Yesterday marked one year since I started my healing journey with a paleo and autoimmune protocol diet. I didn’t set out to mark it in any way, but for some reason the date has stuck in my head; that was a lucky day for me last year, I guess! I thought I’d just take a minute and share with you a few things I’ve learned about the lifestyle and myself.
I like to call it a lifestyle over a diet. You say “diet” and immediately most people go right to the negative, but for me it is a lifestyle. It involved a major lifestyle change and changed more than the way I eat. It is not a fad or a trend to me; simply the way I live. It is purely a cleaner way of living. For me, I did it for health reasons after a lot of research and soul searching.
Which brings me to my first lesson. It’s not right for everybody and it is not one-size-fits-all. You have to make it work for you. I don’t always worry if something is 100% paleo; my focus is on as long as it’s clean, real, and won’t cause an immune reaction in my body. Then it’s ok in my book. I’m still learning, but I have to laugh when I hear or read, Would a caveman eat this? If you have asked that of yourself I don’t mean to be critical; I just think it’s funny. I eat a very clean, very paleo diet, but thanks for modern technology I eat a lot of foods a caveman never ate and I’m thankful for it! I’m talking about things like coffee, red wine, and chocolate. You’re probably thinking, you eat those things on a paleo and AIP diet? The answer is yes and no, but more on that later.
I had already been gluten-free for six years so I thought it would be no huge stretch. I already had several paleo blogs I followed and got yummy recipes from. I always liked the recipes I found because they had good quality, clean ingredients and being paleo they would always be gluten-free. You may be reading this and wonder what a paleo diet or lifestyle is. To me, as I already mentioned, it’s not unevolving (is that a word?) myself back to a primal cavewoman, but focusing on a clean, green, grain-free, refined sugar-free diet complete with quality dairy and meat.
I was actually a vegetarian until a couple of years ago. For me it was about taste; I never cared for it much and there are still things I don’t like. I also jumped on that low-fat bandwagon and believed that all fat was bad. I ate fish once in a great while along with cheese and eggs, and it worked for me for a time.
My first eye opener was my second pregnancy. I could not stand even the sight or smell of meat. It made me violently ill and I am not exaggerating. I thought I was doing a good job of making sure I was consuming plenty of iron and protein but when I was admitted to the hospital at 19 weeks with a failed cerclage we discovered I was quite anemic. I remember one of my doctors discussing it with me after a couple of weeks. It is very common for pregnant women to be anemic, as it is for vegetarians – not to mention pregnant vegetarians! It is also common to get anemic while on bed rest. Your body just processes everything different. I was getting more anemic as time went on and he wasn’t sure which it was attributed to or if it was a combination of all three.
I was given copious amounts of iron before and immediately after the pregnancy to compensate, which is rough. To give you an idea how much I hated it, I cried when they announced they were putting me on iron again during my third pregnancy. It can really do a number on your system and the side effects are not pleasant; at least that was my case. (I was doing better during pregnancy number three but put on iron because I was also on blood thinners to ward against blood clots given I was on very strict and complete bed rest.)
It’s now a joke between me and my husband how my vegetarianism ended. We suspected I was pregnant with baby number three and it was Valentine’s Day. We went out to eat and my husband ordered a steak salad as his first course. It came and looked divine! I turned to him and said, “Can I ask you a weird question?” He agreed and I replied by pointing to his salad and asking, “Can I have some of that?” He lovingly shared it with me, all the while chuckling and shaking his head and observing I must certainly be pregnant if I wanted steak!
I began craving meat so I gave it to my body because I knew it needed it. Your dietary needs grow exponentially when you are growing a human. I had done a lot of research the year before after my first big anemia wake up and was pretty confident. I had even done some extensive reading about pregnancy and vegetarianism, but as I said it was what my body wanted. People would ask if I was craving anything strange to which we had to answer yes. When they asked what everyone who didn’t know me thought it was rather weird we classified meat as strange, but it was for me!
I am getting off track, but after Henry was born I continued eating meat as you need even more iron and protein (along with some vitamins with their most concentrated sources in meat) when you are breastfeeding than when you are pregnant. Then I began researching several healing diets out there and doing a lot of reading and discovered it may be what is best for me. I have a love/hate relationship with meat and I still don’t think I would miss it all that much if you were tell me tomorrow I could never eat it again, but I have discovered for me it is what my body needs and I’m ok with that.
Like I said, it is right for me. I do not judge anyone for being vegan or vegetarian and please do not judge me for my decision either. Some people can get downright ugly when this subject comes up, so I’m just putting that out there.
