Nourishing Your Body into Healing: Autoimmune Protocol
Tiff and I have been trying to come up with ways to introduce ourselves on the blog for people who may not know us personally. Even those who do know me personally may not know the details of my story and so I realized, there is no way that I can introduce myself in a few witty sentences about where I am from or how many kids I have. I'm Diane. This is part of my story, little snippets of what has been pushing me toward wellness for the past decade. As most stories worth your time, this one starts with pain and ends with hope.
For years as a young adult I strived to have a body that I deemed as “in shape”. At the time, to me that meant rail thin and seemingly flawless, like the teens modeling in the Delia’s catalog. Except I wasn't a teen. I was a twenty something woman who was 5'9 with a curvy figure. I worked out, sometimes for three hours after everyone in my house had gone to bed. I paid big bucks of my hard earned money for gym memberships. I made it my goal to eat as few calories as possible and found little tricks to keep myself full for longer periods of time. There was as a season of my life where my diet consisted of a venti coffee with one pump maple syrup on the way to work, a 16 oz bottle of coca cola, a coffee on the way home from work, cigarettes and occasionally canned pureed pineapple. My reasoning for this was that “real” food made me feel sick and constipated. If you had told me I had an eating disorder, I would have laughed at you. I didn't give thought to gut health or think of the long term effects of starving your body of vital nutrients.
After quitting smoking and getting into healthier patterns of eating to fuel my body, I traveled a lot. In the first three years after getting married, we circled the globe 5 times. Sometimes the conditions were extreme. We ate local food prepared by local people. Sometimes this looked like sheep butt fat boiled in oil on the mountain passes between Kabul and Mazar-e-sharif, Aghanistan, sometimes it looked like pizza from Uncle Sal’s in New Jersey, rice and beans in the mountains of Panama, fresh poke with friends in Hawaii, midwestern potlucks, chai in India, military rations packets in Port Au Prince, Haiti, airplane cuisine. The list goes on. At the time I was thriving with the adventure of it all- honored by the hospitality of others, learning that sometimes sharing a meal with someone is the simplest way to connect and honor or serve, trying to be “low maintenance” by accepting whatever was put in front of me.
It wasn't until we returned to our Hawaii home after earthquake relief in St. Marc, Haiti that some serious symptoms set in. After becoming violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea, too weak to even walk myself to the bathroom so I would just sleep on the linoleum floor of our studio apartment, I was diagnosed with salmonella and shigella. The doctor explained that he wasn't going to do any further tests because “all parasites are treated the same way medically”. I accepted what he was saying and went on a strong antibiotic. Two nights later, I was in the ER with a respiratory reaction to the medication that I was taking. My body was overtaxed and not fighting off infection well. I started to develop autoimmune symptoms, the main one being debilitating arthritis in every joint in my body. For months I was bedridden and if I needed to walk up an incline or up a set of stairs, the only way that I could do it was backwards. Every few days I would go to the doctor to have my knees drained because they were so enflamed and swollen. I was living on an island, in a moldy apartment and I didn't have access (or much knowledge) about more natural and wholistic approaches to health care.
My symptoms were not getting better with the treatment that my doctor was recommending so I started to do my own research. I learned about autoimmune diseases, balancing the pH of your body, fighting inflammation with diet. With each new article and book that I read, with each new remedy I tried, I felt like i was discovering the tip of an iceberg that I had been searching for. I invested in a Vitamix (actually my parents bought it for me as a gift, before it was cool and trendy to have one) because the only way that I could digest food was in liquid form. I knew that I needed to trust my instincts to heal my body in a more wholistic way.
I wanted nothing more than to be a mother but felt so afraid of becoming pregnant because I lived in chronic pain. I wasn't sure how I would carry a baby, or if my health would affect the child or how I would raise a child while living in pain and the unknowns of my health.
I remember the first time after my salmonella diagnosis that I completed a DVD workout without feeling pain. I excitedly told my husband, I am healed! A week later, I found out that we were expecting our first baby. I threw up around the clock for 17 weeks. The moments of relief in between were few and far between and I was hospitalized a few times to receive IV fluids.
I had three subsequent pregnancies and had severe hyperemesis gravidium (a whole lot of vomiting around the clock) for each pregnancy (the most severe lasted for 20 weeks). The care that I received with my midwives was so amazing but it wasn't until I was moving overseas after having my third child and had to obtain my medical records that I learned about hyperemesis graividium and began researching more thoroughly. I was beginning to put together the puzzle pieces of just how intricately connected all of our systems are. After having children there would be times where I was feeling great and could participate in Crossfit and other high intensity workouts and there were seasons where I could barely move or was daily having to breathe through the pain just to perform simple tasks or play with my kids. The hard days felt hopeless and dark, especially the ones that came after a series of good days.
I wanted to take an integrative approach to my healing and after moving overseas yet again decided it was time. I went to a doctor that a friend recommended and was instantly relieved when she asked me to tell her my whole story. Starting at childhood with antibiotic use and having my tonsils removed all the way up to hyperemesis gravidium and arthritis. She listened and didn't flinch. She affirmed that I was on the right tract with the approach I was taking and offered to help connect the rest of the missing pieces. Together we came up with a plan for me to go on an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet for 30 days minimum. She looked at the whole picture of my health and didn’t just try to mask the symptoms. She also suggested some supplements to help my body heal while on AIP. Often times, if you have something coming through on your skin it is a sign that the organs inside your body are overtaxed. For example, from when I was about ten years old I had psoriasis covering parts of my scalp. It was itchy and made me feel so self conscious. I had tried all kinds of products to treat it but eventually gave up because I couldn't find a product that wasn't full of chemicals or steroids. Combined with AIP, a liver cleansing and support supplement started to clear the psoriasis.
