When You Eat a Healthy Diet, but are Still Sick

5 things to think about when you eat a healthy diet, but are still sick

I shared recently how I’ve been on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) for the last month, and why I am continuing it. I am so blessed by all of the emails and comments from you all. I loved hearing from those of you “in the trenches” like me as we try to untangle our health issues, and also from those of you who have successfully overcome your health problems using dietary help.

It reminded me how many people struggle with ill-health. Not the occasional cold, but the chronic issues that affect your everyday. That can be hard – very hard at times. It can be even more frustrating when you are trying so hard to eat well and still deal with a variety of health issues.

Sometimes the fact that you eat so well, but still aren’t completely healthy is used against you. “Look at so-and-so! They eat the healthiest of everyone, but they still deal with x, y, and z.” I know for a fact that there are many people (including food bloggers, and health coaches) that can keep their struggles hidden, because of this type of reaction.

And I think that’s sad.

I know for myself that I became interested in eating well because of my health issues, and the improvement I saw when eating well. It doesn’t mean that I’ve solved all of my issues, but rather that they have helped me improve (at times, dramatically). But if you are eating really well, and you still aren’t well, what are you to do?

Obviously, I know the feeling. Because I know so many of you are in that position, I wanted to share what has been helpful to me so far in this journey. I hope that my story gives a little help to you as well!

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section as well! Are you in this position currently, or were you able to solve in the past?

Consult with Doctor/Naturopath

I’m all for gaining as much knowledge as I can, and doing a lot of things DIY. But there are some things that need a doctor’s care. I’ve tried to work with holistically minded ones and have greatly benefited from the experience. First, they helped run blood panels and other testing to make sure we weren’t dealing with anything more serious (diabetes, cancer, etc.). Getting thorough blood testing was what helped me discover for the first time that I had very low iron stores, and that the majority of my symptoms could be linked to it.

This doesn’t mean that my experience has been perfect. And it doesn’t mean that I found a great doctor right away, but the effort I took to consult with them has been worth the trouble in many ways.

(Now, if we could only solve the issue of health insurances and how expensive it can be to get proper preventative health care, I’d really be happy!)

Is your healthy diet the right one for you?

It is possible that the version of a healthy diet that you are on, simply isn’t the right diet for you. If you are sensitive to dairy, for example, going on a version of the Weston A. Price diet that is dairy-rich may not be the best choice for you. That’s what I found to be true for me. For some, the GAPS diet didn’t give enough carbohydrates to thrive long-term. We all know that there are broad sweeping dietary guidelines that people choose to follow (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, etc.), but also know that there are many variations within those guidelines as well. This leads me to my next point of consideration.

Consider a healing diet that fits your needs

For me, I was able to see the most dramatic difference when I cut out foods that were chronically aggravating my digestion and causing inflammation. I know that if I keep certain foods out of my diet, I always fare better. This simple step has made all of the difference in the world, for many. Some find out what foods bother them by allergy testing, or food intolerance testing (a topic full of controversy), others by food journaling, or by food elimination diets (one of the food elimination diets it the AIP diet, by the way).

Once again, personally, what I have found is that a lower-carb (but not too low), vegetable-rich and protein filled diet seems to be a sweet spot for me. Being on the AIP diet right now means just slight variations on what I’ve tried before in the past.

If on a healing diet, are you following the protocol correctly?

I think it is also important to note that sometimes we don’t always give a healing protocol a chance because we don’t follow it correctly. For example, I got through the holiday season on the AIP diet mostly just trying to stay within the “dos and don’ts” of the diet, but I knew that wasn’t the whole picture. To fully see if the diet will work for me, I need also to make sure I am eating enough seafood, and getting all of those vegetables in, for example. Those details can make a big difference in your success with them.

Look at your life holistically

Making good dietary steps is just one step towards a healing lifestyle. Stress and sleep both play a giant role in your overall health. As does exercise, and emotional health. Diet can affect all of those other aspects and vice versa. Everything is connected, and we can’t just look at one aspect of our lives and expect everything to be okay when we don’t have healthy habits elsewhere.

For me, working on getting better sleep (hard with children, I know), getting more active, and working on stress levels are all part of my goals just as much as my AIP diet. (Related: Why Sleep is so Important, and the Mattress that Helped me Get it, and 11 research-driven ways to get better sleep).

