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?

The Three Biggest Factors That Influence Good Sleep

For many years I had a love hate relationship with sleep. I wanted to sleep through the night but just was not able to. First it was newborn babies- while they are just about the best thing in the world to have, they are a sure fire way to make sure you don’t get much sleep at all. Sleeping has always been one of my favorite things to do. Having babies really messed that up for me. Once they slept through the night I was back to my blessed eight hours a night and happy once again until there was some sort of stressful situation. I don’t manage stress well- it takes some real practice on my part. When I don’t manage stress well I don’t sleep well. When I was working, managing 3 kids and having a husband that traveled a lot while going through my nutrition program I was having regular, nightly, nightmares. Waking up with a racing heart and having to take about 2 hours to fall back asleep. That on top of sleeping with someone who snores meant I did what ever it took to get good sleep aside from taking sleeping pills. I was a complete bear to be around and what little sleep I was getting affected my ability to learn. I had to read things several times for them to stick and my health really declined. 

What role does sleep play in Autoimmune Disease?   

SLEEP IS HUGELY IMPORTANT!

  • Sleep is huge in regulating cortisol which is key to stress management
  • Sleep is huge in helping the body detoxify
  • Sleep is huge in allowing the body to heal itself

Circadian Rhythms: both sleeping and being awake are circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythym is a repeatable 24 hour process. We evolved with a cycle revolving around the 24 hours in a day. Our bodies are adapted to to they cycle. 

This cycle influences behaviors at specific times of the day

  • when you wake up
  • when you get tired
  • when you are hungry
  • how cold or hot you feel
  • the growth of cells and cell repair

You have cells in your retina that respond to light. Not only the ones that help you actually see but there are cells that affect your internal clock. There are cells in the brain that work with the cycle of your environment (when it gets light and dark). Staying on your electronic devices after the sun goes down, watching television or even having a light on at night can tell your brain that it is not time to go to sleep yet. So while your body is probably very ready for some rest and repair your brain thinks it should be awake still. Getting these rhythms off can have hormone levels higher during the night and lower during the day. It can explain bouts of lower energy, feeling groggy in the morning, etc.  All of this can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, cancer, inflammation and autoimmune disease. 

If you have an autoimmune disease you can be certain that sleep or lack thereof plays an important role in how well you are doing.  It can be the cause of an issue or a contributing factor in your health or the worsening of it. Having your clock be off basically leads to inflammation.

Having autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue feeds in to the vicious cycle of sleep. A little bit of pain can disrupt your sleep and the poor sleep increases your pain. If you have brain fog or have trouble concentrating it can be because your body is working hard to fight off infection. Certain immune cells will actually make you feel tired. 

You may feel tired but your sleep quality is not great which again, feeds in to the vicious cycle. 

There is a lot to learn in the scientific field of sleep. One thing science knows for sure is that sleep helps you process all that you did during the day and getting your body and brain ready for doing what it needs to do the following day. If you are not getting the sleep you need at night you are keeping your body from being able to process all that happens in a day and get you ready for the day to come. 

Not getting enough sleep compromise your behavior leading to accidents, lower coordination, decreased reaction to things and bad balance. Several studies  at Stanford University show that having more sleep time or just more time in bed leads to better accuracy and performance in a sport. All positive benefits. 

There are three factors that make a difference when it comes to the sleep you are getting: 

When are you sleeping?

  • do you go to sleep around the same time every night? Having a regularly scheduled bedtime and sticking to it the best you can allows for your body to establish the proper rhythm for good health. Binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix until midnight is just what you don’t want to do. Just say no to one more episode. Why is that so darn hard to do? It is so very important to your health to learn to say no. That episode will be there tomorrow. 

How long are you sleeping?

  • Are you getting at least eight hours a night?

Is your sleep restorative?

making sure you get good quality sleep means your body can repair itself. If you are constantly stressed you will be sure that your body will be awake for at least some portion of the time you should be sleeping. If you don’t manage your blood sugar you can be woken in the night by cortisol as it tries to help manage your blood sugar. 

  • Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Is your room too hot or too noisy?
  • Getting outside and exposing yourself to the light for at least 30 minutes and doing some sort of activity play a role in your quality of sleep. Indoor light at night will change your circadian rhythms if you don’t do this. The great part is, it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once, it can be 30 minutes total. 

What can you do to ensure your sleep quality is better?

