Five Things I Learned on the Autoimmune Protocol

Deciding to take on the Autoimmune Protocol was not easy for me. Here I am eleven months in to it though and it feels much like it did after having been gluten free for at least as long. It is sort of just second nature for me now. I have reintroduced most foods like green and red peppers, tomatoes, pepper and other spices, eggs and some grains like rice and corn (always organic, and only occasionally), legumes, peas and some seeds (only occasionally). I have not reintroduced any nuts because they had started to create an immediate reaction on my tongue and throat. 

I reintroduced eggs in the form of carob brownies. That was a big mistake. I should have reintroduced them the way suggested in all the autoimmune books out there where you take a small amount, wait 15 minutes then add a little more. I just don’t usually have the patience or the time to do such a thing so I just go with the flow. I made these brownies from a recipe I had found via google and ate half the pan in 12 hours. It was a small pan and only two eggs were in the whole recipe so I thought it would be fine. Nope. It was not. I found myself extremely irritable and really irate over little things the next day (like in the 13th and 14th hours of consuming these brownies). I flipped out on my kids over a power cord that had gone missing. I couldn’t stand to be with myself. It is hard enough to be a parent and then you throw in all this autoimmune stuff on top of it. Man, I feel sorry for my kids. So, knowing that the eggs were the only new ingredient that I had not eaten in 8 months means that they are more than likely a forever no food for me. A couple weeks later I ate some gluten free crackers with hummus. Turns out they had egg yolks in them (no wonder they were so good) which I realized after eating them when I read the package. Same thing happened again except not as intense. 

I have not yet reintroduced eggplant mostly because I only eat it once or twice a year in a Paleo lasagna dish from the Everyday Paleo Italian Cuisine cookbook by Sarah Fragoso.

I have learned a lot about myself these last eleven months. I have a strained relationship with food that goes back many many years. Doing this elimination diet has taught me a lot about that relationship and also: 

I needed to eat more vegetables and particularly greens. 

I am one of those people who uses carbohydrates for energy way better than fat. I took an Organic Acids Test with a friend who is studying with Dan Kalish and she discovered my cells can’t convert fat and protein to energy as well as they can carbohydrates. This, combined with my Hashimoto’s means I should be eating way more quality carbohydrates than I was. If I am being honest with you, most of my diet consisted of proteins, fat and sweet potatoes with a vegetable in the evenings at dinner. This here speaks volumes to my relationship with food. I know better for goodness sake, I am a Nutritional Therapist. More than half my plate at each meal, including breakfast is veggies which has helped me feel so much better, especially when it comes to the energy I am feeling. 

2. I need to practice better self care. 

I had gotten pretty good at allowing myself to sleep in when I didn't’ sleep well the night before. I didn’t worry too much about the laundry piling up and not getting folded for weeks.I let myself be okay with that or at least I tried. If I was too tired after cooking a meal or batch cooking for a few days worth of food, I just let the kitchen be dirty. I left the dishes unwashed until the next morning when I knew I would have enough energy to clean up. Sometimes my husband would take care of it if he was home. That would always be an extra bonus. I worked really hard on not feeling like a failed wife and mother if the house was a pit. I knew I had a lot on my plate and still do with three kids, a husband who travels for his job, owning my own business and all the other stuff that comes with life. What I wasn’t good at was forgiveness. Forgiving my body for being in dis-ease. Forgiving myself for getting my body to the point of dis-ease. I needed to work on just letting go. On not taking shit so personally all the time. I had to let go of wanting to control all the outcomes. Of wanting to control how my body was behaving. Letting go of my kids not being little people anymore but kids who need to grow themselves and make their own decisions and their own mistakes. I had to work on letting go of all the stuff my husband did or said that irritated me. I had to learn to respond to things, life, better. I have had to work on not sweating the small stuff. I am a work in progress. I am okay with that most days. I have started to meditate more and that has been so helpful. 

3. I need to forge and nurture friendship. 

I am an introvert. I am also a homebody. I don’t love crowded places all that much. My close friendships are few and far between with my best girlfriend living 4000 miles away. This makes it a little hard to go out for coffee (or tea for AIP) on a whim. She did just come visit me though so we are both a bit recharged for the time being. My therapist tells me that it is important for me to work on relationships so that I can remain “recharged”. 

