When I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, an autoimmune disease which attacks your joints and body tissue, I thought my life was over. Hearing you have an incurable disease that will be with you for the rest of your life will do that to you. I was glad I finally had a name to put to my symptoms. For a year leading up to my diagnosis, I dealt with bouts of blood red eyes, pressure, and sensitivity to light. I dealt with feet that ballooned red and constantly ached. I dealt with sharp pain when I walked, and gritting my teeth so hard to deal with that pain I caused my jaw to hurt. I dealt with cloudy thoughts. I dealt with words being on the tip of my tongue one second, then falling from my head the next. I was often left with a stutter of umms and lost in a what was I saying? thought. I dealt with anxiety. I wondered if I was going crazy. The misdiagnoses and specialist after specialist did not help the notion I was losing my mind.
Once I received my diagnosis, I dealt with a whole other consequence of my disease. The reality of being placed on scary and potentially harsh medication for the rest of my life. You know, the medications when the commercial comes on you think, ‘Man, those side effects sound worse than what the medicine treat.’ Those medications. For the rest of your life.
I was told by my rheumatologist those were my only options. When I asked about lifestyle changes I could make to help myself I was told to “eat healthy” and make modifications to my life so I could “adjust” to my disease. When I asked for specifics on what eating healthy meant my doctor shrugged, “You know, whole grains, meats, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t eat too much junk.” Then she handed me a few pamphlets on the scary medicines, so I could pick which one I wanted to try first, and a prescription for Prednisone, and I was on my way.
Stories like mine drive me crazy. They drive me crazy because I know my story is not unique. In actuality, my story came to its climax a lot faster than many of yours. It only took a year for me to get diagnosed. I know for many of you with an autoimmune disease it took much longer.
The idea that medicine was my only option was difficult for me to accept. So I didn’t. Instead, I researched and read and listened to everything I could get my hands on. Then I tried what I was learning. I became my own lab rat, experimenting with food, supplements, modifications to my day. Some things worked. Some didn’t. I went through a lot of trial and error to get to where I am today; a very good place. I worked hard to get here and I want to share some things I’ve learned so that you might be able to get to a better place a little faster. So here they are:
The Four Things I Wish I Knew After My Autoimmune Diagnosis
1. What You Eat Matters
I’ll say it again for the people who don’t want to hear it. Your food choices matter. What you put into your body can heal you or it can be the reason you don’t get better. And if you are subsisting on junk food, sugar, and soda what you’re putting into your body could be killing you.
For anyone with an autoimmune disease, the first thing to consider should be your food. How are you nourishing yourself? Are you nourishing yourself? Are you eating enough of what you need? Are you eating too much of what you don’t? Highly inflammatory foods, like gluten, dairy, and sugar, can trigger autoimmune symptoms. Autoimmune symptoms are caused or exacerbated by chronic inflammation.¹ If your diet consists of inflammatory foods, you will never experience the full relief you deserve.
Removing known inflammatory foods (gluten, dairy, and sugar) from your diet can make a big different in the autoimmune symptoms you are experiencing. Adding anti-inflammatory foods like fatty, Omega-3 rich fish (salmon), berries, and leafy green vegetables, will help keep your body in check.
Most of what we eat today is machine made. It comes in a box or a bag. It is riddled with sugar, chemicals, and additives that our bodies do not know how to process. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system has already gone haywire. When you eat foods that further screw up your already taxed system, you aren’t even giving yourself a fighting chance.
Eliminating fake foods is the first step in the right direction of healing.
2. What You Digest Matters
What you eat matters, but what your body is able to digest actually matters more than what you eat. Think about it. You could be eating the healthiest meals in the world, but if your body is not properly digesting your food, you aren’t absorbing the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the healthy food! And what is a big hindrance to digestion? Stress.