  • Manage your stress through exercise, meditation or even therapy.
  • Get amber light bulbs- they filter out the blue light that tricks your brain in to thinking it is daytime. 
  • Make sure your room is void of any type of light. Get black out curtains if you know you need complete darkness to sleep well.  You could also get a sleep mask which would be a heck of a lot cheaper than black out curtains. 
  • Wake up without an alarm clock if you can. It is best to let your body wake up when it is ready. If you are getting optimal sleep, you probably won’t need it. This means going to bed on time and the earlier the better. 
  • You can wear blue blocking glasses to watch television in the evening or for looking at an electronic device. You can find them inexpensively on Amazon.com. You can also install something on your computer called f.lux which will gradually remove the blue light from the screen as it gets darker outside. 

The important thing to take away is to know that having good sleep is good for your health. Try changing up what you do for two to three weeks and see if you notice a difference in how you feel and how well you perform during the day. 

Tell me in the comments below what kind of sleep issues you struggle with. 

Sleep well. 

In health, 

Stephanie 

 

What Role Does Exercise Play in Thyroid Health?

If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s you know that even doing housework can deplete your body of what little energy you have each day. You may even want to exercise but find it tough to get up and go. It is important that you don’t talk yourself in to feeling badly about your self and your ability to handle little exercise. It may be working against you anyway.  

Let us first have an overview of how thyroid hormones work. 

T3 affects most of the physiological processes in your body like your metabolism, your body temperature and your heart rate. T3 production is stimulated by by Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH. Your pituitary gland (in your brain) signals the release of TSH which in turn signals the release of TSH which in turn signals the production of T4. Physiological processes in the body are supposed to convert T4 into T3 so it can get into your cells. The T4 that isn’t converted to T3 gets converted to Reverse T3. 

Your body is very receptive and adapts to certain things. Your body knows how to survive and makes sure that you remain alive each second of your life. It does this by trying to keep things in balance. It is called homeostasis. 

If you are over exercising and/or draining your supply of energy regularly then your body will adjust its functioning accordingly. Our bodies are designed to survive second by second and that is it.

A study was done in Turkey where they studied the effect of exercise on TSH levels. The study was done on male athletes and they had them doing varying intensity levels of aerobic exercise. The researchers found that aerobic exercise at 70% of your maximum heart rate showed an improvement in your body producing T3 and a slight decrease in TSH.  So a little aerobic exercise may actually do your body some good. 


Another study was done to show the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you work your body intensely for a short period and then do moderate exercise for a short period (usually in 30 second to one minute increments). It found that this type of training was more depleting of your thyroid hormones and your energy. This is important for those of us with thyroid issues and Hashimoto’s. We are super sensitive to changes in our environment and our energy levels. 

It is important what kind of exercise you are doing and at what intensity you are doing it at. It is not just about burning too many calories. If you are burning through your nutrients faster than you can replenish them through your diet then your body will slow down your metabolism and the production of T4 which converts to T3. If you are exercising more and not eating enough to restore your energy levels your body will adjust your metabolism accordingly. You could even be doing a small amount of exercise but if you are restricting your calories your body will do what it has to to preserve itself. The kind of exercise you are doing may not be as important as the total amount of energy you are using up in one day. 

Believe it or not, when you have thyroid problems, the most important thing to eat for your thyroid is high quality carbohydrates. Low carb or ketogenic diets can have negative effects on thyroid hormone production. One reason behind this is that you need glucose to convert T4 to T3. This means you need carbohydrates  to make this happen. 

Another reason is that having too many fatty acids circulating in your bloodstream can keep T4 from converting to T3. 

Having high amounts of cortisol present in your blood can prevent T3 from getting in to  your cells. This can occur from lots of exercise, lots of stress and being on a low carb or high fat diet. 

If you are exercising regularly and have thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism you need to make sure you are supporting your blood sugar levels to keep them stable. This might mean that you have to eat sweet potatoes or white rice before or after your workout or maybe both before and after your workout. 

Just because carbs are great for thyroid health doesn’t mean fat is not as well. Saturated fat in particular is needed for cholesterol production. Cholesterol is a part of every single cell in your body. It keeps your cells and your brain healthy. You also need fat to carry the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K to your cells. Being deficient in any of these vitamins will affect your thyroid health. Liver would be a great addition to your diet to help keep your thyroid healthy.  You can also get saturated fat from coconut oil and full fat coconut milk (best to buy it in a BPA free can) with no fillers. High quality grass fed butter and ghee are also great sources. Red meat, especially organ meats and wild caught sustainable oily fish are good sources of saturated fat as well. 

