A few months ago, I was contacted by Autoimmune Wellness to share my story as part of their series called, “Stories of Recovery.” The web site has been a huge source of help to me since I began my autoimmune journey more than a year ago. I faithfully read their blog, use their resources and have listened to every episode of their podcast.
By the time the deadline rolled around a few weeks ago to submit my story, I was feeling less than adequate to write a “Story of Recovery.” The autoimmune journey can be a roller coaster, and I’ve been at a low point the past month or so. I’ve been struggling with some recurring issues, and even trying to sort through some new symptoms.
The editor of the blog encouraged me to write my story anyway, so here it is. It’s my hope, as always, that perhaps by sharing my journey I might be able to help someone going through something similar.
If you are new to my blog, here are some links to the back story on my journey with autoimmune disease:
The mystery of Celiac
When the news is difficult to hear
Part One: A new view of food
Part Two: The start of my journey
Part Three: Malnourished in America
Part Four: Solving the gluten free puzzle
Part Five: The Isolation of autoimmune disease
Part Six: From Whole 30 to Paleo AIP
Part Seven: What do we eat?
Part Eight: A year later
My journey: From “impressive” to “beyond awesome”
Listen to my story on the Energy Edge podcast
Thank you for stopping by! I would love to know you were here. Please leave me a comment to say, “Hello”!
So, this time last week, I was standing out on my front porch waiting on my two boys to get home from high school.
Before they could even get out of the car, I greeted them with a warm and friendly cry of: “NONE of the clothes are right! ALL OF THE CLOTHES ARE WRONG!”
They looked at me with that look of, “Our mom has gone crazy, and we have no idea what to do right now.”
I broke out into a hysterical fit of laugh-crying and couldn’t stop for several minutes. I pulled myself together and begged them to please, please, please just watch their sister so I could go to the mall. I had been trying to find something to wear to our 30th high school reunion, and apparently, every single item of clothing in my overstuffed closet was completely wrong.
Why, oh why, are these jeans adding 30 years to my face? Why does this shirt seem to be reflecting light onto all of my wrinkles?! What is going on with all of these clothes?!?
Obviously, the clothes weren’t really the source of my nervous meltdown at that moment. It’s actually been a very crazy couple of months around here. I’ve been working a lot more than usual, and just trying to hold things together with the usual stress of getting into a new fall routine with four very active kids.
I had been half dreading, half excited about our high school reunion for… oh, about 19 years and 364 days since I went to our 10-year reunion. (JUST KIDDING!) I was very excited to see some friends I haven’t seen for a long time. At the same time, I was scared silly that it might kind of feel like… you know… HIGH SCHOOL!
I also seem to get very anxious these days any time I have to leave the comfort of my home-cooked food for more than a day. Two weeks ago, we went to Des Moines to celebrate my brother’s 50th birthday. It was super fun to be with my siblings, parents, nieces and nephews for the weekend. But I also got pretty sick from eating on the road, and then that makes me discouraged that my life has taken this turn that makes it so stinkin’ hard to just … EAT!
Anyway, the high school reunion turned out really great. I found a cute shirt and a pair of jeans to wear, and quite frankly, no one cared in the slightest about the clothes. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize anyone or they wouldn’t recognize me. Instead, most people looked pretty much the same, and it was so fun to see how warm, friendly and nice everyone was. I was worried I wouldn’t know what to say to people I hadn’t seen in 30 years, but it actually felt very natural to just pick up right where we were.
Since my husband and I both grew up in the same small town in southern Illinois, we also got to drive by our old homes, the high school and some of our favorite hang out spots. (We weren’t actually friends in high school, so we have separate, but overlapping memories.) Everything was much smaller than how we remembered it to be, but it was super fun to see. Anyway, confronting all of my fears of returning to high school turned out to be quite therapeutic. I pretty much felt like I could run a marathon or climb a mountain or something after that.
As soon as we returned from our five-hour drive home, I had about 10 minutes to spare before I needed to go shoot some family photos for a friend. A few years ago, I started taking photos for people, and it kind of got out of control. I decided it would be better for my stress level to just say “no” when people asked me to shoot photos. But several people have asked me lately if I could take photos for them, and I just decided to say “yes” to a few people. It was really fun to get out with my camera for an hour.
