This is the third in a series of blog posts about how my autoimmune disease led me down the path of healing my relationship food. You can start from the beginning here.

Once upon a time, I was clueless about how food affects the body. I would eat foods I knew were likely to land me in the bathroom, and live on the prayer that the Pepto Bismol would do its job.

I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that leaves no part of my being unaffected. Its symptoms include, but are not limited to, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss, weight gain, muscle aches, weakness, and memory lapses.

My symptoms, which I’ve had under control for years, recently started creeping back up, so I decided to go back to what I know works: the autoimmune protocol (AIP). In short, the autoimmune protocol is an elimination diet that bans all inflammatory foods. It’s hard to adhere to, but it works.

The first time I went on the autoimmune protocol, I had no understanding of why it worked.

Before AIP, I knew I shouldn’t eat a whole pizza, but only because of some nebulous concept of “health” that—in my mind—related strictly to weight. I knew if I ate the pizza, I was going to end up in the bathroom. I knew diarrhea was bad, but the bodily processes between eating and getting sick was no man’s land for me.

I remember sitting on the toilet—so sick— thinking wait a second, every time I eat this, I end up here. I told myself I’m never doing this again, but I didn’t believe I would never do it again. I knew myself enough to know that the satisfaction of the pizza would—in a moment of weakness—trump the digestive discomfort.

So it kept happening…

Even when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I kept eating the pizza because I didn’t see the connection between the state of my body and the food I was putting into my body. My doctor gave me some pills and never mentioned the possibility of a connection between diet and disease. I trusted the pills were the solution.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t actually have any symptoms. I was diagnosed during a routine physical, and the diagnosis didn’t change anything. A couple of years after the initial diagnosis, I started experiencing symptoms that rapidly spiralized out of control. I kept taking my pills, and the symptoms kept worsening. I felt hopeless. After all, if the doctor’s orders weren’t working, what would work?

My health-conscious sister was concerned about my condition and my lack of initiative to address it; she sent me this email…

When I was reading up on paleo, I came across a section on folks who have hashimoto’s disease, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. they recommend a specific paleo diet cutting out certain foods that trigger symptoms. On the link below, there is a shopping list that you might find interesting?

I ignored her email.

I didn’t care about food. I didn’t know how to cook, and I didn’t see the connection between food and the health hell I was living in. I was exhausted and in pain, and a complicated diet that required me to do a bunch of work was out of the question.

Six months after my sister’s initial email, she sat me down for a very serious conversation about my health. She was frustrated because she saw there was a solution to my struggle, and she didn’t see me taking action on that solution. She was adamant that I go on AIP. That day, I was ready to hear her.

The first time I went on the autoimmune protocol was not because I thought diet was the cure for my condition. I went on the autoimmune protocol because I was desperate enough to try something I didn’t completely understand. I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I just signed up.

Upon reading the first few pages of the AIP, I made the connection that certain foods trigger the symptoms I was experiencing. My sister had told me this in her email 6 months prior, but I had glossed over this very important detail.

We don’t know the exact causes of autoimmune disease, but we do know food affects symptoms, and we know the kind of food I was eating would most definitely exacerbate symptoms.

At first, AIP was something I was committed to for 4 weeks. It was cut and dry. I didn’t feel like the weight of an entire lifetime of managing symptoms. I saw it as simple as: I am not going to eat these things and I am going to eat things. There was certainly a longing for the things I couldn’t eat it, but I had made a commitment and I had hard lines around it. Since I was dieting exclusively for health reasons, it made it easier for me to keep the commitment.

In those first 4 weeks, there were a lot of shifts. For the first time in my adult life, I was nourishing my body and feeling satiated. I wasn’t craving junk food; portion control wasn’t an issue. It’s easy to live by strict rules for a little while. It can even feel liberating because it takes so much of the guesswork out of eating, but we can’t live like that forever. The novelty of strict therapeutic diets eventually wears off. One day, I felt perfectly fine to sit among my friends who were all eating barbeque while I sipped bone broth, and the next day I was losing my mind over everyone having cupcakes while I ate satsumas. This is why strict therapeutic diets have an expiration date.

The newness wears off and it gets really hard.

During the first few months of AIP, I was stalking Sarah Ballantyne, the Paleo Mom. She hosted an online summit where speakers gave talks on a variety of topics; I immediately signed up. It was during this summit that I stumbled upon Marc David and the psychology of eating. Now that AIP was no longer novel, I found myself lusting after the Papa John’s and Krispy Kremes of my previous life, and I thought the psychology of eating was my ticket to eliminating the struggle. I thought if I could figure out how to make this super strict diet easy, I could help other people do the same.

I enrolled in the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and I quickly found out it was not at all what I thought it was.

Instead of learning how to ease the psychological burden of dieting, I learned that diets are stressful and stress sabotages everything that diets are intended to “fix.” Stress sabotages weight loss efforts. Stress creates disease and worsens already existing conditions. I learned that a healthy relationship with food is founded on awareness and intuition. A healthy relationship with food requires that you slow down enough to acknowledge what you’re eating and why you’re eating it. Are you hungry? Are you stressed? Are you sad?

Most of us don’t reserve eating solely for when we are hungry.

While I was learning all of this, I found myself sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by mandarin peels. It wasn’t until after I ate a 3-pound bag of satsuma mandrins that I slowed down enough to acknowledge what had just happened. I was still on AIP, and I was craving something sweet. I couldn’t have fudge brownies, so I settled for satsumas. In my attempt to satisfy my sweet tooth, I ate the whole bag without stopping to taste their sweetness. I didn’t stop long enough to gauge whether or not they were satisfying, and I didn’t stop long enough to realize I was full.

I was bummed when I got to the bottom of the 3-pound bag; I wanted to keep eating.

Only when I was forced to stop eating did I realize how stuffed I was, and even still I would have eaten another 3-pounds. This realization sent me into the same spiral of moral judgments that had governed my relationship with Papa John’s and Krispy Kreme: this is bad. I’m so bad.

The day I ate the bag of satsumas was a turning point for me. I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by orange peels, thinking this isn’t really junk food, but clearly I could stand to have a better relationship with food than sitting on the floor surrounded by 3 pounds worth of orange peels and still wanting more.

I could have been disappointed that the psychology of eating didn’t give me a formula for fighting my fast food urges. Instead, I chose to embrace the bath. I dug deeper. I did all the woo-woo journaling exercises. I read the supplemental reading. I stayed the course even when it felt fruitless, and I eventually started to see how I had been using food to cope with everything.

I started AIP because I was desperate to put an end to the symptoms of my autoimmune disease—and it did. What I didn’t expect was that this insanely healthy diet would reveal—rather than heal—my insanely unhealthy relationship with food.

This realization changed the course of my entire life.

(Want to know how? Stay tuned for next week’s blog.)

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