healing autoimmune disorder through diet and lifestyle

How I Kicked My Autoimmune Disorder Through Lifestyle

{Guest Post} Today’s post comes from Kelsi Folsom of Shameless Beauty I was so inspired by her story of overcoming a painful autoimmune disorder that I asked her to share her journey here. I hope this story will remind you that healing is possible, and give you some ideas for how to move forward!

If you had told me five years ago, that there would come a day where I wouldn’t wake up in pain, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “That’s a nice thought, but I doubt that will ever happen.”

My body began the path towards degeneration in elementary school, with IBS and severe back pain. I never considered that this was abnormal. While most of my friends didn’t struggle with IBS, I figured the back pain was just part of being human. I felt so bad for all the grown-ups who complained about waking up in agonizing pain. I couldn’t imagine how much pain they had to be in if it only got worse from here on out.

It wasn’t until I was living on Maui with my husband and 6-month-old daughter that I casually mentioned my experiences to a friend who was an internal medicine doctor. She stopped in her tracks, telling me, “Kelsi, that’s not normal.” I was waking up every morning with so much pain in my feet and knees, I could barely walk. Some days I couldn’t even pick up my daughter. It felt like a stinging liquid imbued all tissue just beneath the surface of my skin. I would describe the feeling to my husband like all of my joints were “barnacled,” getting stiffer and more achy and slow. I had chalked it up to stress and the wear and tear of pregnancy, but my friend opened my eyes to the reality that this pain was not what a “normal” 26-year-old woman should be experiencing.

I then sought out a well-respected DO who assessed me, did some bloodwork, and made dietary recommendations. She ultimately put further testing on hold because I was pregnant with twins, and autoimmune disorders go into remission during pregnancy. So I never got an official diagnosis or treatment plan.

Nevertheless, this visit ignited a fire in me to figure out what was causing the pain and to begin treating it. I read as much as possible about different autoimmune disorders, and I experimented with different supplements and food habits until I came up with a combination that merited life-giving results. Here’s what I discovered.

Food Can Be Medicine

I have made a rule with myself, barring emergency situations, that unless I am consistently working out and eating well, I will not go to the doctor. Why? Because so many physical issues can be resolved through nutrition and intentional physical movement. If you have an autoimmune disorder and/or mental illness of any kind, I strongly suggest removing gluten from your diet. I have also severely limited my sugar, dairy, and alcohol intake. These dietary changes in tandem have vastly improved my feelings of stiff and swollen joints, and aided my ability to think clearly. My mind and my gut are much happier this way.

Along with a healthy diet, I also take a whole food women’s multivitamin, cold-pressed flaxseed oil soft gels to combat soft tissue inflammation, and Vimerson turmeric supplements to support my joints. Since adding these supplements, I experience almost zero pain in my knees and ankles/feet. Before, I could barely squat down to pick anything up off the floor (and don’t even get me started about standing back up again afterwards) the pain was so profound. Now I can dance around, jump, squat, sit “criss cross applesauce” etc. This kind of physical freedom is a game changer, especially as a mom of three toddlers.

Low-Impact Exercise is Still Exercise

Because my autoimmune disorder has manifested in ways like soft tissue pain and joint inflammation, high-impact sports and programs like Crossfit do not go well with my body. Core strength is key to keeping my back, neck, and knees strong and aligned, but I also can’t be hopping all over the place lifting heavy weights and crushing my knees. Pilates has been my golden ticket. I can strengthen my body, detox my lymphatic system, tone my organs, and improve my flexibility and endurance, all while loving on my joints.

The best part of this exercise is that I find myself wanting to nourish myself after a session. During a workout, I’m already thinking about the pineapple kale cashew milk smoothie I am going to make afterwards, and the 50 Billion CFU probiotic capsule I am going to open into it. I am excited to sit down with that steaming cup of freshly brewed, organic red raspberry leaf tea and reading a good book or writing new poems.

