What to Eat When You Have an Autoimmune Disease
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For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I (and oldest son) have been following the Whole30 program. This clean eating diet removes a lot of foods that can cause inflammation in the body.
I have already lost over 5 pounds (at the halfway mark), but still have not seen a big transformation in my autoimmune symptoms from psoriasis. The first seven days went well on the Whole30 as I also used intermittent fasting to drop the weight.
I even seemed to think that my psoriasis was getting a little better.
That was until around day #10 or so when my psoriasis symptoms came roaring back. I even developed new areas of psoriasis I had never seen before starting the Whole30!
As I am sure you can imagine, this latest setback has been a little frustrating, but I refuse to give up.
My long term goal is to build my lifestyle (diet, exercise, fasting, sleep, stress management, etc.) to keep my psoriasis controlled. And living by this list of healthy pillars should also help me as I inch closer to turning 50!
So instead of giving up, my plan is to take my diet one step further and start following the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). My plan is to start easing into the AIP Diet by slowly eliminating additional foods.
But before I talk about my plans to start the AIP diet, let’s first look at the foods I have already given up.
What Foods I Eliminated so Far?
When it comes to diets and healthy eating, the Whole30 can be pretty strict. It is similar to the paleo diet, but with a few differences.
Here is a list of the main foods that you need to eliminate while on the Whole30 (for at least 30 straight days).
After following the Whole30 for over two weeks, I have eliminated each of those types of foods from my diet.
In an attempt to loose some additional weight this time around … I have also cut way back on the fruit that I am eating.
This is our 6th round of the Whole30 (at the time of this writing) and each time in the past I have lost around 10 pounds. All signs point to another 10+ pound loss this time around.
Past rounds I probably ate too much fruit including – bananas, apples, and dates. Along with too many nuts – almonds and cashews. As a result my weight loss stagnated right around that 10 pound mark.
What Other Foods Have I Eliminated?
Besides cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol, and legumes … and cutting way back on fruit … I am also cutting out several other questionable ingredients.
I have completely cut out bad cooking oils which include canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. Those oils are reluctantly allowed on the Whole30 in moderation. I decided to avoid them completely this round.
So in addition to the major foods I listed earlier, I have also limited fruit, nuts, and cut out the bad oils in order to see if those foods made any difference in my psoriasis.
After two weeks, I have mixed results and am looking for more. So I have turned my focus to the Autoimmune Protocol … also called the AIP Diet.
What is the AIP Diet?
Check out the following resource for a bunch of information on the Autoimmune Protocol – What is AIP?
The AIP Diet focuses on eating more high nutrient foods like organ meats while eliminating additional foods that could cause inflammation.
Basically, the way I think about the AIP Diet is that it is an extension of the Whole30 or paleo diet. You still eliminate – sugar, soy, alcohol, gluten, dairy, and legumes … but you take it even further.
So with that information, I am ready to start eliminating other foods in order to figure out what is causing my inflammation. I have a few suspected foods that I plan to start with and are part of the Autoimmune Protocol.
The only difference for me in following the AIP Diet is that I plan to slowly start eliminating certain foods as opposed to all at once.
So what exactly am I planning to eliminate from my diet now … in addition to what I have already given up?
What Foods I Plan to Eliminate Next?
To start … I have no plans on stopping the Whole30. Our family will likely go at least 60 days … hopefully more.
Most of the time our family goes 60+ days on this healthy eating protocol. Sometimes we may add back things like honey or maple syrup to cook with … but I won’t this time. Or at least until I get some more answers concerning my psoriasis.
So I am starting the Autoimmune Protocol from a place of not eating – soy, dairy, alcohol, legumes, sugar, and gluten already.
My next step is to eliminate the following list of foods one by one until I find some answers.
- coffee (please I hope not)
- nightshades and more
I have explained the reasoning for these additional foods I plan to eliminate further below.
#1 – Eliminate Eggs from My Diet
Even though my first week of intermittent fasting and clean eating showed some positive signs of reducing my psoriasis … week number two was much different as I shared earlier.
One of the foods that I have continued eating on the Whole30 that could potentially cause inflammation are eggs.
Following some of the guidelines of the autoimmune protocol, I plan to start eliminating eggs from my diet next. Years ago I suspected that eggs could be causing some of my inflammation but was never fully convinced.
