Eating intuitively with medical restrictions is one of my favorite conversations right now. Mostly because a few years ago I didn't think it was remotely possible to eat intuitively while also eating for medical restrictions.
I thought I had to choose EITHER intuitive eating OR eating according to a elimination-based plan (like Paleo or the autoimmune protocol). And, no matter which camp I choose in any given season, I felt judged.
Judged by the recovery world for following a "diet".
Judged by the paleo world for eating anything that wasn't clean.
I felt like I had to make a choice: my mental health (intuitive eating) or my physical health (elimination-based diet).
In case you're new here, I have an autoimmune disease named Takayasu's Arteritis. It's characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels and, at the time of writing, I currently take Humira to manage my symptoms. Not long after this physical diagnosis, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
So when, about two years ago, I considered the autoimmune protocol as a way to support Takayasu's naturally (and attempt a decrease in medication), I was skeptical. Although I felt the excitement at a possible natural solution, or at least another avenue to explore, I also felt incredibly resentful.
Because no matter which way you roll the dice, the autoimmune protocol is strict. It's restrictive, it's all-or-nothing, and it's not at all what I imagined for my life. In fact, after recovering from an eating disorder, I vowed to never diet again. I vowed to never show up to another part either with my own food or with a strong temporary moment of willpower to resist everything in sight. I vowed to never turn down another date with hubby because I didn't want the temptation or to never miss out on another conversation because I was too busy actively ignoring a plate of cookies. And regardless of how I looked at the autoimmune protocol... it sure looked like a diet to me.
As I did more research, I found that (for the most part) my concerns were right. Many people ARE adopting elimination-based diets as, well, diets. Many people ARE living with rules and regulations leading the way. Many conversations around autoimmune disease ARE full of judgment, willpower, and even blame.
Where are the people who don't want to diet?
Where are the people who don't want to sacrifice mental or soulful well-being?
Where are the people who refuse to diet - and not because they lack willpower?
Where are the people who think eating and living this restrictive IS hard?
Where are the people who think emotional eating is okay?
Where are the people who recognize there's more to health than just what we eat?
I could keep going, but I think you get my point. Does anyone else want to eat intuitively WHILE respecting or taking note of health-based restrictions? Others have to feel this way, right? And it has to be possible, right?
So, if you've uttered any of these same questions, you're not alone. Even better? The answer to your question is... yes, it's totally possible. (Though it may no the necessary.)
After loads of research along with trial + error, here's what I've learned.
Eating for physical AND mental health... eating intuitively for medical restrictions or while following an elimination-based diet... often involves what I call The MERGE Method: (1) Make sure the cause (2) Eat for daily health, (3) Reject the rules, (4) Grow relationship with self, and (5) Extend that relationship.
As more and more experts start to provide the Paleo Diet or Autoimmune Protocol to those with chronic illness or autoimmune disease, it’s important to also share that these diets can be adopted without restriction AND that these diets may or may not work for you in particular. (In other words, they may not be necessary.)
It's also important to know that you're okay either way -- you do not deserve your symptoms and you are not solely in charge of “healing” yourself.
Part of the problem, with increased access to the Internet, is that our doctors and providers aren’t always the ones sending patients home with dietary and lifestyle recommendations. Doctors may suggest natural healing, alternative solutions, or point patients in the direction of resources… or they may not.
Too often, we're taking our advice from those we find on the Internet, or in bookstores, and self-diagnosing.
Yes, there are a lot of benefits from self-care, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes. (The Boulevard is built around these benefits.) But, we still want to work with a team of providers we trust. It’s important to explore and experiment under supervision to find the combination of professional care and self-care (or natural care) that works for us.
Sometimes, we want to go a more natural route for treatment because of the side effects of medication. And, yes, there are side effects of medication. However, there are also side effects of natural healing. It's important to talk about ALL of the potential risks before making a decision.
It's even more important to know that you can choose either route, or any combination of routes, and no matter what you decide, you can still value your health. You are no less for choosing medication, possibly because your mental health will benefit or because your symptoms are severe, and you get no gold stars for choosing a natural route. We need to MORALLY neutralize these decisions, so that we can choose what’s best for us individually in any given season.
We adopt certain diets in hopes of feeling better and alleviating symptoms. And we choose those diets because we BELIEVE eating that type of way is what will get us to that place. (P.S. That belief is a really important piece of the puzzle. It's another story for another time, but all you need to know now is that you must BELIEVE what you are doing will actually help.)
If you want to learn more, check out the entire MERGE Method, join my (free) Facebook Group Autoimmune Well with Kel, or take the Hidden Stressors quiz to see what hidden stressor is messin' with your efforts to get well.