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Welcome to episode 2 of the Life Beyond Lyme podcast! In this episode, I’m going to discuss 6 pieces of “Lyme disease recovery tough love,” which are 6 dietary, lifestyle, and mindset factors that can stall your Lyme recovery if left unaddressed. I’ll also provide some tips for navigating each of these pieces of “tough love,” so you can accelerate your Lyme healing process.
In this podcast, I cover 6 nutritional, lifestyle, and mindset factors that are vital for Lyme disease recovery. These factors are often overlooked and under-appreciated by Lyme disease patients and practitioners alike, and can even make Lyme patients feel a bit uncomfortable when they first face them! However, these factors can be deal-breakers for Lyme disease recovery, hence why I’m referring to the factors as “Lyme disease recovery tough love.”
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Hi, this is Lindsay Christensen, functional nutritionist and expert on using nutrition and lifestyle to support healing from Lyme disease and complex chronic illnesses. This is the Life Beyond Lyme podcast, where I’ll help you navigate the confusing world of chronic illness recovery, so you can reclaim your health and live your life to the fullest.
Each week, I’ll dive into a new topic related to chronic illness recovery. We’ll talk about health challenges such as Lyme disease, mold illness, and mast cell activation disorder, and how nutrition and lifestyle changes can help you heal. My goal with this podcast is to provide you with evidence based and actionable information that will empower you in your healing journey. I hope you enjoy the podcast!
Hello, and welcome to episode two of the Life Beyond Lyme podcast. In this episode, I’d like to cover six dietary and lifestyle factors that can stall your Lyme disease recovery process and I’ll discuss how you can appropriately address these factors to support successful Lyme disease healing.
I’ll note first that the six factors I’m going to cover here in the podcast are ones that I originally mentioned in an Instagram post that I created a few months ago, titled “Lyme disease recovery tough love.”
The reason I titled the post “Lyme disease recovery tough love” is because the six factors that I covered in that post and that I’m going to cover here today in the podcast, are often topics that make Lyme patients feel a little bit uncomfortable, for various reasons that we’ll dig into, or that certain Lyme patients may view as unnecessary. However, in reality, these six factors that I’m going to talk about are ones that can have a truly massive impact, in a positive way, if we address them in the Lyme disease recovery process.
Now, before diving in, I would just like to note that the content I’m discussing in this podcast is intended for informational use only, and is not intended to replace care from your doctor or your other health care providers. Always talk with your provider before implementing any of the suggestions that I make in this podcast.
All right, well, let’s dive right into these six factors and what you can do to address them. I’m going to call each of these factors, Lyme disease, “tough love facts one through six.” And we’re going to start with number one first, of course.
So long, tough love fact number one: “Just taking antibiotics and doing nothing else with your diet or lifestyle to support your health is unlikely to lead to long term Lyme disease recovery.”
Now, I know this is a controversial sounding statement. So let me first say that there’s no doubt about it – antibiotics and antimicrobials, including antimicrobial herbs – play a crucial role in Lyme disease treatment. So, I’m not discounting those things all. In my case, especially I found antimicrobial herbs to be truly life changing. And in some cases, antibiotics and antimicrobials can be truly life-saving for some people with Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections. So, I’m not trying to dismiss those factors. However, what I’m saying here is that just taking antibiotics or just taking herbs, and ignoring everything else that’s going on with your diet or lifestyle is not the greatest way to approach recovery if you’re really looking to build up your health and sustain it over the long term.
So why is it not enough just to take antibiotics and herbs? Well, while these two classes of treatments will help to kill off some of the bacteria, viruses or parasites that we are infected with if we have Lyme disease and co-infections, these treatments don’t necessarily address other aspects of our health that we need to build up for long term recovery, or that we need to address because of some of the negative repercussions of Lyme on other body systems. For example, one system that we really need to build up to support long term Lyme recovery is (no surprise), our immune system. Proper immune function is truly vital for Lyme disease recovery. And antibiotics and even herbs alone are usually not enough to do this.
