You’ve just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease…now what?
You’re likely experiencing a wide range of emotions. You may be sad or angry. “Why me?” Maybe you’re relieved because you’ve been feeling terrible for so long, and now you finally have an answer. Maybe you’re confused and you’re not sure where to start your healing journey. As I know first-hand, it’s probably a combination of all these things.
While we can’t change the fact that we’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, there ARE several things we can do to begin to take back control of our lives. The sooner we realize we are not victims in this story, the quicker we become empowered to change what can be changed in a positive way to start really living again!
Nutrition and lifestyle play a HUGE role in managing autoimmune disease (and in the general well-being of all humans). The best part is that these are areas of our lives that we have the power to affect.
Are you ready to take control of your health?? Good!
Here we go with Steps 1 - 3...
1. Knowledge is power!
Learn everything you can about your condition. Advocacy groups for your specific autoimmune disease are a great place to start. Let me know if you need help finding a group for your condition.
Explore various options for healing. What has worked well for others? Are there pitfalls you need to be aware of?
Join groups to connect with others who are going through the same thing you are. Facebook and other online groups are a great resource as they give a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation that can come with an autoimmune disease diagnosis. I didn't explore this option personally until late in my diagnosis process and I wish I had done so earlier. Please let me know if you need help finding your tribe!
Being knowledgeable allows you to have an educated and informed conversation with your doctor and the rest of your support team (see #2) regarding your treatment. You MUST be your own advocate.
2. Create a support team you love
It’s important to have a team you trust and can count on for support, starting with your doctor. Whether you opt for a conventional approach (MD), a natural approach (ND), a functional approach, or a combination of them, it’s important that your doctor(s) possess these characteristics:
Good communication skills- they should be able to explain the “why” behind the “what” in terms you understand.
Excellent listener – you should feel like you are heard and not “blown off”.
Treats you like a partner in determining your treatment plan.
Takes the time to thoroughly answer your questions.
Open-minded and flexible.
Easy access to them when you need to see them quickly - It's important that you are able to get an appointment quickly when you're having an issue that needs immediate attention. The front office should be friendly and accommodating.
Don’t forget about your support players!
Health coaches who specialize in working with those with autoimmune diseases can help you implement nutrition and lifestyle upgrades that have a profound effect on your healing. Acupuncturists, massage therapists, and chiropractors are other examples of support players who can help with aspects of your healing.
You should also have at least one person in your personal life you can count on to listen and support you as you work toward reclaiming your health.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." — Hippocrates
Since at least 75% of the immune system resides in the gut, there is a strong connection between gut health and autoimmune disease, as well as other health conditions. The gut is considered the small and large intestines, as well as the bacterial flora that live there.
While this is a HUGE topic that will be covered in more depth in future articles, here are some basic guidelines for optimal gut health and nutrition:
Reduce or eliminate foods and drinks that cause inflammation and damage to the gut, such as processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, dairy, and gluten. These food groups represent just a few of the more common foods that can cause gut issues. Gluten in particular is often a problem for those with autoimmune diseases. Participating in an Elimination Challenge will help identify your unique food sensitivities, leading to healing of the gut and a reduction in symptoms.
Eat quality, nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient deficiencies have a negative impact on immune system function. Aim for a good balance of quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats at each meal and “eat the rainbow” of colors when it comes to fruits and veggies. This point is true for everyone, but even more important for those with autoimmune diseases who often have difficulty absorbing nutrients.
Add-in nutrient powerhouse and probiotic-rich foods that promote healing, such as bone broth, collagen, and fermented foods.
While nutritional basics are generally the same for everyone, the exact best foods to eat for optimal nutrition will be different for each person. Using the guidelines above, experiment with various foods to determine which ones make you feel your best.
**Note: I am currently following a nutrition and lifestyle plan called the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), which is a Paleo-inspired elimination and reintroduction protocol that has been specifically designed to help those suffering from autoimmune diseases. I love that it focuses on lifestyle choices in addition to nutrition. I will be writing more about my journey in future posts, but in the meantime, you can learn more about this approach here and here.
We've only scratched the surface! My next post (Autoimmune Disease: 6 Steps to Reclaiming Your Health - Part 2), will reveal Steps 3 - 6 to reclaiming your health and happiness after an autoimmune disease diagnosis.
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The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook: A DIY Guide to Living Well With Chronic Illness, Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt, 2016.
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body; Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, 2013.
Janelle is a Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor who is passionate about helping people find their best health and happiness. She specializes in helping those with Crohn's and other autoimmune diseases optimize their nutrition and lifestyle to reclaim their lives. Whether you want to make big changes, or simply want to learn how to bring healthier choices and more energy into your life, she can help!!
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