This is part two in a continuing series on autoimmune issues and diet.
In part one I discussed the success I had with my client, Amy, in helping her with her rare autoimmune disease known as Behcet’s disease, by instilling the principles of traditional diets.
Today, we’ll hear from Amy herself on the work we did together.
The first indication I had that Amy would do well with me is when she picked up a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon which I stock in my office. I asked her to start reading through the introduction and familiarize herself with the nutrition concepts we’d be working with. I ask all my clients to do this as it provides a wonderful resource to the work we do together.
When Amy came back the following week I was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d thrown herself gung-ho into the book and was already working with the principles and recipes.
Amy had made her own chicken stock and her own yogurt, cream cheese and whey. Even better she’d completely cut out refined sugars and grains.
Over the course of the next three months Amy did everything and more that I asked. She worked hard to find the time to prepare and incorporate these new foods in her life on an everyday basis. And she made no excuses as she’s raising a daughter with her partner and working a full time job.
And Amy was so gracious that she even agreed to do an interview with me!
I want YOU to hear from Amy herself to understand what she did. More importantly I want you to understand that if you or a loved suffers from an autoimmune condition, there is hope. Amy is a glowing example of that.
So Amy, give us a little background about Bechet’s disease. What is it? When were you diagnosed? What’s it been like to live with it?
Behcet’s Disease is a systemic autoimmune vasculitis, which basically means that anywhere I have blood vessels, I may experience inflammation caused by my body attacking it’s own cells, thinking they are foreign cells. Three main symptoms indicate Behcet’s: oral and/or genital ulcers, erythema nodosum (inflammation on the lower legs), and ocular inflammation disease (inflammation in the eyes).
I’ve had Behcet’s symptoms for most of my life, but was not diagnosed until my late 20s, in 2001. It has been incredibly frustrating to live with, because no matter how well I thought I was taking care of myself, inevitably, my symptoms would ‘flare up’ and cause pain/fatigue/stress. Also, like many rare diseases, not much is known within the mainstream medical community about effective treatments and what to expect from the disease over my lifetime.
What was your diet like before coming to see me?
During the past four years, I’ve been on some very strong drugs to control the inflammation that developed in my eyes. These drugs did their job well, in that my eyes are free of inflammation and my sight has been spared.
However, the side effects have been brutal. They changed what I found palatable to eat, significantly slowed my metabolism and increased how quickly I fatigue. My diet was awful. I was surviving mostly on bland, processed white carbs with not much variety. Instant mashed potatoes and pasta were easily 50% of my diet.
Did any doctor or any other practitioner recommend dietary changes?
Doctors have almost exclusively ordered blood test and prescribed pills or topical treatments for the symptoms. Although it is known to be “systemic” (i.e. affecting the whole body), I’ve yet to see a doctor who looked at my whole person in treating me. Even though my weight has crept up over the years, as has my blood pressure, not once has a doctor asked questions about my diet.
What was it about me that caught your attention and why did you decide to work with me?
Honestly, it was the butter! You posted a blog post from Primal Toad – “Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Eat More Butter.” As soon as I read it I wanted to know more about your program, because this got right to the core of what I intrinsically have always thought to be “healthier,” but what is almost totally opposite of what I hear from other sources (like Weight Watchers, the media, the government food pyramid).
After our first meeting, what changes did you make to your diet?
Right away, I stopped all processed wheat products, refined sugar, and all fats/oils except flax seed, olive, and coconut. I also stopped using a microwave oven. Very quickly after that I began eliminating foods that are packaged because they’ve been processed in some way. Next was adding in what I was learning I needed and wasn’t getting. For this step, my family purchased a yogurt maker and started making our own yogurt, cream cheese, and whey. I am also learning to lacto-ferment many foods, and how to incorporate these into my daily diet.
What benefits did you notice in the first few weeks?
Right away, like within a few days, I had increased energy during the day. Almost as quickly I noticed my mood stabilizing, and both of these improvements have continued. The weight loss also started within the first week, and has continued at a steady pace since then.
What benefits did you notice after the first few months?
I feel completely at peace with not eating sweets containing refined sugar. Also, I have much greater variety in my diet than before. I regularly eat nuts and fresh fruit, and I am much more open-minded and experimental with green, leafy vegetables.
I had you purchase Nourishing Traditions and we worked a lot with the information and recipes in that book. Can you comment about your experience with it.
I feel as if I have not put this book down since I purchased it. I refer back to the text and I search and review recipes every day. I have found it to be a wonderful foundation to what I am learning about traditional foods and healthy eating. I like its logical organization, the research information, and the sources for various food items. I love the recipes for roast chicken, cottage potatoes, curry sauce and Caesar salad dressing.
I also encouraged you to find as many healthy, local sources of food as possible. We’re so lucky here in the Pioneer Valley to have so many options to do that. Can you discuss some of the places you started sourcing your food?
