I ditched the autoimmune protocol.
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:
- I started thyroid hormone supplementation.
- 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.
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.
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.