When talking about the Autoimmune Paleo Diet we refer to it as being ‘Paleo “Plus”‘ (i.e. an expansion on the baseline of Paleo which further removes inflammatory foodstuffs). The same is true for an Autoimmune Lifestyle…
The recommendations for a Paleo lifestyle are as follows: get really good sleep (both in quality and quantity), engage in frequent and varied movement practices (in other words, appropriate exercise), reduce exposure to chemicals, environmental toxins and avoid unnecessary stressors. Find more about these in our Paleo Lifestyle section.
These measures become even more important when addressing an autoimmune condition.
The development of an autoimmune illness means two things: firstly, your body is working overtime immunologically because you are permanently fighting perceived enemies (which includes your own tissues); and secondly your body is working even more overtime because it is not only mounting the attacks, it is also, always, trying to heal from the damage caused by these self-attacks.
If tiredness and fatigue are a part of the presentation of your autoimmune condition – this is a large reason why. You are literally working 24/7, on a repetitive cycle of attacking and healing, day in, day out. If you add on the whole process of detoxifying from all of this then it is no wonder that you feel utterly drained and without energy to deal with life.
It is physically hard to keep all of this up, which means that the lifestyle measures of sleep, rest, relaxation, restoration are all essential to helping you contend with what is essentially an intense, full-time job.
When to Rest
When discussing these elements within Paleo living, the lifestyle recommendations are things to aim for, but the consequences of missed sleep or pushing exercise too hard are not particularly damaging.
When healing from autoimmunity, it becomes necessary to really pay attention to the body’s signals of pain, of being overextended and of taxing your body too much. This is because the consequences of draining your energy reserves when you are battling autoimmunity can be far more severe.
It is not as simple as just getting a bit more tired. Every overextension of your energy reserves reinforces the message to your biology that there are real and present stressors and threats to survival. A misinterpretation of the threat level within and to your body is a large part of the genesis of any autoimmune condition. If you continue to push your body beyond what it is capable of, you will continue to send the signal to your physiology (and your immune system) that life is dangerous and overtly threatening. Because it is merely trying to protect you from threat, immune dysregulation will continue unabated.
This is why the lifestyle is important when it comes to autoimmunity. Not because you are a delicate, exhausted being – but because you are trying to change the messages sent to your immune system. By piling on stress you are merely continuing to push your body into over-protective mode.
Understanding the limits of where your body can go to with lack of sleep or exercise etc. will not be something that you get right first time, because we always tend to overestimate what we are capable of – especially when there are ‘hidden’ illnesses involved. And yet every experience is an opportunity to learn the limits of your safety net as it currently stands, and the way your body reacts when it has been overstretched.
But the real understanding when it comes to an Autoimmune Lifestyle is that you are attempting to minimise anything that stresses you and sends any signal that you are under threat. For more on the subtleties of threat messaging, check out our AIP Mindset & Psychology section. And for more on the inflammatory potential of missed sleep, over-exercise etc. and the anti-inflammatory properties of meditation please take a look around our Paleo Lifestyle Area.
How To – Autoimmune Lifestyle Tips
There isn’t a universal prescription for the lifestyle elements of following an Autoimmune Protocol, because everyone (and everyone’s illness) is utterly different. And yet there are some key features of low-inflammatory living which should be at least trialled, if not wholeheartedly embraced:
Make time to put your body into nature, even if that’s just standing outside with bare feet on the earth for a few minutes in the morning. An autoimmune condition displaces you from your body and can disconnect your body from the energy of the world in which we live. This simple act can foster a deeper connection to the energy of, and the beauty of, the world.
Remove as many toxic things and toxic relationships or toxic situations from your life as possible. This is not just the toxic ‘stuff’ (found in our Chemicals, Toxins, Pollutions Page). By ‘toxic things’ we literally mean anything and everything that brings negativity into your life and does not offer support which is conducive to your peace and to your recovery. Anything that sends more stress signals is not appropriate to keep around you. If you are in a position where removal of the relationship and work stressors/toxins is not possible then please see our AIP Mindset Page for tools to work your way through this situation.
Safeguard your ‘self-care’ time as if it were an appointment on your diary. Whatever ‘self-care’ means to you – walking outside, tai chi, gentle yoga, baths, manicures, chats with your loved ones, playing music, playing games with the kids – diarise it and prioritise it. As much as Autoimmunity is about removing stressors and signals of being unsafe, it is also about sending large signals of safety, support, enjoyment, pleasure and self-care.
Identify where it is you can, and do, have fun – and do it. Regularly. If your mobility and ability to get out is reduced because of your condition, find the fun indoors. If your energy levels won’t cope with lots of active fun, find ways to smile and take joy from life that are low-output, high reward. Prioritise laughter in as many moments as you can – this is all about convincing your body that the threat level is reduced and that you are perfectly cared for and utterly safe.
And lastly… don’t stress about everything being perfect. This strays into Psychology/Mindset part of AIP. However, put simply:
The idea that all stressors and toxins must be eliminated and that we must become paragons of de-stressed, self-caring, self-loving, fun-embracing and peace-promoting virtue can become one of the most toxic parts of attempting to follow an AIP lifestyle.
Your body is not broken, it is suffering with the weight of burdens it has had to deal with it. Every tiny thing you do to de-stress, de-toxify etc. removes a small one of those burdens. This means that you don’t need to take off every single possible burden in order to be doing an exceptional job of trying to help yourself.
So no, your kitchen does not have to be free of every toxic substance, you don’t have to clean your house with only vinegar and bicarbonate of soda solutions. Your skincare doesn’t have to be made from dirt and your water doesn’t need to be reverse osmosis, triple filtered, remineralised and spiked with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.
Ultimately, your lifestyle needs to minimise how stressed your body is and you are, mentally. If getting to that place becomes a stress in and of itself, all of your efforts officially become a waste of time.
Do what you can and don’t sweat what you can’t. And most importantly, learn to trust your body’s signals for when enough is enough. If you are starting to become overwhelmed and feel like you just can’t do this – reach out for help. And do check out our Mindset & Psychology Page… we have found that it is this element of AIP healing that carries the most weight and can have the most impact.