Root Causes Matter

I know that if I don’t solve the why behind my iron issues, that I will continue to have to take more drastic measures to improve my health (in my case, that means iron transfusions). I could eat as much protein and vegetables as I possibly could, and still feel horrible if my iron issues aren’t corrected. Often undiagnosed health issues are what is at root for health issues. I know people who have gone a decade or more suffering ill health and being dismissed by their doctors, only to find out that they were celiac or had Lymes disease. (Related: To the Suffering Undiagnosed, I Know You aren’t Crazy).

Sometimes further testing, and help from qualified health professional will (finally!) offer you help in a long journey, and when that happens, it is wonderful, for it gives clarity and real help.

What about you? I’d love to hear about where you are at, and your healing stories too! What made the difference for you?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Karen says

    I too tried many different diets like WAP, GAPS, Paleo, and other variations to try to eliminate autoimmune issues. All with some success, but sometimes other issues would show up. Then I learned how to properly do an elimination diet and feel I have successfully figured out what I should be eating. It is so empowering.

    On the other diets, my Hashimoto’s antibodies came down, but they are now the lowest they have ever been. It has been so rewarding to help family and friends do this diet too. I’m glad you have found the AIP diet to work for you. Best wishes on your healing journey and thanks for wonderful information and recipes you provide, and for your honesty about your struggles. It helps so much when we share our struggles and successes so others can maybe put the pieces together in their puzzle.

  2. Brooke says

    Thanks for your post. I am on the AIP diet too. I have Graves and was in remission until I contracted mono and everything went crazy. Of course I didn’t know I had mono until I went to my doctor and got a lot of blood tests done. I actually am thriving on the diet. My child is actually eating it too with exceptions. I’m not sure though what to do afterwards because I do like and can handle sprouted grains but I cannot have dairy anymore. Another book to try is Nourish by Rachel Bryant has some great recipes in it once you get the hang of cooking AIP.

    • says

      Oh man! So sorry you got Mono! That’s really hard on top of Graves too. I’m glad to hear though that AIP is working well for you! That makes me so happy. I’ll check out the book recommendation. Thanks!

  3. says

    Dear Kimi,
    You are SO right on with what you say. I often tell people, “There is NO one-size-fits-all.” But everyone keeps trying to say that their plan is best for everyone. Not true. I am just unlocking some big keys to my health struggles for many years, although like you, I have certainly gleaned much along the way from many sources and training. I am a health and fitness coach, so I love learning for myself and others. Anyway, when I read about your low iron, I wondered if you could be dealing with some similar issues as me (and my family). Do you, by chance, have the MTHFR SNP (genetic variation in the liver detoxification process that involves the methyl forms of the B vitamins)? If so, you might want to investigate that further. I’ve been “helping myself” to figure all of this out, but the latest tweaks have brought about amazing improvements in my health. Wishing you the very, very best health and happiness in your journey!

    Blessings, Linda Osmond, Master T-Tapp Trainer & Health Coach

    • says

      Linda, ‘

      Thanks so much for sharing! I have really wondered about whether or not I have the MTHFR gene mutation, and it’s on the list of things for us to test. I didn’t actually realize that it could be related to low iron though, so that’s really interesting. We already make sure I only take supplements appropriate for those with MTHFR, just in case. I’m curious as to what you changed after finding that information out! I’d love to hear more. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Olga says

    You have helped so many people with what you have learned for yourself. Thank you for that. Recently I have been leaning more about homeopathy. A great place to start is with Joette Calabrese. Here is a link to her sight http://joettecalabrese.com. I hope you find answers, and more healing.

      • Tasha says

        Hi there! Yes, can absolutely relate to eating really healthy, but still sick. My diet is probably most similar to AIP and I have Hashimoto’s. May I ask what your experience was like with homeopathy? Are you still using it and did you experience any improvement? Thanks so much!

    • says

      Thanks, Keith! We actually are going to test my b-12, just to check on it. To clarify, I don’t actually have anemia (my red blood count has always been great), it’s my iron stores that are low. Regardless though, it’s a good thing to check up on.

  5. Suzanne says

    I’m following the Weston A. Price diet, even though I’m sensitive to dairy. I make dairy free substitutions, and it works well. I really like their emphasis on soaking grains and legumes.

