AIP Balance Week | Day 3: Social Isolation


Growing up, I was always the kid who wanted to be the center of attention. I like to make people laugh, to get them to open up, and to be the maker of memories for a group of friends. I thrived around people, was certainly an extrovert, and spent the majority of high school and college involved in social activities every night. Once I graduated from school and moved away from my best friends, these social encounters became fewer and farther in between but I still made sure to attend social events at least twice a week. I began dating my husband at age 22 and a lot of my free time was spent with other couples instead of fostering relationships with girlfriends. This didn’t start bothering me until I moved to Chicago, away from our large group of friends and family, and had to start completely from scratch. Thankfully, I did meet several girls I connected with and one in particular provided not just an ear or a shoulder but a whole lotta heart. Everyone needs a friend like her, and I don’t think I would have fared nearly as well the last 18 months in a foreign city away from my loved ones without her.

When I was just “plain” Paleo for 2 years, my diet did not affect my social participation. In fact, my friends loved all my fresh foods, frittatas, muffins, and yummy dinner parties. I still drank alcohol at least 1-2 times a week which is a huge facilitator of social engagement when you’re in your twenties, of course! Once I transitioned to AIP, things changed drastically. I made a commitment to focus on my sleep, my food, my inflammation, and my energy levels. I started turning down invitations for happy hours and late nights out, and soon those invitations just stopped coming altogether. When I found out friends would gather without me, my feelings would be really hurt, but I knew they weren’t trying to be exclusive. I had put up a barrier between me and them. We weren’t the same anymore in their eyes, although I still enjoyed doing girly things like shopping, pedicures, and yoga classes. For some reason, my lack of alcohol drinking really put a wedge in a lot of my relationships, which is so sad and frankly ridiculous. But I don’t expect everyone to understand the connection between lifestyle and autoimmunity especially if they haven’t felt the insecurity of autoimmune disease personally.

I have experienced a lot of success on AIP but I also felt a new emotion: loneliness. I missed going out to dinners and trivia nights at the bar. I longed for late night snacks and opening up that leftover bottle of wine at 2 a.m. when really we should just go to bed. I missed hangover brunches with girlfriends that were full of giggles and happy hormones. I even missed just cracking a gluten free beer with my husband for the hell of it and going for a walk with my marginally illegal open container. I’m not the only one, I know this, and I have heard from many of you who feel paralyzed by this lifestyle and lack of connection in relationships. This is NORMAL. I can promise you that every person who has ever been on AIP has felt this way at some point. How could you not? Food and eating with others hit on some major human needs: belonging, love, and nourishment. Social inclusion has been linked to mental wellness in many research studies for good reason. We need to be surrounded by others who are like us.  I suggest we all recognize it, accept it, and find a solution for it. Below are a few of my tips for managing social isolation while adhering to AIP.

YES

  • Talk to your friends and family about your autoimmune disease and why you’re doing AIP. Explain to them that social support is necessary for your success and that you need to continue to spend time with them even if you can’t eat or drink the same things right now. Don’t be shy or embarrassed of this but remember to be patient if they don’t seem to understand or respect your decision to do the AIP. Ignorance can be obliterated through education.
  • Meet new likeminded friends. Go to meetup.com or thepaleomomcommunity.com to find local members of the Paleo and AIP community … you can NEVER have enough friends! I only stopped feeling alone in my autoimmunity once I joined and actively participated in these support groups and began emailing back and forth with women who not only understood me but could offer valuable and empathic advice. Recently I got to meet Paleo Cajun Lady and The Bacon Mum at a book signing, and I felt instantly connected to these ladies through our AI experiences.  I had dinner with Sarah & Stacy after that same book signing, and I cannot tell you how relieving it was too not be the only person at the table with food restrictions! Every black sheep wants to be part of the herd at some point. 
  • Join online support groups such as The Paleo Approach Community and AIP Support groups on Facebook such as this oneor this one . You don’t have to meet people face-to-face to feel like you know them these days. I can think of two handfuls of women who I can count on for help or advice at the drop of a hat that I’ve never met in person.
  • Do “normal” things. Go to happy hours with friends and bring a bottle of kombucha that you can pour over ice at the bar. Go dancing with your girls and let yourself sleep off the late night on Sunday. Join a yoga studio or group fitness gym and get to know the members so you feel like you’re socializing by default an hour each day! I’ve made several friends at my gym and although we don’t gather outside of class, we still spend time laughing and catching up with each other every day.
  • Sarah Ballantyne asked the AIP blogging community help develop The Paleo Approach Dinner Club e-book for good reason! We all know how difficult it is to participate in food and alcohol-related social events while on AIP (and isn’t that like 95% of the stuff we do with our friends in the first place??) An AIP dinner club is a group of individuals dedicated to gathering for a potluck each week to enjoy nourishing food together and to laugh and tell stories like normal people (hey, we need fun too!) If you feel lost and lonely on AIP, a dinner club is going to change your perspective and revitalize your social energy.

NO

  • Don’t put a wedge between you and your friends. Make an effort not to turn down their offers for social outings or they will start thinking you don’t want to or can’t hang out with them while on AIP which is NOT true. If you are too tired to go out, ask them if they’ll stay in with you and watch a movie. Explain why. If they never take you up on your offer, you’re not missing out on much anyways. I was really bad about this for awhile, partly because I inherently didn’t like the dive bars they go to and partly because I felt like “what’s in it for me?” – uh freakin’ friendships, that’s what!
  • Don’t keep your autoimmune disease to yourself. I spent the first 6 years of my diagnosis prior to starting this blog very rarely talking about Hashimoto’s, leaky gut, or histamine intolerance, even with my family. I went to every scary doctor’s appointment by myself and got stuck with dozens of needles without ever having someone there to distract me or hold my hand. I became a little resentful of my friends who never asked or seemed to wonder about my less than admirable health. This started a cycle with my friendships and I became the one who stopped calling… they didn’t seem to care about what I was going through because they didn’t KNOW what I was going through. How could they support me if I didn’t let them in? Educate your friends on your symptoms and how they can make leading your old “normal” life difficult. Call them when you’re not feeling well and let them bring over AIP-compliant food or help you walk your dog. A lot of people with autoimmunity are Type A personalities (“we can do everything ourselves!!!!”), but don’t let those pesonality traits get in the way of feeling social inclusion and belongingness on your AIP journey… after all it is just as important as food, sunshine, and exercise!
     

Check back for the last post for AIP Balance Week on Exercise & AIP tomorrow!

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