Earlier this year, I decided to go a month without a particular protein, called A1 casein, that's often found in cow dairy.
That month turned into two which turned into three and now it's been many more months and I feel better than ever.
But here's the thing.
I don't just mean I feel better physically. (I do feel better physically but I attribute that to the time I spend with my journal shifting beliefs and on my mat doing restorative yoga much more than I attribute it to this dietary tweak.)
I also mean that I feel better mentally and emotionally and that I feel a sense of freedom around food that I've never felt before.
You see, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at age 14 and 7 months later with an eating disorder. I spent many months healing from the severity of the eating disorder and another 10+ years healing my relationship to food as a whole.
In fact, it felt so good to finally get to a place where I wasn't dieting and I wasn't controlled by the ingredients on my plate or the size of my waistline that I once made a vow, in a church no less, to never ever ever diet again.
So, how (and why) do I limit A1 casein and things like cheese, milk and ice cream? Even more, how do I do this without dieting and feeling an ounce of restriction along the way?
I use what I call The MERGE Method.
The MERGE Method is a 5-step practice designed to bridge the gap between my mental health and my physical health. I wanted to know if it was possible to eat intuitively while cutting out foods and to feel freedom even though I might be restricting.
The answer to my question? Yes, it's totally possible. What (do I think) is even more important? It's not always required.
"Make sure the cause" is the first step of The MERGE Method because we need to make sure that food (and not another source of stress or inflammation) is actually at the root of whatever we don't want to be experiencing.
Because that's why we're doing this, right?
We want to feel better, or want to stop feeling bad, and we've decided that food is at the root of that "bad".
For me, I decided to cut out A1 casein because I thought it might be contributing to a few things I was ready to stop experiencing: face redness, acne, cramps, allergies and congestion... the list goes on and on.
(Note: I'm not telling you this so that you decide A1 casein is the root of anything YOU'RE experiencing. We're all different and, as you'll soon find out, cutting this pretty little cow dairy protein was not even the golden ticket for me.)
This is a super crucial step in being able to eat ANY way without feeling restricted or deprived because we're all super unique humans with super unique bodies living super unique lives. Meaning, individual foods and ingredients are not going to bring upon the same reactions in all of us.
Is it really a particular food that's causing the physical reaction you no longer want to experience? Could you be under the "nocebo effect" because you've been told that certain foods cause certain physical reactions in the body? (This is a real thing!) Are you eating enough food to begin with? Are you exercise enough or exercising too much? Are you enough spending time in nature or under the sun? Are you hanging out in meditation? What kind of stress are you under? Is there a hidden stressor messing with your efforts to get well?
MANY things that can impact the physical body, so it's important to explore what's causing you to feel unwell in particular. You want to make sure food is really truly at the root before you try to restrict said food without feeling restricted.
There are two questions I love to ask and think can make a big difference as we take on this exploration:
Not only might we need to change what we think is required but asking these questions also gives you the EXACT information you need when it comes to the daily actions you should be taking.
Meaning, we want our daily actions to be in alignment with what we believe is required to have what we want. And if they're not, then it's time to shift the actions or the requirements.
So often, we question the tools we're using (and whether or not they really work) or we question ourselves (and our willpower, discipline, commitment). But I've found the most value in questioning my beliefs instead. I've found the biggest bang for my buck when I've questioned where I picked up my thoughts and beliefs around health and whether or not those thoughts and beliefs are actually true for me.
For example, I thought for a long time that I would have to eat according to the autoimmune protocol to get off medication and get into remission. In fact, it wasn't until after I developed the MERGE Method and started cutting out foods one by one that I realized maybe this wasn't required after all.
Ask yourself where you want to go and what you think is required to get there... and also ask yourself why you want to restrict foods without feeling restricted.
I doubt it's because you think doing so sounds fun or because you value eating this way (though, if it does or you do then by all means go for it!). Rather, it's probably because, somewhere along the way, you picked up a belief or two that said you HAVE to eat this way if you want to have health. (Or, you have to eat this way if you want to heal from autoimmune disease or you have to cut these foods if you want to get better.)
Sure, maybe that's true. There are plenty of success stories out there from those who've successfully restricted. And no one is arguing against the benefit of eating whole foods.