The weather was absolutely perfect. The park we chose was gorgeous. The lighting was amazing. And my subjects could not have been any more beautiful.
On Monday, we went on our annual #forcedfamilyfun trip to the corn maze for Columbus Day. A few of the kids brought friends along, and it was really nice to just spend time together.
Now, I have one more really intense, crazy week at work to finish a bunch of stuff that has to happen by next weekend. After that, I’m finally going to clean my house and catch up on about 30 loads of laundry.
Thankfully, I have several new outfits to wear because I bought a few “spare” outfits, just in case I got to the reunion and whatever I brought to wear made me look too fat, or too thin, or too old, or too high school-ish. You know. It’s always best to pack five outfits for a one-night trip. Just in case.
Have a great weekend!
I’ve always been a person who loves routine. Earlier this week, I was thinking about some of the foods, supplements and drinks that I ritualistically consume everyday, and I had to laugh. I get so used to doing things a certain way that I don’t even realize that some of the things I do everyday are pretty far out of the norm.
I didn’t even know most of these parts of my daily diet existed even a year ago! And yet, I rely on them to fill my tank and help me feel my best. I thought I would share five of my — rather unusual — kitchen staples that are part of my daily routine.
I’ve always been a big tea drinker, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I discovered Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea that is rich in probiotics, the good gut bacteria (like those in yogurt) that have been shown to boost immunity and overall health. I first discovered Kombucha in the refrigerated produce section of my local grocery store. Some people claim that it can heal everything from digestive problems to arthritis to cancer. Kombucha has the most health benefits when it is unpasturized, which is hard to find in the store-bought versions. I started brewing my own about six months ago, and I’ve had some brewing constantly ever since.
It has a very distinct, sweet, but tangy flavor. Once it is bottled, it builds up quite a bit of carbonation, so it’s a great treat for someone like me who doesn’t drink soda.
To brew your own Kombucha, you need a SCOBY, which is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. As the tea ferments, the SCOBY will grow in size. You can watch a funny video of my daughter and I picking up the SCOBY for the first time by clicking here. It takes each batch of Kombucha about two weeks to ferment, so be prepared to dedicate a good chunk of kitchen counter to the project if you decide to take it on!
One of the first things I do every morning is consume a serving of collagen peptides. (I get mine from Thrive Market.) During the past year, I have regularly struggled with intense joint pain. I love mixing collagen peptides into my morning green tea latte to give my system a boost. Not only does collagen help with joint pain, but it’s also known to improve skin, hair and nails, promote better sleep, keep bones strong and improve digestion.
Here’s how I consume my collagen:
First I brew a cup of green tea. In my blender, I add a scoop of collagen peptides, 1/4 cup of full fat coconut milk, a teaspoon of raw honey and the hot green tea. I hit the pulse button about six times on my blender to create a frothy latte. Not only does it taste great, but it’s also very filling!
I’m not as consistent with my bone broth consumption, but I have started trying to make bone broth as often as I can. Bone broth is one of the most healing, soothing and nutrient dense foods that you can consume. Bone broth is rich in gelatin, which is known to heal the gut. It also is a great source of protein, and helps restore collagen to promote healthy joints, hair, skin and nails.
If you are like me, you probably spent most of your life believing you shouldn’t consume fat. These days, I actually go out of my way to make sure I am eating plenty of healthy fats each day. These include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and MCT oil. I have recently started adding MCT oil to my hot drinks to create a “bulletproof” coffee or tea.
“MCTs” are medium-chain triglycerides, a form of saturated fatty acid that has numerous health benefits, ranging from improved cognitive function to better weight management. Medium-chain fats are digested easily and sent directly to your liver, where they have the ability to positively alter your metabolism. This is one reason many people claim that MCTs, including coconut oil, are burned by the body for energy, or “fuel,” instead of being stored as fat.
MCT oil is supposed to help you maintain a healthy weight, increase energy, improve your ability to think clearly, improve digestion, balance hormone levels and fight bacterial infection and viruses.