I tried to eliminate eggs on multiple occasions and each time expected my psoriasis to magically go away. That never happened … as I’m sure you could guess.
But those previous times, I wasn’t very patient and probably gave up too soon.
This time I plan to be much more patient in this elimination phase to see if eggs could be the problem.
The bad news is that when I’m on the Whole30, eggs are usually one of my go to foods.
But if I can stop my psoriasis from spreading any further and start reducing the itchy, awful feeling I have been going through … eliminating eggs from my diet will be well worth it.
#2 – Eliminate Almonds from My Diet
Next on my elimination “hit list” after eggs will be almonds.
Another Whole30 staple in my diet are almonds. Actually not just almonds themselves, but also almond flour and almond butter. I like to snack with apple slices and almond butter or sometimes with celery.
We do a lot of our cooking now with almond flour and some of our sauces for meals include a little bit of almond butter.
Why do I suspect almonds as helping to make my psoriasis worse?
First … I eat a lot of almond products while on the Whole30.
Second … almonds and other nuts are listed in the AIP diet as foods to eliminate.
Third … it could all be in my head, but it seems that after I eat a bunch of almonds (not the flour or butter), I feel bloated and gassy. This could potentially be caused by other foods, but almonds always seem to be a factor.
I’m starting with eggs because they seem to cause more severe reactions, but almonds are a very close second. At this point I think it could be one or the other … or both which I hope it’s not.
#3 – Eliminate Coffee from My Diet
The third food (or drink in this case) to eliminate would be coffee. I think I would potentially cry if I had to give up coffee. But if it meant reducing my flare ups … then I’ll do almost anything at this point except take steroid medications.
Coffee is my go-to, fall back crutch … especially when I am intermittent fasting and following the Whole30 program.
I love my coffee black and strong … and I drink several cups a day.
I drink coffee and water while I am doing my fasts. It is the one thing that I allow myself to have other than water when I’m not eating food.
Coffee has been studied to have a ton of benefits for your kidney’s and liver too.
But coffee is also on the acidic side of the food equation and I’m working towards having a more alkaline diet. And since I don’t eat a ton of red meat or other highly acidic foods … coffee is one item that I can try to eliminate to help my psoriasis.
Like I mentioned before … I really hope it doesn’t come to this … but I need to be prepared as I have a much bigger goal of reducing my psoriasis.
#4 – Other Considerations to Eliminate
Hopefully I don’t get this far down the line of foods to eliminate.
But if I do, then my plan is to eliminate the following list of potential inflammatory foods from my diet.
- nightshades – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers
- spices derived from peppers like paprika
- green beans
- all other nuts including – cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachio
- seeds including – sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and sunflower seed butter
Why did I include this list of foods to eliminate as a last resort? Because other than potatoes and green beans, I rarely eat any of the other foods listed there.
Every once in a while I will have ghee on a potato or some macadamia nuts and pistachio’s.
So I don’t feel that these foods are the problem … and when it comes to eating potatoes and green beans … it may be one time per week on average?
If eliminating almonds, eggs, and coffee don’t do the trick … then I will stay positive and start tackling this list next.
And if eliminating those foods don’t help … I am not sure where to turn at that point?
Additional Considerations on the AIP Diet
I’ve already covered a big list of foods to eliminate. First I started with those foods not allowed on the Whole30, which include – gluten (grains), dairy, alcohol, legumes, sugar, and soy.
In addition, I’m avoiding inflammatory oils like canola and sunflower.
Then adding things like eggs, nuts, seeds … coffee (yikes) … and nightshades … it may seem like there is nothing else to cut.
But if all else fails, I’ll start moderating my intake of the following foods next –
- high glycemic fruits and vegetables
- coconut products
Those are a couple additional foods to consider eliminating. But there is probably more things I could add to be honest that could help too.
I think I have put together a great plan of foods to start eliminating from my diet.
But that got me thinking what things can I add to possibly help? Both foods to eat and how I live?
So here are some additional considerations to the AIP Diet, of things I will add (instead of eliminate) –
#1 – Get More Quality Sleep
For the past couple of months, I have been focusing on trying to get at least 7 hours of sleep. That has been a bit of a stretch … but I am starting to get the routine down.
If I continue having bad psoriasis flareups, then my plan is to increase the amount of sleep I get up to 8 to 10 hours. I want my body to have time to heal. And if I can give up coffee … then I surely can add more sleep to my routine.
