Pandemic Adapting with an Autoimmune Disease
Struggling to manage your autoimmune disease during a pandemic? The struggle is real my friend BUT, hopefully I can help ease the pain a little. During a pandemic, it’s easy to give up as it could literally be “the last straw” on top of the additional stress a pandemic can bring. Instead, one of the top skills to cultivate right now is adaptability. Hopefully these tips help you figure out just the right things to modify and right ways to be flexible. I actually think that every person with an autoimmune disease is in many ways already very adaptable and capable of handling not only this pandemic, but also whatever else may be coming. Every difficult challenge you’ve experienced with autoimmune disease has already prepared you for this very moment. Learning how to best support your immune system and improve your baseline health, even during a pandemic, is just another chance to use those skills and even improve them.
The following tips are basic, but sometimes going back to the basics is what we need. These modifications are what I think makes the most sense and are the least problematic long-term. They are also meant to help you feel less stressed as you navigate shelter-in-place orders or experience difficulty with locating food in your area. This is also meant to be psychologically practical at a time of high-stress, while also still being psychically supportive to your body.
Consider both dried, canned, and frozen legumes (like green beans, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, etc.). Dried legumes can be soaked and sprouted to increase digestibility. For the time being, don’t worry about preservatives/additives in canned legumes.
White potatoes can be stored in a dark place longer than many other veggies and are a good carb source to consider, if necessary. However, be sure they are peeled as most of the glycoalkaloid that is problematic, especially for those with autoimmune disease, is in the peel.
Unless you have an obvious intolerance, don’t stress over the elimination of coffee or high-quality chocolate until the pandemic situation has passed. Coffee and chocolate are some of those things that likely feel psychologically extra difficult to eliminate in this situation as such comforting staples for so many. A STRONG WARNING . . . don’t lie to yourself about that intolerance. If you are struggling with serious anxiety, insomnia, blood sugar imbalances, or already very fatigued adrenals, caffeine is NOT your friend, especially right now.
If finding meat is difficult, compromise on eggs as a nutrient-dense protein source.
Don’t compromise on gluten. If you have an autoimmune disease, gluten is very likely going to leave you in bad shape and vulnerable in terms of immune health.
Don’t compromise on alcohol. Alcohol, like coffee and chocolate, can have a big psychological pull in this situation. However, unlike coffee and chocolate, there are less redeeming qualities to alcohol and the immediate negative impacts on gut (and thus immune) health are huge.
Don’t compromise on nightshades (with the exception of white potato), as they are typically not well-tolerated and might produce a long-lasting flare.
Don’t compromise on dairy. It is not typically well-tolerated and it doesn’t keep long anyway.
Don’t compromise on a low-sugar approach, since a sugar-heavy diet impairs immune function.
Don’t compromise on eating nuts & seeds if you know you have an intolerance, but if it becomes a necessary energy source, make the smartest choices for your individual tolerance.
Below are some helpful tips for everyone as we deal with restricted routines, unexpected food sourcing issues, and a need to stock-up.
Do not worry about organic fruits and veg as compared to non-organic. Peel non-organic or use a fruit and veggie solution.
When you are able to grocery shop, head to the store with a list of broad produce categories as compared to a defined list. For example, your categories might look like hardy greens (such as kale, chard, or collards), salad greens (such as arugula, spinach, or lettuce), fruit (such as apples, bananas, oranges), roots, tubers, or winter squash (such as carrots, parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, or butternut), fresh herbs and spices (such as basil, thyme, garlic, shallots, onions), etc. When it comes to produce also consider frozen or canned veggies. Or if you are able to buy fresh, using a food saving machine can be handy and blanching!
Do not worry about grass-fed meat or wild-caught seafood as compared to conventionally raised meat or farmed fish. If you must choose conventional or farmed, trim and drain fat.
Use the same “broad categories” approach to buying meat. For example, ground meat can be used in place of many more specific cuts.
Rather than focusing on the variety and quality of fat sources, you can reduce stress if you just aim for the easiest shelf-stable fats: olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. Do your best on quality, but don’t let it paralyze you.
Do not worry about preservatives/additives in shelf-stable nut milks.