I’ve waited to share my AIP fitness journey.
You see, I usually write blog posts where I share how I learned to live well with autoimmune disease through the autoimmune protocol (AIP).
I share my AIP journey, the struggle I went through, and how I learned to live well and find joy.
This blog post is a bit different.
It does include happy moments, but this one hurt my heart to write.
I’ve wanted to share my AIP fitness journey, the struggle I went through, and how I learned to live well and find joy. However, after a year and a half of trying to get my old fitness life back, I am STILL in the “struggle” phase. I STILL am trying to overcome.
Buckle up. This blog post is a bit different than my usual ones.
Regardless, it is on my heart to share my AIP fitness journey.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) & Movement
The autoimmune protocol is not just about nutrition.
Lifestyle factors like improving sleep, managing stress, and movement are also incredibly important aspects of the AIP.
“Even though those of us with autoimmune disease may face unique challenges when considering adding movement into our routines, it is worthwhile not to ignore this aspect of the healing journey.”The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt (pg. 133)
In my experience, movement continues to be the hardest piece of the AIP puzzle for me to figure out.
You see, right now my AIP movement puzzle piece looks like walking and gentle yoga.
While I am thrilled to be walking and practicing gentle yoga, I want my AIP movement puzzle piece to also look like strength training and weight lifting.
Let me rewind a few minutes and explain…
When Did I Start My Fitness Journey?
I loved being active as a teenager! My favorite activities were figure skating, waterskiing, and snowboarding. However, I truly started my “fitness journey” after the birth of my second child.
I experienced serious health struggles after my son’s birth. As I recovered, I found myself an exhausted mom of a two-year-old and newborn, with a postpartum depression diagnosis, and 15-20 stubborn pounds to lose. In addition, my gestational diabetes diagnosis during pregnancy led to an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.
As a result, I decided I needed to take action.
I joined a local gym with two of my sister in laws and began my fitness journey with short cardio workouts. I felt ALL kinds of uncomfortable and self-conscious, but I kept going to lose weight, to decrease my diabetes risk, and to get a much-needed mama break!
What Did I Do for Workouts?
Eventually my short, uncomfortable workouts on the cardio machines turned into taking classes like step, strength training, and yoga. I eventually ventured into the weight area and awkwardly learned to lift weights.
A funny thing happened. I started to LOVE working out, seeing friends I met in classes, and realized hitting the gym was one of the highlights of my day.
Then, my family and I moved. I missed my workout routine with my gym friends. However, I found a new, much smaller gym. I met a great friend there who happened to be a trainer. I began training with her a couple of times a week. Again, I learned to love my intense strength training sessions with her.
I also loved to run throughout the years.
Well, first I hated to run, then I learned to love to run. My family and I did an annual 5K/10K Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving. My husband and I loved mud runs like the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudders, and the Camp Pendleton Mud Run. I even completed the LA Marathon and Long Beach Marathon (mostly walking) prior to having kids.
Did I Experience Any Setbacks Prior to My Autoimmune Disease Diagnosis?
Four years prior to my autoimmune disease diagnosis, I started experiencing intense hip pain. My intense workouts became different, then eventually impossible, and even walking, sitting, or laying down hurt. Hip pain became my constant companion.
It took me a year to find answers, but eventually I learned I had a labral tear and cartilage damage that required surgery. I went forward with hip surgery, and woke up to the bad news that the damage was worse than previously thought.
My doctor had to cut out more damaged cartilage than anticipated, and he also found lesions in my hip area. As a result, my recovery time increased.
Then the kicker….my heart broke when the doctor told me I would never run again.
To add insult to injury, after my many post-op appointments, my doctor told me my goal is to make it 3-5 years before needing a complete hip replacement. I was 34 at the time.
It was a long and slow recovery. I went to months of physical therapy, and I exceeded expectations. Because of my progress and dedication, at my last appointment, my doctor cleared me to start jogging 1-2 miles once or twice a week.
It’s now been over 3 years since my hip surgery, and I show no signs of needing hip replacement. I will say that I noticed most lingering hip pain disappear after implementing the autoimmune protocol.
When Did I Notice My Symptoms Worsen when Working Out?
I noticed a gradual increase in my undiagnosed health symptoms related to working out after my hip injury and surgery. The happiness of being back to working out overshadowed the increase in symptoms. I felt the “working out” piece of my identity click back into place, and it felt oh so good.
However, a year after my slow return to normal workouts, I noticed I felt increasingly worse after working out.
I felt exhausted, wondered where my endorphins were, and my body just did not feel right.
I shrugged it off, and pushed through. I prided myself on being able to push through any workout, no matter the intensity. I lived on quotes like “Your body can stand almost anything. It’s your mind you have to convince.” I thought of my body as a machine, and I just needed to MAKE it run better.
Until I no longer could.
“The goal is to include plenty of physical activity in your life every day without overstressing your body.”Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, in the Paleo Approach (pg. 163)
Hitting a Wall
Toward the end of 2017, a stressful event was the nail in the coffin. After years of gradually feeling worse, I all of a sudden found myself unable to function normally.
