In Defense of a Slow Healing Journey

I get it. You want to feel better . . . NOW. I’ve been in that place where the severity of autoimmune disease has totally diminished quality of life and daily activity is mainly about coping, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. In that place nothing short of “right now” is fast enough in terms of a healing timeline.

Still, eight years after I began my own healing process, starting with the transition to the Autoimmune Protocol, I’m writing today in defense of a slow healing journey. My personal and professional experience has shown me the wisdom of healing in the slow lane. It was that “fast track life” that probably helped create the autoimmune cascade most of us here found ourselves swept away by in the first place. Now, I want to convince you that taking it slow will get you better results.

Why Healing (aka “Learning”) Slow Makes Sense

When you really boil it down, the healing journey is a learning process. You’re learning what has gone wrong, why it happened, how to correct it, and then practicing repair skills. You’re also learning a new language, the one your body uses to communicate with you about what its bio-individual needs are and how to respond to those needs. I feel so confident calling this a learning process, because I know the Autoimmune Wellness community is empowered. When I’m referring to a “healing journey” anywhere on the Autoimmune Wellness site I mean an active, not passive, process. That active role equates, accurately, to learning.

If you start by reframing healing as learning, you’ll begin to understand why a slow, methodical approach makes so much sense. You’ll also be more able to give yourself a break! Just like you did not learn algebra before basic arithmetic or how to write an essay before how to spell, you can’t expect yourself to leap forward in healing without taking time on the foundations.

Here are some other reasons why slow healing makes sense:

  • Speeding up often makes things unnecessarily complex, uses up more energy (which, in the case of autoimmune disease, is already in short supply), and, in a best case scenario, usually only resolves part of the problem.
  • Trying to “go fast” before you understand foundational concepts, generally leads to lots of demoralizing self-criticism, e.g. “I’m not capable of healing.”
  • Starting with a slow and deliberate healing process leads to faster execution of the repair skills later.
  • Going slowly allows you to recognize missteps (which are just your body saying “I didn’t get what I need.”) and adjust your healing process, rather than trying to go too fast and not even realizing a misstep has occurred.

The Health Coach Point-of-View

As a health coach and nutritional therapist I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of folks with autoimmune disease and chronic illness over the years. I’ve worked with them one-on-one, in groups, like my SAD to AIP in SIX program, and even alongside doctors and other healthcare professionals in the medical research setting. I’ve witnessed amazing transformations, where people were struggling in the depths of illness and came out the other side feeling like they were given back their lives.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns though, I’ve also observed people trying and failing to restore health and wellness. The successes taught me a lot, but the defeats were even more instructive in terms of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to healing. Trying to go too fast, skipping crucial parts of the learning process, is at the top of the “Doesn’t Work” list.

From the point-of-view of a health coach, here are seven core observations on how slow healing yields better results:

