Friday, August 29, 2014

Autoimmune Protocol: It's Not All About Restrictions

During my first week on the Autoimmune Protocol, I posted a summary called "What is AIP?" in which I listed all the restrictions, all the things I couldn't eat, and moaned about how much I hated it so far and how much it sucked. I printed out a long, long list to post on the fridge to remind myself of all the things that were now off limits. I was not excited about the prospect of eliminating almost every food I ate daily. But now, almost 6 weeks later, oh how my tune has changed! I *love* this way of eating and what it has done for me.

However, the restrictions, while necessary, are not the only thing that has to change on AIP. This is not just about food. It is about healing yourself, about gut health, about possibly putting an autoimmune disease into "remission" and reducing your symptoms. It's about doing what is necessary to take care of yourself. I learned all of this in my research, and found this book to be the most helpful: The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. It is written by a PhD and the explanations are steeped in science. But let me just touch on a few of the other things I am doing to improve my health.

In addition to a list of foods that you cannot eat, there is also a list of important foods to *include* for better health, because they are nutrient-dense (click the links on each food to read more about those benefits).

1. Bone broth (made from grass fed animals, simmered for a long time to break down the bones and joints.) This one was easy for me. I like bone broth. I just have to make time to cook it and then I have a nice warm mug of broth with breakfast or for a snack each day.

2. Organ meats. This one was tougher, but I did it. Grass fed liver:

AIP grass fed cow's liver, raw

Yeah, gross. If you want the full effect, click the photo for a larger version. I had never even seen a liver until this one. I got it from a local farmer with grass fed beef. I HATE handling raw meat so this was way out of my comfort zone. But it is supposedly so good for you and I wanted to do AIP correctly. So I used this recipe for pate and chopped that sucker up and cooked it with onions.

autoimmune protocol liver and onions

Then I whipped it up with herbs to make this "delicious spread" too have on raw carrots or cucumber slices.

Um. No. Just... no.

It was seriously just so far worse than I expected it to be, and the recent memory of that raw, bloody liver in my hands did nothing for my appetite. But by gosh, I made this! It was so nutritious. There had to be a way to get it down. I'd read that even a small amount of liver is beneficial. So I divided the recipe into 4 baggies and froze 3. Every day I would try to eat a little bite in a different way: warm on a carrot, cold on a cucumber, mixed into meat. I even tried to make a little ball of the frozen pate and swallow it with water like a pill, but don't try that. It gets stuck in your throat and you start gagging up liver and that is one flavor you do NOT want to choke on. Trust me.

Eventually I found it easiest to heat up 1-2 tablespoons of pate in the pan with my morning bacon and just scoop it up onto the end of the bacon and eat it. 

I also purchased some ground beef that is 25% ground heart and liver. I will be trying that next week as a meatloaf or meatballs... heavily seasoned.

3. Fermented foods. Introducing good bacteria into the gut helps with healing. Probiotics are nice, but fermented foods are even better. This was easy for me; I started buying Bubbie's sauerkraut and pickles (no vinegar added; naturally fermented) and drinking the occasional glass of kombucha (from the grocery store... but watch the ingredient list!)

4. Fish, grass fed gelatin, and healthy fats. I love fish, and eating wild salmon gives me healthy fats I need, too. I also get my fats from olives (canned with salt and no additives and NO pimentos, which are a nightshade), coconut milk, and avocados for the most part.

When I make sure I get these foods into my diet every week, I definitely feel better and have more energy.

Aside from food, there are some lifestyle components to the Autoimmune Protocol.

1) getting adequate sleep (8-10 hours/night) and its role in reducing inflammation. If you have read my blog for long, you know I have had sleep issues from the time my last child was born. I had to be up every 2 hours in the night (minimum) when she was a baby, and I never really got back into a good sleep schedule. Even when I have a nice quiet, dark room by myself all night, I was waking up every 2 or 3 hours for pretty much no reason. Well, sometimes I had to pee, or sometimes there was a kid in the kitchen fixing himself a late night snack (and I wake up at the slightest sound!) I also would wake up from heartburn sometimes. But now, on this diet I am sleeping better and more soundly. No more heartburn or acid reflux. I didn't know this, but nighttime waking can be a symptom of thyroid disease. Since starting Synthroid I have slept better and I no longer wake every 2 hours. I do still wake around 3 every night, but usually can get back to sleep. I generally go to bed earlier now and get up as late as possible (usually around 7 am). Better sleep has really increased my quality of life.