Much of the conversion of T3 happens in your gut so it is important you have a healthy gut which includes the proper balance of gut flora. Healing your gut with bone broth, supplementing with L-glutamine and colostrum can be helpful. 

The best exercise for you and your thyroid health is to do a small amount of high intensity exercise (lifting heavy things) for a short period of time (under 1 hour) once a week with more restorative exercise like yoga or swimming a couple of times a week. Walking on a daily basis is great exercise and is also great for your adrenal health. It is important for you to know and listen to your body. Know what is right for you and don’t try to overdo it. I recently started lifting weights at a gym and really enjoyed it. The feeling of getting stronger was a real confidence booster. I was very careful about making sure I ate enough everyday and included carbs in my diet as well to maintain energy levels. Then one day I over did it and didn’t eat enough. The next day resulted in me lying on the couch for the whole day. My energy levels were destroyed. Bottom line here is that you need to take it slow and take it easy when you start exercising. If you don’t have the energy for a workout then just go for a walk. It is so good for your body is so many ways. Like I mentioned before it is especially good for your adrenals. It will also boost your mood and if you are dealing with chronic illness that is always a plus. 

In Health, 

Stephanie 

 

20 Ways to Tell Your Blood Sugar Needs Balancing

The regulation of our blood sugar is so important to our adrenal health. The two things really go hand in hand. If blood sugar regulation is not working well then you cannot achieve health. It is THAT important. Blood sugar dysregulation leads to oxidative stress. Basically what this means is that there is more free radical damage in our bodies because we don’t have enough anti oxidants to neutralize the free radicals created in our body. It also leads to something called glycation which is when proteins in your body become sugared over and can’t communicate with other cells in your body. Blood sugar dysregulation also messes with the energy output in your cells. Your cells create energy with glucose which is a form of sugar. Our body is continually monitoring the levels of glucose in our bloodstream to make sure it stays balanced. Having too much or too little triggers hormones to be released to keep the glucose levels normal.  We were designed to use unrefined carbohydrates as well as quality fats and proteins as our best sources of fuel. We are not designed to run on carbohydrates alone, especially refined and processed ones. 

 

So how do you know if you have some issues with blood sugar imbalance?

  1. You crave sweets
  2. You wake up soon after falling asleep and have a hard time getting back to sleep
  3. You have binge type eating patterns
  4. You have an appetite that won’t quit
  5. You get irritable, jittery or hangry
  6. You get headaches that temporarily feel better after eating
  7. You crave coffee or sugar in the afternoon
  8. You are sleepy in the afternoon
  9. You get shaky if you miss a meal or eat later than normal
  10. You have a family history of diabetes
  11. You are thirsty a lot
  12. You have to pee a lot
  13. You crave bread, pasta or other refined grains
  14. You have poor concentration
  15. You have night sweats
  16. You struggle to lose weight even though you are eating a low fat diet
  17. You are frequently tired
  18. You get a boost of energy from eating
  19. You have anxiety or panic attacks
  20. You have spikes and dips in your energy levels throughout the day

If any one of these describes you then you are most certainly assured to have some issues with your blood sugar and probably your adrenals too. You see, the main organs involved in your blood sugar regulation are the Pancreas, the Liver and the Adrenal Glands. They each have a very important role in blood sugar. If they are constantly busy managing your blood sugar because you ate too many cookies or a huge bowl of ice cream or a box of crackers at work then they can’t do all the other things they need to do in a day, in a moment to keep you alive. 

Refined sugar is a recent invention compared to how long man has been around. We only have one hormone that lowers blood sugar and that is insulin. It wasn’t supposed to have the job of lowering blood sugar but to bring glucose to the cells.  The hormones cortisol, epinephrine (or adrenaline) and glucagon are all there to raise our blood sugar when needed.  It used to be that is what we needed- to raise blood sugar so that our brain, nerves and red blood cells got the glucose they needed. Today, we overload our bodies with sugar at around 200 pounds per person per year. 

So why do we love it so much?

Well frankly, sugar makes us feel good. It literally raises your endorphins but it also crashes and makes you feel worse after a short time. This is called the blood sugar roller coaster. It is addictive. So addictive in fact that in one study, mice chose sugar over cocaine. 