If I ever get stranded on a dessert island, I am going to be well aware of the many benefits of the coconut! Because I don’t eat grains or dairy, I use coconut products in many forms throughout the day. I start my morning with full fat coconut milk in my latte or smoothie. I cook with coconut oil and use coconut butter as a topping on sweet potatoes or butternut squash. For a snack, I often eat coconut yogurt or coconut ice cream. And I often use unsweetened coconut to make treats.
One of my favorite snacks is to mix a ripe banana with 2/3 cup of shredded coconut and some cinnamon. Drop by the spoonful on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes to make a super easy and yummy cookie!
So, what do you think? Are any of the things I mentioned a staple in your kitchen? Have you tried any of them? Do you have any unusual rituals that have improved your health? Leave me a comment! I would love to hear about i!
I have a photo of myself on my phone that I have been looking at the past few days. I took the photo in early January when I was at a really low place.
My eyes look tired, and my face is red and puffy. I had been sick on and off most of the previous year. When I look at that photo, I can remember so clearly how bad I felt that day. I remember thinking that it had to be my rock bottom. I was determined to start feeling better, so I wanted a “before shot” as a reminder. (I hope that someday I will be brave enough to share it.)
I had been on a gluten free diet for six months at that point. But it was what I like to call the “gluten free junk food diet.” I was still experiencing all of the symptoms of autoimmune disease on a regular basis: digestive problems, severe heartburn, insomnia, skin issues, vertigo, headaches, foggy brain, trouble concentrating, joint pain, and the list goes on. For years, I also had been trying to exercise regularly to lose a few pounds, but nothing seemed to work.
Nine months later, I’m amazed at how much better I feel in so many ways. I’ve made it almost three months without a “flare” from gluten contamination, which is a small miracle by itself. But I really didn’t expect to experience so many other health improvements from my radical change in eating.
Just to review, I’ve been on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol Diet since February. (I did a month of Whole 30 in January.) What that means is I don’t eat any inflammatory foods, which include gluten, grains, refined sugar, dairy, soy, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, coffee, chocolate, nightshade vegetables and spices, such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, Paprika, chili powder and red pepper.
Since about June, I have been slowly re-introducing foods so my diet is somewhere between Paleo and Paleo AIP. I now eat chocolate!! I also sometimes eat tomatoes, eggs, chili powder, almond butter and a few nuts. Once in a while, I eat corn tortillas or rice (which aren’t Paleo). However, for the majority of the time, I eat Paleo AIP because I feel my best when I stick more closely to that diet.
Since I’ve gone on this diet, I’ve seen an impressive drop in the antibodies in my system caused by autoimmune disease. So, you could say that the changes I’ve experienced are from a reduction in antibodies. That improvement goes back to my diet, so in a way, all of these changes started with the diet. Anyway, regardless of whether you want to look at the chicken or the egg, I’m just happy for the experience! 🙂
Here are some of the changes I’ve noticed:
I’ve lost 11 pounds since January. That might not sound like a lot, but on my small frame, it feels great! I’ve gone down one clothing size, and I’m at the weight that makes me feel my best. When you switch to a Paleo diet, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose weight (unless you go crazy eating a container of nuts and dried fruit everyday). I LOVE this lifestyle because I can eat as much as I want, as long as I stick to the foods allowed on the program. I eat tons of veggies, protein and healthy fat.
In the past, I pretty much got through every day on a steady stream of caffeine and sugar. Now that I fuel my body with highly nutritious foods, I don’t have the extreme highs and lows or cravings for junk food. I still struggle with being hypoglycemic, so I try to eat every couple of hours to keep my blood sugar at a good level. But I’m not on a constant craving roller coaster anymore.
Before I started this diet, I woke up every morning looking pretty awful. My face would be so puffy in the morning that I would try to get up an hour early if I had to be somewhere, just to give myself time to look somewhat “normal.” By eliminating inflammatory foods, I can finally get up in the morning and look like ME!
A big part of this was the inflammation in my sinuses that I think a lot of people experience from eating dairy, gluten and sugar. Inflamed sinuses lead to sinus headaches, which in my case led to…
I’ve had chronic vertigo for about seven years. Sometimes, I would experience at least mild dizziness for a month at a time. I’ve had a few very brief instances of vertigo this year, but it doesn’t even compare to what it was like before.
