What’s AIP again? An autoimmune healing update

What’s AIP again? An autoimmune healing update

I ditched the autoimmune protocol.

Excitedly making all the fruit crumbles in my post AIP phase.

It happened gradually and yet quite suddenly. One day I was on board, the next I was not. I didn’t reintroduce everything in a day. I was (somewhat) systematic in my reintroductions; I didn’t want three-plus months of strictly following the elimination phase to go to waste. But I also wasn’t entirely scientific in my approach. I added things one at a time, waited to add legumes as I know they can be fickle for me, and what do you know, I felt better and better with each reintroduction.

When I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP), I was very invested. I bought books, consumed podcasts, and religiously followed every #AIP Instagram influencer I could find. I’m glad I took this all-in approach, otherwise, completing the elimination phase may not have been possible. I stuck with it, gave it my all, and emerged on the other side somewhat unscathed.

The first 4-6 weeks on the protocol went well. Symptoms improved, I believed in the process, and I was sure I was on the path toward healing. Some symptoms remained, however, and the real healing didn’t start until two things happened:

  1. I started thyroid hormone supplementation.
  2. I actually, legitimately rested.

The key component here was rest. Real rest. Not an extra rest day here or there, but sit-on-the-couch, do nothing rest. This is when things really turned around.

Less pounding, more downward dog-ing.

One of my physicians recommended I take some time off. I resisted. And in that resistance, I found softness. Ease. I recognized my history of exercise addiction, disordered eating, and restriction. I noticed my fear and insecurity, the wisps of my identity wrapped around my running shoes. This was an opportunity to push myself, address my fears, and honor my body. I circumnavigated my ego and stopped running. I was terrified.

I took some time with no structured exercise. I still moved: I did yoga, went on walks, rock climbed with friends – but nothing was prescribed. Each day was a blank slate. It nourished my soul – and my adrenal glands.

During those two months, I did some blood work with my doctor and discovered that since starting AIP, my inflammatory markers worsened, while my thyroid levels stayed roughly the same. Some GI symptoms were reemerging, despite continuing to abide by AIP, and my energy levels weren’t up to par. My doctor recommended I ditch the prescribed diet and focus on eating intuitively instead.

“It’s up to you,” she said. “But if I were you, I’d at least add some variety into your diet.”

I reintroduced black pepper that night. A few days later, I ate some white rice. The next day, a bell pepper. It was scandalous.

Many factors could have contributed to the change in blood levels: stress from AIP, a sudden shift in brain chemicals from ditching regular, intense physical activity, the stress of choosing a grad school and flying across the country multiple times… many things could have influenced this shift. After stressing over the change in blood levels – and at the recommendation of many health care providers – I’ve chosen to place my focus on my day-to-day symptoms (or lack thereof!) instead of the numbers.

I continued reintroducing foods in what I’ll call an aggressively systematic manner. I felt better and better with each reintroduction. My energy increased, my skin improved, I was sleeping through the night, and my GI system found a state of normalcy and regularity I have never known (it’s a miracle!). And, after nearly four months of an absent menstrual cycle, my period returned. Things were in working order again – and all it took were some tomatoes and white rice.

The upward trajectory continued as I reincorporated more movement into my days and weeks. I started running again, gently and slowly, honoring my lost fitness and gained perspective. I relished the activity’s simplicity, even with sore legs and tired lungs. My heart was full.  

Let's Adventure
Dormant dreams (of mountain adventures with friends) are coming alive again.

The elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol provided a physical, emotional, and mental recalibration. It helped me widen my lens and gain a greater understanding of my relationship with food, movement, and my body. It stripped me raw and was triggering in many ways, but it also helped me rebuild. A few steps back, a few steps forward.

I no longer subscribe to AIP. I no longer subscribe to any dietary regimen (except gluten-free, because autoimmune disease). I am working to better understand intuitive eating and its many principles and takeaways (this podcast series is a great start!). I know what makes me feel good and what doesn’t – sometimes that’s ice cream, other times it’s a salad. I can feel my body inch toward homeostasis – toward its home base, a place of health, nourishment, and vibrancy. If AIP has taught me anything it is that my body knows exactly what it needs at any given moment, and it is up to me to listen.