I changed my diet six years ago. I started out being just gluten free, then dairy free, then more Paleo except I ate a ton of organic corn chips…. These changes brought about changes in relationships too. My parents quit inviting us over for dinner. My friends thought I was on some freakish health kick. They probably thought, “oh boy, here we go again..”. I lost some friends. They quit asking me to go out for girls night. Some other things happened too that broke up my core group of friends that had nothing to do with me and so I was really starting over in the friendship department and after I started looking after my health and going to school for nutrition, I just didn’t work to keep those relationships good. I found new friends who thought more like me when it came to health and wellness. I have to work to keep and maintain those friends which I am never really super good at so here is to changing that about myself! Growing and nurturing these friendships so they are stronger will be key to maintaining some sort of wellness. Community is important for everyone but most especially when you are working on getting well again. 

4. I need to learn balance. 

Being so restrictive with a diet like the autoimmune protocol can lead you down a path to disordered eating. You have to be able to find a happy medium. I found myself worrying about every little thing I ate. I stressed out over how I was going to do this or that when i could only eat these few things. First of all, I had to look at this from a whole different perspective. There really is a lot of foods you can have on the autoimmune protocol. A lot of vegetables. A lot of starches. A lot of fish. A lot of offal. I don’t like fish, seafood or organs and have no plans in the immediate future to make any of them a regular part of my diet. I know it is key to healing on AIP. I am not there. I don't’ tell my clients they have to eat it but that they should. I also tell them I don’t eat it. 

I have not had a health relationship with food. I was/am addicted to sugar. I was/am a snacker. I like junk food. I still snack and eat some junk only now junk food consits of sweet potato chips or plantain chips. I maybe snack too often still but usually it is when i am stressed or when I have not eaten enough and am still hungry. What I am working on is not feeling bad or guilty about eating something. The stress of that just makes healing take longer because your cortisol and adrenal glands get involved in stress and they contribute to my already screwed up system. We are all works in progress, right. Strive for progress, not perfection. 

The other day I went out for lunch with a colleague and friend. We ate at a really high quality restaurant that sources locally when possible. I ordered a chicken curry dish. It had peppers and rice and I ate it full well knowing that I may have some issue later but I didn’t stress about it. I enjoyed it rather than stress about what was on the menu. Sometimes I found myself in a restaurant, usually with family, where my choices were few. I look back now and see that sometimes I took it personally that there were few items on the menu for me to eat. Now I see how ridiculous that is but I am pretty sure I am not alone in that thought process. Not taking it personally any more but that doesn’t mean I don't’ get a little frustrated when the menu sucks. 

5. I will not and cannot identify as being sick or having an illness. 

I do not want to let my autoimmune diseases get in my way of living. I don’t want them to take over my life so I don’t let them have top billing. I am me first. I am a mother, a wife and a business owner. I am a Nutritional Therapist. I am living with Hashimoto’s and Psoriasis but they do not own me. They do not take over my life. Sometimes they remind me to slow down. To eat a little better and to relax but they will not be me. 

Beat Brain Fog Now!!

If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s you probably have had some experience with brain fog. It is one  of those things that make you think you might be a little crazy sometimes. Do you ever ask yourself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I remember anything?”. 

Here is what people are saying about what brain fog feels like for them: 

“Brain fog means not being able to remember things like a friend's name or what I went to the store for when I only needed two things. I completely forget what I was about to say and what I was talking about. I read a book and the next day can't remember what it was about or who the characters were. I can't concentrate. I'm 45 years old and don't have Alzheimer’s.”

“Knowing what word I want to say and either nothing comes out or the wrong word comes out.”

 “I used to be very articulate and now I also know what word I want, but I can't grab onto it.”

“Slow thinking, can't quite get the words, lose focus, forget what I was doing, leave the stove on...feels like Alzheimer’s.”

“Not being able to come up with simple words to complete my sentences (ones that were familiar, yet my brain couldn't come up with them). My 2-year old was completing my sentences.”