Sure. I am regularly buying raw milk from Upingill Farm in Gill for yogurt-making and drinking. Honestly, though, I’ve cut way down on the amount of milk I drink straight, in favor of the yogurt, raw milk cheese, and the lacto-fermented by-products.
My family has also done a CSA through Riverland Farm, in Sunderland, MA, for many years. Using the Nourishing Traditions preparations for the food I eat has greatly increased our satisfaction with how well we are using each week’s share (I love having fresh, organic beets for beet kvass). Occasionally, we also will do meat shares through Bostrom Farm in Greenfield, as well…mostly for the wonderful bacon they have!
I know you were taking quite a few medications before coming to see me. Have you reduced or eliminated any of them?
I am continuing the “taper regimen” for the immunosuppressive drugs for the Behcet’s. About six weeks ago my dosage was reduced by another 400mg/day. My personal goal is to be off these drugs entirely within 12 months. The biggest problem, before I started working with you, was controlling the mouth ulcers with medication. Because I’ve had huge success controlling them through dietary changes, I am optimistic I will meet my goal. I have also been able to reduce by half the amount of medication I am taking for the Barrett’s esophagus. I think this is also directly related to my commitment to a traditional foods diet.
What about supplements? Which ones did you take and did you find them beneficial?
One of my main reasons for working with you initially was that it was clear the program was not about simply introducing supplements to the body. I’ve always been a firm believer that I can get all the proper nutrients I need by eating right, I just wasn’t able to get there on my own! The two exceptions made perfect sense to me, the immediate introduction of fermented cod liver oil and a 3-month course of a high-quality probiotic. I noticed reductions in inflammation pretty quickly after introducing the FCLO. I also noticed the probiotic helped to regulate my digestion. There is no getting around how awful the FCLO tastes, but in my opinion, the good outweighs the bad!
Was it hard to make the dietary changes and eating this way?
I am still shocked, 3 months into this journey, at how easy it was for me to just give up refined sugar, wheat and the microwave! It was hard to adjust which foods I use as a quick ‘go-to’ snack, and which foods to pack for a lunch at work, but once I got those down, the other changes fell into place.
And it’s definitely a significant lifestyle change to give up convenience foods. Meals take more preparation and planning, and grocery shopping is more expensive and brings completely new and different foods into our house. Lastly and honestly, I miss french fries when eating out. None of this, though, is a deterrent to continuing on this new path. I feel healthier than I have in my entire adult life.
Like myself, you’re Italian and we know how passionate Italians can be about their food! Can you share what it was like to visit family and deal with some of the issues that came up around eating refined white carbs like bread and pasta?
Sharing meals with family has definitely been one of the biggest challenges. My mother was suspicious of the changes I made until I told her that my dietary changes had effectively eliminated the mouth ulcers I’d suffered with since childhood. A well-meaning aunt debated with me why and how salad dressing in a bottle might be unhealthy or “bad,” and several others have assumed I’m doing a fad, Atkins-style no carb program.
On the flip side, I’ve gotten support, encouragement, and understanding from my partner, and close friends and relatives who see the same benefits I have from eating a more traditional diet. My mom still looks with a wary eye at what’s on my plate, but she supports this change unconditionally, because she can see the improvements to my overall health.
Was there anything different or surprising about how I worked with you compared to others?
We never talked about the cliché term “you are what you eat,” per se. However, I feel like everything change I made and everything we discussed revolved around this simple concept. This wasn’t surprising, because it was exactly what I was looking for in a therapy for my diet, but it was different. I see so many doctors. I’ve had several serious medical diagnoses requiring long-term intervention. Not once, until now, has a practitioner looked at me as a whole person or looked analytically at what I eat as a key to better overall health.
Here’s the most important question: Do you feel like the changes you’ve made are sustainable for the long term?
Everything I have done is sustainable. After three months, this has simply become the way I eat. It is so satisfying to my psyche to feel comfortable lacto-fermenting anything from beets to milk. It is amazing to know that I’ve found a breakfast (coconut flour bread with eggs), that keeps me satisfied until lunch time. And, a wonderful by-product is the improvement in the variety of foods my kids will try and eat.
Anything else you want to share?
I really would encourage anyone who suffers with auto-immune disorders or allergies to consider making these changes in their diet. I truly believe eating foods that are local-when-possible, minimally processed, and easy to digest makes the whole person healthier and happier.
Awesome, thanks so much Amy!
In the next blog I’ll share with you a powerful testimonial from a doctor who reversed her symptoms of multiple sclerosis. I’ll also share with you a few simple tips you can incorporate if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know suffers with an autoimmune disease and feels overwhelmed by transitioning to real foods, that’s where I can help! I offer a FREE initial consult to explore working together. Email or call today to learn more – 413-559-7770, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.