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. 

Does Being on The Autoimmune Protocol Suck?

Autoimmune disease comes in all different forms. I have been on the autoimmune protocol for about 11 months.  I spent a whole year before going on it contemplating whether or not I should do it.

It is daunting. Overwhelming. A. Lot. Of. Work. All that cooking. I got used to it. 

I had questions. What will I be able to eat? Will I be able to go out to eat? Will I be able to have any fun? What will a social situation look like? I adapted. 

I have had such a love for food my whole life. It was my friend when there was no one else. It was love. It was comfort. It was my everything. It was the way I showed love or that I cared about someone. I cooked for them. I baked. I loved to bake. Bread, cake, cookies, brownies, muffins, more bread, more cake. What my kids didn’t eat I did. I love sweet things. I love chocolate. I loved sugar. None of this is allowed on the autoimmune protocol. So, you bet, I took a long damn time to decide to do this knowing what I would have to further cut from my diet. We can be positive and say, “Look at all the good stuff you CAN have.” Well. You can have a lot of stuff. Lots of vegetables. Veggies up the wazoo. You can have beef heart! And Liver! Yum! Do you hear the sarcasm? When 39 years of your life is consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD), this feels like kind of a big deal. Especially if you have emotional ties to food. 

I know I am supposed to be eating those nutrient dense offal things. I am not because I can’t get past the idea of what it is. The texture even. Gah! No thanks. 

When I did this. I was all in with what needed to be restricted. But I was not adding in any offal. So I didn’t and you know what? I still felt really good. My thyroid numbers got better. Then, as I started to feel better I added some foods back in. Not in the “proper” way but in a way that worked for me which was like this: You put pepper on that meat? Okay. Let’s see if I have a reaction to it…. No reaction. Okay. Pepper seems to work.  

One day in August I made plantain brownies with carob. The recipe called for 2 eggs. I ate half the pan in about 12 hours and had a major reaction but it wasn’t how I expected. Not even 12 hours in to eating those brownies did I become so irritable that I could not even stand myself. I couldn’t believe it. I was raging. My poor kids. So, no eggs for me. I reinforced that idea when I mistakenly ate some gluten free crackers that had egg yolks (no wonder they were so good) as a snack before bed and the next day became increasingly irritable. That really bums me out. I liked eggs. I know that I dot’ want to live life in a state of constant rage though so I am willing to cut them out. I am not happy about it. Don’t get me wrong. I am actually a little pissed. I have a pity party every so often and do the whole “why me?” thing but then I let it go. The more I do that the worse it gets. 

Now it is 11 months in and I have let some things slip. I have a vegan gluten free bread every so often and some Mary’s Gone Crackers crackers on occasion. They don’t seem to wreck my digestion and if I don’t eat them every day it seems to be fine. 

I have decided that if I am so restrictive with my diet, I am unhappy. I do my very best most of the time and on occasion I do enjoy something off the protocol and I don’t feel bad for it. I still always eat gluten free but occasionally have some dairy. Dairy and I don’t get along so if I have it, it is usually just a tiny bit. Like a lick of ice cream or a dab of butter. I definitely feel better when I stick closer to the protocol. I have not reintroduced peppers or eggplant but have done well with some of the nightshade spices like chili powder. I am not so sure on tomatoes though. I have to do a "real" reintro to know for sure. That would mean just eating tomato instead of adding tomato in to a recipe and wondering if that is what has caused the issue. I'm not very diligent about doing a proper reintro of a food. I let life get in the way. 

The real killer for me is sugar. I am addicted and I have intense cravings which are related to a yeast overgrowth which I am working on killing off. Too much sugar has resulted in me having to deal with psoriasis and this last go round with it gave me two new patches to deal with. Needless to say I got really mad when these popped up. I first got mad at myself for eating stuff I know is bad for me and then I got mad that I just can’t be normal. That is the most frustrating part for me. I just want to be like every one else sometimes and I can’t. When I look back on my life though it seems like I never have been able to be like every one else. When I try to be I find Idon’t feel like myself. So I have come to realize that my path is to take the road less traveled and see what I find. For me that is this new life of stress management, sleeping when I need to and eating so that I don’t continue to stay sick. Being well means different things for different people and my mission is to help you figure out what well means for you. 

What do you do that makes you feel good?