I have been trucking along with AIP for seven weeks now, and this week has been the hardest by far.
I have been sabotaged in my efforts by well-meaning people who have no idea of the trouble they’ve caused. And bless them, why the heck would they? Had you ever heard of AIP before?
Last Friday I was out and about sightseeing in Ashburton. I’d been in a rush to get out the door so I hadn’t packed lunch for myself. I thought I’d check out a few cafes to see if they had anything AIP friendly, figuring I could always go to a supermarket if there wasn’t.
I found a chicken salad on the menu of one establishment, and asked if it was gluten free. Nothing at this particular cafe was labelled GF, DF etc. “Yes, I think so”, said the server.
Pro tip folks – it wasn’t.
Sure enough, my usual ‘I’ve-been-glutened’ symptoms appeared the next day: fatigue and a slight rash on my face. (Honestly, why does it have to be the face? Why not my elbow? Or left earlobe?) The joints in my hands hurt so badly I had to take painkillers just to get some sleep that night.
It took me two days to recover.
Then Mr G and I went out the other night as we’ve been doing the Alpha Marriage Course at a local church (it’s awesome by the way, I highly recommend it for any couple who’ve been together for a while – even good marriages need a tune-up, and not-so-good ones can be transformed).
The course coordinator had got in touch with us to find out if we had any dietary requirements, as they serve dessert each night (the course is like going on a fancy date).
At first I told the coordinator not to bother with feeding me as my requirements are just too tricky, but we both agreed that fruit would be fine.
And it has been.
However, the other night they proudly produced a gluten-and-dairy-free muffin, made with almond flour.
I didn’t have the heart to say ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t have nuts right now on my diet’.
As I grabbed my fork, I said to Mr G with a grin, ‘Oh well, this is the chance to see what almonds do to me!’
You know what’s coming next.
Whilst I am incredibly lucky not to have had a violent reaction, that muffin laid me up in bed for two days.
The worst bit is because it wasn’t a careful reintroduction following the protocol, I don’t actually know if it was the almonds that my body rejected. It could have been a different ingredient in the muffin. It’s just conjecture.
I’d hoped to start reintroductions this weekend, but I still don’t feel 100%, so I have to put it off by another week, just to be on the safe side.
So, what have I learned, gentle reader?
Get your server to double-check with the chef about whether a meal is gluten-free or not
Don’t be so damn nice. Yes, I might have hurt someone’s feelings by refusing that muffin, but I’d rather that than be bedridden again.
My body sure does hate a lot of things! I’m glad I’m able to follow a proper protocol to find out exactly what it doesn’t like, rather than guessing.
Even if you don’t think you are allergic or intolerant to something while you are on AIP, take it seriously, and act as if you are. Do reintroductions the right way.
Back in October I contracted a nasty bout of bacterial pneumonia. The first lot of antibiotics I was prescribed did nothing, and – along with a script for different antibiotics – I was given a full blood test just in case I had something other than pneumonia.
My blood work came back showing that my cholesterol was high, high enough for the GP to start making noises about statins. Now, high cholesterol is a symptom of Hashimoto’s (which I have), and to me was merely a sign that all is not well with my thyroid.
I said to the GP, ‘Nope, no way. Give me six months to get my cholesterol down’.
I was so ill I didn’t have the headspace to go AIP, but due to other Hashi warriors reporting they felt much better on a gluten free diet, I immediately gave up gluten. To my surprise, I didn’t find this hard. Mr G and I also started to have vegan or vegetarian dinners most nights a week to help up our veggie intake.
I’m sure these measures helped, but nothing has gotten me dramatic results like AIP.
Three weeks into AIP I had to have a routine blood test to check my thyroid levels and my cholesterol. They had not been checked since October. The nurse called me up to tell me my thyroid function had improved so much I was now hyperthyroid in stead of hypothyroid, and I needed to reduce my medication dose.
She was about to ring off when I said “What about my cholesterol?’
‘Oh, it’s perfect. A really, really healthy level. People would kill for that level….What are you doing?’
Cue long discussion about AIP after which she said “Can I send some people your way?’
Folks, I am stunned.
Not only am I feeling much better than I have in ages, my blood work proves that AIP is working.
I was hoping my cholesterol levels had gone down, but I never hoped for perfect. I’ve been doing a lot of happy dances over here, I tell ya.
I know many of you have been wondering how I’m getting on with my ‘diet’.
Well, I am officially living proof that miracles can happen – I’ve just notched up Day 21 sticking to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP). Woot, woot!
How much longer I will need to be doing the elimination phase for, I’m not sure. I’m going to give it at least six weeks.
If you missed my last post about why I’m doing AIP, and what it’s all about, you can find it here. What a ride it’s been so far!
Here’s a glimpse into my AIP-addled brain:
Woohoo! I got this! Meat, veggies, fruit, easy-peasy. I’ve got my stash of AIP recipes on my Pinterest board. I’ve ordered some obscure flours and ingredients to make all the yummy things I want. Let’s do this!
Day One, later
I am already sick of coconut oil.
What the heck are tigernuts???
