Have you ever found yourself scrolling on Instagram and trying *really* hard not to feel like a failure?
Maybe because you didn't eat 'clean' enough this week...
Or because you haven't spontaneously 'cured' your flare-ups or your symptoms...
Ever feel like you have to choose between your mental health and your physical health?
Maybe feeling like you can't have both... you can't do the things that support your mental health AND do the things that support your physical body...
Do you feel divided between following a flexible, anti-diet eating plan (such as intuitive eating) and a more rigid, health-based plan (such as paleo or the autoimmune protocol)?
Maybe you're curious about the autoimmune protocol and all the success stories you've read. But maybe also you've done diets in the past and really don't want to start another.
If this is where you find yourself today, I've been right where you're sitting.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at age 14 and an eating disorder 7 months later. Meaning, when I wanted to heal my body using food I had a VERY hard time.
I wanted to adopt the autoimmune protocol in attempts to get off medication, but I had tried the Whole30, Paleo, and versions of AIP before and ALWAYS fell short. I either made it to the end of my elimination diet and didn't feel any better. (And instead felt MASSIVELY resentful.) Or I stopped the diet short because I couldn't take it anymore. (Aka I was miiiisseerraabllee.)
I decided it must be my mission to figure out how to eat intuitively (because this type of eating helped me move through an unhealthy relationship with food) WHILE cutting out foods that were "bad" for my physical body.
After all, we hear a LOT about how food is medicine nowadays, right? We hear about dietary changes at the doctor's office, from that one friend who loves to share about the latest food trends, and even from the social media accounts that make eating clean seem effortless.
(Don't worry. My recipes sure don't look or taste like theirs either!)
Plus, we're often being told that we can heal ourselves. That if we just do all the right things, then we can stop feeling so terrible. I mean, I've read DOZENS of stories from others who have been able to do this.
But when I couldn't crack the code of cutting out foods and feeling totally okay with that decision? When I couldn't adopt paleo or the autoimmune protocol with ease?
I started to wonder what was wrong with me.
Why can’t I do this?
Why isn’t this working for me?
What’s wrong with me?
Don't I want to feel better?
Why can't I get it together?
So, friend, if you're shaking your head and totally with me on all this, can I tell you something? Something really important?
You aren't crazy.
You don't lack willpower.
You don't deserve your symptoms.
You haven't caused your health challenges.
Even natural treatments come with possible side effects. Dieting, even for our health, can lead to binge eating, preoccupation with food, and stress and inflammation in the body. (Which is exactly what we're trying to avoid in the first place!)
What we eat IS important... but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Our mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health.
It IS possible to eat intuitively while eating for medical restrictions or allergies, but what makes this possible is a shift in mindset and not necessarily a change in behavior.
The truth is... if you're wondering... what if I want to diet for my health?... while also wondering... what if I don't want to feel restricted or deprived anymore?
Then, you're suffering from what I call Split Health Stress. And it's totally normal.
But what I really want you to know is... you don't have to feel restricted or deprived no matter how you choose to eat.
Even better, you can live a life you love right now… not when you heal, go symptom-free, or eradicate sickness.
If you're trying to make dietary changes and struggling with those changes, it's not on you. It's not that you're doing something wrong or that there's a different, more perfect diet right around the corner.
Rather, the problem is most likely that the diet you're trying to implement simply isn't doing what it's supposed to do. Not because it doesn't work or because you lack willpower or discipline, but because there are certain conditions in which some tools simply *cannot* work to their fullest potential.
I call those conditions "hidden stressors"... and, since you're reading this post, I'm guessing Split Health Stress might be getting in YOUR way.
Split Health Stress is the stress (or friction) that comes from feeling like you have to choose between taking care of your mental health (for example, by following more flexible and intuitive eating plans) or your physical health (for example, by following more strict or rigid plans).
Many of us with Split Health Stress want to be able to eat intuitively *while* eating for medical restrictions or intolerances. We don't want to feel restricted or deprived but we *do* want to eat certain foods and perhaps, more specifically, avoid others.
But what we don't always realize is that adopting restrictive diets or lifestyles, even when done for our health, can actually exacerbate the symptoms we are hoping to reduce. In other words, trying to follow a restrictive diet -- and feeling incredibly deprived or bitter along the way -- can actually make you feel worse.
The good news?
Restriction is what causes that exacerbation and restriction doesn't have anything to do with what we're actually eating. (So long as we're eating enough.) Instead, restriction and deprivation have to do with what we think and how we feel about what we're eating.
Which means that having your cake and eating it too (well, you get what I mean, right?) is possible!
And what makes this possible is something I call The Merge Method. You can read all about here!