  6. says

    I resonated with this one! There is a night-and-day difference for every member of my family when we are eating well and then when we aren’t. We’ve done so many types of diets but found what works best for us….mostly. But when husband couldn’t get better, we found out he has an iron disorder. Opposite of yours, I imagine. He has a genetic disorder (Hemachromatosis) in which his body cannot process iron, so he is actually iron-toxic. It’s very dangerous and treatments aren’t working. But then again, neither was food or rest solving it, and we thought we were going crazy! Sometimes you do all you can, and you’re still sick.

    • says

      Oh wow! I’m so sorry your husband is dealing with that. Your story is a great example of how simply changing diets up isn’t always going to fix everything for everyone. I think I’ve heard of that disorder before, maybe in the context of men choosing to give lots of blood to lower iron amounts? Or maybe they couldn’t donate it, but the idea being that they had so much iron in their system, “blood letting” was one of the only treatments that work for them. I hope you find a treatment that works for him!

  7. cirelo says

    I had an interesting experience turning my iron issues around accidentally. I had maybe a similar issue as you, in that for some reason my body doesn’t store iron well, this has been a chronic issue since I was a teenager. I had major problems with anemia until I started eating a holistic WAP diet and then my anemia went away, but I still had low iron stores. I felt fine mostly, tired, but I was having babies so it’s hard to know what’s what. Then I moved to West Africa and flipped my paleo inclined diet on its head. Here the diet is starch based on corn, yams, cassava, and potatoes. People derive most of their nutrients from dark leafy greens which are eaten with every meal and red palm oil. Protein is scarce and is consumed in small quantities of ground nuts and occasional small bites of meat or fish. Dairy is not part of the traditional diet.

    I became pregnant when I was here and worried through my pregnancy that my iron levels were going to be devastated by this carby diet and that I was going to have terrible health and my baby was going to suffer. Quite the opposite! I had robust health, and an easy delivery with a very healthy baby and most amazingly my iron levels remained high throughout my pregnancy and 7 weeks postpartum were the highest they have been in over 15 years!
    There are so many different factors going on in my story that I really don’t know which to contribute my iron turn around to, I wonder if not having dairy in my diet could have had an affect on my digestion allowing me to absorb more iron from my food? However, it is interesting to me since it goes against a lot of the paleo advice to avoid starch and eat meat to regain health. Another thing was I counted a few times the quantity of iron in my ordinary food intake and it didn’t meet the daily requirements for US rec of daily iron, yet my iron stores weren’t suffering.

    I thought I’d share this just to add to the mix of diet stories!

    • says

      That’s fascinating! In many ways your diet is a traditional food diet too, perhaps with the exception of corn. Root vegetables, greens, palm oil, and small amounts of protein was similar to many traditional diets. Thanks for sharing!

  8. rebekah says

    I’ve had rosacea on my face for over a year, and I’ve done just about everything i possibly can to get rid of it– herbal and conventional medicine. This AIP diet is my last-ditch effort! Rosacea seems to be a mystery disease no one knows anything about, or how to fix it. It’s so frustrating (and depressing).
    Will you be sharing some of your AIP recipes on the blog? I bought mickey trescott’s cookbook, and it is good, but I would love to know what recipes you are making and loving! Cooking like this is definitely a learning curve (just made “mayo” with coconut concentrate… so good, but strange!)…

    • says


      Oh, I help it helps you find relief! That is so hard.

      And I will definitely start posting my AIP recipes! I am excited to share them (though so far, I’ve mostly done simple dishes!).

  9. says

    I’ve been on AIP since the beginning of December. My primary reason was to clear up the raging eczema on my hand, and hoping that it would also help to cure my migraines. I did Paleo at first, but it wasn’t enough. After running across the Paleo Mom, I thought AIP would be a great next step. It has been really good for me. My meals are more vegetable based, and all around, my family feels better and we love the meals. (Before we were on a WAPF diet). The best AIP cookbook by far is The Healing Kitchen. I would recommend every AIP’er have it on hand. The other things that are making a difference for me is de-stressing my life, drinking lots of bone broth, and taking ox-bile since I have a sluggish gallbladder. My eczema is cleared 95%. My migraines are farther between episodes, and I’m digesting my meals well. I think even after I feel that I’m healed, AIP will be the base of our diet just because of the insane focus on deeply nutritious foods.

  10. says

    I like salads which are good for our health,. for i know some people take it for granted. Traditional diets are also good for our health.

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