Happy New Year! We have been sort of crazy with the holidays, it just sort of snuck up on us! I didn’t want the new year to come though without a (maybe too long?!) sum up of what this year has been. I don’t know one person who doesn’t go into New Years thinking about the year that has passed and how they will move forward. For me that means thinking a lot about how my health and nutrition has changed and what that has meant for me and our family.
This year will mark three years that we have been gluten-free and about two years casein-free. After removing gluten and pretty much all dairy, my health saw great improvements. I suffer from Hemiplegic Migraines, a condition that’s symptoms have been debilitating. Along with migraine pain, I suffered from vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and worst of all loss of sensation and function on one side of my body. The condition left me with permanent nerve damage to parts of my face, my right arm and foot.
Things were much better after removing gluten and dairy from my diet, but I was still having migraines along with other neurological symptoms. My neurologist kept prescribing me drug after drug to treat symptoms and ignored the improvements I had after altering my diet. I regularly had high blood pressure, cholesterol and dangerously low Vitamin D and E levels. My general physician wanted to put me on a medication to regulate my blood pressure and another for my cholesterol, in addition to the SEVEN prescriptions I was already on from my neurologist.
I knew I had to make a big change and quickly. I was done with all the medications that made me feel nearly as bad as what the drug was treating and then other medication to try to help the symptoms of the first drug. Finally my doctor put me on Adderol to help my chronic fatigue, then when I couldn’t sleep at night, I was prescribed a sleep medication. I was just floored. He wanted me on uppers and downers just to function normally. I had enough.
Early last year I had lunch with a good friend who suggested that I try the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) to see if I saw any further improvements. I had been looking at benefits of “eating like a caveman” for a while and had gradually been removing more and more artificial things from my family’s diet. So with the hopes that I would find further relief through nutrition, I started off on my AIP journey.
AIP is not easy…. for anyone
I have talked to a number of folks who really grieved the loss of gluten and all the changes they had to make to accommodate it. For me gluten was no real loss, but with AIP there was so much more. Starting out I spent a lot of time being hungry and depressed beginning 100% AIP. I talked a little about the depression and coping here. I learned though that it really is normal to grieve food items, as odd as it sounds. Food in society has been made a social cornerstone for us rather than a point of nutrition. So when I was around friends and family and unable to eat anything, I felt terrible. As I continued, I kept reminding myself that I was doing this to feel better and it was working.
My strategies to come with AIP:
- Research: I poured through my paleo cookbooks and guides to help me collect recipes to be able to use for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Ones that were not AIP friendly, I tried to alter to fit my needs.
- Online Support- I went online and read so much about AIP and surviving it by great bloggers and authors such as The Paleo Mom, Autoimmune Paleo and Paleo Parents
- AIP Cooking Binder- I created a binder for AIP friendly foods and referenced it while meal planning and grocery shopping.
- Food Expulsion- I removed ALL the non-AIP foods from our house for the first few months. The only thing that remained was nuts (for the kids) all nightshades, dairy, grains, beans and more were gone to avoid temptation.
- Meal Planning- Organizing meals was really what helped me the most in the actual act of this nutritional change. I was able to prepare what I needed and know what I was going to eat without thinking about it.
- No eating out- I stopped eating out, completely for the first several months and when at family or friends homes, I usually brought a little something for myself if food was being served.
Retraining the Brain and Body
I have always considered myself very conscious in food selection and nutrition, but this year has taught me a lot. When we removed gluten and dairy from our diets, I had to really re-learn how to cook and bake without those ingredients. Having been a professional baker, I thought that I could jump in without a problem and make amazing things, just gluten-free. I was met with the harsh reality that the absence of gluten made a different in things and I really had to learn how to use gluten-free grains and products. Furthermore, I had to learn how to get my Aspie kiddo to accept them.
When we removed all the grains from our diet, it was a whole new learning experience. But this time, I didn’t look at it simply as substituting food for food and learning how to use grain-free flours, we looked at what the food was doing for our bodies. Though I had thought I was making conscious and healthy food choices before, I realized that I had a great deal to learn.
First I had to retrain my brain to look at food is nourishment for the body, not a social experience. Looking at food as a means to help us grow and heal, it was easier to concentrate on foods that provided the best nutrition for our bodies. With the absence of grains, we were eating tons of healthy vegetables, some we had never used before, and healthy meats usually from grass-fed and pastured sources. We removed all the foods and additives that were toxic for us, allow our bodies to regulate themselves much more effectively.
Our Family Paleo Changes:
- Fermented Foods: home fermenting to include sauerkraut, kombucha and other home fermented vegetables
- Mixed Foods: Raw foods, living foods (fermented and cultured), cooked foods
- Bone Broths
- Removing Household Toxins: to decrease the amount of toxin exposure to the family we starting making our own home cleaners and soaps.