  • Establishing the foundational pieces equals sustainability. I see folks often wanting to skip over learning the “whys,” on everything from why autoimmune disease occurs to why planning and preparation matter. Later, these same folks have trouble executing the “hows,” because they don’t understand the importance of particular pieces of information or steps to take. This consistent struggle with implementation leads to early burn out. If you can’t sustain the process, you won’t see healing.
  • Going slow reduces overwhelm and prevents paralysis. Going too fast, trying to incorporate too many things at once, is overwhelming. Autoimmune disease is complex all on its own and most of us with autoimmune disease are initially quite overwhelmed as it is. When you start to consider all the various layers that need to be explored to discover your personal root causes and all the various methods for addressing them, some of which will be right for you and others which will not, it is clear that the “fast lane” approach is going to lead to a big wreck. A big wreck on the freeway leads to a standstill of traffic. I see the same thing happen to my clients and group members who are overwhelmed, they stop. Paralysis about how to handle everything halts healing all together.
  • Slow layering of new health and wellness practices, protocols, or products allows you to see what actually works. Does this sound familiar: “I’m doing infrared sauna every other day, AM and PM meditation with a special heart-monitoring app, intermittent fasting between AIP and GAPS, throwing out every single body care product I have and starting over with ‘healthy’ versions, switching all my pans to cast-iron, getting my home tested for mold, and taking 23 supplements daily.” I see this a lot on social media, never mind what I observe as a coach. There may be a benefit to any of these approaches, but when we try everything at once, it’s unclear which things are supportive of our healing.
  • Slow layering of new health and wellness practices, protocols, or products allows you to more easily identify and discontinue approaches that are not working. Obviously, if doing too many things at once muddies the water on what is actually supporting you, then the opposite is also true. Going slow in trying new approaches helps you figure out which ones are just fluff and, for you individually, maybe a waste of money, time, and energy.
  • Slow elimination of foods potentially driving symptoms gives you clues to foods likely to be successful and unsuccessful reintroductions later. I see so, so many people try do AIP cold-turkey and in that rush miss crucial cues from their bodies. When we slowly remove foods we are more able to identify those that were behind our symptoms and thereby tailor the reintroduction process more closely to our own needs. For instance, if cutting dairy made you feel worlds better, but removing nuts had almost no impact, you might decide that leaving a dairy reintro until the very end of your reintroduction process probably makes the most sense for you, while trying nuts relatively early will most likely be a success.
  • Addressing simple changes you can handle yourself first, allows you to narrow in on more complex issues that may require your healthcare team later, which ultimately saves you money and time, while best using your doctor’s expertise. Jumping ahead to lots of expensive testing and treatment, when you haven’t even tried to make some dietary or lifestyle changes, is putting your cart before the horse! Both you and your doctor may not have clarity on where to begin, since issues like how your diet or lifestyle practices are impacting your symptoms haven’t even been addressed yet. Here’s an example: I once had a client who was severely dehydrated. He’d spent thousands traveling to an expensive clinic, conducting all kinds of tests with his doctors, and trying to address what they all thought might be a histamine intolerance issue. Dehydration can actually be a big factor in histamine intolerance, but nobody had thought that maybe he should start by drinking more water. That one simple change that he could easily control himself got us huge results and helped better clarify where he really did need additional testing and treatment that only his doctors could guide.
  • Going slow provides critical space for the emotional side of healing. I see the emotional side of the healing journey overlooked constantly. I think this happens, in part, because folks intuitively know that emotions require time to explore and since they already feel pressured to move quickly, it’s easier to ignore. It never works long-term to ignore our emotions though. Slow, methodical healing journeys give you time to process the emotional roots of disease, not to mention give you space to address the emotions that may come up from needing to focus on healing itself. (Ever felt angry that you need to change your diet? That needs space!)\

Pumping The Brakes

Now that we’ve explored why slow healing makes so much sense and the ways in which slow healing yields better results, it’s time to talk about how to pump those brakes. Even I still sometimes make the mistake of trying to speed up my healing journey. Even though I’m thoroughly convinced that going slow works best, it’s still hard to put that mentality into practice. Maybe that’s part of the Type A personality (many of us with autoimmune disease kind of fall in that category) or maybe it’s the effect of our overall culture, one that constantly reinforces the message of “faster, bigger, more?” I know a major factor is, of course, that I just plain want to feel my best.

Whatever it is that is prodding us along, here are some ways to move your healing journey into the calm, slow lane:

  • Trust that trial and error is the process of discovery. Autoimmune disease is complex and complex problems require nuanced solutions. It will take time to tease out your root causes and find the right approaches for addressing them. This trial and error is the discovery process though and not a sign that you are doing it wrong or too slowly. As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable” and your answers are out there.
  • Choose only three areas of focus each week. I know you could probably come up with a list of 100 things to try in order to heal, but don’t do it. As an example, each week in my group program, I have members eliminate a group of foods, add a group of foods, and work on one lifestyle practice. Maybe for you this looks like adding infrared sauna, one new supplement your doctor recommended, and switching out your old frying pan for a cast-iron skillet? Keeping the list to three areas of focus each week will allow you to make discernible, high-quality progress without overwhelm.
  • Focus on quality over quantity. Speaking of quality, embracing quality over quantity will not only make your life less stressful, but also make the whole healing journey more satisfying. To do this, break new healing skills down into chunks and practice each piece with a goal for steady improvement. This could apply to many facets of AIP specifically, but I notice it the most with meal planning and food preparation. For instance, try breaking up planning, shopping, and prepping into separate days, concentrating on each task one at a time so you can fine tune it to your needs. Or, try just one new recipe per week, giving the creation of that dish your full attention in order to improve your cooking skills. Soon that well executed grocery trip or that delicious meal will feel extra rewarding, not to mention aiding the overall healing process.
  • Take a research break. I put clients on research breaks all the time. The Internet is SO helpful to those of us looking for answers on our healing journeys. It’s also basically a high-pressure water cannon! All that information can really increase the anxiety about needing to speed up, so take a break from info gathering mode.
  • Do something with your time other than health. In the beginning it can feel like not focusing on your healing journey 24/7 is an egregious waste of time. However, the opposite is true. Taking a little time each day to enjoy something, anything, not centered on your health and wellness gives you a chance to actually recognize that healing is occurring and can sometimes even lead to breakthroughs on what you need next to feel even better. For example, when I took a research break myself, it allowed me to reflect on the fact that my brain fog had lifted and my ability to think was sharp again. Spending almost all my time reading books, researching online, and listening to podcasts about autoimmune disease and healing hadn’t left me any space to notice that I could process and act on information again, something that had been missing for a few years.
  • As your health returns, focus on others. To clarify, this doesn’t mean focus on others at the exclusion of your own needs (this is another one of those things that probably got a lot of us into this autoimmune predicament to begin with!). What I mean by this is by giving some of your time and attention to those outside yourself, you naturally have to slow down. Instead of constantly needing to remind yourself to pump the brakes, it happens automatically. The reward is that giving to others increases the meaning in our own lives and THAT is part of the mix that leads to healing.