Don’t Rule Out Miracles

When it came to IBS, my healing took a very different path. After years of pain, anxiety, shame, and countless doctors visits, I was in need of a miracle. And I got one. One day, a guy from a church I had performed music for felt compelled to pray for my gut, not knowing the lifetime of issues and pain I had had. I said, “Sure.” I never turn down prayer. Ever since that day, I have not had any IBS problems, and I fully expected to. Up to this point, my experience with miraculous intervention had been next to nothing, but I believe God healed me that day.

Your Mind Matters

I truly believe our physical being embodies our mental being. Our thoughts form habits that either perpetuate or help free our bodies from disease. Physical malfunctioning can result from many things, but often it can stem from unresolved trauma, often sexual abuse related. There are many mental health therapies available designed to promote the healing of our wheelhouse of memory, but I cannot say enough good things about EMDR

Around the time I got prayed for, I started meeting with a good friend of the family, who had a lot of experience counseling. She had written a Bible study on comfort and beauty, and had linked the Greek word for “comfort” to the word “bowels.” This was probably the first time I had EVER made a mind-body connection — if I am ravaged with fear, anxiety, and discomfort, it’s probably going to manifest in my “innermost parts,” as the psalmist says. For the first time, I began pursuing emotional healing, which led me to some chilling memories. I had been molested by a preschool Sunday School teacher, and I believe this trauma got lodged in my gut. This friend was the first person who gave me language and a framework for understanding childhood sexual abuse, and how it would still be affecting me as an adult.

EMDR has helped me be able to observe my thoughts and emotions in the moment instead of being overwhelmed by them, and disintegrating into rage, depression, or anxiety. I can separate who I am from what is happening, and speak the truth to the feeling. For example, let’s say I experience the feeling of shame over forgetting something important or messing up the schedule in a way that disappoints somebody else. Instead of disintegrating into “Why can’t I ever remember anything? I have the WORST memory on earth! I am such an idiot for forgetting to write that down. I am a terrible friend/wife/daughter/mother/etc.” (you get the picture), I can dismiss those negative trains of thought by speaking to myself, often out loud, “I am loved. I am welcome. I am not perfect and that’s okay. My presence is still desirable. I am not the culmination of all my mistakes. I have much value to add to the world and my relationships.”

Practice makes perfect in this arena and pretty soon, your brain will start reacting to situations with these positive thoughts, instead of the negative thoughts. Our brains are moldable, not fixed like scientists once thought. This is wonderful news, because it means trauma does not have to be permanent. As I have untangled my emotional trauma, my physical issues have also begun to order themselves. EMDR has been such an effective tool for ushering in sweet and profound healing.

But for me, it all comes from God. Although I fully believe in spontaneous miracles (as I am a personal testament to), counseling, EMDR, good nutrition, medical advances, spiritual directors, prophetic ministry, exercise, literary resources like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., serving others, mindfulness, healthy boundaries, ample rest, etc., are most often the vehicles through which healing comes. It is the “practical healing” of the miraculous Jesus, transforming my mind, and therefore also my body, with patience, kindness, and grace.

Kelsi Folsom

Kelsi Folsom is a writer and singer from San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of poetry chapbook Words the Dirt Meant to Share (Desert Willow Press, 2018) and is a regular contributor for Red Tent Living Magazine. Her work is published or forthcoming in Motherly, The Caribbean Writer, West Texas Literary Review,Women Who Live on Rocks, Knocked Up Abroad, and Voices de la Luna. She loves traveling with her husband and three kids, scouring estate sales, performing live, and getting lost in a good novel. She blogs about faith, marriage, motherhood, and travel at Shameless Beauty. You can also find her on Facebook @shamelessbeautyblog, as well as follow her on IG: @kelsifolsom.

Medical disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a scientist. Although I do my best to present factual and evidence-based information, it’s possible I’ve gotten some things wrong. Please talk to a trusted medical professional before making any changes to your health care. 

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support this blog. I only link to products I (or my guest writers) use or would personally recommend.

Photo: rawpixel, Unsplash

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