But also maybe it's not 100% required.
For me, I had a hunch that A1 casein could be impacting the areas I mentioned above, but I didn't know for sure until I experimented. And I don't just mean experimented with food. Because of my past, I wanted to start with the possible sources or triggers that didn't have anything to do with food. I wanted to begin with the areas that felt the most accessible and I encourage you to do the same.
Because although it sure feels like dietary changes are the gold standard in the wellness industry, food doesn't have all the power. Don't let anyone convince you that you don't care about your body or that you must not value your health or that if you "wanted it enough then it would be easy" just because you don't eat whatever diet they've decided you're supposed to eat. You're the expert of your own body!
After I made a few swaps, and still found myself experiencing the same physical reactions, I finally decided I would try to remove A1 casein and see what happened. After about two months, I tested my experiment and woke up the next day totally stuffed up with aches, brain fog and congestion.
What's interesting about this is that I spent those two months thinking my experiment wasn't working simply because my face wasn't any less red (or clear). I was only paying attention to the relief I most wanted and forgot to take note of any other changes taking place.
I make a point to share this because it's THIS information -- our own personalized data and evidence -- that we then need to use when making decisions about what we eat or don't eat. In other words, if you want to restrict foods without feeling restricted then EVERYTHING needs to become a choice.
... And the way we make choices is by having personalized information that can inform our decisions rather than dictate them.
After we make sure the cause, the next step in the MERGE Method is "eat for health and not for weight". While I'm not going to dive into detail on this one in this post, I will say this: The only reason I can restrict food without feeling restricted is because I am eating for my "health". More specifically, it's because I've healed my eating disorder + relationship to food and am no longer eating with weight, control or body shape leading the way.
This step is massively important because we can't claim we're eating for our "health", for "medical restriction", for "healing", for "remission"... when we're really, secretly, subtly eating for "thinness".
Mostly because eating to lose weight or in fear of weight gain interferes with our ability to make true choices and the absolute #1 way to restrict food without feeling restricted is to make true choices.
By choices I mean:
When we can stop following the rules and instead make everything a choice, the effects of what we eat — how we might physically or emotionally feel afterwards — must also become a choice.
We need to be allowed to eat a food that might cause a "negative" reaction in the body without that choice saying anything about WHO we are as humans or WHAT we value or HOW MUCH we desire to feel good.
At the same time, we need to have a say in the tool we end up using (like food). After all, if you feel like food is the ONLY option, then you don't really have a choice, do you? You want to feel good. You may or may not want to cut out foods to get there.
Simply put, it cannot be true that you ONLY get what you want IF you eat in a way you don't like. (Because then you're only getting half of what you want.)
Note: If you like eating Paleo or AIP or gluten-free, then there's no problem here. (And I doubt you're reading this post anyway, haha.) This IS a problem if you're thinking, "omg I cannot live in a world where I have to give up french fries in order to heal."
As you might have guessed, I was / am the latter. Which meant I had to loosen up the requirements I'd set around food being the only way to get off medication or get into remission or feel really freakin' good. (And I've loosened these reigns so much that eating A1 casein doesn't even bother me as much anymore!)
The MERGE Method exists because I thought I had to eat according to the autoimmune protocol in order to have health and heal naturally. And don't get me wrong, I LOVE a good slice of AIP cake or a paleo cinnamon role and there ARE folks who have food intolerances that need to be respected.
But also I know that, for me personally, I was asking the wrong question all along. I wasn't just acting like food was *a* way to get where I wanted to go... I was thinking food was *the* way.
If you want to use food to feel better and manage your autoimmune symptoms, then give yourself the gift of choice. Build a relationship with yourself and your body and know that every other area of your life will affect how you feel and how foods will leave you feeling. Meaning, food IS an avenue you can take but it isn't the only one that matters.
That's what I teach and how I curate resources inside my membership and community site, the Wellness Boulevard. Sign up for your membership today to receive immediate access to healing meditations, restorative yoga classes, MERGE Method coaching videos, and guest expert classes that can help you feel better in days and weeks rather than months and years. It took me over 10 years to unpack this stuff... and I'd really love to shorten that learning curve for you!