Listening to my body is akin to running up mountains – it requires grit, grace, patience, and humility. I am feeling like myself again: Fueled, energized, and dreaming up big, audacious goals that excite, inspire, and scare me. This feels right. This feels like home.

The Autoimmune Protocol: Reintroductions

The Autoimmune Protocol: Reintroductions

It’s day 65 on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), and this week, I reintroduced black pepper.

It’s been a long road to these reintroductions.

I was nervous. I tried to reintroduce black pepper about a month ago, and had a rough flare that week. Looking back, I wouldn’t say it was the pepper’s fault – I had just returned from my first weekend of travel on AIP, was ramping up my running after a 50K, and was juggling some major life decisions. The environment was not conducive to food reintroductions; however, I was antsy.

First meal with black pepper! Featuring my cacti.

After recovering from that flare, making some additional lifestyle changes, and getting through two weeks of cross country travel, I’m feeling ready for these reintros. There are fewer variables, fewer symptoms, and I’ve been strictly following AIP for two months. I’ve seen incredible improvement in my symptoms. I’m ready. It’s time.

Last weekend, I dug my pepper mill out of my off-limits AIP cabinet, cranked it out for two days, and then waited. It was a major success. Welcome back, black pepper. I’ve missed you.

The world is my oyster with this additional spice. Rotisserie chickens are no longer off the table on a busy weeknight. Every brand of jerky is mine for the taking. Half of my freezer is no longer off limits (the pre-AIP days included pepper with every meal). This… this is glorious.

Reintroductions on AIP are an exciting time.

Today, I’m reintroducing paprika to my diet (largely because, with black pepper and paprika, I can go to CAVA, a Mediterranean Chipotle-style restaurant I have missed dearly).

There is a science to reintroductions; however, I am not directly abiding by that science. I’m using it as a template. In fact, I think the entire Autoimmune Protocol should be considered a template. Throughout this process, I am learning a lot about my body. I’m discovering just how fragile my digestive system is and intimately exploring my relationship with food, the act of eating, and my appearance. The last 65 days have not been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. There have been tears, tantrums, utter defeat, and behaviors resembling that of a four year-old while handling raw liver.

AIP is a template. It is just one season of my healing journey.

It’s important to note that this protocol is just that: a protocol. It is not a diet. It includes an elimination phase and a reintroduction phase. The goal is not to live in the elimination phase forever. The goal is to make the time and space for your body to heal by removing certain foods, and then slowly, methodically and with an open mind, reintroduce those foods and expand your diet. I am seeking health and healing, not a set weight or clothing size. And I firmly believe that a wide variety of foods is necessary both for our physical and mental health. We cannot live in the elimination phase forever. Nor should we.

With that, let’s talk reintroductions.

Sarah Ballantine, the medical biophysicist who created the Autoimmune Protocol, outlines the reintroduction phase well in her book The Paleo Approach. I’ll be combining her methodology with the suggestions and protocol provided by my physician and dietician-nutritionist.

When reintroducing foods, it’s important to maintain a journal of symptoms, especially as some food reactions may seem completely unrelated to the food consumed.

Reactions may include:
  • Symptoms of your disease returning or worsening
  • GI symptoms: bloating, gas, stomachache, changes in bowel movements, etc.
  • Reduced energy or fatigue
  • Food cravings for sugar or fat
  • Pica (cravings for minerals from nonfood items, such as clay, chalk, or sand)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Increased mucus production (runny nose, postnasal drip, etc.)
  • Coughing or increased need to clear your throat
  • Itchy eyes or mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Aches and pains
  • Changes in skin (rashes, acne, dry skin, dry hair or nails)
  • Mood changes (mood swings, feeling depressed, anxious, less able to handle stress)

Even just one of these symptoms may indicate a food sensitivity (yes, even mood swings!). Symptoms may occur an hour after the food was consumed all the way up to a couple of days after the fact. You want to limit the variables when reintroducing foods, so do your best to keep your lifestyle the same. If you’re sick, facing a looming deadline at work, or suddenly decide to train for a half-marathon, it isn’t time to reintroduce foods. Remember that any number of factors can cause the above reactions, so do your best to limit the lifestyle factors that may complicate your reintroduction process.

