The dreaded flare! So so difficult to stop. I find there are some very critical components to halt my flare in its tracks! What strategies do you use to get a hold on these stubborn flares?
There are always some indicators of an impending flare and sometimes they are very subtle. But in this I think lies the key to managing these quickly and thats to take a very swift action when you notice any "autoimmune" type of symptom. For me its usually joint pain and this most likely means that my body is reacting to something. To take it a step further, its usually the knees and hands but sometimes other joints that feel sore. This may manifest itself in different ways to different people, but the action piece is still the same. Its always good to be able to identify these things for yourselves and take actions to remove the things that are causing stress. Here is a high level of my personal five point plan below.
#1 Simplify eating - Essentially giving your digestive system a rest is the key. Light boiling, steaming, broth, manage inflammation, temporary food elimination
#2 Slow down the stress - Meditation, very light exercise, sunshine, fresh air
#3 Simplify lifestyle - Take naps, rest, time off from work if you can and lighten expectations of yourself
#4 Support! Support! Support! - Allow people around you to help where they can and also physically support the bodily processes through whole foods and supplementation
#5 Stop and Focus - Dont let healing become a full time job
So those are my five high level points. Lets look at these a little closer.
Think about if you ever got lost in the woods. The worst thing you can do is go frantically off into the canopy of trees without a plan. Many people are never seen again when they panic. Kind of a dramatic example, but when you start making knee jerk reactions you do more harm. I get this because I did this so many times that I cant even count. What I am talking about here is simplifying but dont be extreme. I remember a time when nothing was working for me and being a person that adopted the standard American "fat is bad" approach, I fed into the ideal that fat was bad and cut it out all together. So I went on an all lean chicken meat diet because fat is bad for colitis right? I ate very little fat and no "good" fats at all. At this point in time in my life, I believe I had really severe leaky gut. The more of something you eat, the more a chance that you will develop an allergy and the things I wasnt digesting just turned into something that my body attacked.
Healing the gut is a tricky thing and if you dont remove the stressors, it will turn into a flare sooner rather than later most likely. I think with this condition, I do have to challenge myself though and test new foods. For me this is because I have to live my life and there is a huge mental component with things being taken away!! Adding in new or old foods keeps things new and that helps with healing.
But on the flipside of that I also have to pay attention that maybe an old sensitivity is re-appearing. It does happen as this process does not seem to be static or linear whatsoever. And most of us keep throwing fuel on the fire without even knowing it sometimes. So my five point plan is this when I notice any unusual but familiar symptoms of the Colitis.
#1 Simplify eating: Simplify eating is where I start. Easy cooking of foods like things that are boiled and steamed. Long cooking is good here. Eating foods that are fried, broiled, overcooked and high heat cooking will create more inflammation in the body. Depending where you are you may need to remove starchy foods or just most carbohydrates for a bit. This is a great time to consume a lot of bone broth. Make your own with good grass fed animal bones and drink multiple cups a day in soups, with a meal or without a meal. Intermittent fasting may be a good thing here too where you only eat between the hours of like 10-8. Giving your digestive system a rest is the key!
#2 Slow down the stress as much as you possibly can. This is a tough one. For the autoimmune sufferer, its hard to focus sometimes because digestion is failing to break down the necessary proteins to develop the neurotransmitters that keep us mentally in tune. Without them we get more anxious, more stressed and more depressed. But this doesnt mean that you can take a vacation from trying to help yourself either. There are things you can do to lighten the impact. Meditation is #1 here and its vital to do some kind of exercise that will allow you to breathe and calm down. Physical exercise is a tough one because in this state you just dont feel good. Light walking is a great thing at this point. Sunshine and fresh air work wonders for the body. I read that being indoors is 6% more toxic than being outdoors. Being cooped up in the house will only contribute to the decline.
#3 Simplify lifestyle. Its important, so important at this point to be easy on yourself. I think there is definately a personality type that makes up the majority of people with autoimmune conditions. Putting ridiculous amounts of pressure and expectations on yourself is damaging, but even more restricting to healing at this stage of the flare. Allow yourself to take it easy. ALOT. You need to rest physically and mentally to heal and if you are trying to do all of the thousand things you normally do, it will break you eventually. Take naps and lots of them. I know there are things that just cannot be altered, like work in most cases. But in between whatever you are doing, rest as much as you can. For me I had to take short term leave from work at one point. It was one of the biggest life altering decisions I ever made. My sister-in-law had just passed. My mom passed away. My dog died in the yard tragically. My wife and I were both at each other all the time. And this was in the course of eight months. This all took a major toll on me and the one main thing that helped was to acknowledge that I needed to stop. Being. Stubborn. So I headed the advice and rested and I dont know where I would be at today if I hadnt done so!!
#4 Support! Support! Support! This encompasses a few things. First is, allow people to help you. People dont have to pity you and we should never want that. This is about allowing the ones around you that love and care for you to help to lift you up. Help to do the things that maybe you cant do at the moment. Offer encouragement. This is important to still have connection. Many times I wanted to do this by myself because I felt like I needed to prove something to myself. But really the only thing that happened here was isolation and more frustration. Having a partner that is ill has a big impact on both the person and the people around the ill person. Its important for others to be able to contribute sometimes. Okay, the other piece of this is more from a bodily perspective. Most likely digestion is at the top of the list of systems needing some loving care. My digestive system was an absolute mess when I first started the GAPS diet. It was only by providing stomach, pancreas and gall bladder support that I started to gain some traction on healing. You may have blood sugar issues or you may not be able to break down fats, but this typically all starts with the digestion process. This is very much like a puzzle sometimes and if you are at this stage it could be good to work with a nutritional therapist like myself to help you get back on track.
#5 Stop. Take a deep breathe a lot and focus. Often when we are ill, we want so much to get better that we get mission like. This recovery thing becomes like a second job to us. Its all about trying this or trying that. Let me tell you, this all takes time. I have ultimately gotten sidetracked many times because of my eagerness to heal. This is probably the biggest lesson for me and that is to stop trying to address everything 150%. Yes, you do want to support the body with food and supplements if needed, but there is a fine line between too much and just right. I like to work with my clients and take a very concise, clear and well defined approach without encouraging the healing process to become job like. We have to be able to live our lives without the burden of another full time job.
I sincerely hope this reaches anyone in need of guidance and that it provides a framework to dig your self out of your own flare. Like I always say, you are not alone with this. If you are absolutely overwhelmed with this hand that was dealt to you, please do reach out to us to discuss how we can help you to help yourself! Take care!
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Ian Sandage is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who speaks from the personal experience of someone with autoimmune disease and the highs and lows of a health journey