Can Love Make a Difference in Your Auto-Immune Disorder?
Have you heard of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)? It’s a variant of the Paleo diet, which floods the body with nutrient dense foods to enhance healing while restricting foods that may contribute to autoimmune disease.
You may not know, but autoimmune disease arises from a combination of genetics, environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle. Because of this, your food choices can make a BIG difference in your ability to manage and possibly even reverse your autoimmune disease. In fact, thousands of people who have adopted the Autoimmune Protocol have achieved a reduction or alleviation of symptoms.
But not everyone who faithfully follows the Autoimmune Protocol, to the letter, improves as much as they would like. So functional clinical nutritionist Jessica Flannigan took the AIP further and created the Loving Diet.
The Loving Diet
What is the Loving Diet and who is it for? Flannigan says:
“The Loving Diet is for anyone who is struggling or knows someone who is struggling. While the notion behind it will aid the healing process for any disease, and eventually other aspects of your life, such as love, your career, and goals, the majority of my clients have one or more autoimmune diseases.”
The Loving Diets consists of three prongs:
Each prong is covered in full in Flannigan’s book, The Loving Diet, Going Beyond Paleo into the Heart of What Ails You (affiliate link). In this article, I’ll focus more on the healing power of love.
In Part 1, Flannigan addresses the first prong, medicine. She provides an overview of autoimmune disease, which includes its causes and stages. She knows medicine can be an important element in calming autoimmune disease. She encourages you not to discount it, but at the same time, to take control of your health, to ask questions, and make your own decisions.
Mindfulness Changes Your Biochemistry.
In Part 2, as a prelude to her discussion of love as medicine, Flannigan introduces the importance of mindfulness. Mindfulness changes your biochemistry and thus creates an ambiance for healing to occur.
Flannigan cites a study which has shown that the amygdala, a small pair of almond-shaped structures in the brain connected with the fight, flight or freeze stress response, shrink after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice. At the same time, the pre-frontal cortex becomes thicker. The pre-frontal cortex, known as executive center of the brain, is associated with the ability to concentrate and make decisions. And there’s a reduction in inflammation, which can be a boon in autoimmune disease, as well as stress markers like cortisol.
The ability to be mindful is also central to the practice of loving thoughts and actions. You need self-awareness to be able to catch your mind when it goes off into negative thinking. You need mindfulness to interject loving thoughts in the place of negative ones. You need to remember to practice gratitude and appreciation. And the ability to be in the here and now relieves you from stressful thoughts of past conflicts and disappointments, and future-based fears and worries.
The Healing Power of Love
Flannigan believes gratitude and love for what is present in your life, in addition to medicine and food, help you heal and find peace.
She invites you to stop struggling against your illness and instead, to embrace it as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. She asks you to trust that there’s a higher source - whatever you might call it - that has your best interest at heart. That in fact, this affliction is for your benefit.
“…the more kind and gentle we are for our circumstances and for our life, the easier our body operates. Science is in its first stages of making the connection that loving thoughts have the potential to heal. The bonus for you is that regardless of your diet, medication, and environment, you can start loving and potentially change your DNA with no side effects or dangerous interactions. Think of it as a free form of medicine available to your in unlimited supply.”
Loving thoughts create more harmony in the brain, the heart, the body. In partnership with mindfulness, love changes your biochemistry for the better. And that creates more possibility for healing.
This healing power of love exists within you, it’s free and anyone can practice it.
Here’s one loving exercise from the book that uses mindfulness and imagination:
“For the next ten minutes, sit in a quiet space, take some deep breaths and center yourself. Think about something that makes you really happy and use that feeling to fill up your body. Just sit with that feeling for a moment. While staying in that moment, feel your happiness grow bigger and expand in your body. See that happiness touch the places in your body that may be in pain or affected by your disease. Imagine your body completely whole just as it is. Spend a few minutes breathing in that state of wholeness.”
Loving What Is
Flannigan dedicates a whole chapter to describing love and ways of loving. She says love is “allowing, choosing, and trusting.” On the Loving Diet, you’re not practicing “positive thinking,” trying to make something different than what it is. You’re loving what is - whether it’s negative emotions, difficult circumstances, a serious illness, or a beautiful day.
As part of her practice of love, here are three things she tells herself when life is tough:
“I’m doing the best I can under difficult circumstances.”
“This is hard right now, but this is temporary.”
“Today is a pretty hard day to be a human, things will get better.”
Flannigan encourages you to practice gratitude and appreciation every day as a form of love. As soon as you wake up, think of at least one thing you feel grateful for. Really tap into the feeling of gratitude, make it a felt, embodied experience.
She also encourages the use of affirmations. She writes them on post it notes and sticks them on her medicine cabinet. She has said an affirmation up to 100 times a day in her darkest moments. A loving affirmation is included at the end of almost every chapter.
In the remainder of the book, Flannigan explores happiness, letting go of victim mentality, how to clear held beliefs, transforming “againstness,” and loving what is present in your life. She shares exercises in each chapter like these:
Purge Bad Thoughts and Replace with Love
Are You Living a Life of Againstness?
Gold Light Meditation
What Are You Struggling with Right Now?
7 Things You Can Say to Yourself to Appreciate the Struggle
How to Stop Being a Victim
Trust My Life
Find Held Beliefs
This book is an incredible resource if you want to shift out of pessimistic thinking into a space of love. The exercises can help you heal at the deepest levels.
“When we come into cooperation through loving what ails us, we create an opportunity in both our body and mind for healing. I have found that love and loving our challenges is the most rapid form of change both in our hearts and lives. When we develop skills to increase self-compassion and tenderness toward ourselves and our circumstances, life transform itself to meet us with joy, abundance, and health. For many people, this can create leaps in their health journey. For others, it’s a calm acceptance that creates more space for joy.”
The Loving Diet Food Protocol
In Part 3 of her book, Flannigan shares the Loving Diet Food Protocol.
The Loving Diet further restricts the AIP. Flannigan describes it as “…a low inflammatory diet that is low in bacteria, starches, sugars, and certain fibers.” She gives all the science behind the Loving Diet, tells you how to get started, explains how to reintroduce foods, and encourages you to love the food.
It takes discipline to follow the food protocol recommended on the AIP or the Loving Diet with so many temptations around us each day. These are elimination diets, however. You eliminate the recommended foods until your symptoms go into remission. Then you add foods back in one-by-one to identify the ones that trigger your symptoms. That means you can expand your diet after the elimination phase once again.
I haven’t followed the AIP myself, but I know people who have. They’ve found incredible relief from pain and distress. I’ve personally found significant pain relief from a grain-free diet, which is one step toward Paleo, AIP, and the Loving Diet.
The AIP or the Loving Diet may or may not be right for you. Everyone’s biochemistry is different.
But loving more? That seems like the perfect fit for everyone.
Has diet made a difference in your health? Tell us about it in the comments. I would love to hear.
Disclaimer: Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any diet. This is not medical advice, just a review of this diet.
The Loving Diet, Going Beyond Paleo into the Heart of What Ails You by Jessica Flannican (affiliate link)
What Is the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol)? With details on how to get started from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D.
What is the Paleo Diet? from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D.
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