What on earth will I use as salad dressing?
This ‘garlic mayo’ in no way resembles mayo…
Oh my Lord, I have SUCH a headache.
I miss mayo.
If I so much as see a coconut, I’m going to lose my sh*t.
Why I am doing this? It’s so hard!
I miss bread. Even my gluten free bread which tastes like particle board.
Mr G and children enjoy icecreams, while I cry into my silverbeet.
Holy Moly, I actually did it. A whole week!
*furiously scours Pinterest for AIP salad dressings and drinks*
Nearly cries with joy to discover an AIP compliant jam (which makes for a good cranberry sauce substitute), and AIP compliant sparkling water infused with fruit.
Nearly cries again when aforementioned water tastes like it’s the place where fruit goes to die. Drinks it anyway.
Holy Moly it’s hot out today!!!
Day Eleven, later:
Oh.My.Goodness. It’s hot as Hades today, but I have not swollen up like I usually do in the heat. I do not have canckles! * hears angels singing hallelujah*.
Due to slight increase in my energy levels I decide it’s safe to resume exercising again (my adrenals are pretty stuffed so I have to be careful). Walks over 13,000 steps, most of those before breakfast.
Discovers really delicious AIP recipe. A+++ trader, would recommend.
Day Thirteen, later
Walks over 13,00 steps. Hits the wall at 4pm. Brain and body decide to quit on me. Mr G makes dinner.
Walks over 12,000 steps
I am so damn sick of cooking!
Ponders moving to America where they have AIP delivery services….but then I remember that I loathe Donald Trump, so decide against it…it is tempting though.
Walks over 13,00 steps. Hits the wall at 3:30pm. Mr G cooks dinner again. Could I be overdoing it? I feel totally fine when I’m exercising.
Decide to cut my hour of walking to half an hour as I think my adrenals aren’t coping with my newfound energy. My strategy works, I am able to keep going all day.
My top is falling off me. Realise I have lost almost two dress sizes.
Lest you think ‘ooh, I’m going to try that diet!’ let me point out that AIP is about healing, not weight loss. I suspect most of my weight loss is due to a reduction in inflammation. I take it as a good sign my body is healing. I would not attempt a food elimination diet as a weight loss strategy – there are easier ways to go about that!
Decide it might be cheaper just to take out shares in a spinach company, because I eat so much of it.
Out with my MiL and kids, we discover a place that sells AIP compliant fruit frappes. They are heavenly.
Day Twenty One
Abridged walking regime seems to be working, so I add in a couple of steep hills, just to see.
My long time readers will be aware that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. It slowly destroys your thyroid and comes with some extremely un-fun symptoms (you can read all about it here).
When I caught pneumonia last year I decided enough was enough.
Whilst catching a bacterial flu had nothing to do with Hashimoto’s, I believe that my compromised immune system is the reason the flu developed into pneumonia – which took well over two months to shake off! Two months is a long time for anyone to be ill, and it was impossible to parent well throughout much of my recovery. Fortunately my MiL (a retired nurse) came to help out for a few weeks.
During my recovery I made the decision to go gluten-free. There seems to be a connection between gluten and autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s. Quite why that is, I don’t think science can fully explain yet, although if you’re interested you can have a look here at these
studies. But studies have shown that people with Hashimoto’s are more likely to also have celiac disease, and are significantly more likely to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
I was so sick from the pneumonia that I thought I would give GF a go as a way of helping myself, even though I didn’t think gluten was a problem for me. I certainly thought I had nothing to lose! I often felt tired after eating bread – but that can be normal reaction when digesting bread – and I never had any stomach cramps or other symptoms associated with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
I could not have been more wrong.
It turns out I am VERY intolerant to gluten.
After being GF for about 3 months I accidentally glutened myself by mindlessly eating something made of wheat. A few hours later all my joints were aching, I felt so tired – like sleep-walking through quicksand is the only way I can describe it – and my skin broke out.
The same thing happened a month later after I accidentally ate a small piece of sausage (with gluten in it) at my daughter’s birthday party. A few hours later I felt awful, and it took me two days to come right.
Discovering that gluten does me no favours has spurred me on to really give the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) a good try. I did the AIP diet a few years ago when my Hashimoto’s really began to flare up. I only lasted a few days. I found it too overwhelming.
But life then was more difficult. My children were small, and only one child was was in kindy at the time. I just didn’t have the headspace to give it a fair go.
This time around is different.
I have one child at school, and one at kindy most mornings so I get time to myself. This has helped me enormously in being able to tackle the AIP, because it really requires a bit of brain power; at least at first. I’m already gluten free. Mr G and I also made the decision several months ago to increase our vegetable intake by having vegetarian or vegan dinners five nights a week, so eating copious amounts of vegetables at every meal doesn’t seem like a bridge too far for me. I’ve been eating strange things for breakfast (usually eggs with veggies) for about a decade, as I can’t face the thought of anything sweet first thing in the morning.
So what is the AIP Diet?
Basically it’s the Paleo diet on steroids. But like, if steroids were actually good for you.
