This is one of my favorite conversations right now 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 autoimmune 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 was diagnosed at 14 with an autoimmune disease and 7 months later with an eating disorder.
So when, about two years ago, I considered the autoimmune protocol as a way to naturally manage my autoimmune symptoms and help me get off 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 party 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 my hubs because I didn't want the temptation.
I vowed to never miss out on another conversation because I was too busy actively ignoring the plate of cookies on the table in front of me.
The problem was... no matter how I looked at the autoimmune protocol, it sure looked like a diet to me.
And, 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 and dietary approaches are full of judgment, willpower, and shame.
Where are the people who don't want to diet?
Where those whose mental and emotional health needed a different solution?
Where are the people who think restrictive eating IS hard?
I was curious to know: Does anyone else want to eat intuitively WHILE respecting or taking note of health-based restrictions? Does anyone else wonder how to feel good (and not deprived) about cutting out foods that cause physical reactions in the body? Is there a way to not diet but still take great care of my health?
If you've uttered any of these same questions, you're definitely not alone. Even better? The answer is yes. It's totally possible. (Though it may not be 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... involves what I call The MERGE Method:
As more and more of us with autoimmune disease or chronic illness start to consider dietary changes, like the Autoimmune Protocol, for symptom management, it’s important to highlight that these diets can be adopted without restriction (that's where The MERGE Method comes in) BUT it's ALSO helpful to know that these diets may or may not work for you in particular. (And that they may or may not even be necessary in the first place.)
But also also? You're okay either way -- you do not deserve your symptoms and you are not solely in charge of “healing” yourself either.
Part of the challenge, with increased access to the Internet, is that our doctors and providers aren’t always the ones sending us 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 treatment) that works for us.
Often, patients want to go a more natural route because of the possible side effects of medication. And there are side effects. However, if we're going to talk about the potential side-effects of medication... then we've GOT to also talk about the potential side effects of natural healing.
If you're not sure what I mean by that, I really recommend a class inside The Wellness Boulevard hosted by myself and therapist Nicole Ness. Nicole talks about the side effects of restriction -- and restrictive eating -- and how those side effects can physically manifest in the body and mess up the results we were hoping to see. You can watch this video immediately by starting your membership here.
But even more than highlighting why it's not your fault if an elimination-based diet has worked yet for you... is talking about how we can choose natural or conventional medication and, no matter what we decide, we can still value health.
We are no less for choosing medication, possibly because our mental health will benefit or because our symptoms are severe, and we get no gold stars for choosing a more natural route. We need to MORALLY neutralize these decisions, so that we can choose what’s best for us individually in any given season.
If you want to dive into the nitty gritty of eating intuitively while eating for medical restrictions, here's the entire MERGE Method broken down into all 5 steps! I also invite you to join my (free) Facebook Group, Autoimmune Well with Kel. There, I recommend watching two livestreams in particular (go to the "videos" tab in the group) called: "The most important Q to ask yourself if you want to feel better" and "How to feel good about not eating foods that cause physical reactions". Join the Facebook Group now for immediate access to these conversations + many more!