When you’re ready to reintroduce foods (huzzah!), Dr. Ballantine suggests the following protocol:
  1. Select one food to challenge, be prepared to eat it two to three times in one day, and then avoid it for a few days.
  2. First, eat a tiny nibble of the food (a half teaspoon or less). Wait fifteen minutes. Then, eat a tiny bite of the food (one teaspoon). Wait fifteen minutes.
  3. If you have any symptoms, stop! It’s not time for this food quite yet. If you don’t have symptoms, eat a slightly bigger bite (1.5 teaspoons). Carry on with your day.
  4. After two to three hours, monitor yourself for symptoms.
  5. Now, eat a normal-size portion of the food – either by itself or as part of a meal.
  6. Don’t eat the food again for 3-7 days, depending on your sensitivity. Don’t reintroduce any other foods during this time. Monitor yourself for symptoms.
  7. If you have no symptoms over three to seven days, you’re in the clear! Nom away.

For me, I’m going to follow a slightly looser reintroduction methodology, especially as I work my way through the spices.

My reintroduction protocol is more like this:
  1. Select one food to challenge, be prepared to eat it over the course of one to two days, and then avoid it for three to four days.
  2. Eat a meal’s worth of that food/spice – ideally, cook with the spice for a meal and enjoy it.
  3. Monitor yourself for symptoms in the hours following that meal.
  4. If no symptoms occur, eat another meal with that food (in this case spice) either the same day or the following day.
  5. Don’t eat the food again for three to four days. Don’t reintroduce any other foods during this time. Monitor yourself for symptoms.
  6. If no symptoms occur, you may reincorporate that spice/food into your regular diet (boomshakalaka).

When reintroducing foods, it can be hard to decide what to reintroduce first. Some say to reintroduce what you miss the most first. Others, what would add more ease and convenience to your life. Ballantine suggests a set order of reintroductions based on what is most likely to cause a reaction. For me, I’m combining these tactics and creating my own system based on my symptoms and triggers.

Here is Ballantine’s suggested order of reintroductions, as outlined in The Paleo Approach:

Stage 1:

  • Egg yolks
  • Legumes with edible pods (green beans, sugar snap peas, peas, etc.)
  • Fruit- and berry-based spices
  • Seed-based spices
  • Seed and nut oils (sesame seed oil, walnut oil, etc.)
  • Ghee from grass-fed dairy

Stage 2:

  • Seeds (including whole, ground, and butters, like tahini)
  • Nuts (including whole, ground, and butters like almond butter), except cashews and pistachios
  • Cocoa or chocolate
  • Egg whites
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Alcohol in small quantities

Stage 3:

  • Cashews and pistachios
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet peppers
  • Paprika
  • Coffee
  • Grass-fed raw cream
  • Fermented grass-fed dairy (yogurt, kefir)

Stage 4:

  • Other dairy products (grass-fed whole milk and cheese)
  • Chili peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Other nightshades and nightshade spices
  • Alcohol in larger quantities
  • White rice
  • Traditionally prepared legumes (soaked and fermented)
  • Traditionally prepared gluten-free grains (ideally, soaked and fermented)
  • Foods you have a history of a severe reaction to
  • Foods you are allergic to
Since I started this protocol, one thing has become very clear: my lifestyle is my main trigger.

