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Autoimmune Stories: How Becca Improved Her MS Outcomes With The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet

Becca Headshot outdoors in front of a tree
Becca Benning: Behaviour Change and Functional Medicine Specialist

I'm excited to interview Becca and share with you her amazing story about how she improved her MS symptoms and outcomes with the Autoimmune Paleo approach (AIP) Diet.

1. What health issues Are you dealing with and when did they begin? My health issues started in childhood. I was one of those kids that always had something going on and often doctors didn't really know what to do with me (or just outright dismissed me!). Joint pain started when I was about 8, and I had lots of other bits and bobs from then on. As an adult the joint pain was just part of my normal. My digestion was always pretty bad too, though I didn't really realise that until much later. As I got older I had an ever-growing mixed bag of symptoms, for instance in my 20s I was continually nauseous for 18 months. I worked in pretty high stress jobs, including as a primary school teacher, so it was sometimes hard to unpick what was work and what was something else in terms of fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, recurrent respiratory infections and that kind of stuff. I had the beginning of the symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as MS in early 2011, when I lost feeling in my right hand, which then spread to much of the right side of my body. I pretty quickly lost the use of my right hand completely. That lasted for 4 months, which was inconvenient to say the least. 2. Tell us about your diagnosis story, how long did it take to get a diagnosis? I was diagnosed by the middle of 2012 - which is pretty good going time-wise for autoimmunity! There were some standout moments in the whole process, like being told very bluntly by a GP that they were looking for MS as though I should already know, even though no-one had mentioned it up to that point. My coeliac and thyroid diagnoses took longer, both in 2017, given that I think looking back that they had both been around since my early teens at least. It is harder to know how long the MS had been there before it showed up in a way that prompted the investigation. Thankfully for me, psoriasis has been less of an issue as it only ever really affected my hands and elbows, so that diagnosis was more just an 'ah that makes sense' moment. I also have adenomyosis, which was diagnosed in 2021 after a couple of years of sporadically pretty intense abdominal pain. To be honest I think it would have taken years longer to get clarity there if I hadn't already been very much in the driving seat in terms of my health by that point. 3. Which symptoms were you struggling with? MS for me up to this point has meant sensory loss, tremors, fatigue, sometimes pain, sometimes vision problems, some cognitive difficulties - brain fog etc, and one of my most difficult relapses involved a month of pretty problematic balance issues. At that point my daughter was very young and I didn't really feel safe crossing roads with her, so that was more limiting than a lot of my other symptoms, other than the initial loss of use of my right hand which was quite a big problem! 4. Tell us about some of the emotions you experienced. I spent a long time feeling that I was stuck in a broken body that was working against me. I was basically resigned to feeling like a pensioner from a pretty young age. In some ways there was relief when I got my MS diagnosis, because there was finally a name for at least one thing that wasn't working the way it should, which had always previously been a bit nebulous. As I got into the process of overhauling my lifestyle and diet I did go through periods of overwhelm, though I think that was overridden to an extent by determination once I'd got a handle on what I could actually do to help myself. It took a while before I got excited about the progress, because I had my head down at the beginning with a little one at home in that slightly crazy period of parenting. I did get to the excitement eventually though! And I do feel so proud of what I have achieved when I look at my life now. 5. What made you decide to go beyond medication and primary care? At my annual neurology review for my MS just before I was 40 my consultant was pretty adamant that I needed to start on some disease modifying drugs. He said I was 'on a trajectory of increasing disability', and that was the push I needed to find out what I could do on my own to try and improve my baseline before I made that call. I went back to a TEDx talk by Dr Terry Wahls called 'Minding Your Mitochondria' that I'd filed away quite a while ago, and found my way to the Functional Medicine approach through her. To this day I actually haven't taken anything for my MS other than LDN, though I am not at all anti-medication. I do take thyroid hormones for instance, which have been a key piece of my puzzle. 6. Why AIP? After I'd done some initial research, reading Dr Wahls and Dr Sarah Ballantyne to begin with, the AIP appealed to me particularly because of the focus on moving ultimately towards the broadest possible diet that works for the individual. I liked the methodical reintroduction process, and the whole concept of the elimination period as a phase rather than a lifelong commitment made it feel a lot more possible. 