“Feels like your thinking and trying to remembering through oatmeal or sludge.”

“Like trying to muddle through pea soup. Knowing that there is something you need to retrieve from your brain but you just can't quite get to it.”

“Walking through life in a cloud. Everything feels fuzzy and I am very forgetful. We just checked out of a hotel today and I left all of my jewelry in a drawer. It didn't come to me until I felt my neck and realized something was missing several hours later.”

“I had a very hard time following a conversation, felt like I was losing my mind. Couldn't remember things, but mostly felt completely confused! Very scary.”

“Saying a word close in sound but nowhere close in meaning from the one I am looking for. Feeling sleepy like Dorothy in the poppy field.”

“Not knowing where you are going, what you are doing, feeling like you can't connect your brain to your thoughts. People talk to you and you don't know what they said. Having issues with regular things, like driving or cooking.”

“I just can't think straight. I get things mixed up, start to tell a joke or story and can't remember how it goes, I read something but can't comprehend what I'm reading. My eyes feel very heavy and tired and I have a heavy feeling in my forehead and behind my eyes. Even the simplest tasks take too much mental effort.”

“I feel disconnected. I'm in there somewhere but I just can't grasp it and hold on. I can't get my mind to stay focused nor remember anything during brain fog spells (which is usually always). It's the feeling you get when you're running on very little sleep.”

“Saying crazy things like: go mow your bedroom floor. I meant vacuum!!!”

“A total disconnect from how you would normally be articulate... The thought process and words just don't come out as planned..an all day feeling like you haven't slept in days.. forgetful and confused at times.”

“Like I couldn't get my brain to engage...randomly losing words, thinking through mud, my critical thinking skills were completely gone. Definitely forgetful and confused.”

“Everything being slow to process is a good description. And working too hard mentally to do easy things.”

“I cant tell you what I did this morning let alone last week. I can be in the middle of a conversation and forget what we were talking about. I can be in the middle of a sentence and stop dead because I cant remember the next word I need.”

“Very lethargic. Can't focus, concentrate, and feeling like I can't fully wake up.” 

“You walk to a room to grab something and forget on the way what it was...you may never remember...starting a question to someone but forgetting the second half of the question before you finish saying "have you ever...uh..."?  Also just feeling dumb...like, man today is so hard! i can't remember, i can't multi task like i'm used to...it takes longer to compute and comprehend people's sentences…a feeling that you just wish you could crawl back into bed and try again tomorrow.”

“Feels like you're physically there, but can't mentally process everything that's happening. things go in one ear and dissolve completely before even having a chance to process. I often say it's like feeling "dumber" and "number" than usual.”

“For me it’s confusion. Almost like a wire shorting out.”

Does any of this sound like you? 

Brain fog can come in varying degrees and is different for everyone. Often you just feel so alone because no one understands. Right? 

What can you do about it? 

Brain fog is something you can control. Whatever it looks like for you there are some things you can do about it. 

First of all, having a practitioner that listens to you and believes you is key. Treating your symptoms and not just your labs is also very important. 

Second of all, what you put in to your body is of utmost important. Not only your diet, but supplementation and toxins as well. 

Eating wheat and gluten makes Hashimoto’s and the symptoms that come with it much much worse.  Processed foods and foods of convenience are one of the biggest things that contribute to your symptoms getting worse or remaining terrible. The reason for this is that the structure of gluten in your body resembles that of your thyroid gland and your immune system can easily mistake the gluten proteins you consumed for the thyroid gland itself. Gluten is also one of the causes of increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut which puts your immune system on high alert. 

 

You must balance your blood sugar. How do you know if your blood sugar needs balancing? Do you crave sugar? Do you feel tired after a meal? Do you have that afternoon slump? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you probably need to have some tweaking done to your diet. Maybe you are not digesting fat well and your body is overwhelmed with carbohydrates. It is helpful to have someone analyze your diet by completing a food journal for three days to a week.  Your brain needs glucose (sugar) to run but it is the kind of glucose you give it that makes a difference. It can use the sugars in vegetables for energy too which is more beneficial to your body as a whole. 