2) reducing stress. This was a huge one for me! I spent most of my life dealing with stress by binge eating. That is not a good option at all. And while this is probably the hardest part of AIP for me (even harder than liver), it is also one of the most essential for my health. So I am working on this every day. There are two parts to this. First is reducing the actual sources of stress so there is less to deal with. So far, I dropped a volunteer position that had turned into a source of stress for me, and I have cut a toxic person or two out of my life. I made some new rules, such as, if I do not want to answer the phone, I don't. If I do not want to say yes to an obligation, I smile and say no. I pay more attention to what I truly want and focus on the things that bring me and my family joy. The second part to the equation is learning to actually deal with stress in a more effective manner. I'm working on this one... but it's tough. I still *want* to turn to food, but am doing so far less often and making much healthier choices when I do. I have been learning basic meditation, which I find quite soothing. I have learned to center myself and control my breathing and even lower my own blood pressure in this way. I try to turn to friends, relax in a warm bath, or even just have a good cry. Sometimes I cook, which I find very calming as well. Standing in the kitchen peeling and chopping vegetables puts me in a good, happy state of mind. Walking, biking, and swimming all help reduce stress in the body, too, and moderate exercise is another part of the AIP lifestyle, as is getting outside in the sun every day. 

So you see, it's not just about restrictions. On AIP, there is a lot to *do* for your health. And those are the things I am now focusing on. 

I am no doctor, but if you have struggled with random symptoms and just don't feel well, or if you know you have an autoimmune disease, you might consider AIP. Hey, it's just a month, and then you can slowly add things back! Ask your doctor. This has changed my life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chocolate Cake for Dinner? Yep.

I had a rough couple of days this week. Just circumstances, stuff I have to deal with, emotionally draining but, you know, it's life. After two particularly harrowing days (during which I stayed 100% AIP as usual), I was really drained. There were a couple of times that I truly thought about how nice it would be to make a run for some crunchy cookies, or some other dessert. After all, I used to cope with stress by eating junk food! It's something I've avoided lately. But boy, some days a girl just needs her chocolate! Which is doable for me, since I've reintroduced cocoa on the AIP. So today, I just decided, you know, to have chocolate cake for dinner.

Chocolate cake!

Yep, there is an AIP recipe for a "chocolate cake" made with carob (which some people allow on AIP, but I didn't use) so I just subbed cocoa equally and prayed that somehow, putting 2 green plantains, a banana, some canned pumpkin, cocoa, maple syrup and coconut oil in a blender (with no eggs and no flours of any kind) would magically turn into cake. I had my doubts... but...


AIP autoimmune Paleo "chocolate" cake

Yeah. It was amazing. I made the frosting by whisking together coconut cream, cocoa, and honey with a dash of vanilla.

I thought it tasted just like a bakery cake. My son came into the kitchen for a bite as I was telling him how great it was. He took a bite and looked at me and said, "wow, you are really used to eating bland, boring stuff." LOL! He is right! My taste buds have changed from 90% of my intake being meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. He said it was not very sweet, and not all that chocolatey, and overall kind of bland. But to me it was the best cake ever. Good enough, I don't want to go back to the old, processed stuff anyway.

Not going to make a habit of eating cake for dinner, but tonight, it really filled the need. I'll freeze some slices (unfrosted) so I can bring them out when the PMS strikes. I am feeling great!

*Edited to add nutrition facts:

Cut your cake into 9 squares and here are the stats, without frosting:
150 calories
8.5 g fat
21 g carbs
2.5 g fiber
1 g protein
(and notably, 38% of your RDA of Vitamin A for the day!)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stuff I Did, and Weigh In

This week I wasn't sure what to expect from the scale. I had my first successful reintroduction (chocolate), didn't get to the gym much, and went to another fair. About the fair... it was so much fun! All the rides, exhibits, bunnies and chickens and goats... there was a *lot* of walking around, to the point my feet did start to hurt and I had to find some sitting areas later in the day. But we were there for several hours so I guess I did okay! I ate before I went but wow did all that fair food smell good! When it was dinnertime, I scoped out all the places selling meats, looked for the ones that looked the least seasoned (no taco meat!) and then asked the cook at the cheese steak booth about the seasonings on his meat. When I determined it was AIP-friendly, I ordered one cheese steak... no bun, no cheese, no mayo, no peppers. Haha, the look on his face! They complied, though, and I got a nice BIG plate of cooked steak, grilled onions, and mushrooms. It was quite delicious and I couldn't even finish it all! I left the fair feeling very satisfied and not like I was missing out at all.

