Healthier with an auto-immune disease?

Sounds counter-intuitive, right – how can I be healthier when my own body is attacking itself?

I’m looking at a lifetime of medications and managing at times debilitating symptoms. Well, as of this year, approximately 6 months after being diagnosed, I am far healthier than I was for the past 5 years without an auto-immune disease. How you might say (or call bullsh*t really), it is purely a shift in mindset.

When I was first diagnosed I went through the typical “why me” grieving process and really bumped up my procrastination, laziness and poor me attitude to life. It was excellent having this supercharged excuse not to do things – apart from feeling like absolute crap, but hey, I was sick right?

Then I got to a point where the wallowing was enough. My husband always says – why worry if you can’t change it – and he doesn’t think I listen to him (but secretly I do).

Nowhere else to go, but up

I picked myself off the ground/sub-floor/pool of self-pity, where I was stuck and thought, you know what, I’m nearly thirty, I’ve just had my first child and I am on a fast track to really not enjoying what should be a really cool time of my life. I was overweight, unfit, unmotivated and exceptionally unhealthy. I could eat a whole family bag of corn chips and a large packet of sweets for a meal. Disgusting. I was like an unsupervised child at a birthday party.

My mindset switched and I really can’t attribute it to any one point, things don’t happen in isolation, maybe a key trigger was a doctor at work saying “hey ,have you thought of trying the Ketogenic diet? It could be good for an autoimmune disease?” Spoiler. It has been, but its benefits have not been medically proven like they have for diabetes and heart disease.

Not a moderator – The first lever – Diet

I am an all or nothing type person (In case the bag of corn chips didn’t tip you off). I can’t just have the one sweet or stick to a sometimes exercise plan. It’s just not me. So of course I did what no one recommends and threw myself into the Ketogenic diet the next day – its dieting for lazy people really, no carbs, no counting calories, just stick to the proscribed list of food and you are off (you can also count macro ingredients but I don’t). The weight started coming off, the energy started coming back and I got to have bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning. Sweet deal. But I was still unfit.

The second lever – Exercise

I tried following Dave’s example by trying the couch to 5k and failed miserably, I quit at 3 weeks because it got too hard and I was lazy. I didn’t really get back on the horse because I would still using my diagnosis as an excuse. That really changed at Christmas, when I made the conscious decision not to make excuses anymore. Of course I would still make excuses – a habit of a lifetime is difficult to break and I was really good at it – but I would acknowledge them and crack on. 2018 would be my year of taking back my body. I had been so focused on the fact that my body was failing me, that I didn’t realise that I was failing my body. I was cheating it out of the environment which it needed to grow and succeed.

So on New Years day I just ran, not for long and not fast and I walked some bits (about half!). In total, about 3.5km, my legs felt like lead and I really wasn’t very good at it, but I went. I resolved to run every second day. And I have – almost – I’ve been mostly pretty good with the exception of a week where I was ill. I resolved to not to listen to my excuses and to just do it. I would listen to my body but I would stop failing it by wasting my life thinking of reasons not to be fit and healthy.

And now

Yesterday I ran 12km without stopping, no walking and at a relatively respectable pace for someone that is 5”1 (another excuse but I’m still running). I’ve been running for almost a month and a half and I’m going to run a half marathon in May. It’s nuts, and I love it and I’m really not a runner but I love when people refer to me as one (it’s a supreme compliment to me).

While running yesterday I had a moment of pure inspiration. I saw a woman out running and alongside her going just as fast was a guy wheeling his wheelchair. They were both wearing orange like a really cool team and they were going much faster than me. They ran past me (and this is at 6:25am in the morning I checked my watch) chatting away getting their exercise and I thought to myself, wow, any excuse I have is trumped ten-fold by this guy. How incredible and I continued my run, and every time my legs hurt or I felt like walking I thought about them. They lapped me on the way back. I heard them coming up behind me and thought – okay, good you’ve got to something here – these people have just had this really profound effect on you – so my brain whirred as fast as it could in my 9th km of a 12 km run and I came up with “sh*t you’re an inspiration”. What a disappointment. The guy laughed it off an said – have a nice day – he probably won’t know that every time I go for a run now I’m going to think of him but how amazing!

There isn’t a secret to being healthier, its mostly hard graft, but for me it was the mind-set and the wake-up call being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease gave me. The only real life sentence was the one I was giving myself ,with all of my procrastinating and excuses.

Erica is a researcher, mother of one, self-development enthusiast and baker. She is from New Zealand so we must all be jealous of her beautiful running photos. She spends her time attempting to be a little better, going a little further and a little kinder.

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