 

You may need to repair your gut. If you have increased intestinal permeability then you more than likely have some inflammation going on in your system. Removing other inflammatory foods is a great start to gut repair.  You kind of have to be your own food detective here. You can have food sensitivity testing done but if you are on a budget, do an elimination diet like the Autoimmune Protocol and gradually add back in to your diet one food at a time until you figure out which ones you react to. If you react, you know you should not eat that food again. You may also want to take some nutritional supplementation to help your body heal. 

What is your stress level like? How are your adrenal glands? Anyone who suffers from inflammation will have adrenal stress. Taking adaptogenic herbs are often quite helpful in helping your body heal from adrenal fatigue along with getting good rest and reducing that which stresses not only your body but your mind too. Did you know your nervous system doesn’t really know the difference between physical and emotional stress. It is all stress and your hormones act the same either way. The adrenals are heavily involved in your brains chemistry. If they are busy working on inflammation or balancing your blood sugar then they cannot help your brain work properly. 

What is your digestion like? Most people that are hypothyroid or have Hashimoto’s usually are not making enough stomach acid. This is significant because if you don’t have enough stomach acid in your stomach is affects digestion through the rest of your digestive tract. You won’t be absorbing nutrients like B12, iron and calcium. You can then have inflammation or infections in your intestines. You can also become protein deficient when you don’t have enough stomach acid. If your digestion is not optimal you can be deficient in fats as well which are important for brain function and health. 

You may be having trouble detoxifying chemicals and toxins in your body. Most detoxification happens in the liver. The liver is also a player in blood sugar regulation. It cannot work to detoxify chemicals or even hormones if it is busy working on blood sugar. Take a look at the cleaning products you use. Are they “clean”? Do you use air fresheners? Hair care products and make up are full of chemicals too. It only takes about 22 second for chemicals on your skin to be absorbed in to your blood stream. All of those things need to be detoxified by your liver. 

Brain fog can be a sign that you are not getting enough nutrients and oxygen to your brain. One way to increase blood flow to the brain is to get some exercise.  You don’t have to go crazy with exercise here. Don’t start running or anything like that. Go for a walk. Regularly. Go for a bike ride. Hang out in nature. Just get moving. It may seem like the last thing you want to do but you will feel so good. Walking is healing for your adrenal glands too. You will find you start to feel better all around if you get out and move. 

Getting good sleep is super important to brain fog. If you’re not sleeping good or for at least seven to eight hours a night then you may experience regular brain fog. What can you do to help yourself sleep better?  You can make sure you are digesting your food, especially your protein. You also may not be eating enough. You will wake up if your body is in need of glucose for energy. Your melatonin production can be delayed if you expose yourself to the blue lights in computers, cell phones and televisions at night. Getting blue blocking glasses like these help if you are not willing to step away from electronics when it gets dark outside. 

Share this post with anyone you know that is suffering from brain fog or contact me today for help finding what your body needs to find balance. 

In health, 

Stephanie

What is Nutrition Part Four- Carbohydrates

Do you really need to eat grains? The great carb debate. 

The final post in my What is Nutrition series is on the ever controversial carbohydrate. Low carb, high carb, no carb, why carbs? That could be a line in a Dr. Seuss book! 

My 9 year old daughter was telling me she was learning all about nutrition from her gym teacher and how frustrated she was about the information she is learning because she knew her truth to be something different. I asked her what he told her class - “Oh Mom” she said, “He said we should eat grains at every meal.” I smiled. “And he said we should stay away from fats and oils and I KNOW that’s not true!”  She didn’t dare say anything- she is not one to draw attention to herself but her and her celiac friend in class knew differently. I told her if she was tested on the information and she wanted to put her truth as her answers that I would support her 100%.  “REALLY? You don’t care if I get all the answers wrong?” Not one bit! She thought I lost my marbles. 

Now, back to carbs!  What are they exactly?

Carbohydrates = Fuel  

They make up about 2% of your body. 

They are found in grains, vegetables, fruits and sugar. They are the preferred fuel of your brain. How easy is it for you to think clearly when it is 2 or 3 pm and you are feeling that mid day slump? All you want to do is nap and you have at least a couple more hours before you can leave work. So you grab a pick me up- probably some kind of cracker or sweet treat to get you through. I would sometimes consume a whole box of shredded wheat crackers or thin wheat crackers (organic of course so it was okay- little did I know). Story of my life for many years. 