#2 – Eat More Fermented Foods
Most fermented foods are good for the gut. And since I believe that my psoriasis is a result of a leaky gut … I want to focus on healing it.
That is where eating fermented foods can help.
There are many possibilities … but to start I will try and eat some sauerkraut at least once per day. I actually really enjoy the taste so this is a good thing!
#3 – Eat a Lot More Green Veggies
I try and get a good helping of leafy green vegetables every day. But sometimes it can be difficult.
My focus will now be on getting at least 3 cups of greens every single day including – broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and spinach to name a few.
My goal will be to eat a big green and healthy salad every day … likely for lunch.
Remember when I mentioned that the AIP Diet is focused on eating foods that are density rich? Well leafy greens and fermented foods are a couple of those types of foods.
If you are looking for a place to start, try focusing on the low carb vegetables first.
The next food on the list is also very nutrient rich … organ meats.
#4 – Start Eating (Some) Organ Meat
My diet has changed a lot from when I was a kid. I remember back when I was growing up I would refuse to eat anything green, or a tomato, or an onion, or a pepper, etc.
I liked heavily processed foods (unfortunately) that were sugary and sweet.
Once I was in high school … I realized there was a ton of flavor in those types of foods like onions and peppers … so I added them to my diet.
Well … now I will need to take the same approach with organ meat. I can honestly say I have never (knowingly) eating organ meat up until now.
The thought of it makes me want to go on a 24-hour fast and never eat food again. But I have read the benefits and the nutrients organ meat can provide.
So it is time to step it up and add organ meat to my diet … likely slowly at first. I am debating on where to start, but it will likely be liver of some sort.
#5 – Replace Coffee with Bone Broth
Along with organ meat, bone broth can be loaded with nutrients. So instead of having a nice hot cup of black coffee … maybe I will replace it with a hot cup of bone broth.
This will probably take me some time to get used to … but once again I think the benefits are worth it.
Starting out I don’t plan on making bone broth at home and will look to buy it instead. One step at a time!
#6 – Continue Intermittent Fasting at Least 4 Days per Week
For long time followers of this blog … you are probably tired of hearing me preach about how awesome intermittent fasting is. But I can’t say it enough to be honest.
Following the 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol at least 3 days a week has completely changed the way I live.
There are some weeks when I fast every single day and others when I try to fast 5 days. I usually play it by ear … but no matter what I fast on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings.
Intermittent fasting has helped me to loose weight … along with healthy eating.
I no longer feel the urge to snack at night … which I used to do every evening. Almost every night after eating dinner I feel full. Before following IF this would have never happened.
When I am intermittent fasting I don’t feel as bloated, have a lot more energy, and it seems to help keep my inflammation down for my psoriasis.
It has helped me so much that I am considering experimenting with a 24-hour fast once per week.
The bottom line is that I plan to continue intermittent fasting and will likely try and shoot for 5 to 7 days per week. Instead of 3 or 4 that I do now.
#7 – Reduce Stress Through Meditation and Deep Breathing Exercises
Another recent healthy habit I am really trying to focus on and add to my life is stress management. I strongly believe that stress caused my psoriasis in the first place … about 6 years ago.
I wasn’t able to manage my stress back then. And shortly after my psoriasis symptoms started to appear. I really didn’t make the connection until recently.
Today I do a much better job managing stress compared to years ago. But I still can do better, which is why I have started doing morning meditation to start my day. It’s only for 3 minutes right now but it seems to help put me in a better place to start my day.
When the day gets stressful at work or home and mediation isn’t an option, I try and focus on deep breathing exercises to bring me back to a good place. Those seem to help but are still a work in progress.
One other activity I noticed that helps after a long, stressful day is exercise. Running for 30 minutes after a hard day will almost always do the trick!
Living With an Autoimmune Disorder
I have come to accept that I won’t be able to fully cure my autoimmune disease … which is psoriasis.
However, I strongly feel that by properly managing my autoimmune condition, I can minimize my symptoms now and in the future.
And it all starts with a proper diet. In my case, this means following the Autoimmune Protocol.
I may not always have to follow the strict guidelines on foods to avoid, but I also need to figure out what foods are causing my symptoms. Giving my gut and body time to heal may one day allow me to reintroduce certain foods back into my diet.
But for now I plan to following my elimination plan in addition to what I have already given up by following the Whole30.