5 More Things I’ve Learned In Becoming Paleo And Healing Lupus.

 

What a difference a year makes! I never would’ve imagined what this journey would look like a year ago, except that with time, also comes a new vantage point on this staircase. I still can’t see the whole thing, but I can see where I’ve been and that alone makes a huge difference. I’ll cut to the chase before you scour the entire article looking for clues; the good news is my immune health has improved greatly, my hormones are better balanced, and thyroid markers are stable. The not-so-good news is my antibody benchmarks for Lupus still haven’t budged. That said, Paleo is not a cure, but hope. For me, faith in the process that through diet and nutrition, both Lupus and Hashimoto’s Disease (hypothyroidism) can be healed to the point of being managed. I hope you’ll read more.

1. Find a functional doctor first. Over the last year, I’ve had many opportunities to question, agree or disagree, evaluate, and incorporate the necessary pieces to this very complex puzzle of healing chronic autoimmune disease into my life. There are thousands of articles and a multitude of famous doctors, diets, and “secrets”, all of which are convincing at best. On top of trying to figure out what the body is doing, it can be even more confusing to sift through the mass of information in the cyber world. 

For me, Paleo made sense from the beginning. God gifted me with just enough intelligence to acquire knowledge, but not enough not to rely on common sense. The Paleo lifestyle confirms scientifically my firm belief that our bodies are designed perfectly and our cells, DNA, blueprint for health,  haven’t changed much in the billions of years since humans have been on earth. Within the Paleo community, I’ve also found comfort in the many of us who are also healing various chronic diseases; my own often paling by comparison. One particular article on healing autoimmune suggests finding a functional doctor at the bottom of a list of recommended interventions. I respectfully disagree; finding a functional doctor should be at the top of any list, front and center, before Paleo or any other intervention.

Finding a functional doctor, for me, has been at the core of the vast improvements and progress in my journey toward wellness. There are no coincidences in this life and I switched to my current functional doctor, Dr. Patricia Guevara-Channell, right before I was diagnosed with Lupus. From the outside, I was seemingly healthy: I had just run my fourth half marathon, ate a nutrient-dense diet, and carb-loaded before long runs like a good runner should. I had no weight to lose and other than the Hashimoto’s Disease and recent diagnosis of severe acid reflux, I was what most people consider, the picture of health. On the inside, however, my body had waged war on itself. I had constant unexplained fevers and random infections every month, resulting in heavy doses of antibiotics. I was sick and exhausted more often than not and I was gaining weight, despite a rigorous training schedule. My hormone levels were extremely unbalanced, the estrogen levels being close to a high risk of cancer. I was seeing a cast of specialists; an endocrinologist, an allergist, an urgent care doctor, and my own primary doctor, none of whom ever thought to look at my symptoms holistically and test for Lupus.  There is no way I would’ve known where to start, had it not been for Dr. Guevara’s often overwhelming plan of recovery.

In the same way assessment drives instruction in the teaching profession, hormone levels, thyroid levels, and antibodies guide recovery. My levels are tested periodically and adjustments made accordingly. Dr. Guevara’s knowledge in healing my leaky gut through nutrition (a strict gluten-free, organic, protein-rich diet) and the numerous supplements I take daily, have singlehandedly made the difference between a non-functioning immune system a year ago, to the functional one it is today. I’m not sure how healing an autoimmune disease without such critical information is possible, but I do know a lot of people try to do it; especially given all the information that is readily available. In my very humble opinion,  good health cannot be cyber-hacked, no matter how well a set of guidelines works. Even a Paleo diet is just that; a set of guidelines. 

2. Healing is a verb. Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, I would’ve never imagined the impact Lupus/Hashimoto’s Disease would have on the quality of my life. A year ago, I was in the beginning stages of grief; the first stage being denial. Lupus chose me, not the other way around and I was determined to live my life as if I didn’t have it. When my doctor took me off of the acid reflux medicine keeping me from having asthma-looking attacks,  I had to give up running. It was a devastating loss considering the friendships involved and the amount of training I had devoted. I was often angry, cursing (literally) Lupus for invading my body and causing me to rearrange my life according to my flare-ups and constant exhaustion. There was one moment of clarity as I was slowly beginning to accept my chronic disease. It occurred to me that my anger was actually fueling more symptoms and exasperating the ones I had already. Lupus was now a part of me and I was treating it as the enemy. Isn’t my body already doing enough fighting against itself? Clearly, my attitude was the opposite of healing and from that day forward, I focused on healing.

Eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty hours is a lot of hours to contemplate the choices with which most of us healing autoimmune diseases are faced. I’ve found community amongst social media with others who face the same daily challenges as me. There is something validating in knowing you’re not alone; that other people feel like they’re going bald or that they’ve got to get up, go to work and feed their families even though they feel like crap too. There is something healing in the way someone else says “you’re doing great” and you know they understand. 