Grains are not a necessary component of your diet. You don’t need them to live. You may hear that you need to consume grains because that is where you get your B vitamins from and while it is true that grains are a good source of B vitamins which are important for many processes in the body processed grains aren’t going to give them to you. 

Here’s why. 

Lectins. Lectins are in all of our food but the ones in grains (and legumes) are hard for you to digest and they wreak havoc on the lining of your intestines. They can be a major cause of leaky gut (intestinal permeability) which is thought to be the main cause of autoimmune disease. This is not to say that immediately upon eating grains you would have a leaky gut. The body is pretty amazing at working to fix any damage we cause it. It is the daily consumption of them year after year that eventually causes the body to say “Hey, I have had enough of this. Immune system: ATTACK”

Carbohydrates in general are not bad for you. In fact, carbs do a lot of great things for your body

  • They provide fuel for the brain as stated before
  • They are a quick source of energy for the muscles
  • They regulate the rate at which your body uses fat and protein
  • They are a great source of fiber

There are two kinds of Carbs out there: Simple and Complex (refined and unrefined)

Simple                            

Refined: white sugar, juice, corn syrup

Unrefined: fruit, raw honey, maple syrup

Complex

Refined: processed foods like bread, pasta, white rice, and boxed anything

Unrefined: vegetables, legumes, dried beans, brown rice, properly prepared whole grains

Refined carbs are usually overly processed in a factory while unrefined are most like what nature gives us (there is very little if any processing done). 

In general your ideal consumption of carbs should be 40% or your daily intake in the form of unrefined and mostly complex carbohydrates. 

The problem with grains is that many of you are getting them from those refined and simple sources like the whole grain cereal, bread with more than five ingredients on the label (ideally bread should be water, flour, yeast, some type of sugar and salt), pasta and anything that comes in a box. 

For some people (absolutely no one with autoimmune disease) grains are okay to consume occasionally- they were never meant to be eaten at every single meal. They should, however, be purchased whole, soaked and sprouted or fermented (think sourdough). This process breaks down the lectins and helps the body digest them better. 

Note: when you have any autoimmune condition you are dealing with a whole different deck of cards and should consider an elimination diet before you consume any grains. 

So how do you get enough carbs in your diet if you aren’t eating cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta or rice with dinner?   You can get enough carbs in your diet from vegetables both non starchy and starchy. Keep the starchy carbs to about 15% of your total 40% intake for the day. 

What do you look for when choosing your veggies?

Ideally buying local, organic and seasonally when possible. This ensures that you will get the most nutrients from your choices provided you are digesting your food well. When this is not possible (who wants to wait until summer to buy broccoli?) Your best bet is to buy frozen veggies because they are frozen very soon after picking and their nutrient profile is greater than that of a fresh head of broccoli shipped from California to Nebraska.  I would recommend going to EWG.ORG and getting their latest list of the Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen for fruits and veggies.

Putting it all together.

These four “What is Nutrition?” posts are a basic guideline for anyone to follow. 

  • Try to have a balance of 30% proteins, 30% fats and 40% carbs remembering this is a general guideline and you can adjust according to your situation. 
  • Choose variety, choose locally, choose seasonally
  • Make sure you have clean, pure, filtered water to drink
  • Avoid refined and packaged foods
  • Include raw foods in each meal including raw dairy if you can get it and tolerate it (most Hashimoto’s folks won’t tolerate any dairy), sushi, fruits and veggies and even steak tartare
  • Include fermented foods daily like raw sauerkraut
  • Soak, sprout and dehydrate your nuts and seeds (they will digest better, but again, if you are autoimmune- nuts and seeds are not the best choice)
  • Soak, sprout and ferment those grains before consuming them if you tolerate them at all


Beat those carb cravings and start feeling better by working with me. With a six month package you will get twice monthly meetings with me by phone, skype or in person to help you get back on track with your health. 

Share this post with your friends! 

In health, 

Stephanie