Now tell me, are you on the fast track or the slow track right now? If it’s the fast track, are you getting results or experiencing frustration? If you’ve gone the slow route, what tips do you have about pumping the brakes?

About Angie Alt

Angie Alt is a co-founder here at Autoimmune Wellness. She helps others take charge of their health the same way she took charge of her own after suffering with celiac disease, endometriosis, and lichen sclerosis; one nutritious step at a time. Her special focus is on mixing “data with soul” by looking at the honest heart of the autoimmune journey (which sometimes includes curse words). She is a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Nutritional Therapy Consultant through The Nutritional Therapy Association and author of The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook: Eating for All Phases of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol and The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook. You can also find her on Instagram.

17 comments

  • Emily Phillips says

    This is so me. I run life in the fast lane and I’m sure it’s what’s made me sick. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s 3 weeks ago and I’ve researched it to death (awake at 5.30am because I thought of other things to make a note of). I’ve gone cold turkey AIP diet and don’t feel great for it, realising there are foods on AIP my gut can’t handle brilliantly. So now researched FODMAP and trying to incorporate both. I’m tired but my brain can’t stop. 😞

    • Angie Alt says

      Emily, it’s good that you can self-reflect & see this, the next step is to go ahead & give yourself permission to slow down for better results.

  • JAMES NIX says

    Such a well thought-out and written argument…one that can be applied to so much learning in life. And lots of other great advice throughout the article!

    • Angie Alt says

      Yes, James, totally agree that applies to much more than just healing. Really applicable to many areas.

  • Kim says

    I love this article so much! So many good points made, from paying attention to the emotional side of healing, to taking research breaks, to remembering that failure is part of the process.

    • Angie Alt says

      Glad it connected so much w/ you, Kim. I’ve had a lot of years to distill it.

  • Denise O. says

    Very well thought out article and sage wisdom. Yes – we all need to SLOW DOWN! I agree that we all want an “instant fix”, but a slower more methodical approach is what works best in the long run. Several years ago I was taking so many supplements and incorporating different therapies that I didn’t know what was working and what was not. It was confusing, so I suddenly stopped everything and chose to add one thing at a time. I’m still working through my healing, but I understand the wisdom of simple and slow.

    • Angie Alt says

      Denise-
      So smart of you! Glad this article resonated w/ your experience too.

  • Kathleen says

    Thanks so much for this article, Angie! Wonderful words of wisdom. I have needed this for a couple of years and especially today – very poignant for me. And thanks for all your work that directly supports our healing. Exhale.

    • Angie Alt says

      It’s my pleasure & privilege, Kathleen! Thanks for reading.

  • Flora Michie says

    I was guilty of this 2 years ago when I got diagnosed. I definitely researched and went cold turkey for 60-70 days and then I became so overwhelmed. I have sabotaged my health. I have made many mistakes along the way. However today I feel better, I’m taking things slower and realizing food is not the only issue but that stress is also a huge factor. So I am working on doing things different, slowing down as I really accept the autoimmune issues!

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for sharing, Flora! Lots of us learned this the hard way, you are definitely not alone.

  • Marina says

    Its a great article. And its a great job, that you and Mickey ( and also Dr. Terry Wahls) make for the real people, who really needs help and support and not tons of expensive suppliments. Thank you so much!

  • Great reminder! It helps take the pressure off for sure.

  • Tracy Hoggard says

    Its a great article. And its a great job, that you and Mickey ( and also Dr. Terry Wahls) make for the real people, who really needs help and support and not tons of expensive suppliments. Thank you so much!

  • Kelly Larmour says

    Angie, do you still coach? I’ve been on AIP protocol a few times, at 4 months each and re introduced foods before I felt alot better. It does get discouraging and so I’m at the point where a coach will be able to assist in helping me figure it out.

    • Angie Alt says

      Hi Kelly-
      I do still coach, but I work w/ very, very few individuals. We’d love to have you in our online group health coaching program or our community for more long-term autoimmune healing journeys (it includes folks who are in both the elimination phase & the reintro phase of AIP). You can find the programs here: https://sadtoaip.com/ or https://sadtoaip.com/community/.

Leave a Comment