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!