5 Keys to Working Through Split Health Stress
The entirety of The Merge Method is important, but there's a specific reason "make sure the cause" is Step #1.
It's where we have to start because it's the step that asks us to make sure what we *think* is required to get where we want to go is actually required.
Because whether we realize it or not, we as patients are picking up a LOT of information about what's supposed to get us closer towards our goal of health. We hear stats and suggestions in the doctor's office, we read stories online as we do loads of research, we talk to friends and maybe family members, and we come across folks on social media sharing their own journeys.
Over time, we form beliefs around what we've decided *must be* required to get where want to go. In other words, we make assumptions about what we have to do to actually feel better.
And for most of us struggling with Split Health Stress, we've decided food *must* be at the top of that list.
It's almost like everything is else we do is great (like meditation, or exercise, or drinking lots of water) but ONLY if we're also eating really well. Because without that clean eating, we think we won't ever actually have what we want.
As we make sure the cause of whatever symptom we're hoping to alleviate, we need to figure out if food really is a problem. We need to figure out what we've decided is required to have health... and whether or not those decisions are true... for us.
Because that's the biggest key here of all.
Health is different for every single one of us. What it takes to feel better is different for every single one of us. Have you ever noticed how many different types of "healing" stories there are online? While it's really easy to find food-based success stories, if you went looking for different anecdotal evidence you could find it for a variety of approaches.
Which means the question isn't necessarily... How do I eat paleo AND not feel restricted? ... The question first needs to be... In order for me to feel better, is it REQUIRED for me to eat paleo?
Note: The emphasis here is on the *for me* and *required*. I'm certainly not disputing the benefit of eating a lot of whole foods. Rather, I'm questioning the extent to which cutting out certain foods is THE THING for ALL of us individually.
Once you're sure you want to move forward cutting out certain foods without feeling restricted or deprived, it's necessary to clean up the motivation behind our action. In other words, Step #2 of The MERGE Method asks us to make sure we really are eating for health (and not to shape our bodies, control function, or prevent sickness).
This is a big ask, so I don't take this step lightly. As briefly mentioned, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at age 14 and then 7 months later with an eating disorder. Meaning, I not only had to heal mentally and emotionally before I could focus on using food to heal physically, but I also had to untangle the beliefs I'd held around food, weight, and weight gain.
As we untangle these beliefs, and move forward letting our desire to feel good physically, mentally, emotionally, and soulfully leading the way, we get to one of the most crucial elements of merging these two worlds together.
We have to make choices.
In every moment.
About what we want to eat.
About what healing tool we want to use.
About what those choices mean about us as humans.
This step often gets its own discussion when I'm filming videos for members inside The Wellness Boulevard because it's HOW we remove restriction and deprivation from the conversation.
We have to put all of the options and all of the foods on the table so that we can make choices about what we want in any given moment. It's not to say that 99.9% we don't choose the paleo or AIP option. It's to say that we could ALWAYS make a different choice without that different choice saying anything about who we are as people.
Without that choice saying anything about how much we do (or do not) value health. Without that choice saying anything about our willpower or discipline or commitment.
We need to be able to make choices about our food without those choices feeling chock full of moral obligation or pressure.
Because this is how we build trust with ourselves. It's how we tap into our desires and wants (both in the moment but also for the long run). It's how we feel good about making choices that support our physical health... knowing that *we* really are making that choice. That we're not feeling forced (and then resentful), that no one is telling us what to do, and that instead we're empowered within our health and our decisions.
We get to test things, collect evidence to prove or disprove our theories, and use that information to inform (not dictate) our decisions. Most of the time we'll want to feel good physically but we're NEVER "bad" for making a choice that leads to a physical reaction in the body.
It doesn't mean anything about us.
As you make choices, grow into relationship with yourself and extend that relationship, one of the final key pieces of moving through Split Health Stress is purpose. You see, it can be really easy to wonder, "Why me?".
Why did I get dealt this hand?
Why do I have to cut out these foods?
What do I have to do this?
I didn't ask for this.
I didn't want this.
It's not fair.
One of the biggest reasons I can forgo cow dairy 99.9% of the time is because I've connected it to a larger mission. It's not something happening TO me anymore... it's something happening FOR me.
If this post is resonating with you, click here to learn more about The MERGE Method.
If you're not sure whether or not you're actually struggling with Split Health Stress, find out with my free quiz here.
If you're ready to go as deep as possible into The MERGE Method and Split Health Stress, grab your Wellness Boulevard membership today. You'll get immediate access to one of my most favorite videos: The MERGE Method, a 5-step process to eat *any* way you want without feeling restricted or deprived.