For example, our immune systems require dozens of nutrients to function properly. And if we’re not consuming these nutrients through our diet, or through diet and supplements, these nutrients aren’t going to come out of thin air. And if we’re not getting them [the nutrients] are immune systems going to suffer in one way or another. So, we need to support our immune systems nutritionally, for long term Lyme recovery alongside antibiotics and antimicrobials.
In addition, chronic inflammation is a phenomenon that many Lyme patients, especially chronic Lyme patients, are dealing with, because of the ways that the Lyme bacteria can impact our immune system over the long term. So, if our bodies are already chronically inflamed from Lyme disease, and then we have chronic diet and lifestyle induced inflammation happening as well, that chronic diet and lifestyle inflammation, or I should say chronic diet and lifestyle-induced inflammation, may actually distract our immune systems from handling more pressing matters, such as the Lyme infection itself. So, antibiotics and herbs aren’t going to necessarily address chronic diet and lifestyle induced inflammation. Let me provide a couple of examples of diet and lifestyle-induced inflammation just so you have something tangible to think about. For example, if you are eating gluten regularly in your diet, and you’re sensitive to it, that gluten is a source of diet-induced inflammation. It’s inflaming your gut. And it may even be inflaming organs in your body outside of your gut when you’re continuing to consume it despite having an inflammatory reaction to it.
And then another source of diet-induced inflammation would be eating processed foods. Typically, those processed foods are filled with refined carbohydrates, added sugars and lots of additives, such as emulsifiers. And all of these compounds, especially when they’re combined together, can create diet-induced inflammation. And then let me name one example of lifestyle induced inflammation before we move on. Sleep deprivation, or not getting enough high-quality, restorative sleep overnight, especially when that is an ongoing issue, is going to create lifestyle induced inflammation. We need to address these diet and lifestyle factors to support our immune systems, and to reduce chronic inflammation, while we are taking antibiotics and herbs for Lyme recovery and afterwards.
And then we also need to address the “fallout” of Lyme disease on various body systems. What I mean by “fallout” is basically the impact that Lyme infection and inflammation can have on different aspects of our body. So, for example, our gut health, our musculoskeletal system, which includes our bones and our muscles, connective tissues, and our nervous system, which includes our brain, spinal cord, and the nerves all throughout our body, can all be impacted negatively by Lyme disease, in part because of the chronic inflammatory response. When I say we need to address the fallout of Lyme, we need to, for example, support our gut health while we’re on antibiotics for Lyme and then once you come off of them. Taking an antibiotic is not going to create the healthiest gut, though it’s essential in certain cases for targeting bacteria. But it’s not going to create a strong, healthy gut.
Another example of “fallout” that we need to address would be actually inflammation in the nervous system. Certain Lyme antibiotics may have some anti-inflammatory effects in the nervous system in addition to antimicrobial effects. But typically, it’s not enough to address some of the inflammation that we can experience in our brain [from Lyme disease], for example. Certain nutritional and lifestyle changes can really profoundly reduce neuroinflammation, which refers to inflammation in the nervous system. For example, a ketogenic diet can have a profound anti-neuroinflammatory effect.
And then another example of Lyme “fallout” that we need to address during or after Lyme antibiotic and antimicrobial treatment is deconditioning, which refers to the changes in our body’s ability to exercise and to exert ourselves physically that can occur during a period of time when we are inactive. I’ll talk more about deconditioning shortly. But, basically, the short summary here is that deconditioning doesn’t just make it difficult to exercise, it actually hurts our health in a number of ways. And to regain our health we need to recondition our bodies, including our aerobic physical activity levels and your musculoskeletal system. So, I’ll plan to talk about that in a little bit more detail shortly.
All right, so moving on to “Lyme disease recovery tough love fact number two:” you may be stalling your recovery by eating a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Alright, so I am perfectly aware that plant-based diets are all the rage right now. They’re everywhere. Even our government, in some ways is, is pushing plant-based diets on us. However, an inconvenient truth that I’ve observed with dozens of clients with Lyme disease is that a vegetarian or vegan diet can actually hinder the line recovery process.
