Feel worse on the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet?

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Although the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is a well known foundation for managing chronic health issues, some people are dismayed to find embarking on it makes them feel worse. What gives? The sudden change in diet can temporarily upset your chemistry and reveal hidden health problems.

If you have been accustomed to eating gluten, dairy, grains, sugars, and processed foods, going cold turkey off those foods is a radical shift. Likewise, adding in lots of vegetables can also shock a digestive system unaccustomed to ample plant fiber.

Most people feel significantly better on the AIP diet. If you’re not one of them, however, don’t give up on the diet. Instead, look for the underlying reason why.

Feeling temporarily worse on the AIP diet

Following are common adverse reactions to the autoimmune paleo diet. Knowing why you react negatively can further help you on your wellness journey.

Low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue can worsen on this diet. This is usually caused by not eating enough or frequently enough. The general recommendation is to eat every two to three hours, however, some people may initially need a bite or two every hour until blood sugar stabilizes and they can go longer without eating. Avoid sugary fruits and investigate what else may be taxing your adrenal function, such as brain-based issues, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.

New food sensitivities. When gut damage is bad and inflammation high, it’s possible to develop food sensitivities to new foods on the autoimmune diet. This is very frustrating for people as the diet is already so limited. This can be a complex situation that requires concerted effort to tame inflammation and repair the gut.

Opioid withdrawal reactions. Opioids are morphine-like chemicals made by the body that reduce pain and create a feeling of euphoria and well-being. Some people become dependent on foods that release opioids in the brain, namely gluten and dairy. They can initially experience depression, anger, lethargy, and agitation on the autoimmune diet. For those with serious opioid addictions to gluten and dairy, withdrawal can be intense.

Brain chemical imbalance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates affects brain chemicals that influence our mood, particularly serotonin and dopamine. Suddenly switching to a lower carbohydrate diet can disrupt the balance of brain chemicals and cause temporary changes in mood, behavior, and personality. You may need to gradually lower carbohydrate consumption if so.

Insomnia and anxiety. Some people report irresolvable insomnia and anxiety if carbohydrate consumption is too low. If these symptoms persist long after an adjustment period, you may simply need to use trial and error to find the carbohydrate “sweet spot” that lets you sleep but also keeps blood sugar in check.

Difficulty digesting fiber. The AIP diet is heavy on vegetables. For those with compromised digestive function, this can overwhelm the gut. Concerted gut repair nutritional therapy can ease you into a higher fiber diet.

Histamine intolerance. This is a reaction to aged or fermented foods that causes myriad symptoms, including rashes, runny nose, or headaches. Avoiding these foods for a while can help the gut heal so you can eat them later.

Yeast and bacteria die-off reactions. Going cold turkey off processed carbs, gluten, and dairy can cause a sudden and uncomfortable die off of harmful yeast and bacteria in your gut. This is especially true in the case of poor liver detoxification and constipation. Supporting the body’s pathways of elimination can help.

These are a few of the issues that can arise when you switch to the autoimmune paleo diet. Don’t forget to consider the grief and anger you may feel about missing your favorite foods. However, if you weather the transition and ferret out sources of discomfort, your newfound health will more than make up for the rough legs of the journey.

How to stick to the autoimmune, or leaky gut, diet

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So you’ve either just gotten the results back from your food sensitivity test or your practitioner says you need to follow the autoimmune diet, also called the leaky gut diet, to manage your autoimmunity. The autoimmune diet comes as a shock to many due its strict limitations and compliance can be tough. The trick to sticking to the autoimmune diet is understanding how to work with your mind to establish new habits.

Although a goal is important — say someone wants to manage her Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland — research shows a goal alone is not enough to change your habits. We’ve all made promises to reform only to quickly succumb to the spell of temptation. Research shows we are more motivated by the daily habits toward that goal than the goal itself. The key is not in the big sweeping gesture fueled by fantasy, but instead the small, tangible things we do each day to move us toward our goal.

How to create new habits to stick to the autoimmune diet

It takes 66 days to create a new habit, so commit to a plan of supporting yourself and your new way of life.

Create a vision board of your healthier life. Create a vision board, a collage of images that represent what life will look at when you reach your goal of more successfully managing your autoimmune disease. For instance, your vision board can feature images of feeling energetic, having fun with your kids, doing a sport or activity you love, a place you’ve always wanted to visit, romance, and other images that capture the life you will lead when freed from your symptoms. Put it where you see it every day so that the images seep into your subconscious mind.

Schedule time for your diet. Schedule time each week to chop veggies, cook meats, put together crockpot meals, and make snacks. You’re most likely to cave when hungry, so create the convenience and accessibility ahead of time to ensure your success.

Check in with your habit building and stress levels. Big life changes are an eternal work in progress  not a destination. You will bring down your health if you make the diet stressful. So check in with yourself regularly to see how it’s working for you and whether it’s stressing you out, and tweak and modify as needed.

Get support from others. Social support is not only healthy in itself, but it’s also vital to your success. Join online groups of others on a similar path, enlist friends or family to encourage you, and don’t engage those who try to ridicule or sabotage you.

Change your subconscious beliefs. Our subconscious mind plays a significant role in our daily habits, good or bad. You may have unidentified belief systems that are working against your success. There are many methods and books available these days to help you, including EFTEMDRhypnotherapy  prayer, and books such as those by Joe Dispenza.

Practice positivity. Yes, the autoimmune diet can be challenging. But having a sour attitude will only set you up for failure. Studies show subjects who spend a little time regularly practicing positivity and gratitude have far better outcomes than those who don’t. It’s no different than learning a new skill — investing just a few minutes a day thinking about something that makes you feel good or about things for which you are grateful pays you back amply.