Despite spending 60 days on the protocol, I have caused flares, GI distress, and surges in symptoms solely through my physical activity, stress management techniques, and (lack of) sleep. For me, managing my illness is more so about managing my stress and shifting my mindset and lifestyle than it is about what I eat. I am not downgrading the importance of AIP and eating a nutrient-dense diet – these have been huge in my healing process – however, I know, for me, my lifestyle is the biggest factor in my healing journey. Not my diet. With that said, my process for reintroductions will differ from someone suffering from a different autoimmune disease with different symptoms and triggers.

My Reintroductions Plan

Gang’s all here.

I am going to reintroduce all spices (including the seed-and fruit-based spices and nightshades), followed by eggs and tomatoes and sweet peppers. Nightshades are typically associated with pain, which I have never experienced as a symptom, so we (me and my treatment team) are going to approach these foods first. I am going to avoid all nuts, dairy, and legumes a while longer, as these have caused major GI issues for me in the past.

Rather than create a comprehensive four-stage reintroduction phase, I am taking it one food at a time, and continuing to work to improve my stress management techniques and lifestyle choices.

Want to learn more about the Autoimmune Protocol? Check out my introduction posts and explore the leaders of the AIP community: Sarah Ballantine at thepaleomom.com and Autoimmune Wellness, which provides a wealth of information curated by the powerful duo Angie Alt and Mickey Trescott.

Are you on the Autoimmune Protocol? How are you approaching your reintroductions?

GoSamGo and Memo2Munch join forces. And, oh, is it delicious.

GoSamGo and Memo2Munch join forces. And, oh, is it delicious.

A good friend of mine, and fellow foodie, has been blogging away with delicious and healthy recipes that please all appetites, and food restrictions! Most of her recipes are vegan and dairy-free; however, occasionally a gluten-free recipe pops up, and of course I have to try it. We decided to start experimenting together and create delicious gluten-and dairy-free confections that will please our friends and our stomachs. The first installment of the Memo2Much/GoSamGo take on GF/DF cooking was a major success: monkey bread! While this recipe isn’t entirely healthy by sugar standards (but we did use coconut oil!), it is delicious, and on a rainy Sunday afternoon, that was all that mattered. Enjoy, and be sure to head over to Memo2Munch for more delicious vegan and dairy-free recipes!

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Monkey Bread – featuring Memo2Munch

Dough: Memo2Munch biscuit recipe with 1:1 GF baking flour (we used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 baking flour)

Brown sugar topping: 

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix and spoon one tablespoon of flour/sugar mixture into greased muffin tins

Cinnamon sugar to coat dough: 

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix together in gallon Ziploc bag

Roll biscuit dough into small balls, about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, and put in the bag with sugar and cinnamon mixture; mix together well.

Place 4-5 coated dough balls into each muffin tin, on top of the oil/sugar base.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.


We were craving sugar for this recipe; however, if you’re looking to limit your sugar intake, here are some ideas we had:

  • Swap the brown sugar for honey, and do 1/4 cup melted coconut oil and 1/4 cup of honey for the base in the muffin tins.
  • You could also replace the 4 Tbsp of dairy-free butter with pumpkin puree in the biscuit recipe, for a pumpkin monkey bread!

Creamy almond pasta with basil pesto meatballs

Creamy almond pasta with basil pesto meatballs

Creamy like fettuccine alfredo, but also healthy, gluten-free and addictive. Need I say more?

Serves 4

Sauce:

1/2 large yellow onion

1/2 Cup white wine

2 large garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 Cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Cups unsweetened almond milk

olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Pasta:

2 packages RP’s GF linguine or fettuccine

4 Cups fresh spinach

2 Tablespoons sweet basil or fresh basil

1 package basil pesto chicken meatballs, I like the Brat Hans brand they carry at Whole Foods, but any sort of meat would work – Italian sausage, ground turkey, tofu…