I think my last two pregnancies may have been a huge autoimmune trigger for me. It was a very stressful time (pregnancy number two was after a previous loss and then after several weeks of complications resulted in another loss). With pregnancy number two I was still vegetarian and focused on eating lots of beans and legumes and grains, which can wreak absolute havoc on a compromised digestive tract. Not to mention lots of medication that did a number on me followed by the emotional roller coaster of the next pregnancy, more medication, more stress, and the fact that our bodies are not meant to be completely still. I basically started having allergic reactions to everything. I had dealt with terrible morning sickness from the beginning, but I was getting even sicker and we had no idea why. I was in a lot of pain, contracting almost daily along with back and joint pain from being so immobile. And the list goes on.
It was worth every moment and more. After eight years of heartache and disappointment we got our miracle, but I think a lot of the medications I was given did a number on my digestive tract and coupled with the stress along with all the normal hormone changes and such that go with any pregnancy it was just too much.
I dealt with severe post-partum depression after he was born and I am still learning about the connections between depression and autoimmunity. It’s fascinating but I’ll talk about it another time. It may have been related or simply been exacerbated by it. The insomnia I had dealt with on and off most of my life came back with a vengeance (and there’s little that’s harder for a new mom than not being able to sleep at all when you are already sleep-deprived!). The joint and back pain didn’t really go away and I had what I thought was the start of carpal tunnel; I would get terrible numbness and pain in my fingers and up my arms. Digestive problems were the norm and not the exception again and a small gluten exposure would make me sick for weeks and not days. I had problems with hives in the hospital and I had dealt with a small amount of eczema most of my life but it was suddenly out of control. I looked like I had an infectious disease and I was BEYOND miserable. It was like an itchy sunburn head to toe; it would itch so bad I would wake in the morning to find blood on the sheets because I had been scratching so much IN MY SLEEP! My husband can also tell you several stories about watching me moan in pain and misery on the floor in tears because it hurt and itched so bad.
I was desperate for relief and I have talked about all this before so I’ll move on, but whether the pregnancy was a catalyst for it or not I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. I just thought I would share that in case because from what I have learned it very likely had a lot to do with that and maybe by sharing that part of my story someone will see something of themselves in it. I was diagnosed with celiacs after the death of my first-born, which was another trigger. Any big life situation, even the good ones, but especially anything very emotional, physical, or stressful can be a big trigger. Learn how to look for those; if you learn to deal with them and with the knowledge that can make symptoms of autoimmunity worse you can use that information. That is why I shared.
So back to last year. I started my paleo journey jumping head-first into the autoimmune protocol. A paleo diet or lifestyle eliminates all grains, beans, and legumes which as I already mentioned can be very hard on anybody (there is actual science why beans give you gas – you’re having trouble digesting them – there are ways to properly prepare them to help with that, but for people like me it’s just best to avoid them). The autoimmune protocol takes it a step further and eliminates nuts, seeds, dairy, nightshades, alcohol, and a few other things. It starts with an extremely strict elimination phase that I will admit is brutal but necessary. You remove any possible offenders from your diet, give your body a little time to heal and adjust, and then slowly began to add them back in. It was a huge learning experience that was very hard but I am extremely grateful for the knowledge I gleaned from it.
Which brings me to my next lesson learned: don’t sweat the small stuff. My husband can also tell you stories of me throwing the adult version of a tantrum. More than once I am ashamed to admit. As I said, it can be brutal. I was hungry. All. The. Time. I felt like I had a huge list of stuff I couldn’t eat and an extremely small list of what I could. I was still feeling miserable and very hungry on top of it. Many of the foods recommended were too expensive on our budget or I couldn’t find them and all my usual stand-by’s were off-limits. I have since found and learned to be thankful for the actual huge list of yummy, nutritious foods I can eat and which ones work best and keep me full and happy. For me I now need the extra protein I get from the meat I eat and good quality fats like coconut oil or avocados. If you have skin issues, try these; I noticed a huge difference.
How did I learn to deal with it? Well, I’ll be honest. I’m still working on it, but I am learning. I mentioned the coffee, chocolate, and red wine earlier? Well, I have learned what my body can handle and when and how. For the most part. The red wine? Well, when I say I drink red wine it’s MAYBE only once every few months. It is a huge treat. The coffee and chocolate I have mixed reactions to. Overall on any day they won’t bother me, but if I have had a gluten or nightshade exposure or a lot of stress has caused the eczema to flare or something like that, I will have a reaction to it. I keep those three things in my diet as treats because I have eliminated so much I am done depriving myself constantly and so I have learned WHAT WORKS FOR ME and when it’s ok for me to “cheat.”