7. Tell us about your journey to recovery. For me it has very much been a series of small steps that have built towards huge changes over time. I went from being on a steady decline, to now being the strongest I have ever been - and still improving. There are so many things that used to be part of my normal, that really aren't an issue for me any more. I hardly ever get headaches. Joint pain is rare, and so much milder than it used to be when it does pop up. I can often see those kind of symptoms for what they are these days, signals that I need to pay attention to, and I have options in terms of how I respond. One of the most powerful aspects of my whole experience has been the incredible self-knowledge that has come with it. I am probably more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been because I understand myself so well - which wasn't something I had really anticipated when I set out on this path initially. 8. What was the result of making these diet and lifestyle changes? My MS has been mostly stable since I started AIP, with some fluctuations depending on circumstances (like if my sleep gets massively disrupted for some reason) that are to be expected and mostly very manageable, especially as I have designed my life to give myself as much flexibility as possible. There are a few big moments where significant progress has come through something specific, but mostly it has been about the cumulative benefit of all the positive changes that I've implemented over the last 7 years. My digestion, my sleep and my physical strength are all at a lifelong personal best these days - though peri-menopause will probably chuck a fairly sizeable spanner in the works in terms of moving goalposts! In general I think I now have a huge amount of influence and choice over how I manage my health and the way that I feel in general, which feels brilliant. It has also enabled me to bring this kind of knowledge and power into my family (as well as my work), which is amazing. I think helping kids to learn how much power they really have over the way that they feel is 100% necessary in a world that is not conducive to health unless we make very conscious choices! 9. Did you try any other alternative therapies that helped? The lifestyle elements of the AIP are critical for me, and so often get overlooked, especially at the beginning. In terms of additional things that I found really impactful I think red light therapy has been a big one. I credit that with being able to significantly reduce my thyroid medication, as well as the fact that it has a really broad spectrum of general benefits. 10. Do you have any favourite resources that helped you? A blog? A book? Autoimmune Wellness is an amazing resource, the blog, books and podcast. Sarah Ballantyne, again through her, blog, books and podcast (from The Paleo View to The Whole View - both with Stacy Toth). Eileen Laird of Phoenix Helix (blog and podcast) was another one. 11. What helped you nail the Autoimmune protocol? Being methodical, and learning to cut myself some slack sometimes too - that second part took a while! I also stayed open to learning and changing what I was doing based on new information, like when I realised that I had been low FODMAP for far too long. Connecting with people through the online community was really helpful too, whether by just listening to podcasts and reading blogs or joining groups on Facebook etc. 12. What was your biggest challenge? Probably initially feeling that I couldn't ask everyone else in my family to go fully gluten-free, even though I knew I was very sensitive from pretty early on. It took my coeliac diagnosis to finally make me feel able to de-gluten the house and keep it that way. I also had to pretty much learn to cook! 13. What was easier than you expected? I did the usual thing in the early days of focussing a lot on substitutes for familiar foods, a lot of baking etc. I couldn't at that point imagine that I would ever reach a point where I really didn't miss those things any more. My palette really is so different now, and so much of the kind of food I thought I would struggle without just isn't an issue for me at all these days. Also, in an unexpected way, having a major reaction to gluten a few months in made it really easy to stop looking at anything with gluten in it as food for me! 14. How did the people around you react to you doing the AIP diet? Initially they found it weird, and there were some that clearly thought I'd lost the plot a bit. But as I got more comfortable and confident in what I was doing, so did they. There obviously is an adjustment period, and it is tricky when there are kids in a blended family so they are living very differently across two households. They all see how much it has benefited me and how well I'm doing now, so pretty much everyone is very much on board with that. 15. What one thing did you learn that you'd like to pass on to others? Every small improvement matters, whether in what you are doing or how you are feeling, and give it time. I obviously hoped for quick, dramatic changes, but that just wasn't how it panned out for me. Looking at the difference betweeen 2016 and now though, the difference really is huge! The cumulative effect of all this work means I feel really well equipped to deal with anything else that comes up, which feels like a bit of a superpower.

Thank you Becca!

Becca is a behaviour change and Functional Medicine specialist with a particular interest in autoimmune disease. She works with clients with chronic health conditions to design and implement realistic dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation and get their spark back ✨

As someone with multiple autoimmune and other chronic health conditions herself, she understands how difficult it can be to make health-promoting changes while managing the challenges of life with unpredictable symptoms.

Find Becca here:

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