Although I have dedicated this series to a generic real food lifestyle, there are many subsets of the “real food” community. One of these subsets consists of what I will call the “healing diets,” and they actually pull from many of the different communities (paleo, traditional foods, etc.).
Because I have encountered so many people who have described health issues that I feel could be improved by following a healing diet, I thought I would take the time to introduce a few of them here. Most people assume that only people with digestive issues need to follow a healing diet. But there are actually a wide variety of symptoms that can be helped by adjusting your diet. Everything from digestive (IBS, acid reflux/GERD, gas/bloating) neurological (MS, Parkinson’s, migraines), skin conditions (eczema, hives, psoriasis) to hormonal (Hashimoto’s, Graves Disease), and many things in between!
Personally I saw great improvement in my health issues (some of which I didn’t even know were there until they were gone–like fatigue) by following a real food diet, but I hit a plateau around the 18 month mark. It was only by following a healing diet that my symptoms finally subsided.
It was this success that really spurred my interest and research into these diets. I think that legally I am supposed to remind you that I’m not a doctor and encourage you to consult with your physician but I’ve found that 1) most conventional physicians don’t acknowledge that diet is an important factor in our health and 2) self-experimentation, especially when it comes to diet, is totally do-able. Unless of course you have diabetes or another serious condition that is directly tied to diet or managed by prescription medicine, then (here it comes…) you should probably consult with your physician.
The Elimination Diet
An elimination diet is when you remove potential triggers/ problem foods from your diet for a set period of time in order to calm inflammation and let your gut heal. After the specified amount of time, foods are re-introduced one by one to see if there is a noticeable reaction. Any foods that cause problems during reintroductions are either removed for good or tested again after further healing takes place. Technically all of these healing diets are elimination diets, but The Elimination Diet I am referring to is the one written about by Tom Malterre and Alissa Sergersten. Their book is very helpful in understanding why each food is removed from the diet, as well as providing meal plans and recipes for those who are just starting out. They do a good job of explaining the importance of removing all potential problem foods at once–many people I have talked to will only remove gluten or only remove dairy and wonder why they are not seeing results. Our local health food store and wellness center even offer support groups for those going through The Elimination Diet. My one disclaimer is that the authors present their diet as a cure-all, however, since every body is different, there is no way to guarantee it will work for everyone. This is a great introductory healing diet, but some of us have to turn to more specific diets for our conditions. This elimination diet runs about 30-60 days, depending on your progress.
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome)
The GAPS diet was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who used these diet principles to cure her son of autism. She talks a lot about the gut-brain connection, and many have flocked to this diet to heal digestive and neurological problems. This diet has several stages that build on one another, and uses traditional food principles similar to those presented by the Weston A. Price Foundation. It includes lots of bone broth, raw dairy, slow-cooked meats and well cooked vegetables. This is one of the longer healing diets, lasting up to 2 years, depending on your progress.
AIP Protocol (Auto Immune Paleo)
This is a paleo-based elimination diet that further removes common triggers for people with auto immune diseases (specifically eggs, nut and seed-based spices, and nightshades). There is a strict 30 day elimination period, but many people have such great success that they choose to lengthen this period in order to further healing. After the strict elimination phase, foods are added back one at a time in a certain order based on likeliness of causing reactions.
Further Reading: The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body
Dr. Terry Wahls rose to fame after her TED talk about food as medicine and her diet and lifestyle changes that allowed her to reverse MS. She has developed a 3-tier program specifically for people with neurological issues, although many with autoimmune disease and chronic illness have benefited as well. The three levels allow for each individual to choose how strict they want to be. Her diets are based off of paleo principles and include lots of nutrient rich vegetables! Because her protocol is directed at people who have progressive neurological diseases, it sounds as if it is designed to be a permanent program.
Although it can sound daunting, the pay-off is worth it and I am the living proof! I know there are several other healing diets out there and I’d love to hear if you’ve had an experience (positive or negative) with any of them.
Important disclaimer: I have no medical training. Just lots of passion for real food! Please consult your own doctor and do your own research in support of my suggestions. It’s an important part of taking control of your health!