8 Surprising Common Diet And Exercise Trends That Slow Down Autoimmune Healing
We've all heard the saying, "you are what you eat." But for those living with autoimmune disease, this phrase takes on a whole new meaning. Though some common diet and fitness advice may seem like it would help speed up healing, many do the opposite. What you eat and how you exercise play a massive role in your healing journey.
Regular health and fitness advice doesn't work for autoimmune bodies!
We respond differently to exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes. Often in the opposite direction of well-intentioned advice. Read on to learn more about making informed choices that will support your body's ability to heal itself.
❌Following a too restrictive diet that doesn't help your body heal due to a lack of nutrients and calories
Overly restrictive diets can deprive your body of many vital nutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids, etc. These are all critical ingredients to reducing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of almost all chronic health conditions, including autoimmune disease, diabetes, etc. (Read more about chronic inflammation here.)
This one is a pet peeve of mine. Diets that prevent your access to the fruits and vegetables that provide the BEST natural ingredients to lower inflammation will not help you. For example, tomatoes, a nightshade family member, provide our BEST DEFENSE by giving us the highest amounts of the antioxidant lycopene. Not to mention tons of other vital vitamins and minerals that lower inflammation and much-needed fiber to maintain a healthy gut. But many diets eliminate them, denying your body the much-needed benefits of natural inflammation reduction. Obviously, if you're allergic to them, avoid them, but if you're not, EAT UP!
❌Not drinking enough water
Water is so critical to the body. Research shows that even mild dehydration can lead to cognitive impairments like brain fog. I don't know about you, but the last thing I need with a flare is even more brain fog because I'm not drinking enough water to help my body heal. Staying hydrated helps your muscles move better, which is important if one of your flare symptoms is achy muscles and joints. Hydration is also linked to reduced headaches as well as improved weight loss. In one study, drinking 16.9 oz of water 30 minutes before a meal led to a 40% increase in weight loss compared to people who didn't drink before eating.
How much do you need? According to The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, you need:
11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women
15.5 cups (3.7 liters) a day for men
❌Ignoring your autoimmune symptoms (especially after exercise sessions)
Another big one for autoimmune folks is ignoring or not recognizing your autoimmune symptoms after exercise. The toxic "no pain, no gain" mentality has got to go. Exercise triggers are stress responses in the body. Not unlike chronic stress. All of this can lead to higher and higher levels of cortisol in your body and land you in a full-on exercise-induced autoimmune flare. What does an exercise-induced autoimmune flare look like? See more about that here.
Just because you are experiencing autoimmune flares after exercise doesn't mean you get to stop working out. You just need to find the RIGHT exercise for your body to reduce inflammation, reduce flares, and stay moving.
❌Overtraining during a flare
Like ignoring your autoimmune symptoms post-exercise, you can totally overtrain your body during an autoimmune flare. What does that look like? It'll vary from person to person and even autoimmune to autoimmune. Pushing yourself because you want to lose weight badly will not do you any good if you are experiencing a flare. It'll slow down your progress, putting you at risk for injuries, worsening autoimmune symptoms, and potentially developing new health issues. Your body will make more progress in increasing strength, mobility, and other goals by slowing down during a flare.
❌Undertraining during a flare
Yup, it's totally possible to also UNDER train during an autoimmune flare. You are not helping move the inflammation out of your joints and body by not moving. Movement is healing. However, you need to align your movement to your energy levels, stage of recovery, and weather. Getting outside in the sun and taking a short walk in the neighborhood can have massive benefits to healing. Explore lower impact activities like walking, walking in a warm water pool, gentle yoga, low-impact pilates, etc. These activities are great at helping you move achy, tired joints and muscles and get both your blood moving and your lymphatic system.
❌Skipping meals or relying on heavily processed meals because you are short on time
Not eating denies your body the much-needed nutrients to heal (see the first topic in this list for more on that). Relying on heavily processed foods is also a no-go for healing. Yes, it can be mentally exhausting to figure out what to eat some days with a flare. But processed meals and foods will only aggravate your symptoms because they contain higher levels of sodium, sugar, saturated and trans fats, and other man-made ingredients and chemicals that increase inflammation. By increasing inflammation, you're taxing an already taxed body. Companies like Hungry Root (<-- affiliate link) make getting simple and healthier meals on your table. Hungry Root is a personalized grocery service that makes it easy to shop for, cook, and love healthy food. Saving you time and much-needed energy by delivering it straight to your door.
❌Not getting 6-8 hours of restorative sleep every night
Sleep is when the body heals. If you take a daily vitamin, take it at night when your body is doing all its cellular repair and healing. Aim for 6-8 hours of restorative sleep every night, flare or not. Set up an evening routine that helps your body and brain recognize that you are getting in bed to sleep. Your routine should include turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Read a book or magazine instead. According to the Sleep Foundation, taking a warm shower 1-2 hours before bed also helps the body relax and prepare for sleep.
❌Not prioritizing rest and recovery days
Autoimmune bodies do not respond to exercise the same way as a normal body. We need more rest and recovery between exercise sessions to help reduce the chances of overtraining and ending up in a full flare. When I say rest and recovery days, these aren't days where you just lie around on the couch all day. These are purposeful days where you get a massage, go for a walk, or leisurely hike, or foam roll. Generally, anything you'd do for self-care would be great too, like a hot bath, facial, etc. These are important routines for people living with chronic health conditions like autoimmune disease, diabetes, etc., to help maintain your mental, physical, and emotional health whether in a flare or not.
Autoimmune diseases can be extremely frustrating to live with. Not only do you have to deal with the physical symptoms, but often the emotional stress of having a chronic illness can be overwhelming. If you're living with any chronic health condition, including autoimmune disease, following a healthy diet and exercise routine is essential for managing your chronic health condition.
There are so many diets and exercise trends that it can be hard to figure out which ones will help and which ones will actually slow down your healing process. I hope this article has helped clear up some of the confusion and given you a few ideas for how you can start moving towards sustainable autoimmune health.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out! I love hearing from my readers and am always happy to chat about all things healthy living.
Until next time, stay strong and keep on healing!