KNOTS IN MY NECK
Another thing that contributed to headaches and vertigo were all of the knots in my neck and back. I was a minefield of knotted-up muscles. I’m so thankful that this has changed significantly!
And without all of those issues, I can sleep like a baby. I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Unless I’m under a lot of stress, I don’t wake up until morning. In the past, it was common to be awake half the night with insomnia. Sleep is a beautiful thing!
It’s remarkable how much clearer my brain is. I had struggled with my memory, concentration and focus when I was at my worst. When I stick to my diet, my brain feels so much clearer. I feel (halfway) intelligent again! 🙂
At my worst, I had extreme heartburn that even turned into an ulcer in my stomach. This is the symptom that has taken the longest to get under control. In the last few months, I have had a nice break from constant heartburn.
And, of course, it goes without saying, that my digestive system is a million times better. This was the reason I decided to try the diet to begin with. The reality is that it took about six months even on a very strict diet to get my digestive system to a “normal” place. My digestive system took a beating from the destruction of Celiac Disease, so it doesn’t take much to knock me down. I know if I stray too far, with even common foods like tomatoes, spices or eggs that I won’t feel great for a few days. It doesn’t take much to mess up my digestive system, but at least now I can easily identify the trigger and get things back on track much more quickly.
Today, when I pulled up that photo on my phone, it made me feel so thankful for how far I’ve come. I know that a lot of people have been praying for me and God has done an amazing work in getting me to this place. I’m also a huge believer in this way of eating, so I just wanted to share my experience in case it might help someone else who struggles with similar issues.
If you want to know more about my journey, you can read about it here or listen to me talk about it on this podcast.
So, what about you? Have you ever made a radical change to your diet that has made a big difference?
This is Part Six of my story. If you are just starting to read, please go back and start with:
Part One: A new view of food
Part Two: The start of my journey
Part Three: Malnourished in America
Part Four: Solving the gluten free puzzle
Part Five: The Isolation of autoimmune disease
I started on a gluten free diet June 23, and by Christmas time, I was in a better groove with this whole lifestyle.
I had learned to love things like flourless chocolate cake. I kept a loaf of gluten free bread in the freezer and would pull out a slice to toast to eat with my scrambled eggs. As long as I cooked my own food, I was good at keeping everything I ate away from the contamination of the food I made for my kids. I had even conquered my habit of licking my finger when it was covered in cake batter!
My weight had been steadily climbing since June, and I was ready to take control. I had more energy, so I also wanted to start exercising again.
I started researching different eating plans, and I was drawn to the idea of The Whole 30. I really wanted to curb my sugar addiction, and I also had heard that going grain free can be beneficial to people with autoimmune diseases.
You also have to understand that I actually find it more motivating to make extreme changes in my life, rather than small, subtle changes. To me, it was more exciting to radically change my diet with The Whole 30, rather than making only one change, like cutting out sugar.
I understood the concept of The Whole 30 was that it was an elimination diet. But I really didn’t think that applied to me. I knew I couldn’t have gluten, and I didn’t think I could have any other food sensitivities.
My goals with Whole 30 were to tame my sugar monster, cut out grains and lose five pounds.
Little did I know, Whole 30 had much more to teach me.
Getting started on Whole 30 was intense. The eating plan eliminates all sweeteners, all grains (including corn and rice), dairy, soy and legumes. Basically, it cuts processed foods and teaches you to replace them with whole, natural food. Because I had already stopped eating gluten, I had removed a lot of processed food from my diet. Still, for the first 10 days, I was in a state of withdrawal. I missed my Diet Root Beer, and I couldn’t wait to get back to drinking milk.
Around Day Nine, I was feeling so low energy, that I convinced myself that this wasn’t a good idea. I already struggle with getting proper nutrition, so cutting out entire food groups had to be a terrible plan! I turned a corner a few days later once I made it through the withdrawal phase.
By the end of the 30 days, I was feeling more in control of my food choices. I also had many “non-scale” victories. I had been exercising almost every day. I was sleeping great. I had energy. My brain was clear. Overall, I felt good.