Along with AIP I also started doing laser therapy on my joints. It is a simple procedure that floods your joints with light to help regenerate cartilage. It sounds fake and magical but it has really helped me. There were times when I regarded not being about to do certain workouts as defeat. Now I realize, healing is not instantaneous. Of course I want to be limitless in the future and am always working toward greater healing, but my mindset and approach to what it means to be fit and healthy have changed so much. For me, fitness means overcoming daily. It means showing up for myself and working as hard as I can. Wellness is about looking at the whole picture and not isolating or getting simple fixes for symptoms. It is about making choices for yourself to incorporate what nourishes you and makes you thrive rather than focusing on what to avoid.
I could literally talk about autoimmune diseases and gut health all day long (sometimes I do) but for the sake of this blog, and because I know ya'll got places to be, I am going to unpack it as simply as I can.
*I am not a doctor or health professional of any kind. This is all information that I have gathered along my own process of healing and because I'm a huge nerd. If you have a life threatening health condition, go to a doctor.*
What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease occurs when our immune system, which is meant to protect us, turns against us and attacks our tissues, proteins and cells. You can find a list of hundreds of autoimmune diseases here. The proteins and cells attacked in each particular autoimmune disease determines which how the disease will present itself, however the root cause is always the same. For example, psoriasis is present when the proteins within the cells that make up your skin are attacked. Arthritis is an attack on the tissue of your joints. Certain autoimmune diseases attack your thyroid or gastrointestinal tract and on and on.
What is AIP?
The autoimmune protocol (abbreviated AIP) is a strategic way to regulate the immune system through diet and lifestyle. It is not just a diet or a cleanse. With AIP there is a strong emphasis on nutrient density to provide an optimal setting for your body to heal. It is a strict version of the Paleo diet. The foods we eat can have a great impact on our overall health. Some foods that you may think of as "healthy" (certain vegetables, whole grains etc.) could actually be contributing to your inflammation and making your autoimmune disease flare. Every disease is different but reducing inflammation and giving the immune system the support that it needs to regulate itself and heal will help relieve symptoms in every single chronic illness. Simply put, with autoimmune disease, your body is attacking itself. AIP provides your body with the resources it needs to start repairing itself. I'm going to repeat, It is not a punishment for your body or a fad diet. It is a strategic way to heal yourself and nourish your body. There are four main components that AIP hones in on.
> Nourishing the body and supporting the immune system by increasing the nutrient density in your foods.
> Gut health. Leaky gut is a major factor in autoimmune disease. With AIP there is an emphasis on foods that help to seal and repair the gut.
> Hormone regulation. The food we eat, when we eat, how much we eat all affect our hormonal balance and in turn, our immune system.
> Immune function. Sealing a leaky gut, a healthy diversity of gut microorganisms and micronutrients and regulated hormones are all key in regulating our immune system.
Supplements I found helpful on AIP:
*check with your doctor before taking any supplements*
> Aloe juice (first thing in the morning- soothes gut and helps to repair leakage. I think its gross so add it to juice)
> Digestive enzymes.
>Food based Vitamin C
>l-glutamine (helps repair leaky gut)
Gently detoxing your body during AIP is also very beneficial and can help to further support your systems. Tiff is going to share more on ways to detox your body later this week.
If you decide to do AIP, here is a little cheat sheet. When you look at it, be reminded that you have people standing with you at Wholly Mother as you work toward optimizing your diet and lifestyle.
AutoImmune Protocol Foods to Eat:
Arrowroot, Artichokes, Arugula, Asparagus, Beets, Beet greens, Black olives, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Capers, Carrots, Cassava, Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Collard Greens, Cucumber, Dandelion Greens, Endive, Garlic, Green Olives, Jicama, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Napa Cabbage, Okra, Pumpkin, Radishes , Radicchio, Rutabaga, Scallions, Shallots
Spinach, Spring Onion, Sweet Potato, Swiss chard, Taro, Turnip Greens, Turnips, Watercress, Yams, Zucchini
Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Bananas, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloups, Cherries, Clementines, Coconuts, Cranberries, Currants, Dates, Figs, Grapefruit, Grapes, Honeydew melon, Kiwi, Lemon, Limes, Mandarin Oranges, Mangoes, Nectarines, Oranges, Papayas, Peaches, Pears, Pineapples, Plantains, Plumes, Pomegranate, Raspberries, Strawberries Watermelon
Meat & Poultry:
Beef, Bison, Chicken, Lamb, Mutton, Turkey, Wild Game
Bone Broth (or start with meat broth depending on your gut health), kidney, liver
Fish & Shellfish:
Anchovies, Catfish, Clams, Cod, Crab, Crawfish, Halibut, Herring, Lobster, Mackerel, Mahi Mahi, Mussels, Octopus, Oysters, Prawns, Salmon, Sardines, Scallops, Shrimp, Squid, Trout, Tuna