Paleo, Gluten-Free, AIP...how to find a diet that works for autoimmune disease without feeling restricted
Is it really the “diet” that’s wrong or is it something else? How come some people can follow a diet, like paleo or the autoimmune protocol, and be just fine... while others fall off the wagon pretty quick? Is it possible to find a diet that works *without* feeling restricted?
There's an anti-diet movement happening right now, where experts are sharing education on how diets lead to binging and often play a part in unwanted behavior rather than solutions. And, I tend to agree that diets can be harmful to our health.
But, what if we're trying to diet *for* our health? How do we take care of our physical bodies without jeopardizing our mental and emotional well-being? What if we want to follow Paleo, or AIP, or eat gluten-free? Is that even possible to do without feeling restricted or deprived?
The first answer to this question is, of course, yes. It is possible to do and we know there are a lot of people out there successfully adopting these types of protocols with great results. All we have to do is search for "paleo success stories" or "results on AIP diet" to see that it's possible to adopt a diet for your health and see a great outcome.
That being said, there are also a lot of people struggling to do this. Because, quite frankly, it's not easy. It's not easy to meal prep. It's not easy to cook every meal at home. It's not easy to read label ingredients or take the time to understand exactly what each ingredient actually is. It's not easy to cut out our favorite foods, say no to parties or events, or miss out on social gatherings because of our diets.
So, what do those of us who struggle following these kinds of diets actually do? How do we take care of our physical bodies without feeling restricted? Without feeling like we're on a diet? How can we feel good about cutting out foods rather than deprived?
The first thing to recognize in answering this question is that there's nothing wrong with a diet.
A diet is simply a way of eat and it's not "diets" that are inherently bad. Rather, it's any way of eating that carries emotional attachment.
It's any way of eating that is:
Feeling restricted or deprived, and experiencing the physical symptoms of restriction or deprivation in the body, happens not because we're literally not eating certain foods* but because the act of not eating certain foods carries with it disempowerment, fear, force, and guilt.
*You do have to also make sure you're eating enough food in the first place! You don't want to the body to interpret your food choices as a literal restriction, or famine.
(P.S. If you're not sure what I mean by "physical symptoms of restriction", 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. Watch this video immediately by starting your membership here.)
We're good... we're bad... we're on plan... we fell off the wagon... we ate our cheat meal for the week... THIS is what trips us up. This language consciously and unconsciously implies something about us as human beings AND about the choices we feel we are allowed (or not allowed) to make.
When it comes to taking back the power we've given diets as something that either (1) we can't keep up with or (2) we shouldn't do, we need to start by addressing that there's nothing wrong with choosing to eat in accordance with a set of principles or ideas... or with choosing to eat in accordance with underlying health challenges or symptoms (like autoimmune disease).
Nor is there anything wrong with *not* choosing to.
What makes all the difference in whatever way we'd like to eat is found in our feelings. It's in the feelings of force, restriction, and fear versus the choice, freedom, and love.
The former sets us up for misery for two particular reasons.
1. Language like "good", "bad", "allowed", "not allowed" all implies shame and morality as though cookies are inherently bad to eat, salad is morally good to consume, and cake is "out to get us". We take this further though and often decide *we're* bad based on those foods.
Quite frankly, this method of viewing food is NOT a long-term motivator. Even more, as Marc David from The Psychology of Eating teaches, “The notion of good foods and bad ones is largely unscientific… the metabolic value of any food is profoundly influenced by factors that aren’t inherent in the food but issue forth from the eater – relaxation, quality, awareness, pleasure, and so on.”
In other words, the power of a food in our bodies depends on more than the name of a food itself.
Let that sink in because what this means is so important.
Since food is not good nor bad, WE are not good nor bad depending on what we eat. WE do not need punishment or restriction after eating a “bad” food. WE will then not find ourselves in a binge-restrict-binge cycle to make up for our “failures”.
Why does this matter so much?
2. The biological response to physically or emotionally charged deprivation is binge eating (which can lead to a host of other things).
This means that when we physically don’t eat enough OR when we feel restricted by what we can eat... our bodies interpret it as the same. It's deprivation that threatens survival.
(I first learned about this concept of emotional deprivation from Isabel Foxen Duke. Read more about emotional deprivation on her site because this truly is game changing!)
The problem with most diets, even the ones designed not for weight less but for health, is that much of the language explaining how these diets “work” calls for deprivation as a barrier to entry.
For example, not only are you restricting foods based on a set of externally-driven rules, but also you may be encouraged to avoid something like pancakes (even with approved ingredients) because “a pancake is still a pancake”.
Not only are we physically cutting out foods but we are emotionally holding out on ourselves, too.
After all, we are often attracted to the emotional feeling we get from certain foods. But when did that become a BAD thing?
That emotional pull towards certain foods in and of itself is not the reason our health is what it is today. Additives could be impacting us. Labeling certainly hasn’t helped. Shameful talk around food, body, and illness is probably a factor. Convenience of “junk” food and inconvenience of “health” food might play a role. Societal unspoken rules around how we should look, eat, and act might make a difference too. But, "pancakes"? “Bad" foods? Emotional pleasure from eating certain foods?
These aren’t the end all be all culprits.
All this to say that if you WANT to eat gluten-free, Paleo, or AIP (truly for your health or beliefs and not 90% for health + 10% for weight loss) in a way that doesn't leave you feeling restricted or deprived, then we have to stop talking about rules and regulations and START talking about mindset.
About the way in which we approach these “diets”.
If you want to dive deep into the nitty gritty of making sure you don't have to follow a restrictive diet for the rest of your life, grab your Wellness Boulevard membership today. You'll get immediate access to the most in depth video I've done to date on this subject: The MERGE Method, a 5-step process to eat *any* way you want without feeling restricted or deprived. Sign up here!