I only had one problem.
My digestive system had returned to a state that I can only describe as celiac disease. It seemed to grow worse and worse each week that I did Whole 30.
I visited web sites. I read blogs. I looked for info on Pinterest. Everything told me that my digestive system should be functioning at an optimum level by the time I finished the Whole 30.
For a person with celiac disease, having a messed up gut is the one thing you dread the most. I couldn’t believe that my digestive system had deteriorated this much during the month.
I became obsessive about trying to figure out why. Maybe I was allergic to something. I had noticed that I would cough every time I ate nuts. Maybe they were the culprit. I had determined that I couldn’t handle any type of seeds, like Chia seeds or flax seeds that I had been eating since I eliminated grains. They sent me into a digestive tail spin. And I was starting to notice that potatoes seemed to make me feel sick almost immediately. I tried to re-introduce dairy into my diet, but took it back out after only a few days. It made me feel heavy and bloated.
At the beginning of February, I was in the re-introduction phase of Whole 30. I was supposed to reintroduce new foods into my diet every few days. Instead, I was going the opposite direction. I was trying to figure out what I could eliminate to get my digestion back on track.
In the meantime, my husband had grown very interested in what I was doing. He started telling me about a podcast he was listening to by a guy named Robb Wolf, who is kind of the spokesperson for the Paleo diet. I had been researching Paleo, which is almost the same as Whole 30, so I decided to start listening in. After a few episodes, Wolf started talking about the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol diet. This diet is even more rigorous than Paleo. It eliminates all inflammatory foods. So, in addition to the foods I had already eliminated, it also cuts out nuts, seeds, nightshades (including potatoes and tomatoes), eggs, coffee and chocolate.
This diet was saying that all of the foods I had already identified as the ones that were causing me trouble are eliminated as part of a diet for people who have autoimmune disease. This was a lightning bolt moment for me.
I had already done Whole 30/Paleo for about 45 days at that point, and to be honest, I was ready for some chips and salsa.
During Whole 30, eggs, nuts and potatoes had become the staples of my diet. Now, I was learning that those were the exact things I needed to eliminate to try this Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). The foods that I had been eating almost every day for the last 30 days were the very foods that can cause problems for people with autoimmune disease.
How on earth would I survive?
No potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant or any of the spices made from those foods, including chili powder, red pepper and paprika.
I dove into the Paleo AIP community, reading blogs, listening to podcasts and searching for recipes as I struggled with this idea of trying a new lifestyle that was going to restrict my diet even more. Six months ago, I thought gluten free was hard. Two months ago, I though Whole 30 was impossible. Now, I’m looking at eliminating the few foods that were still a joy to me.
I found two pieces of advice that urged me forward.
The first was this: “Don’t think about what you can’t eat. Think about what you can eat.”
The second: “Just plan one meal. Can you do this for one meal? If you can do it for one meal, can you do it for one day? If you can plan meals for one day, can you do it for a week?”
Unlike Whole 30, where I sat down and planned out a month’s worth of meals before I began, I literally took the one day approach with Paleo AIP.
I planned one meal.
And then the next.
And then another meal after that.
I started listening obsessively to podcasts about Paleo and AIP. The ones I listened to most were Phoenix Helix and the Autoimmune Wellness Podcast. On Phoenix Helix, the podcaster often interviews people with different autoimmune disorders. A few times, she has interviewed someone with celiac disease. The women would describe what their lives were like before they were diagnosed. Then, they would talk about how healthy they are now on this diet.
I wasn’t crazy.
I wasn’t alone.
This isn’t in my head.
I would listen and cry.
There are other women in this world who are experiencing what I am going through. They have felt my pain. I have felt so isolated and tried so hard not to burden people with the changes in my life. And now, for the first time, I am hearing stories of other people who have walked the same road.
I didn’t know if this diet would work for me. But I knew it was worth a try.
Thanks so much for reading this far! Tomorrow, I’m going to write about the question I get asked most: “What do you eat?!” I’ll talk about how I cook for myself and my family on such a restrictive diet!
If you’ve made it this far, I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below!