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch with a few tablespoons of the almond milk until there are no clumps. Set aside.
  2. Over a medium-large skillet, heat olive oil and cook the chicken meatballs. Let set over low heat once cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan with olive oil, onions, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook until onions are soft and slightly carmelized, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan with the onions, stir a couple of times and let the wine cook down for a couple minutes. Add the almond milk and a bit more salt. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer. Whisk in the corn starch mixture. Stir in the cheese and let simmer, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes.
  5. The gluten free pasta cooks extremely fast – in about two minutes, so boil the pasta water while the sauce simmers.
  6. While the water boils, cook your spinach in the skillet with the chicken meatballs. Add a pinch of salt and cook until the leaves are barely wilted, a minute or two. Set aside.
  7. Cook the pasta per packaged instructions. Save about 1/2 Cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
  8. Drain pasta and add to the skillet with the chicken meatballs and spinach. Pour the sauce into the pan and toss to combine. Add the basil. Add some pasta water if needed to reach desired consistency. Taste and adjust your seasonings. Enjoy!

Note: Next time, I’m going to add some more veggies, probably some mushrooms and peas. I may swap leeks for the onions as well. Play with the recipe and use whatever you have on hand!

 

 

Spinach Frittata with Sweet Potato Hash Crust

Spinach Frittata with Sweet Potato Hash Crust

That’s right. I said sweet potato hash, because if there’s any way to my heart, it’s with a sweet potato. Preferably with cinnamon and brown sugar.

This recipe was created a night when my mom didn’t want to cook, and I didn’t want to go out, (in other words, I didn’t want to change into anything other than running shorts and a bro tank) so I offered to make dinner. The fridge only had the staples, so I took what I had and made this rendition of my favorite frittata recipe – from Cookie and Kate’s Baby Spinach Frittata with Sweet Potato Hash Crust, I bring you my version using what I had available to appease a set of hangry parents:

Spinach Frittata with Sweet Potato Hash Crust

Ingredients:

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into into quarter-inch cubes.

1/2 yellow onion, diced

Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Olive oil
8 eggs
1/2 Cup milk
2.5 Cups baby spinach – whilt on top of potatoes once they’re done. Use a cookie sheet for a lid if you need to.
1/2 C cheese of choice (I used a sharp cheddar, but feta would be good, too)
How to:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and salt and pepper (I used a pinch of each), set aside.
You can use a well-seasoned iron skillet or your favorite sauté pan for this recipe. If you use the iron skillet, be sure to use plenty of olive oil – the sweet potatoes like to stick. Sauté the chopped onion and sweet potatoes, and the brown sugar, in an oiled skillet over medium heat until the potatoes are browned and the onions fragrant, 15-20 minutes.
Place the spinach over the potatoes to wilt. To expedite the process, place a lid or cookie sheet (sometimes you have to get creative) over the skillet. Cook until the spinach melts, a minute or two.
Turn down the heat to low and pour the egg mixture over the spinach, add your cheese of choice.
Put the pan in the oven and bake until you can shake it and the middle no longer moves, about 15 minutes. Let the frittata sit a few minutes after you take it out of the oven.
Slice and serve!
Looking back, it would have been nice to add some cumin to the sweet potatoes for flavor, maybe a teaspoon. Other than that it was a hit. And I got to stay in my bro tank.

Back in the kitchen – gluten-free roasted chicken pesto primavera

Back in the kitchen – gluten-free roasted chicken pesto primavera

I hesitate to post another recipe, because this isn’t a foodie blog, this is more of a hey you, look at me, I’m in college and I swim, bike, run and study blog, but food has always been a large part of my life. Throughout middle school, I had to watch Giada de Laurentiis on the Food Network after school. Every single day. This grew to an affinity for cooking, and a brief stint where my dream job involved learning French, moving to Paris and becoming the next Julia Child. I learned the French and saw the movie Julie and Julia, twice. Didn’t quite get any farther than that. Nonetheless, my love for food and the kitchen has stuck with me and this passion was reawakened when I discovered my gluten intolerance. I had to become innovative in the kitchen to stay sane without flour, because flour is sneaky. But that’s another blog for another day.