Anyway, let me get the food stuff out of the way first. Yesterday I made:

Rainbow roasted root vegetables (red and Chioggia beets, sweet potato, orange and white carrots)

AIP recipe, rainbow roasted root vegetables with Chioggia beets

Beef bone broth (made from local, grass fed beef bones roasted and simmered for 12 hours)

grass fed bone broth

(This made enough for two quarts of bone broth to use during the week, plus the lovely white tallow at the top of the jars to use in cooking).

AIP Blackberry blueberry cobbler for one (I made 1/4 of the recipe, so good topped with coconut cream!)

Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) Blackberry cobbler

AIP  Paleo berry cobbler

I also made watermelon-lime fruit juice gummies (grass fed gelatin is a recommended supplement on AIP), but they didn't turn out how I imagined. They have a texture of really firm Jell-o. I'll still eat them though.

Other stuff I ate this week:

Bacon, chicken breast, flat-iron steak, pork cube steak, liver (just a few bites), wild salmon
Buttercup squash, pattypan squash, onions, Romaine, beets, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, cucumbers
Cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, bananas, plums, peaches, berries
Olive oil, avocado oil, olives, avocados, coconut oil, coconut flakes, coconut milk
Kombucha, sauerkraut
Black decaf tea, honey, Choffy, Trader Joe's mints, cocoa

That's it! Simple eating.

Activity for the week:

Biked 4 days (15, 20, 20, 30 minutes)
Swimming once (30 minutes)
Walking a lot at the fair and once for exercise (about 1.5 miles)

Feeling: great! Good energy, sleeping well, feeling well-fed.

Scale this morning said: 229 pounds. That's THREE pounds gone this week. Super excited about this. When I started AIP I did it solely for my health. I had had enough of fighting my body with diets and while I was on hiatus went full force into getting *well*, which meant a lot of things: doctor visits, a new elimination diet, eating stuff like liver and fermented foods and bone broths, getting better sleep, and taking the Synthroid my doctor prescribed. I put my weight on the back burner, stopped counting calories and carbs, and just zoned in on doing AIP 100% and treating my body correctly. And look, look! The weight is coming off better than it has in years! Can you believe it? Because I hardly can. I said it two weeks ago and I'll say it again: I feel like I am getting better results with *less* effort now, whereas for the past two years I was putting in WAY MORE effort (into weight loss) and getting basically nowhere. Well, I won't question it, I am just so thrilled things are going so well, and I'll keep working at AIP reintroductions and taking good care of my body.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reintroducing Chocolate!

Well you know me, I change my mind and plans on a whim sometimes, and what food to reintroduce first on AIP is no different! I'd bought a jar of ghee to try, but after posting about that I had second thoughts. All along I have said the two things I missed the most were chocolate and coffee. In fact, last week I had a silly, dramatic dream where I was crawling and dragging myself across a parched desert, reaching out my hand and begging... "chocolate! I need chocolate!" Issues? Maybe :) But I do love the flavor of it, and was eating a square of 88% dark every night before AIP. So, after some reflection and looking over my AIP resources, I decided to reintroduce chocolate (cocoa, actually) before ghee. My e-book guide says it is fine to add things you miss the most first, but also gives a chart with foods divided into 4 stages... stage 1 being least likely to cause a reintoduction reaction, and stage 4 being the most likely to be problematic. Cocoa is a stage 2 food.

When you decide to add chocolate, you can't just go buy a Hershey bar or eat some organic milk chocolate. If you do that and have a reaction, you won't know if it was to the cocoa specifically, or to the milk or other ingredients in the candy (soy lecithin is a common additive, and soy is avoided on AIP). In the e-book, there is a recipe for homemade chocolates which is basically plain cocoa mixed with coconut oil and honey. That's a great option. Here are two other options that I'm using.

1) Choffy. I had this on hand already as I was drinking it through the winter. It's just roasted, ground-up cocoa beans that you brew in a French Press as you would coffee. It makes a cocoa-flavored hot drink that I love plain. The only ingredient is cocoa beans.

2) Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Honey Mints. I found these at Trader Joe's and they have only three ingredients: chocolate liquor, honey, and peppermint oil. Since honey and mint are already allowed on AIP (and I have been eating them without issue), the only variable is the chocolate liquor, which is just "pure cocoa mass" from cocoa beans (and despite being called liquor, this contains no alcohol).

So on Wednesday I ate one of the Dark Chocolate Honey Mints. It tasted AMAZING. I really missed my chocolate! I waited awhile, didn't notice anything different, and had another one. I had one more in the evening... no issues. Since then I have been enjoying a mint or some Choffy each day and have noticed no problems. I still feel great! If everything stays happy, I'll be able to declare cocoa as my first reintroduction success. That doesn't mean I'll eat a mint candy every day (still need to watch the sugar levels overall), but it gives me one more thing I don't have to avoid and can enjoy in moderation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AIP: Reintroductions on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet

It's been 4 days since I tried that "natural" hot dog, and everything seems back to normal. I felt fine the next day after the migraine went away, so I am considering doing an actual, controlled reintroduction in a day or two. It's kind of fun to think about what to add, but I also feel very cautious. I don't want to mess up what I have going here with the feeling great and the weight loss. I just would like a little more healthy variety and convenience in my diet.

There are several really good articles online about how to do reintroductions on AIP. Here are a couple of links for those of you who are doing AIP or are interested in learning about it:

Reintroducing Foods after Following the Autoimmune Protocol

Reintroducing Foods on the Paleo AIP

Food Reintroductions on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol

There is also a reintroduction guide in the form of an e-book, reviewed here, which I have purchased for more information.

While all these sources vary slightly in their recommendations for reintroductions, making room for personal variances, many of the suggestions are the same.

It is important to complete at least 30 days of strict AIP and see an improvement in your health and symptoms before trying to reintroduce any eliminated foods. It is also important to add one food at a time, slowly, with at least 3 days in between new foods. All of these sources agree on this (some recommend waiting longer), and they also agree that it's best to eat a small amount of the new food first and then wait to see if you have a reaction. Then try a larger amount and see how you feel.

Watch for symptoms of intolerance, such as:

stomach upset/nausea
brain fog
depression or anxiety
skin rashes, breakouts, acne
food cravings
the return of autoimmune disease symptoms

Keep a journal of foods eaten and any symptoms so you can remember what may have caused an issue. If you have symptoms, avoid that food in the future. You can always try to reintroduce it again in a month or two (or longer) if you're not sure.

What to add first? Does the order of reintroductions matter? There are two schools of thinking on this. One is to start by adding the foods you miss the most... the ones that will make the most impact on the enjoyability of your diet. The other option is to start with the foods that are least likely to cause a reaction (foods that are tolerated well by most people). You don't HAVE to reintroduce every food! If you don't really miss nuts, just leave them out. I personally have developed an aversion to coconut oil. I am really sick of having a coconut flavor in so many things. So the food I want to add back the most is butter! There is an order to dairy foods, though, so you should start with the least problematic food in that category. The categories generally look like this (from least problematic to most likely to cause a reaction):

Grass fed ghee - grass fed butter - raw goat milk products -grass fed cream or fermented dairy - grass fed milk or cheese

Seed/nut oils - seed spices - seeds - nuts

Egg yolks before egg whites

...and so on. So you pick a category and go from lowest to highest. I'll start with grass fed ghee.

The recommended foods to start with, in general, are egg yolks, ghee, and seed spices like cumin, coriander, mustard, and nutmeg. And the foods to add *last*, which are most likely to cause symptoms, are egg whites, nightshades (peppers, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes), alcohol, and NSAIDS. For more details on the in-between stages, see the links above.

I bought a jar of ghee and I have never tried it before, but if it tastes anything like butter I will be in heaven adding it to my acorn squash and my baked sweet potatoes!

Feeling good and very happy that my life has turned around so dramatically in just a few months. Sometimes I am afraid it will fall apart. I know just how quickly that can happen. But I believe in what I am doing and am so thankful for the doctor who set me on the right path. Never give up people. You might be spinning in place for months... years! But if you keep working and looking and trying, you never know when things will turn completely around. And then there is joy.

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