right for me, and I didn’t want to go through the many side effects these can bring. I chose to try other methods because I truly believed that my lifestyle and environment play a huge role in managing my autoimmune condition.
Still to this day, when I go to see conventional doctors and rheumatologists (which is rare), they always promote medication and the biological drugs.
There is a place and time for medication. I am not against it. It just isn’t the right treatment approach for me right now. Maybe I will need those biologicals at some point, maybe I won’t. I choose to focus on what I can control.
It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?
True joy for me consists of fully being present in the simple moments.
I try to embrace the saying of “more being, less doing” as much as I can. Joy can be found in many different places and situations, for example, enjoying a lovely home-cooked meal with my partner, playing with my dog, standing at the top of a mountain after a hike, sitting on a bench, soaking in the sunshine. The list goes on.
Remembering where I once was, with daily pain, struggling to get through the day, and where I am now, this fills me with gratitude for this healing journey. It’s not always easy, as I have learned, but it is so worth it. Step by step.
Finally, I now get to support and guide others who live with autoimmune conditions. My work gives me a lot of value and purpose in my life. I am here to listen. I am here to help, so that others can learn to become the best advocate for their own health.
You can learn more about Lana’s healing journey on her website and on Instagram.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.