Our taste buds love it but our bodies do not. It is really hard on your body to be managing your blood sugar day in and day out. Your pancreas releases the hormone insulin which is just supposed to transport glucose to your cells from your blood so that it can be used for energy. When you overwhelm your body with sugar the pancreas will eventually wear out which leads to things like insulin resistance and then type II diabetes. Your adrenal glands will be exhausted from having to deal with managing blood sugar on top of all the other stressors in your life such as your emotional stressors, not sleeping or your every day frustrating commute to work. It will also depress your immune system. Your liver can end up having a hard time converting stored glucose back in to glucose for energy and you can end up with a fatty liver. 

You can develop something called insulin resistance where your cells decide they have had enough of insulin knocking at their door to deliver them some glucose and they just don’t answer the door anymore. This is when your blood sugar levels will be higher on a blood test.  You could have insulin resistance if you are tired all the time, can’t lose weight, you have joint problems, are depressed, have thyroid or fertility issues. 

Insulin resistance has a huge impact on female hormone issues like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, irregular periods and PMS. 

Consuming large amounts of sugar can mean you are what we call a sugar burner. This means your body is able to burn sugar or glucose rather than fat for energy. This here is key to weight loss for many people and if you have weight gain due to hypothyroidsim or Hashimoto’s, converting from a sugar burner to a fat burner can be ultra helpful in dropping some of those pesky pounds. Other signs you are a sugar burner are: 

  •     you are less satisfied after eating
  •     you are hungry all the time
  •     you can’t use fat for energy
  •     you crave carbohydrates and you eat them 

Reducing the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis can turn this around and you can teach your body how to burn fat for energy.  All that extra sugar you have consumed in a day that your cells can’t use gets stored as fat. You can teach your body how to use it. 

Let’s talk more about how the adrenal glands and your adrenal health is affected by blood sugar imbalances. 

If you have Hashimoto’s you may not tolerate carbohydrates as well as other folks. Your blood sugar can rise quickly after eating carbs which can lead to too much insulin being released which can end up causing low blood sugar and make you feel anxious, nervous and tired. This also stresses your adrenal glands because cortisol is released when your adrenals are working overtime. Every time your blood sugar gets low epinephrine is released to help restore it to normal levels.  This can also mess with your immune system. 

Here are some general symptoms of low blood sugar: 

  •     brain fog
  •     blurred vision
  •     hard time sleeping
  •     heart palpitations
  •     fatigue
  •     dizziness
  •     headaches
  •     depression
  •     irritability
  •     cravings for sugar
  •     hunger

How do you avoid blood sugar imbalances?

Look at your diet. Look at your lifestyle. 

Do you eat a large amount of refined carbohydrates in the form of breads or cereals for breakfast? Do you skip breakfast? Do you eat things like pasta salad or a sandwich for lunch? Do you eat all the “good for you” yogurt you see in the grocery store? Have a look at the sugar content of your standard grocery store yogurt. It is pretty high. 

Are you running all the time with no time for rest and relaxation? 

 

Here are some generally good ideas for balancing your blood sugar:

  1. Have some protein at every meal (see this post for learning all about protein)
  2. When you first start to balance your blood sugar, eating more often is better- try having a snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just something small like a few nuts or a piece of cheese
  3. Don’t have any sugar before bed
  4. Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum (really would be a good idea to take it out of your diet while you balance your blood sugar)
  5. Don’t eat any grains or dairy 
  6. Eat breakfast within an hour of getting up
  7. Avoid all sweeteners including artificial ones (limit your fruits to 1 serving a day at most)
  8. Keep the carbs to a minimum eating only complex carbs
  9. Consume high quality healthy fats

You would want to do this for about two weeks and then slowly add back things like full fat dairy and continuing to limit grains if you tolerate them. If you have Hashimoto’s you will want eliminate gluten containing grains for good. Eventually you may be able to tolerate some other grains once in awhile. I would not recommend switching your glutenful products with gluten free ones. They will react the same in your body as far as blood sugar is concerned.  Staying low carb is not beneficial for everyone. I find I have much more energy when I consume more starchy carbs regularly like sweet potatoes and veggies. I feel my best when consuming a significant amount of veggies daily. If you feel exhausted after awhile of being low carb it is a sign you will do better with more complex carbs in your diet and that is okay. 

You can try this on your own or you can come to me for help. I have a special plan just to convert you from a sugar burner to a fat burner that helps keep your blood sugar balanced which will help in the recovery of your adrenals as well.  Send me an email and we can chat about it!

Thanks so much for reading. I sincerely appreciate your time. Please tell me in the comments what symptoms of imbalanced blood sugar you might have. I look forward to hearing from you. 

In health, 

Stephanie