When we come under stress, our bodies go into flight or fight mode. This means our body prepares to flee from a stressor or to stand and fight the stressor. A long, long time ago when something stressful happened it was usually in the form of a big ferocious lion trying to eat you for dinner. To give your body the energy it needed to literally run for your life, all of your blood rushed to your extremities to get you the heck out of there and fast. With the priority being on survival, and not something silly like digestion, your body worked for you in only the ways it needed to. Once the threat was gone, your body got to return to normal. Luckily, most of us don’t live near lions now, but our bodies have not evolved all that far from the caveman days.
Today’s stressors, or threats, come in many different forms. There are certainly still life and death situations to be considered, but by today’s standards, everything is an emergency which sends us into a constant tailspin of proverbially, putting out fires all day long. We live in a microwave society where the thing needed to be done yesterday. We are constantly going and don’t allow ourselves a moment of true relaxation. The boss yells at you, or you get into a fight with your partner and your brain signals “threat.” And in the very same fashion as in those olden days, blood moves to the body parts that need it to fight or flee the stressor and your digestive system is left in the dust.
To truly receive the benefits from your food, you need to be in rest-mode. Rest and Digest. Remember that line. Take time before you start eating to make sure you are in a good place to eat. Are you in a rush? Are you about to shovel the food into your mouth so you can get onto the next thing? Before you place that first bite of food into your mouth take a moment. Take several moments. If you can spare two minutes to take some deep breaths and slow down, you will do wonders for your digestion. Get out of your head and instead focus on the delicious meal before you that is about to bless your body with wellness.
3. What You Put On Your Body Matters
Traditional makeup, personal care products and household cleaning products — what do have in common? Chemicals! Yes! Chemicals in makeup and shampoo and soaps and body wash! The very things you slap on your body every single day! That’s kind of insane, right?
I had no idea that what I used in my bathroom on a daily basis could be contributing to my declining health. What I soon learned was the chemicals found in makeup and personal care products can be toxic. Some of the chemicals found in items like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, body wash, and makeup can cause hormone disruption, meaning your hormones get out of balance. When hormones get out of whack this can cause a litany of issues and may aggravate symptoms already present.²
There are thousands of chemicals used on a regular basis that have never been proven safe for human consumption. Does that scare you? Because it terrifies me. There are great websites out there like the Environmental Working Group and Think Dirty that allow you to search your products so you can see firsthand if they are safe to use.
4. Your Mindset Matters
What you think matters. Where you place your thoughts and what you allow your brain to consume matter an awful lot. If your thoughts are a barrage of negativity, you aren’t going to feel very good. Thoughts can be cyclical so you have to be very cautious of what you are telling yourself.
Do you actually think you can get well? Do you believe you can maintain your health while having an autoimmune disease? Because whether you think you can get better, or you think you will never get better…you are right.
Mindset was one of the biggest factors in my healing. It was also one of the most difficult pieces to put into place. It’s very difficult to believe you can get better when you’re in a pain you’ve never experienced before. A pain you would not wish on an enemy. It’s hard to muster faith in yourself when you’re angry with your body for failing you.
But what if your body hasn’t failed you at all? What if you are hurting so badly because your body is desperately trying to keep you well? What if you listen to what your body is telling you rather than pushing that pain down further? What if you believed your body was acting for your best good and all you needed to do was learn what it was telling you?
Getting in the right head space can be tough, especially around an autoimmune flare. So here is my advice on getting there anyways. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Dance around. Listen to music or audiobooks. Take you mind off of your pain as much as possible and in any way you can. Practice gratitude. Look for three little things each day that you are deeply grateful for. It can be as simple as a good cup of coffee, or the person who let you in the grocery line before them. When you look for things to be grateful for, more appear. I know this to be true.
I hope these tips help you find your path to health a little sooner. The best way to figure out what will work for you is by taking your time and experimenting with different things. But you have to be willing to try. You also have to be willing to learn what does, and what does not, work for you. I will not say you must be willing to fail. This is about finding what makes your body the best it can be. Even if something doesn’t work, you just learned it wasn’t for you. That is not a fail. But if you aren’t willing to do something different then you’ll never see the change you deserve.
Be open to your health journey. Your path is not the same as anyone else’s. These four places are a good place to start. Each had a big impact on my own health and moved me closer to the great place I am today.