There’s also something very discouraging in focusing on our disease and letting it define who we are. It’s very tempting to give in to the negativity, which can set in when the multitude of symptoms threaten to steer us off course. There’s a very real cycle that happens and it goes like this: pain, exhaustion, and sickness lead to discouragement which leads to depression, which amplifies symptoms.  Although we can’t always control our symptoms, we can absolutely choose the way we react. I’m by no means suggesting we pretend disease doesn’t exist or minimize its effects. What I am suggesting is by focusing on progress, and the daily actions we take towards recovery, we actually promote healing instead of derail it. One of my favorite mantras may just become fresh ink someday: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to react.” (Charles Swindoll)

I’m convinced healing starts with intention first and the rest follows. In yoga, it is often said to set your intention for the rest of the 90 minutes you’ve chosen to be there. Those words imbibe power and choice and the same goes for the daily ways we choose to heal our bodies. Healing must be as relentless as fighting.

3. Paleo is not a diet. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? The caveman jokes, how unhealthy it is to eliminate an entire food group, the snarky comments about Paleo followers who didn’t know about eating whole foods prior to this fad. Trust me, I was thinking the same thing myself and allegedly replied to an ignorant comment in the early days as such: “I don’t give a rat’s a$$ what a caveman did or did not do; all I know is eating Paleo is helping me manage a chronic disease without harmful medication.” 

The truth is, becoming Paleo is seeing beyond the diet and giving a rat’s behind how our bodies have been designed for the last billion years. My interpretation, loose as it may seem, isn’t that we pretend we’re living in the Paleolithic era, but that we give mindful consideration to the quality of life we seek for ourselves and our loved ones. I’m not scientifically programmed, but it doesn’t take a Harvard scientist to figure out that our health has been negatively impacted because of the choices (and progress) we’ve made as a society. We wonder why we suffer from disease, obesity, mental illness and constant stress, but we’ve failed to see the connection between the toxic food we eat, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and the amount of time we spend in front of a screen. 

In managing an autoimmune disease, the foundations of Paleo are in every way,  equally as important as the nutrition. The seven pillars of Paleo as defined by Nik Hawks in Paleo’s  April/May issue are nutrition, exercise, sleep, water, sunlight, community, and purpose. While most of us put priority on the first three, there is no denying our human need to be deeply connected with others and to live with deliberate purpose. Sadly, it seems with our fast-paced schedules, instantaneous, but superficial connections, and chronic interface with machines, we’ve missed the very foundations which set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Can these tenets heal disease? Based on nothing but science, all seven pillars contribute to healing in some way: nutritional deficiencies, cell regeneration, decreased inflammation, balancing hormones, increased energy, weight loss, decreased stress, increased self-esteem, and better relationships. I’m only skimming the surface of many benefits, but I’m pretty sure there is no supplement, medication, hormone replacement or otherwise which can provide all of those mentioned. According to Hawks, “Paleo is a specific belief about how we human animals (along with all organisms) evolved to thrive in response to our environment.” The key word in that quote being thrive.

For me the transition in becoming Paleo is every part of this journey. I’m not there yet, but three hundred and sixty-five days is a lot of opportunity to change my thinking. I’ve read some people’s experience of becoming Paleo and they went from unhealthy eating to Paleo in two hundred and seventeen hours, not days. That has definitely not been my experience. Mine has been the equivalent of learning to drive a stick shift: start, jump a few feet, stall. Then repeat until the process seems effortless. What I’ve learned in my yoga practice is to accept where I am for today. Not tomorrow or yesterday, just for today. This is why healing for me, will always be a lifelong practice.

4. Progress not Perfection. Along with the progress we’ve made as humans, specifically in our instantaneous, result-oriented, media-driven society, results trump patience, practice, and time in almost every circumstance. After all, we are used to getting exactly what we want within seconds. In my work with preschoolers, (most of whom have special needs), waiting is a common goal; waiting for a turn, waiting in line, prolonging desired gratification. We’ve all had to learn the self-discipline this requires and for a brain that works differently, this is an especially difficult concept to master. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of time using words like “so-and-so is waiting” or “not your turn yet”, and “it’s not time for dinosaurs. First working, then dinosaurs.” At a developmentally appropriate age, and after the skill has been practiced for what seems like a billion times, our students enter kindergarten with enough self-control to take on both the social and academic challenges they will face. We educators call this progress. It surely did not happen overnight, nor is it (in most cases), a perfectly learned skill.