- Family engaged in a 80/20 Paleo diet, I maintained strict AIP
- Organ Meats and Fish: we added organ meats to our regular diets and increase our consumption of healthy fish
Though I maintained a strict Autoimmune Protocol, the entire family was now Paleo and it wasn’t long before we really started seeing improvements in everyone’s health and immunity. My favorite example is the lack of illness we encountered. My kiddo has always had a compromised immune system and we would cope with his allergy, asthma and illnesses every spring and fall. This past year the allergies and asthma have disappeared and the kids have only gotten sick once- a nasty stomach bug that went through.
For me, the improvements with AIP were incredible. I was able to start to really see what foods were effecting my body and what didn’t. Though it was difficult, I could really understand what foods triggered autoimmune responses and learned how to avoid them. It was about 6 months before I tried and successfully reintroduced anything back into my diet. I realized that my body was healing and my gut was able to handle certain things again without causing a negative reaction.
After 1 Month
- Coordination: I had been very clumsy for a long time and always just though that that was how I was. Suddenly I was able to balance myself in my yoga poses that I had never been able to before.
- Sleep: I had spent the previous 3-4 years unable to sleep more than 3-4 hours at a time. Without any medication or supplementation for sleep, I was sleeping an entire night and waking restful.
- Migraine reduction: I was experiencing migraines 1-2 times a week with decreased duration. Previously they lasted between 8 and 24 hours. 1-month: 2-4 hours.
Since then, I reintroduced eggs, nuts, seeds and coffee (from a local roaster, I have reactions to most commercial coffees). I attempted to reintroduce a number of other irritants that currently still effect me including nightshades and chocolate. In addition to finding that I had a strong reaction to nightshades and chocolate I found that I had a strong immune reaction to tapioca (and fresh yucca) and plantains. Those reactions seem to be directly associated to a latex allergy that have had my entire life. Certain fruits and vegetables have a high cross-reactivity with latex. Yucca for instance excretes an rubbery substance in its fresh form, something I learned the hard way making some Brazilian Yucca empanadas. As long as I maintain a diet excluding my body irritants, I do very well.
1 Year Paleo/Modified AIP:
- Continued Coordination: My body’s balance, improved after 1 month paleo, has continued and even improved more.
- Migraine/Neuro Control: I have migraines directly related to food triggers and now I know the cause, usually cross contamination with gluten or nightshades. I periodically get stress induced migraines and migraines if I do not sleep properly.
- Sleep Apnea- In 2009 I was diagnosed and treated for obstructive sleep apnea. In the summer of 2013 (4 months AIP), I had a follow up sleep study and tested normal.
- Weight loss: I struggled with the inability to maintain or lose weight. Within the first few months paleo, I could not keep weight on. 10 months paleo I lost approximately 45 lbs and now maintain a consistent body weight.
- Acne: My life long struggle with acne resolved, completely.
- Hair and Skin: My hair texture and skin improved after years of a very fuzzy/frizzy mess. I had grown lots of new (annoying at first) hair and my skin issues (consistent eczema) improved.
- Chronic Fatigue: I have had a huge improvement in my chronic fatigue issues. Now fatigue only effects me if my sleep is minimal.
- Blood Pressue and Cholesterol levels normalized by mid-year.
Throughout the year my condition has improved, but not without set backs. I have had fluctuation in my sleep and then had to learn how to change my carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral intake to help my body better regulate my sleep. Though the the idea of eliminating sugar scares the begeesus out of me, reducing my sugar consumption and paleo treats helps my neuro conditions and sleep a lot. I have learned to look at my food and nutrition not as deprivation, but optimization.
I think a large part of the year, I spent time feeling that I wasn’t adequately progressing or I should be doing better or more. I see friends and other bloggers and how amazing their transformations and strides have been in their paleo journeys. With such inspiring bloggers and authors, its easy to not feel like I could measure up. I have been criticized by people and sometimes friends or family for the choices that I have made for myself and my family. But, with all this, I have tried to train myself to accept my limitations and rejoice in my successes because I have been so successful in healing myself.
This coming year, I know will provide me and my family with more opportunity to improve my own health and nutrition as well as our physical strength. My goal is to become more active, for myself and my family, and really take our health to the next level. This coming year I will be working with a nutritional counselor to maximize my bodies needs, something I am really excited about. I hope to learn how to better manage my condition (migraines and others including MTHFR) triggers and the effects associated to them.
I think that this will be an amazing year, and for the first time in several years of illness, I am excited about what is in store for us. I hope that you too can make this year the best year possible in every way. Thank you SO much for joining me this year on our family’s journey, we hope to see you next year!