Nightshades and grains are still a big no and my body still has a lot of healing to do. I am still having some ongoing issues and can trace them to several possible reasons, but I think it comes down to the fact I am still healing. The damage in my body didn’t happen overnight so it’s not going to heal overnight. Eggs and dairy are iffy. Oddly enough I can handle eggs ok if they are baked into something but not a cooked egg, like in an omelet or something. I thought I was crazy until I’ve since talked to a couple of other people who have experienced the same thing. It comes down to science; baking it plus the added ingredients changes its chemical makeup and it’s digested differently. Hopefully I’ll be able to handle them alone eventually; I miss eggs! Nuts and dairy are also special treats. Too much of either and I’m not a happy camper. After the holidays everyone was going on about too much sugar – my indulgence was nuts and dairy – and my body was not happy at me for it.
When I talked about making it work for you that is what I meant. Any of those “iffy” things for me you may see me eat and wonder why, but it’s because I know my body. Do I ever regret those “iffy” choices? Yes, I do. Not always but it happens. I make a mental note for the next time, go a little stricter AIP to get over it, and move on.
A surprise I have experienced is I eat some amazing food. And by that I mean I was eating the same (sometimes drab) things most of the time and these changes in my diet have forced me to think outside the box, get creative, and try new things. I started posting my meals and snacks to Instagram a while back because people were always asking me, “What do you eat?!” Check me out and you’ll see we eat some really yummy but healthy food! You can find me at http://www.instagram.com/preciousbelovedblessing. Some people are really surprised to learn we eat pretty much whatever we want – we just make the changes we need to so the whole family can enjoy them or clean them up so to speak.
We are on a budget as many are and have found a way to make this work for us as well, and are still learning. To follow strict paleo rules all meat must be organic and grass-fed and all produce organic and in-season. Well, organic grass-fed meat is often over twice that of the conventional. I read you should find a local farmer to get it from. I did – I found more than one – and they are outrageously expensive. I mean, like $30 for a small fryer chicken. I am still on the search for a more budget-friendly local source, but we’ve made it work. I have found a couple of small grocers that carry local eggs for a reasonable price; if I can’t find those I have found a non-local free range brand we can afford. I do sometimes buy grass-fed meat – when it goes on sale. One of my local grocery stores puts it on sale for the price of what the conventional beef is priced regularly and I can handle that, so I stock up if the week’s budget allows it. Otherwise, I have found a couple of places with good brands that my tummy handles (if you have trouble digesting grains a meat from an animal fed a heavy grain diet may not go down well). I always go for sustainably farmed, humanely raised and prepared, and no antibiotics. Yes, those cost a bit more, but a happily raised and slaughtered animal makes for better meat. Those are often also prepared without a lot of the extra junk, which I can’t eat (often containing gluten and/or nightshades). There are certain things I have made the decision to spend more money on and other things I haven’t. For instance, I always buy wild, sustainably caught fish; it’s healthier for me and my family as well as the environment. It costs more, yes, but to me it’s worth it. (Do you know what all they put in farmed salmon?! Look it up; you’ll never touch it again.) As far as produce goes there are lists called the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” which outline which produce you absolutely should buy organic and those that are ok. Those have really helped me.
In season is easy for us. We live in Southern California where our local produce contains everything from apples and grapes to avocados and almost every kind of citrus. A great reason to eat local and seasonal? It’s cheaper! Much cheaper! Find a farmer’s market or local farm stand for the best deals. Not sure what is local and when? Ask! They’ll tell you! Of course at those places it’s usually easy to see – what they have is seasonal – but my favorite local farm stand actually has a calendar posted that tells you what and when. We always try to preserve what we can by freezing or drying and I do that for budget mostly and just so we can enjoy what we love more! Do I still buy bags of frozen veggies? You better believe I do! It’s reasonably priced and I stock up on my favorite brands when they go on sale, plus someone has done all the work for me!
I meant to talk more about budget last year after I started my blog but got distracted. I’ve really gone on here so I’ll talk about it another time. There’s more I could get into; I just wanted to share what I have learned and am still learning. Never hesitate to ask me questions or give me suggestions – that’s why I’m writing about this! So we can help each other.
I have lots to share with you, but haven’t taken much time to do it with various things going on. I have some yummy recipes to share but am also working on another post that has been in the making since I started my blog. It’s not easy to write, it won’t be easy for everyone to read, but it’s been very cathartic and I know there are those it will touch. I am trying to be more consistent with the blogging but if you want to keep in touch with me you can follow me on Instagram as I mentioned, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Flickr. My profiles are all @preciousbelovedblessing, except for Twitter which is @PrecBelovBless.
Thank you for continuing on this journey with me. Leave me a comment if you want about your own experiences like these or something you’d like to hear me talk more about. Have a great day and be blessed.
Lots of Hugs,