Major Setbacks to Overcoming Chronic Illness
The motivation to get healthy is easy. When you see hundreds of success stories and statistics like “93% of patients with autoimmune disease went into remission following this diet” it’s enough to kindle a flame of hope in anyone with chronic illness.
The journey to healing, however, is not at all easy. Sure, for some, the weight comes off, the health issues go away in a matter of months, and they go on to live the life they always imagined. This post is for the other ones–those who are being 100% compliant, but not seeing quick results. Those experiencing another flare-up. And those with issues that went away, only to bring other issues to the surface.We live our lives here and now, grateful for the things we *can* do, but always with one eye on remission and what we can continue doing to reach that goal.Click To Tweet
Let me start by saying, this is all happening or has happened to me. I feel better than I’ve felt in months, but I am far from cured. I have encountered all 5 of the setbacks I’m about to mention, and none of them made me give up the Plant Paradox lifestyle or my journey to better health. As exhausting as it is to keep fighting, that’s all we can do. We live our lives here and now, grateful for the things we can do, but always with one eye on remission and what we can continue doing to reach that goal.
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1. You haven’t been able to do any physical activity
It is a pain in the whole body to start physical activity again. If you’ve been sick for a long time or deal with chronic pain or other health issues that prevent you from being upright, you’re going to have to do a modified regime. Many pain management doctors or functional practitioners will have good ideas for modified exercise programs, but even those can seem insurmountable at first.
When I say start slow, I mean it: try one single exercise move one time. See how you feel. If that felt good, try another. It can be a sit-up, a leg lift, a squat, or a bicep curl, or a walk to the end of the driveway and back. If this one thing hurts you, lay down and try something else when you’re ready. The point is trying.
2. You still crave all the bad stuff
The book said you would stop craving sugar and you’d want all the greens instead, but for some reason, that never happened for you. You’re not the only one. The ones who no longer crave the bad stuff are truly few and far between. The rest of us are silently struggling to avoid going within 100 feet of the snack table that is at every dang meeting, rehearsal, service, and practice we’ve ever attended.
The Snack Table
The key here is planning and strategizing. You have to know your weakness. Brownies? Pretzels? Gluten free cookies? Peanut butter granola bars? All of the above? Whatever it is, have a backup. I personally bring macadamia nuts and dark chocolate everywhere I go, in the inevitable event there is a “break for refreshments.” That way I can participate in the socialization aspect without caving in to the regret-inducing spread of packaged salty snacks and baked goods (trust me, I’ve caved and regretted…a lot).
How to navigate your own house when others in your family are still eating the bad stuff? The same strategy applies here, but you’ll need to ramp it up because you theoretically spend more time here. Check out my pantry re-stock list for a complete list of replacements for everyday staples. Also, here are a few recipe and snack ideas to make ahead and have on hand for when you hear that non-compliant food “calling your name” from the cupboard (or fridge):
Mint Chip Avocado Ice Cream: I make this on weekends and have enough leftover to have a small dish every day the rest of the week. I personally like it better than any of the “fake” ice creams you can buy at the store. It’s super chocolate-y and not achingly sweet.
Green Plantain Chips: crispy, light, and salty, like a real chip.
Homemade Granola: I used to eat cereal straight from the box, simply for the convenience. Make this ahead, and you can eat it by the handful, after exercising, or over some sheep or goat milk yogurt for a refreshing snack.
Pancakes: If you like to have big weekend breakfasts, these are filling and so much like wheat pancakes, you could bring your whole family on board with these alone.
Gnocchi: Make several batches of these and freeze them raw in single layers bags. When it’s pasta night for everyone else, boil some water, throw some in, and these delightful dumplings are done cooking and ready for sauce in just a few minutes.
Lectin-Free Snacks for Less
3. Your social life is suffering
Most of us don’t realize how much our social lives revolve around food until we make a drastic lifestyle change. Then it’s like, “Does anything fun not involve food?!” Beer tents, Friday night pizzas, local restaurants, ball games with nachos and hot dogs, cookouts with friends, movie snacks–those are just the easy ones to give up.
The harder ones are the traditional dishes that are an integral part of our holidays and family gatherings. Some foods carry a nostalgic weight that is more powerful than any spur-of-the-moment craving. With some initiative, creativity, and, yes, some extra work, it is possible to maintain a reasonable social life and still remain compliant.
Going out with Friends
Start by taking the initiative and making dates with friends to do fun things that don’t involve food (or at least don’t have to):
- mini golf (indoor/outdoor)
- adult arcade or escape room
- board game nights
- potlucks (where you bring some of your delicious food)
- active things: hiking, biking, tennis, bowling, disc golf, skiing, ice skating
- movies (without the popcorn)
- theater, concert, or ballet tickets
When friends invite you to do things that involve non-compliant food, you can look up a restaurant’s menu ahead of time or (if it’s not a restaurant) even bring your own food. It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll eventually get used to toting your own snacks or meals to various places so you don’t miss out on the fun (ask someone with life-threatening allergies how it’s done!).
Holidays & Family Gatherings
You don’t have to sacrifice the smells, flavors, and textures of the traditional holiday dishes you love for the sake of a lifestyle change. Holidays are about old and new traditions. You can re-create your childhood favorites with compliant ingredients or introduce a new favorite with a brand-new compliant dish. I’ve created three alternatives to mashed potatoes that are just as rich, creamy, and comforting as the mashed nightshades.
The good thing about holidays is you know when they are (theoretically). Take the month or two before an important gathering to experiment with traditional dishes or perfect something you’ve been wanting to try!
4. You hit a major flare-up
Chronic illness is finicky. You think you’re in remission for months, and then, in a matter of days, every symptom returns (sometimes worse than before), and you’re back at square one. It is devastating, and the most frustrating part is you can be doing everything “right.” If you know what triggered your symptoms, you could avoid it. But if you don’t know, the fear of not knowing makes you want to crawl into a nest, and never eat or do anything ever again.
Manage Your Expectations
Crawling into a nest is OK. Once you emerge, forget every success story you ever read. Just forget it. Those people aren’t you. Just because Paul G. is cured after 9 months on the diet doesn’t mean you’re going to be symptom free forever and ever, amen.
Here’s the truth about these success stories: they’re not over yet. Their stories haven’t ended, and neither has yours. This lifestyle is not a cure, but an ever-evolving tool that you will use to heal your body for the rest of your life. Remission isn’t an end goal, but a lifelong journey you’ll maintain to the day you die (of old age, of course).Remission isn't an end goal, but a *lifelong journey* you'll maintain to the day you die (of old age, of course).Click To Tweet
5. You’re simply having a bad day
Unless you’re me, and you never have bad days! (KIDDING) Bad days happen, folks. Whether you caved and ate fast food pizza or you can’t get out of bed (the day after you ate pizza), there are going to be hard, miserable days. You already know this, but you have to get through–one hour, one minute, one second at a time. These are two of the most helpful things that have enabled me to overcome a miserable health day:
Next time you are in the middle of despair, health-wise, try this exercise. Think of someone you look up to or someone who has inspired you. Send them a quick text or email thanking them for what they have done for you. When you’re in a funk, it’s hard to even remember what good days are like. Even being thankful for one thing that someone has helped you achieve can bring light into a dark place.
Listen to Your Body
Sometimes during flare-ups I feel too sick to eat or exercise or stand up, so I…don’t. There’s a societal notion that we should force ourselves to do things when we’re not feeling good. It goes against everything this lifestyle is about: listening to your body. When you’ve cut out all the addictions of the traditional western diet, you’re able to truly listen. A bad day is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to rest.
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