For the majority of my career as a Registered Dietitian, I repeated that statement, “everything fits in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle.” And, I really believed that to be true. My one diet Coke every day, use of other artificial sweeteners daily, weekly ice cream treats, and grain-based diet didn’t seem to be a problem, at least by looking at me. Thatʼs whatʼs important, right? Just not gaining weight over the years? Eating less calories than I burned was the goal, I guess.
Iʼve been pretty vocal about my autoimmune disorder and the 15 year battle to find answers to my physical issues. Turns out, the thing Iʼve studied for the past 20 years, held the answer and I ignored it. As did the multiple rheumatologists I visited. I assumed that as long as I exercised, maintained a healthy sleep schedule and tried to manage stress, then I could eat most of what I wanted. I resisted dietary changes for years. After all, my diet wasnʼt that bad, right? Well, after my visit to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, I realized the foods I was putting into my body were actually exacerbating and fueling my autoimmune disorder and likely were the cause of all my symptoms (overwhelming fatigue, joint pain and swelling, headaches, muscle aches, gastrointestinal distress, just to name a few). Our bodies are not designed to consume/process the myriad of toxic, junk substances the food industry and government, for that matter, passes off as food. Even in small amounts, over time, these food-like substances can cause serious problems for us, not to mention decrease our quality of life. When I really started studying my food choices, I learned that I was replacing nutritious foods with items that werenʼt providing me any benefit and actually worsening my symptoms. And, when I felt bad, I had less of a desire to make healthy choices for myself. Itʼs a cycle that can be difficult to break. Feel bad, eat bad, feel worse, eat unhealthy foods to try to improve energy, and on and on and on.
As a dietitian, I get lots of food-related questions, and I have really been neutral in the past. “Oh, the occasional soda wonʼt hurt. Sure, eat that blizzard, just get a smaller size.” Iʼve said these things over and over, and until November of 2017, I really believed this was ok. But, my own struggles with autoimmune disease have completely opened my eyes to the broken food system we have in this country. Our priorities are off base and we have been told, as a nation, that the dietary guidelines set for us by the government are healthy for pretty much everyone. Eat anything in moderation, as long as you walk a few laps around the track. Calories in versus calories out, right? But, the guidelines weʼve been following have led us to extremely high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, gastrointestinal disease, dementia/cognitive disorders, psychiatric disease, and all the things these disorders entail. Obviously, personal responsibility is huge, but we have had years of inaccurate information provided to us and all this conflicting information is confusing. Afterall, Iʼm a dietitian and I myself was confused! It's difficult to know what to do when it comes to food. Now that I have found a functional approach to my autoimmune disease, I am recovering. My quality of life has improved beyond what I ever hoped. By addressing my food choices (along with continuing to exercise, get healthy sleep, and manage my stress), I have been able to remove the harmful NSAID medication I have been dependent on for the past eight years. A full elimination diet opened my eyes and now that I know better, I do better. I no longer allow myself to have foods that are ultimately harmful, even in small amounts. I have found so many healthy alternatives to my old favorites and it's empowering.
Not all foods fit, especially when you have a chronic disease. This is a controversial statement and definitely not a mainstream recommendation. But, feeling drastically better and changing your life requires drastic change. No easy task, it can be tough, but the benefits of making healthy choices every day for yourself are immeasurable. And, that means avoiding foods you may love, but there is always a healthy alternative. No food is worth losing your health over.
There is no one approach for everyone when it comes to nutrition. An appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a functional nutrition approach can be so helpful in creating a personalized plan. But, the following tips are a good place to start for everyone:
1. Learn how to cook your own meals and avoid eating out
2. Avoid unhealthy vegetable oils: sunflower, safflower, corn, canola,margarine, hydrogenated oils, peanut oil. Remember to check the ingredients on the food label - these oils are EVERYWHERE
3. Avoid soda, diet soda and other sugar sweetened beverages
4. Avoid sugar, in all forms, as well as sugar substitutes (other than stevia)
5. Limit grain-based products
6. Eat mostly plants
7. Practice intermittent fasting (choose a feeding window of 8-10 hours per day. For example eat from 11am to 7pm - or whatever works best for your schedule)
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more information or would like to have a personalized plan created for you.