Although the autoimmune diet is a well known foundation for managing chronic health issues, some people are dismayed to find embarking on it makes them feel worse. What gives? The sudden change in diet can temporarily upset your chemistry and reveal hidden health problems.
If you have been accustomed to eating gluten, dairy, grains, sugars, and processed foods, going cold turkey off those foods is a radical shift. Likewise, adding in lots of vegetables can also shock a digestive system unaccustomed to ample plant fiber.
Most people feel significantly better on the autoimmune diet. If you’re not one of them, however, don’t give up on the diet. Instead, look for the underlying reason why.
Feeling temporarily worse on the AIP diet
Following are common adverse reactions to the autoimmune diet. Knowing why you react negatively can further help you on your wellness journey.
Low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue can worsen on this diet. This is usually caused by not eating enough or frequently enough. The general recommendation is to eat every two to three hours, however, some people may initially need a bite or two every hour until blood sugar stabilizes and they can go longer without eating. Avoid sugary fruits and investigate what else may be taxing your adrenal function, such as brain-based issues, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.
New food sensitivities. When gut damage is bad and inflammation high, it’s possible to develop food sensitivities to new foods on the autoimmune diet. This is very frustrating for people as the diet is already so limited. This can be a complex situation that requires concerted effort to tame inflammation and repair the gut.
Opioid withdrawal reactions. Opioids are morphine-like chemicals made by the body that reduce pain and create a feeling of euphoria and well-being. Some people become dependent on foods that release opioids in the brain, namely gluten and dairy. They can initially experience depression, anger, lethargy, and agitation on the autoimmune diet. For those with serious opioid addictions to gluten and dairy, withdrawal can be intense.
Brain chemical imbalance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates affects brain chemicals that influence our mood, particularly serotonin and dopamine. Suddenly switching to a lower carbohydrate diet can disrupt the balance of brain chemicals and cause temporary changes in mood, behavior, and personality. If this sounds familiar, you may need to gradually lower carbohydrate consumption.
Insomnia and anxiety. Some people report irresolvable insomnia and anxiety if carbohydrate consumption is too low. If these symptoms persist long after an adjustment period, you may simply need to use trial and error to find the carbohydrate “sweet spot” that lets you sleep but also keeps blood sugar in check.
Difficulty digesting fiber. The autoimmune diet is heavy on vegetables. For those with compromised digestive function, this can overwhelm the gut. Concerted gut repair nutritional therapy can ease you into a higher fiber diet.
Histamine intolerance. This is a reaction to aged or fermented foods that causes myriad symptoms, including rashes, runny nose, or headaches. Avoiding these foods for a while can help the gut heal so you can eat them later.
Yeast and bacteria die-off reactions. Going cold turkey off processed carbs, gluten, and dairy can cause a sudden and uncomfortable die off of harmful yeast and bacteria in your gut. This is especially true in the case of poor liver detoxification and constipation. Supporting the body’s pathways of elimination can help.
These are a few of the issues that can arise when you switch to the autoimmune diet. Don’t forget to consider the grief and anger you may feel about missing your favorite foods. However, if you weather the transition and ferret out sources of discomfort, your newfound health will more than make up for the rough legs of the journey.