How To Cope Emotionally With Diet Changes Due To Autoimmune Disease
I appreciate when I get feedback on my blog articles. That was the case recently when I visited with a lady over the phone regarding her health. After several years of living with an autoimmune disease, she decided to make changes in her lifestyle beyond medication. A year ago, her new doctor encouraged her to start living on a anti-inflammatory diet. She explained to me how amazing she felt when she ate according to the doctor’s recommendations. But being consistent with it was just plain HARD! I assured her that I totally understood her because I knew how easy it was to get discouraged and want to give up.
She said her three biggest obstacles were, the emotional, financial and the time factors. We talked for a while and even though we were not able to solve all her problems with one phone call (obviously), there was a sense of deep gratitude felt between the two of us. She was grateful that she had been able to talk to someone with similar issues and symptoms, and I on the other hand felt grateful to have been emotionally connected to a new wonderful person.
Ways to Help Us Cope With The Emotional Factor
Today I want to address the emotional aspect that comes with changing your diet and lifestyle while living with an autoimmune disease. Obviously these steps apply to more than just those with autoimmune conditions. They apply to any chronic illness as well as living with different types of long term disability.
Understanding We Are Not Alone
We all know of someone who lives with chronic disease. These are usually ongoing and most cases incurable. Examples are diabetes, cancer, heart conditions and asthma. According to a study done by the Milken Institute, chronic disease costs America over $1 Trillion each year in research and medical cost. Unfortunately many of the autoimmune diseases fall thru the cracks of these studies and funds. I know while living with autoimmune conditions, I have found very little help and information about on how to get and improve my health. Lack of research and funds results in millions of people who live with symptoms that are really hard and debilitating yet they get very little help. Knowing that there are millions of people suffering does not take away my personal symptoms or misery. It does help though, to know that I am not alone in my hardship. Trying to cope emotionally with a diagnosis of a chronic and ongoing health condition is hard.
Finding Support and Empathy
Learning to embrace our difficulties by reaching out is very empowering. That’s what I felt when I spoke to Laura (name changed) over the phone. She said ” you are the first person that I have talked to that has the same issues”. Those words had a great impact on me and helped me. As she expressed her deepest emotional fears about her situation with her health, we connected on a deeper level because of the simple fact of empathy. Empathy is a very powerful thing. Some have the gift naturally, while others gain it through experiences of their own. Either way, empathy is not to be mixed with sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sad or sorrow for someone. While empathy is trying to feel what it’s like being the other person. When you experience empathy for a person, you are taking on a portion of their feelings, because you know or have experienced similar or the same thing. And in this case it helped Laura to know that someone else had walked in her shoes (and still walking), because she was willing to reach for support.
Learning to accept that which we cannot change is easier said than done. But learning to accept and letting go is a crucial step in dealing with change. I’ve learned that when it comes to my diet less is okay. It’s okay that I can only eat one of the twenty meals offered on a menu, because at least I found one that is suitable. It’s okay that at times I have to cook two meals, one for me and one for my family. I know I can’t expect everyone to be always mindful of my needs, and that’s totally alright. When my husband’s baby brother became quadriplegic from an accident (he was so young, mid 20’s) most of us wondered and some questioned how he could continue having a full life. Over the course of these past nearly 15 years, we have had the privilege of watching this young man. I’m sure he would be the first person to tell you that it has been really hard.
I’m not sure if my brother-in-law realizes how many people he has influenced for good, just thru his example. Today I am confident when I say that not only did he go on living, but he has and is living a life that is more meaningful and full than most people I know. He learned to accept things as they are and changed his mindset to what is reality for him. This change of attitude has allowed him to discover ways to enjoy the little as well as the big things. Learning to change a mindset can be real difficult and a long process. But the choice is ours to make and we all can gain the ability to develop a positive attitude, if we choose. Daily affirmations and meditation can help with this. I know another way that has been helpful for me, is by holding on to my faith .
Surround Yourself With Good Friends
Having friends that send out good vibes and energy can have a great impact on us. I am lucky enough to have a group of lady friends that I love and respect. These friends of mine have been such a great support to me. We have had so much fun and been on at least 200 lunches together these past ten years. When they discovered that I had to change my eating, they were real quick to tell me, that our lunches did not need to change, just possibly the locations. Their positive attitude and awesome acceptance has made it possible for me to continue in taking part of our monthly (sometimes weekly 😉 ) lunches. It’s not always easy, because we don’t always go to places that are ideal for me. But, hanging out with half a dozen ladies that are awesome gives me enough energy to feel that life is good. Sometimes we can’t eliminate all the negative or non supportive people around us, but we can limit our exposure to them and choose the uplifting.
It’s Okay To Have Moments
I told Laura, “It is TOTALLY okay to occasionally have melt downs. We all do, especially when it gets real hard. Chronic health challenges are here to stay, and sometimes it just gets the best of us. Watch out for depression though! It is very common among people who live with chronic pain and symptoms. Allowing us to feel some of the real feelings such as loss and mourning can be liberating. But the key is to not get too low, but pick ourselves up again and move forward. Forgive yourself if you fail sticking to your new lifestyle, we are all humans and it happens. Actually if you manage to take five steps forward and one back, you’re doing really good. Just keep moving forward.
Understanding The Benefits Of Your New Diet
It’s been said, that we fear that which we don’t understand. This is why understanding the benefits of eating right for our body alleviates some of the anxiety and the emotional stress which comes with change. Studying and learning about healthy lifestyle and our condition makes us accept the connection behind the recommendations. In other word, if I get what’s going on in my body and realize how eating anti-inflammatory diet will help lessen my symptoms, I am more prone to follow the guidelines. The best part of it all is, when we eat the appropriate diet for our body, it helps even with mental health. Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University says. “A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving your mood and your overall quality of life”.
Food Is Not Everything
I have come to accept that food is not everything. Eating goes beyond nutrition and being fed. I grew up believing that food was everything. I have always felt that eating was associated with a cultural and social connection. The great thing is that as I have changed my eating habits, I have discovered that I have been able to maintain the social aspect of it. Yes, it is true that it requires a little more planing, but for me what is more important is, that I can maintain my relationships. Couple of decades ago, finding Mediterranean food in grocery stores and restaurant was nearly impossible in Utah, lucky for me and many others, that is not the case anymore. Today I find great joy and satisfaction in preparing and serving foods that are culturally different. Yet at times, I may find myself at a gathering where there is pretty much no food choices for me, I choose to focus on the people around me. I try to reach out instead of in. Most of the time I eat a bite right before a dinner party, this helps me to also be prepared emotionally. No one likes being “hangry”.
Allow Some Personal Space
Remember you are in control of your own emotions and feelings. You will (wish I could say might) come across people who will offer “friendly” advice and their thoughts about your condition and choices. Take it or leave it. You don’t have to be mean or rude, just be nice about it and let it go if it doesn’t fit in your boundaries. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people who have all the answers and fixes for my symptoms. I’ve learned to remind myself that they must really love me, since they are trying so hard to help me (I’m being serious). Also be cautious with every new trend and idea that might come your way as you look for help and tips. There are many “quick” fixes out there. There is no miracle fix or cure, just a lot of hard work.
Life Is Good
Life is all about change. Some changes are harder than others. “Life is about change. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes is beautiful. But most of the time, it’s both” – Lana Lang. Only we can control our choices in making a difference in our health. Part of that choice is to use our best ability to change our attitude and mindset. As I have come to terms with my health, I’ve discovered not my limitations but my potential for a meaningful life. The more I am willing to fight for my health, the more I am grateful when I have it.