Becoming Paleo, for me, has been a lot like learning a new skill. Certainly, the diet was completely foreign to me a year ago. I had heard the term used, however, had no idea what the diet entailed. As you can tell from the blog post I wrote a year ago, giving up wheat and going gluten-free was hard enough. The dairy was not a big loss, considering I already had an aversion to milk and avoided most dairy anyway. The sugar, however, might as well have been crack because that’s what I felt like during a 10 day detox; a crack addict. Over the course of a year, I’ve gradually eliminated grains, almost all dairy, and refined sugar. Judging from the vast improvements in both my immune system and thyroid function, my doctor determined my body is definitely sensitive to wheat.  As such, the co-reacting grains for me are a motivation to adhere to a strict diet at least ninety percent of the time.

 A journey of healing in functional medicine can be discouraging because it’s not instantaneous. Having a spouse with Lupus for the last sixteen years, I’ve seen the way traditional medicine mirrors our result-oriented society. We want to feel better and we want to feel better now! There’s a pill for this and a pill for that and trust me, you may very well feel better. The long-term effects, however, are the danger. I won’t spend time reciting all the gory details of the vast amounts of side effects in drugs commonly used to treat autoimmune diseases. That’s a story for another day. The point is, you can feel better now or pay later. I’d rather not have to choose and it’s a big reason why I chose functional medicine and Paleo in the first place. 

Maybe some people would look at the fact that my antibody levels are still high and write the Paleo diet off as not working.  Others may think a year is plenty of time to have changed the numbers, maybe even put Lupus in remission by now. Still others may ask why I continue such a regimented schedule of nutrition, supplements, sleep, and fitness if I can continue to have the same symptoms. To that, my answer is progress. A year ago, I never expected that Lupus would be gone or even in remission. I still don’t expect that it will a year, or even five years from now. That wasn’t the goal. The goal then, as it remains, is progress. Progress takes time, patience, practice, and taking care of myself at least half as well as I take care of others. Healing Lupus is never going to be about perfection; how can it be? I’m an imperfect human doing the best I can. I love Bhagavad Gita’s quote, “The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and focuses on the action alone.”

5. Whose year? Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes is a lot of minutes to learn. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned since the beginning of my journey toward wellness. Sometimes when people comment on my knowledge of health and nutrition, I catch myself saying “I had no other choice.” Actually, there is always a choice, but my choice has been to learn everything I can from the many credible sources which surround me. 

Besides all of the incredible information on food and nutrition I’ve gleaned from the Paleo community, is the wealth of advice and experience in healing autoimmune disease. Many of us are on this same journey toward wellness, just different paths. What we also have to remember is that we also started this journey in much different places. My doctor often tells me about one of her patients that has been successful in reversing her levels and putting Lupus in remission. I was always encouraged by the possibility until she told me recently about the patient. The patient came to her almost one hundred pounds overweight. Her nutrition was unhealthy and she was reticent (that’s the nice version) to change her diet. She basically told Dr. Guevara-Channell she was full of it and walked out of her appointment, not to be seen for another six months. In the meantime, she had done her own research and decided to change. She came back to Dr. Guevara and lost almost eighty pounds, reversing her Lupus benchmarks.

The more I thought about this story, the more discouraged I became. My story is nothing like this patients’ and there will never be such a drastic and noticeable improvement. There will never be a “before and after” photo where people are awed and think I’m amazing. The truth is, most people don’t even know I have Lupus if they don’t know me and I don’t want them to either. My point is all of our stories are different and we didn’t start this journey from the same starting points. If that is true, we can only measure our own progress on our own timeframe. Not with somebody else with the same disease and not what someone else thinks we should be doing by a certain benchmark. Our bodies respond differently at different paces, depending on so many variables. It’s difficult to keep that in mind when we work so diligently day in and day out. It’s very easy to compare journeys and think that we’re doing it wrong. 

In the movie McFarland starring Kevin Costner, Costner plays Coach Jim White. a real-life high school coach in McFarland, California with a Hispanic population of migrant farm workers. He decides to start a cross-country team of unlikely candidates, who by their own hard work, determination and his encouragement, become state champions. In one scene, Costner is holding a timer and waiting on the track for his slowest runner to cross the finish line. When he finally finishes two minutes after the rest of the team, the coach (Costner) says “Great job Danny! You never stopped!” For me, that was the defining moment of the movie, not just because he  acknowledged his runner’s relentless determination instead of the result, but because ultimately his encouragement lead to progress and eventually victory. When I was a runner, I often ran with other runners who were faster, with more endurance, and possessed a natural athletic talent that I did not. I can remember saying out loud that I may not be the fastest or run the farthest, but I will be the most relentless. Like Danny, I will never stop on this journey toward my definition of wellness. I will never step off of this staircase Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of, whether or not I can see the whole thing. I have faith and hope in the journey ahead and for me, that makes all the difference. 

 

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Categories: Meals

Author:onceinabluemoon17

Diligent seeker of health and nutrition, Paleo follower, and creative culinary practicer...

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