In my personal experience with Lyme disease as well, stopping the vegan diet that I had been eating for several years and becoming an omnivore again was really vital for my healing process. And I found this to be true for many of my clients. So, I’m not going to dive into the environmental and ethical conversations around vegan and vegetarian diets right now. That’s not the purpose of this podcast. However, I will say if, if you’re still convinced that eating meat, particularly grass fed and regeneratively raised meat is bad for your body and or the environment. I encourage you to read the book Sacred Cow by Diana Rogers and Rob Wolf and to read a guest article that I wrote for Chris Kresser, a prominent figure in the functional medicine community, a couple of years ago titled, “Animal Protein and a Whole Foods Diet: What the Science Says.” In that article, I debunked some of the “science” that says animal proteins are bad for our health, to clear the air around some of the shoddy science has been used over the past few decades to bolster that claim. So those are two good resources for you if you’re still in that camp, thinking that meat is bad for your health and the environment.
Alright, so Why can a vegan or vegetarian diet be a problem for people with Lyme disease? Well, first of all, let me say that I’m all for eating plants. And, actually, a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily have to be one that excludes animal products. The diet framework that I use with my clients in my functional nutrition practice actually is a plant-based diet, but it also incorporates certain nutrient dense healing animal foods as well. So, I’m not against plants. A plant-oriented diet can be very healthy. However, when we completely cut out animal foods or significantly reduce our intake of them, we can run into some nutritional problems. For one we can end up missing out on our intakes of many crucial immune system-supporting nutrients that we need for Lyme recovery, including vitamin A, which is also known as retinol or retinoic acid. This does not refer to beta-carotene, which is found in yellow, red, and orange plant foods. Beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, but that conversion process is very inefficient. And beta carotene is not what we need for proper immune function. We need true vitamin A, which just so happens to only be found in animal foods, such as fatty cold-water fish, liver, and egg yolks.
Other nutrients that are found primarily or exclusively in animal foods that we absolutely need for proper immune function include vitamins B12 and heme iron. Heme iron is a form of iron found in animal foods. It’s the most absorbable form of iron. Non-heme iron is a form of iron found in plant foods and it is far less absorbable. And then animal foods also provide the mineral zinc, a compound called carnosine, and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which we also need for immune function. So, a major risk of eating a vegan or vegetarian diet would be creating deficiencies of these vital immune system nutrients that you need in order to battle Lyme disease.
Another potential problem with vegan and vegetarian diets that may hinder your Lyme recovery is that vegan and vegetarian diets, in large part, are oriented around foods that have a high gut irritating and allergenic potential, including gluten-containing grains, soy products, dairy, and legumes. While these foods are fine for some people, no doubt about that, they are often not ideal for chronically inflamed Lyme disease patients who are already struggling with immune system dysfunction, gut issues, and possible malabsorption and microbiome issues.
A third subtopic here, under this umbrella of potential problems posed by vegan and vegetarian diets is that they can be detrimental to mental health. This is yet another controversial topic. But we actually have some really interesting research coming out showing that vegan diets, in particular, are associated with higher incidences of mental health issues. And there’s a perfectly plausible biochemical explanation for that. Many of the nutrients that come primarily or exclusively from animal foods are ones that are critical for mental health, including vitamin B12, iron, zinc, a compound called choline and omega-3 fatty acids.
Mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety, are already a very common occurrence in Lyme disease patients. So, adding a vegan or vegetarian diet on top of that, and then lowering intake levels of these nutrients that are needed for mental health is a potential recipe for mental health disaster. This is another really good reason to reconsider your diet if you have Lyme and are eating a vegan or vegetarian diet.
