Five Things I Learned About Dietary Change for AS
Gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free, nightshade-free, starch-free, GAPS...if there’s a diet recommended for AS, I’ve probably tried it.
Soon after diagnosis I set off down the dietary modification track in search of symptom relief. The medication that initially worked like a charm became less effective at controlling my pain over time. It also left me with all kinds of digestive issues. Reassessing what I was eating and healing my gut seemed like the best next-step.
It was the beginning of some self-experimentation that would span many years. Some ways of eating worked for a while then tapered off, others moved me forward quite dramatically and others made no measurable difference.
Almost ten years down the track I’ve gathered a lot of personal experience and have now added some research-based learning about diet through training as a Functional Health Coach.
Here are my top 5 tips to share with anyone ready to embark on dietary change. These are my own opinions based on my experience, independent research, and studies into functional health.
When diet is the only treatment strategy there will be zero room for error
I have found that focussing on diet alone is a pretty unforgiving approach. I learned this the hard way when I gave up on exercise, medication, supplements and mindset in favor of strict dietary protocols. If I strayed even slightly my symptoms would flare. I believe dietary change works best as part of a bigger lifestyle approach, not a single solution.
The most effective dietary changes are those that focus on healing, not just symptomatic relief
I found that some restrictive diets were effective for me but as soon as I relaxed even a little bit I would flare up again. I got the greatest long-term benefits from diets that had a focus on healing the gut (these removed common irritants and toxins and added in fermented foods, healthy fats, lots of vegetables and nutrient dense animal foods like broths and organ meats).
If dietary change is too restrictive and misery-making it will undo most of the potential benefit
Being unhappy, stressed out or socially isolated because of diet defeats the purpose because our emotional state is closely tied to our physical health. I found it was important to not push myself too hard for too long with extreme changes.
Not all diets recommended for AS work for everyone with AS
We share a diagnosis but we are still all living in very different bodies and everyone responds differently to dietary change. I found it most helpful to learn to listen to my body and figure out what was right for me, regardless of what others’ experiences had been.
Self-compassion is crucial when it comes to making lifestyle changes, including how to eat
This might mean making small, doable changes over time. It might mean looking for other ways to relieve symptoms (such as medication) in addition to giving dietary change a go. Being kind to yourself might also mean deciding that dietary change is not right for you and moving on to explore other treatment options.
In general, I feel that diet can be a game changer for people with AS and is well worth exploring. I also fully acknowledge that it’s not the right path for everyone and what works for me may not work for others.
After years of trial and error I’m really glad to have found what works for me and am always eager to support others with AS who want to try diet. For many people, it’s a valuable addition to the toolkit for reducing symptoms and feeling better.
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