The other night I was out with some girlfriends for dinner. As I was giving my gluten-free order, the server inevitably asked the usual question, "Is this an allergy?" I answered yes, as I always do, because I know that's a word that's understood. They'll red flag my order and be more vigilant. What I want to say though is, "Actually, it's so much more."
In a world where people hear stories about people dying from anaphylaxis by accidental kisses from boyfriends, how can an autoimmune disease even compare? No, I will not immediately die if you give me gluten. But, it will still cause me great harm. Let me explain:
An allergy is defined as a damaging immune response by the body to a substance like peanuts, pollen, fur etc. to which it has become hypersensitive. So, the person is exposed to the outside "invader" and the immune system attacks.
An Autoimmune Disease is defined as an illness that causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack your own body tissue. So, essentially instead of the immune system attacking an outside "invader", this disease has tricked your immune system into seeing your own body as the outside invader.
What does gluten have to do with that then? Wouldn't gluten be an outside invader? Sort of.
According to the Mayo Clinic, development of an autoimmune disease depends on three factors.
So, to some extent the origins of an allergy and an autoimmune disease might be the same. You have a person who is predisposed to a response, an outside triggering agent and a response. But, where they differ is the person with the autoimmune response doesn't stop at attacking the invader.
How can you identify when this is happening?
Inflammation occurs. When the immune system is functioning properly, inflammation is what helps the body heal. You experience an injury or illness and the affected site experiences swelling and inflammation as the white blood cells flood the area to fight potential infection. But, this is only temporary. Once the body heals, the inflammation goes away.
But what happens when the immune system views your body tissue as the potential infection? The inflammation never goes away, it stays as the white blood cells continue to fight. When the body experiences this chronic inflammation, your body is essentially on high alert indefinitely. So, not only can damage be done to the organ or body tissue the white blood cells are attacking, the prolonged stress of this ongoing attack can cause lasting damage to your heart, brain and other organs.
To sum up-
No, I will not die if my order gets screwed up and I eat gluten in a restaurant. But, each exposure does further damage to the organs in my body. And I'd really like to keep them functioning as long as possible. So, please, please take care. And if that means red flagging it as an allergy, I'm fine with that too. Thanks, I really do appreciate you keeping me safe!
My thyroid has been the bane of my existence for years. I have both Graves and Hashimoto's and had to get my thyroid radiated in 2011. A decision I sorely regret, but unfortunately cannot go back and undo. I had an old school doctor I trusted, who led me astray.
Luckily, I now have a fantastic endocrinologist who treats me by symptoms rather than just numbers. He also looks at both my T3 and my T4 levels which is vitally important for finding the right balance in thyroid health. Instead of being on just Synthroid, I'm on meds that control both hormone levels that can be tweaked individually. For more info on this approach check out Thyroid Balance by Glenn Rothfield MD. It is one of the most helpful books I've found to understanding proper thyroid function.
Unfortunately, I'm currently in a really bad stretch of thyroid health. As we all know, autoimmune health is a constant journey. It is often very much affected by different life stages. I'm postpartum and still nursing which is making my thyroid levels completely wonky. I've changed Synthroid doses three times in the last six months and am now on the highest dose I've even been on in my life. I'm also at the highest weight I've ever been besides pregnancy.
All this says to me is I need to be more vigilant with my nutritional support measures. I've followed an anti-inflammatory diet in the past. (I've dabbled with a Paleo regime on and off for years.) I've also given up sugar more times than I can count. But I'm going to be honest here. Even though I'm a health coach and have a nutritional background myself- I still fall victim to the trappings of sugar and dairy. It's almost worse for me now because I KNOW better. However, it's still difficult sometimes to find the will power to follow through. With two young kids, one who barely sleeps, it's easy to fall into bad habits.
I've done a lot of reading on habit forming behaviors. (I'm a HUGE Gretchen Rubin fan). So I know I'm an Obliger and I am also beginning to realize I have to be an Abstainer rather than a Moderator. This is usually where my problems occur. I'll be doing great with following a sugar-free regime and then I allow myself to cheat for a special occasion or something and find myself completely falling off the wagon with it being that much more difficult to get back on again. Gretchen has identified this behavior in herself and says this is why she now has to Abstain entirely if she ever wants to follow through with healthy dietary habits. At least I know I'm not alone...
So here we go folks, back on the wagon again. To support myself in regaining my thyroid health I know I need to Abstain from sugar and focus on avoiding Inflammatory foods. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
With gratitude- Joyana
Self-Care- the buzz word of the internet.
And it definitely is important and often overlooked in the busyness of day-to-day life. But, I feel there's something missing from just the focus of fitting more self-care into our lives. We also need to examine the activities we're choosing to decompress and if they work for us.
For starters, with individual personalties and interests, self-care shouldn't look the same from one person to another. Just like going camping might be one person's sanctuary and another person's torture, each person will experience a different fulfillment level from a particular self-care activity.
For instance, my dad is a constant putterer and active personality type. My mom convinced him to get a couples' massage one time to celebrate their anniversary. She walked away describing it as luxurious and relaxing while he summed it up as being 55 minutes too long.
My friends recently booked a day for us all to go to a communal bathing spa together. I enjoyed being with my friends and trying something different, but I can't say it was an experience I'd ever repeat. I just couldn't bring myself to completely relax and ignore all the naked strangers surrounding me.
So, how do we find self-care that works for us then?
By forcing ourselves to be honest. I mentioned self-awareness above, what I mean by that is weighing the benefits we're getting from the self-care activity and determining if there's ;enough fulfillment to be worth it. If you're spending money on something that is meant to be relaxing, but you're not actually enjoying it- can it really be classified as self-care?
The same can also be said for letting go of self-care activities that may have worked for us in the past, but no longer fulfill our current needs.
I was a ballet dancer for many years, but have not attended a class in ages. I finally stopped going when I realized I was leaving the class more frustrated than fulfilled. I was beating myself up over the fact that my body couldn't do the things it used to anymore. I had to let go and accept that ballet was no longer a fulfilling self-care regime. I don't need a hobby that requires more challenge or discipline right now- I need something that is meditative and rejuvenating, which is why I've committed myself to yoga instead.
Listening to our Gut
It might not always be mentioned, but sometimes the best self-care is just giving ourselves permission to listen to our gut. It might result in making an unpopular decision or being viewed as a recluse when you stay in to recharge your batteries rather that going out with the crew for a drink, but who cares if it works for you?
Self-care is a process and a mind-set. The special latte or mani-pedi here and there are the not the actual answers- it's whatever thought and fulfillment come as a result from the chosen activity. Hopefully, bearing the end result in mind will help you find a self-care regime that actually works for you.
"Our Bodies are Our Gardens to Which Our Wills are Gardeners," ~ William Shakespeare