I will say you certainly don’t need to become a carnivore to recover from Lyme disease. I know there are people out there promoting carnivore diets for Lyme recovery. I have mixed feelings on that, of course, but I’m not going to get into that right now. What I will say is that strategic incorporation of some high quality animal products like grass fed beef, organic poultry, pastured eggs, and wild caught seafood, even in modest amounts, can make a world of difference not only in how you feel, i.e., giving you more energy, reducing brain fog, making your gut feel better, but may also support your Lyme recovery over the long term by building up your immune system, helping you optimize your mental health, and hopefully helping you optimize your gut health.
All right, moving on to Lyme disease recovery tough love fact number three: Being sedentary will make it harder for you to heal.
I know very well that fatigue, chronic pain, arthritis and depression caused by Lyme disease can make it very difficult to get motivated to move your body. However, the reality is that moving your body can help with each of these symptoms, provided you are moving your body in the right way and not overdoing it.
We have an abundance of scientific research indicating that being sedentary can increase inflammation and impair the function of our lymphatic system, which is actually a really crucial part of our immune system. It’s where our body ushers dead bacteria and immune cells when it’s busy battling an infection like Lyme disease, so we need to have that lymphatic system flowing. When we’re not moving our bodies, the lymphatic system kind of becomes stagnant kind of like a dirty pond, rather than a clear running river.
Being sedentary can also compromise immune function. It can drive constipation and gut issues. And it can worsen mood, potentially exacerbating Lyme-related mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety. And then thirdly, as I alluded to earlier, deconditioning is a major issue for many people with Lyme disease. If you’ve been sick with chronic Lyme for years, and haven’t been moving your body regularly, then you’re likely experiencing deconditioning, meaning your aerobic system, the ability of your heart and your lungs to pump blood and to keep up with the demands of physical activity is going to be lowered. And coming back from that [deconditioning] doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that needs to be worked on gradually. But reconditioning your body can make a huge difference in your Lyme disease recovery process. I plan to release more detailed content on this sometime in the near future. Because more and more, I’m just realizing how critical it is, for many of the clients I work with who have Lyme disease. So yeah, deconditioning is a big problem for many Lyme patients.
I went through my own experience with deconditioning, related to Lyme disease. All throughout high school, I was very, very active, and even during like the first year or two of my chronic illness experience, but eventually I got to the point where physical activity that was higher intensity was making me very inflamed, and was making me feel worse. So, I really stopped doing anything too intense. But, I did keep up with walking through regularly almost daily throughout most of my Lyme experience. But I did experience a degree of deconditioning. And really just over the past few years, I have been working on reconditioning my body. And it has made a huge difference in increasing my resilience, gut health, immune function and mood, and dampening some of those negative effects I’ve experienced from Lyme. I plan to release a blog on deconditioning and reconditioning in the context of Lyme disease. Maybe I’ll have a guest expert on for that as well. But in the meantime, what I will say is that, if you’ve been sedentary, it’s really crucial that you start doing some form of physical movement, daily, whatever you can tolerate. It could be walking to your mailbox and back up to the house. It could be walking around the block. It could be walking at a nature preserve or doing a little bit of yoga. I wouldn’t necessarily replace walking with yoga because walking is really crucial for your lymphatic system and aerobic system, whereas yoga is more going to be for stretching and pain relief, things of that nature. So maybe doing some combination of those things could be wise. And then a couple of other things that I encourage individuals with like to incorporate into their routine, especially once they have more energy, or strength training, aka lifting weights, stretching regularly and foam rolling. Using a foam roller, you’ve probably seen those at like a physical therapy office, can help improve circulation, and even potentially lymphatic system flow. So those things can be really helpful.
Alright, right, moving on to “Lyme disease recovery, tough love fact number four:” Your mindset matters. Telling yourself things like “I don’t cook,” “I don’t exercise,” I don’t like exercise, or “I’m a picky eater” is not going to help your Lyme disease recovery process. These are all examples of a fixed mindset.