Losing my health pushed me to find answers and my autoimmune disease diagnosis. Hitting my rock bottom finally put working out in perspective.
I realized how insignificant it really is compared to what really matters to me…being alive and feeling well to be the woman, wife, and mother I want to be.
At my rock bottom, I struggled to get out of bed and do simple everyday tasks, so obviously missing workouts were the least of my concerns.
I leaned on my faith and my family as I faced the unknown and changed my nutrition and lifestyle choices. I eventually felt better.
My AIP Fitness Journey: How My Workouts Changed After My Autoimmune Disease Diagnosis
As I studied how to live well with autoimmune disease, I realized that movement and exercise is an important aspect of autoimmune health. I felt so excited to get back to working out as my health improved!
Lifting weights and circuit training is a piece of the old me I desperately wanted back. However, I knew it might take time to get back to it all.
I felt ready to be patient.
First, I decided to start walking. I envisioned myself walking miles each day like I used to. So I felt incredibly discouraged when I laced up my walking shoes, went outside to walk around my block, and immediately struggled. The months at my rock bottom took a bigger toll than I realized.
I felt so embarrassed the first number of months as I walked around my block at a snail’s pace, stopping for breaks. I also experienced autoimmune flares here and there which occasionally set me back further.
It took me several months, but I very gradually worked my way up to walking a few miles per day!
My AIP Fitness Journey: Where I Am Today
My current fitness life still primarily involves walking and gentle yoga. I also try to add in activities I enjoyed prior to hitting my rock bottom.
I snowboarded for the first time a few months ago with zero issues. With that said, I’ve been snowboarding since my early teenage years so it feels like riding a bike.
I keep trying to add back in weight training, and every time I do, I flare. Bad. Even if I use baby weights. Even if I use only body weight. Even if I do minimal reps. Even if I take it slow as molasses. I get very sore very easily, and a flare immediately follows.
As much as every other area of my life is improving, this area seems to be getting worse. I cannot figure it out.
My AIP Fitness Journey: Pressing Forward
I keep trying to add back in strength training.
Again and again and again.
I keep telling myself THIS time I am taking it so incredibly slow and easy that THIS time I will not flare.
I go back to walking and yoga for a time.
Then I try again.
The whole cycle seems to be on repeat.
My AIP Fitness Journey: Is Something Else Going On??
Honestly, at this point, I suspect I may have another issue going on besides autoimmune disease.
I’ve never heard of another autoimmune disease sufferer improving every area of their health through the autoimmune protocol (AIP), except strength training.
I feel great so often, especially when I walk daily and do gentle yoga. However, the minute I add in strength training (no matter how minor), I flare. It’s incredibly frustrating.
My AIP Fitness Journey and My Marriage
I left one BIG piece of my fitness journey out of this post so far because it still hurts something fierce. However, I feel like I should briefly touch on it, with the intent that when I will open up more about it when I overcome my fitness struggles and get the whole living with autoimmune disease and fitness thing figured out.
Working out and staying active is something my husband and I loved to do together since day one. In fact, we met while snowboarding as teenagers!
Over the years, we’ve worked out side by side countless time, run races together, worked out on vacation together, pushed each other, cheered for each other, walked on many different beaches together, hiked together, waterskied together, snowboarded together, and more.
I met my husband over 22 years ago, and being active together is a HUGE piece of our story throughout the years.
It’s been heart breaking for me to lose my fitness, and not be able to find it again. Not just because I want that piece of my life back, but also because I want that piece of my relationship with my husband back.
My husband is a cross fitting, running, active, practically perfect picture of health. I suspect he misses this part of us as much as I do. I suspect it breaks his heart as much as my own.
We are slowly getting it back. We walk everyday together. I am well enough to snowboard now, and we plan on snowboarding as much as we can together next season. Hopefully the strength training workouts will follow soon!
My AIP Fitness Journey: Looking on the Bright Side
Instead of focusing on my missing muscles and wishing I can strength train, I choose to focus on what I CAN do in my daily life, and how far I’ve come.
I am so grateful to be able to do so many activities I love to do, and continue to add more to my life.
My AIP Fitness Journey: Moving Forward
I really do not know what my AIP fitness journey looks like going forward. I envision myself in the best shape of my life.
I do not know if I will find out I have more going on in my body than autoimmunity, or if my body simply needs more time.
I do not know if my hip will last another number of years, or if a hip replacement will set me back further on my fitness journey.
All I know is today.
I am trying to focus on all the things I CAN do instead of the things I can no longer do. I am choosing to feel grateful for the incredible blessings in my life, and move forward with faith.
It is my hope that I will be writing another “fitness journey” blog post soon letting you know I figured it all out! Sharing my formula for learning to live with autoimmune disease and fitness. Telling you how it was a long and hard journey, but how I overcame it, and how you can too.
For now, I am sending you SO much love and support. Whether you will be walking like me today and doing some gentle yoga, or you will be cross fitting, I am cheering you on either way!
We got this.
Recommended Resources on the AIP & Movement
The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt – Chapter 6 “Move”
Other Blog Posts You May Enjoy
FREE Back to Basics Guide to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)
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