I feel this innate sense of pride whenever I successfully cook. A sort of reassurance reminding me that if worst comes to worst, at least I know I can feed myself. Today, I had some leftover roasted chicken with roasted bell peppers and onions from last night (that didn’t quite go as planned – I now know there is a difference between a baking pan and dish when it comes to baking chicken, but the leftovers turned out delicious). I’ve been craving carbs, most likely because I’M FINALLY RUNNING AGAIN, and pasta had been on my mind. I’ve also discovered that basil pesto is way better than marinara. This led me to create my Gluten-free roasted chicken pesto primavera. It’s quick, delicious and makes enough for two dinners, so I have more time to do other Samantha-things, like watch The Mindy Project.

Note: I’m terrible with quantities and never measure anything, so these are rough estimations – add as little or as much as you like.

Gluten-free roasted chicken pesto primavera 

Ingredients: 

Two roasted chicken breasts (either roasted yourself or from a Rotisserie Chicken – I like the rosemary roasted chicken breasts at Whole Foods, too).

1 Cup roasted bell peppers and onions (Again – do it yourself in the oven ahead of time, or buy fresh and sauté them in a little olive oil until tender before you add the chicken).

Two handfuls fresh spinach

One frozen container RP’s gluten free pasta (this is the best gluten free pasta I’ve had – it doesn’t get mushy, tastes great and has texture identical to that of regular pasta).

Pre-made basil pesto to taste

Parmesan cheese, to taste

Salt, for pasta water

To make: 

1. Boil some water with salt and olive oil (so the pasta doesn’t stick together). Meanwhile, over low to medium heat, warm the roasted peppers, onions and chicken. I didn’t need any oil, sticking wasn’t a problem.

2. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes. Yes, gluten-free pasta is that quick. You want it just shy of being completely done, with a bit of bite to it, as you will then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the peppers and chicken. Make sure you save a cup or so of the pasta water as well.

3. Mix the pasta, chicken and peppers mixture over low-medium heat. Once combined, fold in the fresh spinach. Within a few minutes it will wilt down. Add the pesto while the spinach is cooking, mixing it thoroughly in the pan. Add the cup of pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until you have a nice pesto sauce that is evenly mixed throughout the pan. Add a bit of parmesan cheese and mix. Serve immediately, while still warm with more parmesan cheese on top, because you can never have too much parmesan cheese.

Serves two, or one with leftovers for the next day, or one extremely hungry person.

If you have any gluten-free recipe ideas, send them my way and I’ll test them out. I’m always hungry.

Stop whatever you’re doing right now. We’re making pancakes.

Stop whatever you’re doing right now. We’re making pancakes.

I’ve been craving pancakes lately, but I’ve also been somewhat lazy and lacking the necessary ingredients to make delicious gluten-free pancakes (oat flour, sorghum flour, etc.), so I opted for these protein-packed super-easy pancakes.

Two-ingredient pancakes

Serves 1. Prep and cook time: 5 minutes.

Ingredients

1 ripe banana

2 eggs

Optional – 1/8 teaspoon baking powder (to make them a bit fluffier) and some cinnamon

*I also added some chopped pecans to the batter once I poured it in the pan, you could add anything, nuts, granola, blueberries, all kinds of delicious.

Mash the banana in a small bowl. Add in the eggs, mix. Add in baking powder and cinnamon, mix until combined.

I only had to use a small pad of butter in the pan for the first pancake, and it was fine for the rest of the batch. Some pancakes were a bit more done than I’d like, so make sure you keep the burner on low to medium heat, most likely on the low side. The pancakes cook very quickly; don’t leave the pan once you pour the batter, I made the mistake of texting my mom and got a somewhat burnt pancake. Don’t do that. They can be somewhat difficult to flip, but that didn’t hinder the taste in the least.

I ended up using an omelette pan and cooking them one at a time, but with a griddle you could probably get the entire batch done in one round. Serve them with whatever you’d like; I had applesauce on hand. It was delicious.

Let me know if you have any quick and easy recipe ideas; I’d love to test them out!