In psychology and health coaching, a fixed mindset is defined as a mindset in which you believe that your qualities, personality and skills are fixed and cannot change. In contrast, a growth mindset describes a mindset that encompasses the concept and belief that your abilities can be developed and that challenges you face can be pushed through and that you can learn new things and grow in the process.
Many of the clients I work with and even potential clients who I talk with in discovery calls often have at least a few of these fixed mindset “quotes,” I guess I would say probably the most common one would be “I don’t cook.”
And I’ll just be perfectly honest, you can say that all you want and all it’s going to do is hinder your recovery process. Now, you can be someone who doesn’t necessarily love cooking. But having that growth mindset and believing that you can learn new skills, you can learn some cooking skills, for example. Or if you’re one of those people who says “I don’t exercise,” having that growth mindset that you can find a way of exercise that that you enjoy that brings you joy, and that makes you feel good. Having that growth mindset around these topics can make a huge difference. When you have a fixed mindset you may experience some improvement in your health [but you’ll also likely reach a plateau in your recovery]. But as far as diet and lifestyle goes, many of us have to learn new skills [and have a growth mindset].
“Lyme disease tough love fact number five” is similar. It’s kind of an extension of number four. And it is that telling yourself that you don’t have any time to cook healthy food is an opinion, not a truth. This is something I don’t hear it so much anymore. I guess I’m biased because of the types of clients I get – many of them are very proactive. But learning some simple cooking skills so that you can prepare nourishing, anti-inflammatory food for yourself at home – honestly, it’s a non-negotiable for long term Lyme disease recovery and for long term health.
The food that you eat provides your body with information. And this nutritional information can either help or hinder your healing process by impacting systems ranging from your immune system, to your nervous system to your gut. When you have the mindset that you don’t have any time to cook, and that leads you to eat a lot of takeout, or to eat snack foods for meals instead of actual meals, that is going to send your body information that’s not of the highest quality and not going to be the most supportive of your body during your healing process.
So, for sustainable recovery, in all honesty, having some simple cooking skills and simple recipes that you can turn to and being consistent with that is vital. You don’t ever have to love cooking. You don’t need to become professional chef. You don’t need to make Instagram-worthy looking meals every day. You just need to have some go-to skills and recipes in your proverbial “toolkit” that you can turn to on a daily and weekly basis.
One little thing I’ll thought I’ll insert here is that, if you really don’t think you have time to cook and you firmly believe that, I suggest that you take a day where you write out everything you do and the amount of time it takes. You can also use a tool such as Toggl, where you track literally every activity that you do for one day. You can then look back at it and see what did you spend your time on. You may find, for example, that you’re spending a lot of time scrolling on Instagram or Facebook at night, or that you’re spending two hours watching TV at night. Looking at that and how you’re allocating your time, [ask yourself] could you maybe take 20 minutes of that time that you’re on social media, or watching TV to instead prepare a quick and healthy dinner, or to prepare a healthy breakfast in advance that you could eat the next the next morning? I think a lot of the time it’s not that we don’t have enough time to cook – it’s that we’re not prioritizing time for cooking. And I think that is really a product of our modern day society, where convenience is king. Everybody wants their food to be prepared quickly, no muss, no fuss. But in many cases to build long term health, we actually do need to prioritize creating some time to cook.
One other idea I’ll throw in here just came to mind actually. If you’re really not interested in cooking, or haven’t been, but you want to learn some simple skills, I suggest either signing up for a cooking class, or checking out a book that I love called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I’ll put the link to this book in the show notes once I get unable to get those up. But this book is such a fun book and it teaches you basic skills that you can mix and match to create meals, even without recipes. It’s full of fun tips and tricks and illustrations. The author, I forget her name. Oh gosh. What is it? Oh, I think it’s Samin Nosrat. She actually has a special on Netflix as well that has the exact same name, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I found both the book and the Netflix documentary to be really inspirational resources for just reinvigorating my interest in cooking. So, check it out if you’re feeling a bit black or stuck as it pertains to cooking.