Though not invented by her, medical biophysicist Dr Sarah Ballentyne has refined the AIP diet. Dr Ballentyne suffered from several autoimmune diseases herself (once you have one, it’s not unusual to develop more) and was able to greatly reduce or eliminate her symptoms by adopting the AIP diet. You can read her story here. Dr Ballentyne is an award-winning expert on autoimmune diseases, and what I really love about her blog The Paleo Mom, is that she doesn’t shy away from explaining the science behind the link between autoimmune diseases and diet.
Some exciting findings are coming out from clinical trials using the AIP diet as a method to treat patients, and I certainly feel confident that it is a robust, scientifically-backed diet protocol. Unlike taking advice from Freely the banana girl…
The AIP diet focuses on nutrient dense foods and eliminates foods that commonly cause allergies, intolerances, and inflammation. The idea is by eliminating all problematic foods, your gut has a chance to heal, and then you can slowly introduce foods back to see which ones are causing problems for you. Many people report a huge reduction in their symptoms, and in some cases their AI disease has gone into remission!
On the AIP Diet you eliminate all grains, all dairy, eggs, all nuts, all seeds, all seed-based spices, all nightshades (tomatoes/potatoes/eggplant/peppers), sugar, alcohol, NSAIDs, sweeteners and food additives.
Instead, you focus on quality meats, healthy fats, leafy and root veggies, fruit, fermented foods and bone broths. For a full list of yes and no foods, see here.
Nightshades in particular, seem to be bad news for people with autoimmune diseases. See here for a run down as to why.
I absolutely love tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. I never met a hot potato chip I didn’t want to eat! But I do suspect they will turn out to be problematic for me, as when I prepare nightshades they all make the skin on my hands hurt. My dad is very allergic to raw tomatoes and nuts, and has recently developed an intolerance to egg whites. My grandfather was very allergic to egg whites. So I won’t be surprised if egg whites or nuts are not really my friend.
I’m not gonna lie. I will probably cry if I discover I can’t eat peanut butter anymore. I love the stuff.
With all those ‘no’ foods, I know that the AIP diet seems overwhelming. Impossible, even.
For now, food elimination diets really are the ONLY way to know what foods you might be reacting to. I know there are a myriad of tests out there like hair follicle testing etc, but the science just doesn’t support their claims. An elimination diet will unequivocally tell you what foods are harmful to your own unique body. It is this knowledge that is driving me to stick with the AIP diet for the next few months.
Quite simply, I HAVE to know.
The AIP diet isn’t forever. Once you start to feel significantly better and see an improvement of your symptoms, then you begin a slow reintroduction of the ‘no’ foods. There are strict guidelines around the reintroduction, which is why the P in AIP stands for protocol.
Many folks find they can safely consume some of the ‘no’ foods, and can, most importantly, know for sure which foods are a problem for them. Even these foods may not be off the menu forever. Some people report that certain foods they couldn’t tolerate at first (like dairy, for example) can later be safely eaten after the gut has healed some more.
It’s not a typical diet, as in a weight loss diet. There’s no calorie counting, no points system. Just eating when you’re hungry.
One week in
I wish I could say I have already seen a miraculous reduction in my symptoms (some people do!), but I haven’t yet. I have lived with Hashimoto’s for several decades now, so I imagine that will greatly impact on how long it may take my gut to start healing.
I found putting together my week’s meal plan very overwhelming, but having eaten AIP for several days, I now feel like I have a handle on it. I’ve even freestyled my meals a couple of times.
I have the excellent book “The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol Cookbook” by Mickey Trescott, which I highly recommend to anyone considering giving AIP a go. Mickey spells out the what’s and why’s of AIP, and has delicious recipes to make the transition to an AIP diet much easier than winging it. She has meal plans to follow and ideas for batch cooking to reduce time spent in the kitchen.
What I really liked about the book is that Trescott has advice for AI sufferers who are too damn sick to cook. While I have only had that happen to me a few times, I know many chronically ill people who would struggle to prepare these healing recipes. If that’s you, check this book out for her tips.
I have also spent several hours scouring Pinterest for AIP compliant recipes, and have, oh, about 260 recipes at my fingertips. But who’s counting?
While I’ve really missed my peanut butter on toast, I haven’t found this week to be that bad. It helps that the food is delicious. Mr G is joining me for lunches and dinners (and I really appreciate his support!), and he’s rates Trescott’s Curried Chicken Salad, Kumara Chips, and Caulifower ‘Rice’ recipes quite highly.
I bought some of the expensive flours, which though aren’t necessary to eat well on AIP, will help me to feel less deprived and likely to quit – so I think they are a good investment. I made this lovely sticky ginger pudding by Healing Family Eats that I found via Pinterest, with banana ‘icecream’ (frozen bananas blended with a little coconut cream). Yum!
I don’t plan to make habit of baking AIP treats too often, but I feel better knowing the ingredients are all there should I need them.
As I said, I won’t be on the diet forever. I’m hoping to reintroduce some of my favourite foods in the future. But most importantly, I’m hoping to kick Hashimoto’s butt and feel better soon. Wish me luck!