How AIP Helped Reduce My Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Below is a Q&A we did with Eileen about her experience on Paleo and AIP (Paleo autoimmune protocol).
1. What got you interested in the Paleo/AIP lifestyle?
Developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I was health-conscious before that – I ate organically, exercised regularly, but honestly paleo wasn’t even on my radar. When RA came into my life fast and furious, disabling me within 6 months, I scoured the internet looking for hope and found the AIP.
2. What excites you most about writing/blogging and helping people get healthier?
Autoimmune disease rolls through people’s lives like a wrecking ball. I love giving people hope again and helping them reclaim not only their health, but their joy in living.
3. Can you tell us the story of how Paleo/AIP helped to improve your health?
When I was at rock bottom with rheumatoid arthritis I was living with daily excruciating pain – pain so intense that I believe it deserves its own word because I had never experienced anything close in my 43 years prior.
I woke in the morning feeling like I was 90 years old, stiff all over. I limped walking across the living room and didn’t have the strength to wash dishes or lift a pan. In the evening, a flare would hit a specific joint, taking the pain in that joint to such a high level it needed to be immobilized.
One night my shoulder would be in a sling, the next night my wrist in a brace, the next I’d have to get off my feet because my knee couldn’t support my weight, and if it hit my jaw, I couldn’t open my mouth to speak or to eat.
It was terrifying. I call it flare russian roulette.
I started my healing diet with the regular paleo template, and within 2 weeks, the inflammation started to recede.
It wasn’t an overnight success story, but for the first time, I was feeling better instead of worse. Slowly over the next few months, my flares reduced from daily to weekly to just a few times per month. I was able to walk a mile before my feet got sore. And I was able to work part-time.
But my progress plateaued there. That’s when I tried the AIP, and the results were dramatic. Within 1 month my flares went away altogether. 9 months later, after finishing a patient food reintroduction process where I discovered dairy and nightshades were my biggest triggers, I was back to working full-time and hiking the mountains that I love.
I’m not cured, but my symptoms are 95% better, and that’s the difference between disability and a full and beautiful life.
4. How do your family and friends feel about your Paleo/AIP life?
My husband is very supportive. There is no food in my house that I can’t eat. He’s not 100% paleo, and he eats what he likes when he’s away from home, but he shares my AIP meals and doesn’t tempt me with foods that hurt me at home.
My friends are also wonderful – they’ve even cooked me AIP meals, searching for recipes online. When you cook as much as I do, there is no greater gift than a night off (especially if they do dishes)!
My family, on the other hand, thought I was crazy at first. My mother laughed when I said that diet could improve my autoimmune symptoms. But once she saw the result, she became very supportive. Now, when I visit, we cook AIP meals together.
My siblings are mixed – some are respectful, others actually try to sabotage my diet when I visit, but I can handle them. We’ve been siblings for over 40 years, and I’m strong. 🙂
5. What are three things you’ve told yourself that kept you going during your weakest moment?
“This too shall pass.”
That really helped during flares, because when you’re in the middle of that much pain, it feels like it will never end. Yet the nature of flares is that they are temporary. It helped to remind myself of that truth.
“You are loved.”
This is so important. When we’re sick, we feel so vulnerable and alone. So, I would remember and feel gratitude for the love of my husband, my family, my friends, spiritual love, and I would also focus on cultivating self-love – something we all need and rarely give ourselves.
“One step and one decision at a time.”
When we’re trying to heal autoimmune disease, we are desperate for a “fix” and we sometimes make the mistake of taking a shotgun approach – adding in a bunch of interventions all at once, so it’s impossible to tell what’s working and what’s not. We also tend to be impatient, second-guessing our choices if we don’t heal overnight. So I pace myself. Every supplement I’ve added, every lifestyle change I’ve made, every functional medicine intervention I’ve tried – I’ve done them one at a time. And by doing so, I’ve learned how to help myself, and how to avoid hurting myself.
6. If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ [websites, books, coaches] you’d recommend, which would you include and why?
There are so many great resources for autoimmune healing, that it’s impossible to list them all, but I’ll make myself list three (which is almost as hard as trying to choose a favorite child). So, consider these selections to be just SOME of my favorites, and I’m intentionally choosing ones people may not have heard of before:
(1) Website: Healing Family Eats. Kate has a talent for delicious and nutritious recipes, with photography so beautiful it will make your mouth water. And all of her recipes are catered for the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol.
(2) Book: The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. She has multiple autoimmune diseases and spent a year doing a mind-body self-experiment, adding meditation/yoga/acupuncture to her life to see if it could improve her symptoms. The results were dramatic, and I think it highlights the importance of addressing our self-talk and our stress in addition to diet.
(3) Coach: I’m going to highlight Joanna Frankham, a holistic health coach based in Sydney, Australia, but she works with people around the world via Skype. She has autoimmune disease herself which she has reversed through the AIP, and she’s excellent at supporting others on their own healing journeys. I love her compassionate, authentic, practical approach, with just the right amount of humor to brighten up those dark days.
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