Let’s wrap up with “Lyme disease recovery tough love fact number six:” If you’re waiting for “perfect time” in your schedule to begin making diet and lifestyle changes, you’ll be waiting forever. I know that sounds a bit extreme, but actually, I have seen this to be the case. When I meet with potential clients (I offer free discovery calls to potential clients), while a lot of them are ready to sign on and get going quickly, there are some who sneak through the doors who have a number of objections. And I don’t think they necessarily realize that they’re making objections. But they have these reasons that they can’t work on their nutrition or lifestyle right now. And that they have to wait until “XYZ” thing has happened or is complete. Let me just name a few examples. So, for example, a common one that I’ll hear from individuals who are on antibiotic treatment for Lyme is that they say something like, “you know, well, maybe I should wait until after my antibiotic treatment is over to start focusing on my diet,” or a more generalized one that I find so funny is that people will say something like my birthday is this week, so I’m going to be eating differently. And I can’t start working on my nutrition now. My question at that point is, “how does your birthday impact your eating throughout the entire week?” One time, I actually had a client who said her birthday was this month, so she couldn’t start working on nutrition this month. I respect that, but I also found it a little bit a little bit funny that that was her reasoning. So, these are examples of objections.
Sometimes they’re [the objections are] legitimate. Sometimes, they’re frankly not. But you know, when clients have legitimate reasons for why it may be difficult to start making changes, there’s rarely a reason that we can’t troubleshoot and navigate successfully with a bit of creative thinking and planning ahead. The fact is that there will never be a perfect time in your schedule, to begin making diet and lifestyle changes and actually, there are more often than not really opportune times to begin. For example, while you’re on antibiotic treatment is a great time to focus on your diet, because it’s going to help reduce systemic inflammation, hopefully help reduce Herxheimer or detox reactions while you’re on antibiotics, support your gut health. So that can actually be an opportune time. We’ll just flip that objection on its head!
But it can be overwhelming. You know, all of us have objections for various reasons. I have objections that run through my head for various things that I should really be working on, but haven’t done yet. So, this is something that everybody experiences. But my what I would encourage you to do is not wait forever, and realize that there’s never going to be a perfect time in your schedule to make these changes. So, you know, pull up your britches and get ready! Diving in, with support especially, can be one of the best decisions that that you may make in your Lyme recovery process. By diving in, I mean, diving into those diet and lifestyle changes that aren’t simple necessarily, but can have a huge impact on your recovery process.
Finally, partnering with a functional healthcare provider can be a powerful tool here if you are somebody who feels conflicted about getting started working on your diet and lifestyle or has a lot of objections running through your head. This provider can curate an approach that’s unique to you. She can also help you navigate real life challenges that come up along the way, so that you can stay on the horse and keep chugging along and be successful in your recovery process. This is exactly what I do with clients in in my practice at a central health.
All right, so as you can see, we really can’t ignore the basic principles of health and wellness during Lyme disease treatment. And while some of these tough love facts can be uncomfortable to think about and face, gathering some courage and facing them and tackling them can make all the difference in your recovery process. I think it’s important to remember that Lyme disease doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so to speak, in your body, where it’s unaffected by what you eat and how you live your life. It’s [Lyme disease is] profoundly impacted by what you eat and how you live your life. And this is why I’m so passionate about using diet and lifestyle with my clients to help support their Lyme disease recovery processes.
Well, I hope this episode has been inspiring and maybe even a bit motivating for you if you’ve been feeling stuck in your Lyme disease healing process. Thanks again for listening. And I’ll talk with you again soon!
Thank you so much for listening to the Life Beyond Lyme podcast. If you’d like to stay up to date on what I’m working on and be updated when new podcast episodes come out, I encourage you to follow me on Instagram. My Instagram handle is @ascent2health. You can also follow me on my website where I blog regularly. My website is ascent2health.com. You can also sign up for my email list there where you can be updated on new blogs that are coming out, my one on one, client offerings, and other new and exciting things that I have coming down the pipeline. Thanks again for listening. Talk to you later. Bye!