Stick to the Meal Plan!
Raise your hand if you made a New Year’s resolution to go on a diet. I am guilty as charged.
Although, I cringe at the phrase “going on a diet”. I don’t ever plan to diet; rather, I resolve to follow healthier eating patterns.
I’ve always been thin; weight has never been a big struggle for me. But a few years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. Basically, my immune system attacks my thyroid. There are many, many side effects to this disease and compared to many women who have it, mine is very mild. The major side effects that I experience are chronic fatigue, brain fog and some depression/anxiety.
Of course, the doctor’s solution to this has always been (and always will be) to take a pill. Every morning, an hour before eating, I take a pill. This pill has helped my numbers to be in range, yet I still struggle with symptoms brought on by Hashimoto’s. The biggest hurdle is the fatigue. I am naturally a very busy and high energy person; I don’t like sitting still. I like to feel productive and keep myself busy doing things. But it’s a struggle; by midday, I am exhausted and by evening I don’t want to do anything but sit on the couch.
I won’t bore you with the details of all the other issues that hinder me when my autoimmune system is in attack mode, but suffice it to say that it has been a big challenge these past few years. After my diagnosis, I spent a considerable amount of time reading and researching about the disease and learning of alternative methods to feeling well and restoring balance to my body. One of the suggestions that I repeatedly came across to was to follow a specific diet.
There are many theories out there that gluten resembles the protein that the thyroid makes, and when your immune system is attacking the thyroid, it will also respond to gluten that is found in the body. There’s a whole-lotta-other studies about gut health and food sensitives and so on and so forth and to be honest, I didn’t believe any of it at first. I’d been eating gluten and dairy and everything else my whole life and never had these problems, so surely that wasn’t my issue.
The months wore on; my numbers were under control but I was feeling worse than ever. Eventually, I reached the point of desperation and decided to try out this diet that I kept reading about. It was called “the paleo diet” and it eliminated just about everything I knew and loved: dairy, gluten and grains, sugar, and soy. After eliminating all of these things, what is there left to eat??
I knew that I would immediately fail if I didn’t have a plan. I spent a couple of weeks researching, pinning paleo recipes that I’d found on pinterest and mentally preparing myself for what was to come. I set a start date and decided I would give this a good shot for one month. I vowed to adhere to it strictly during that time and if I didn’t feel any different after that, I’d go back to my old ways. I planned a menu for two weeks-planning not just my regular three meals, but also factoring in snack and desserts. If I didn’t have a plan for snacking, I would surely be unsuccessful, and let’s face it, a life without desserts is not a life worth living! I knew that it was unrealistic to deprive myself of sweets, so I found lots of paleo dessert recipes that looked good enough to give me hope of getting through the next couple of weeks.
I started my “diet”, not having too high of expectations that I would feel any different, but certainly hoping. By the end of the first week, the daily headaches and painful migraines I’d been experiencing were gone. By the end of week two, the bloating in my stomach had gone down and my pants had a little wiggle room. I started to feel a little more energy coming back, so I added exercise into my health regiment. These small changes were enough to keep me going for two more weeks and finish out the month.
As the end of the month was approaching, I found that I was actually enjoying the new recipes I was trying. I ordered some paleo cookbooks online to give myself more options and education on this new lifestyle. I found one specific to autoimmune diseases and ended up spending an entire month following an even stricter “autoimmune paleo” diet. By the end of my first month, I had lost weight (without even trying, seeing how my focus wasn’t on losing weight but just in feeling better), my skin was clearer, I had more energy and my depression and brain fog were lifting considerably. I felt too good to turn back.
I followed a very strict paleo diet for the next 6 months. I have never felt better-physically and emotionally-than when I strictly lived that healthier lifestyle. I had lost 20 pounds of weight that I couldn’t seem to get off before. I had more energy, slept better and was able to get off the anti-depressants that I had briefly been on. Sure, it was hard (especially when going out to eat), but I was determined to make this change for myself.
The next 6 months after that, I started slowly introducing things back into my diet. Looking back now, I can see that this was my downfall. [I’ve realized that I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I either go in 100%, or I struggle to find a balance. I’m working on that.] At first, it was just a little cheese on my salad, or a scoop of rice with my chicken and vegetables. I seemed to handle it well in small doses. I kept the gluten out of my diet for an entire year, but then I felt that I was ready to introduce that back in as well. Little by little, all of these foods crept back into my diet. I justified having more and more because I had felt okay the time before. Before I knew it, I was slipping into my old ways. The weight started coming back on. The brain fog and fatigue slowly returned. My emotions were up and down (granted, I’ve had a difficult past few years in dealing with the loss of my mom).
I’ve gone back and forth, trying to get back on track with the healthier lifestyle that had benefitted me so well. There have been many good changes that have stuck: shopping organic, eliminating nitrates, dyes, HFCS, etc. It has been a challenge to stay completely on track though; some weeks I do really good, other weeks…not so much. It does take a lot of prep work but what it really boils down to is motivation. I feel as though I’m caught in a viscous cycle; the fatigue results in a lack of motivation, which then affects my mood, which goes back to the tiredness and unmotivated feelings. Around and around I go.
I told myself that after the holidays, I would be ready to start again. I’ve been doing okay, but find that I’m slipping up again on weekends or when I go out somewhere (to a party, out to eat, etc). I need to go back to square one, which is making a plan! I created a calendar that I write all of my meals and snacks on. It helps to see what my plan is and helps me to remember what to prep ahead of time. I will do this for the next month; they say it takes 30 days to form a habit!
Click here to print out your free menu planning calendar!
What helps you to stay on track with healthy eating? I want to hear!
If you are struggling with an autoimmune disease, depression/anxiety, or other health issues, I highly recommend checking out this book! It explains a lot about gut health and how it affects your overall well-being. It all starts in the gut! It also explains how your diet can play a key role in the healing process and affect your overall mental and physical health!
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There are SO many good cookbooks out there to help you figure out a paleo diet. These are a couple that I started with that I really loved. There are some great recipes that have become staples in our house which I have taken from these books.
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Also, when I was first diagnosed with Hashimotos disease, I purchased a couple of books to learn more about the disease. The first book link was the most helpful; I can’t recommend it enough! The second was also helpful as well.
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Dislaimer: This post contains affiliate links.