Finding a diet that helps me keep my symptoms in check has been a journey.
I’ll be honest with you: I was nervous to go to the doctor. I was hesitant to get professional help and assumed I’d be able to get my condition under control naturally (while secretly hoping that it would just go away on its own).
Neither of those situations played out the way I had naively hoped they would, and I’m grateful to have found a decent rheumatologist to help monitor my condition.
In addition to the medical care I receive, diet has played a big role in managing my PsA on a daily basis.
A while ago, I learned about the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. The general idea of the official diet is that you cut out foods and drinks that could be contributing to inflammation for a period of time, and then slowly reintroduce them to see if symptoms worsen.
Many people also apply some principles of the diet, eliminating a couple of suspected food triggers and taking it from there.
Following a modified autoimmune protocol diet makes a huge difference for me, compared to the times I allow myself to go off the rails and indulge in inflammatory foods and drinks. But finding what works for me took some trial and error.
I’ve followed a plant-based diet since I was a teenager, so I’m no stranger to cutting out certain food items, asking restaurants to make modifications, and reading labels on foods I’m unfamiliar with.
I think this made a huge difference in the severity of my autoimmune diseases.
But figuring out exactly which foods to cut can be a time consuming and frustrating experience.
The AIP diet focuses on eliminating the following foods:
- nuts and seeds
- refined sugar
- food additives
For people with autoimmune conditions, like PsA, some of these foods may contribute to chronic inflammation in the body, which may add to painful flare ups of the condition.
I started by switching from vegetarian to vegan in hopes that cutting out the dairy and eggs in my diet could be enough to calm my inflammation, but it didn’t do much for me. I decided to cut out gluten and that made a slight difference. Again, I didn’t notice a significant improvement in my symptoms.
It’s frustrating, but because there are so many potential triggers that can cause flares, I really did need to follow a process of elimination to identify what worked and what didn’t work for me.
It wasn’t until I decided to keep a food and supplement journal that I began noticing a serious difference in my diet.
You’d be surprised at how significantly cutting out the most well-known triggers and documenting what happens when you slowly add them back in can reveal obvious patterns and problems.
I noticed that pretty much every nightshade vegetable, all types of eggs, sugar, and highly-processed gluten foods (especially beer) seem to be major triggers for me.
Of course, not all people with autoimmune diseases need to cut these specific foods to manage their symptoms.
Following the official AIP diet was a good place to start, focusing on unprocessed meats and fish, vegetables (excluding nightshades), healthy oils, and fermented foods.
Although I still follow a mostly plant-based diet, I made the decision to add in plenty of omega-3 fatty acids into my diet from ethically sourced fish oil and a variety of mollusks, including scallops, oysters, and mussels.
Research suggests that diets high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3s may contribute to chronic, low-grade inflammation and increased disease risk. Omega-6 fats tend to be pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
I’ve spent years working on my diet, finding the right vitamins and supplements that support my needs, and knowing when and how I can afford to cheat and indulge when I’m traveling or celebrating.
Understanding what helps bring down inflammation in my body is, of course, a huge benefit of working on finding an autoimmune-friendly diet.
Beyond that, I’ve also gained the confidence to know that even if I do indulge a little too much in one of my triggers — like a couple of ice cold beers on a hot day or fries and a burger when I’m too lazy to cook — I know exactly how to get things back on track and feel my best.
Autoimmune diseases like psoriatic arthritis are fickle. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet or protocol that’s guaranteed to work for everyone.
It took me ages to figure out my biggest triggers — and I’m still learning to listen to my body’s reaction to certain foods and exactly what makes me feel my best.
Although it can be frustrating and time consuming, I believe that a little patience is well worth the potential outcome. A tailored diet can work in tandem with the care you receive from your treatment team (and it’s always a good idea to talk with them before starting something new).
The autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) was a good place for me to start. If you decide to try it, be prepared to carve out your own unique list of foods that work with your body versus the ones that work against you.
Also keep in mind that the diet can be highly restrictive, so working with a registered dietitian who specializes in autoimmune diseases and elimination diets can help you figure it out.
Kaitlyn McInnis is an international travel and lifestyle writer based in Montreal, Quebec. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Forbes, The Points Guy, Tatler Asia, and many other consumer and trade publications around the world. You can usually find her reading or writing from a hotel lobby or on Instagram.