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Going Beyond Food: Lifestyle Solutions for Autoimmunity


Going Beyond Food: Lifestyle Solutions for Autoimmunity

I'll be presenting another workshop with Madia Jamgochian NC June 17th at 6m PT at New Leaf Community Markets Westside in Santa Cruz.

Come learn about all of the other essential elements that are key components to transforming your chronic health conditions into optimal vitality, and discover just how good you can feel! Madia's AIP cooking demo will be included!

Space is limited - Get your tickets before it sells out. 



Simplifying Autoimmune Protocol Reintroduction - Part 2

CC image courtesy of Nomadic Lass

CC image courtesy of Nomadic Lass

So a couple weeks back, I wrote Part 1 in this series. Go check it out if you have not read it, as it contains tips on apps you can use to help you simplify. 

This post is about my specific planning and how Im using those apps to help me identify which foods will become part of my normal regimen and which foods will stay out for an undetermined amount of time. Let's start with my plan, shall we? I wanted it to be simple and I wanted to just start with a few foods to add back. So I set up a 5 week plan, introducing two foods each week, giving myself 3 days of introduction and then 4 full days of rest. I also planned out what forms of that food I would try in my reintroduction meals. This is exactly how I help clients with their plans, and now its time for me to put my work to test on me!

So for week one, over the course of 3 days (which equals 9 meals and maybe a few snacks), I experimented with almonds, almond flour and chocolate. Really, what happened, was it was Halloween and my husband really wanted some Capello's GF Cookies and I caved to have some with him - hence my choice of almonds and chocolate. But it was not all Capello's those three days, I also tested by eating almonds and a few bites of 100% cacao. 

Then it was about monitoring. In testing two foods at once using the Food Detective app, I can identify a culprit food and simplify introduction. Without it I can only test one food at a time and it would take me twice as long to do this rather lengthy n=1 experiment. Im keeping track of any symptoms using another app and with those two, I can easily see if I have an adverse reaction. Plus, I have an additional 4 days in the week to track symptoms - sometimes it takes 72 hours after eating a food for symptoms to show up. See the sample calendar below.

Week 1 results are in!

The green checkmark (above) denotes no symptoms and nothing on the Food Detective app. The red X's indicate symptoms and that Food Detective suspected a food. So what happened? Well, I got pretty bad brain fog, nasal congestion, my thyroid started acting all janky and I started gaining weight (water weight = inflammation). This started about 30 hours after the first introduced cookies and continued through Wednesday.

So what does this mean? Well it means either Im sensitive to Almonds, or Cacao, or Sugar! Sugar got tested since there was also sugar in the cookies and any chocolate that was not 100%. And, truth be told, I ate french fries at a restaurant on Saturday *SHOCK & HORROR*. Which means I also tested Potatoes and seed oil! So now I have 5 culprit foods and no clear way to sort out which one it was. What can I say? Life happens and I am human and sometimes you just have to get a little crazy.

Now that I have done a complete AIP reintroduction bender in week one - I can say that I have some suspects. But I have to be my own food detective and sort out which one of the 4 caused the reaction. And it could be several, not just one.

So now what?

Im giving myself an extra week back on full AIP to let the inflammation reside and get back to my normal full-AIP-feeling-great self. Then I will proceed with Week 2 as planned. For me, its just easiest to put my week 1 test items (almonds, cacao) at the end of my plan. So I will re-test those and this time test without sugar... and potato fries.... and seed oils :)

The important thing here is to take the information in stride. It could be really easy for me to say, "forget it, Im not reintroducing anything else" but then I would never know if any of the other foods (which all are fantastic sources of nutrients by the way) will work. Its also important to realize that I, while trying to keep things simple, gave myself a complex multi-variant analysis problem. And since I never liked those problems in Calculus, I'll just re-do the test and keep it simple this time.

This stuff is not easy, but boy is it easy to make it hard! So Im carrying on and sticking to my plan. Its going to take some time, but I think its worth it in the end. Frankly, I have felt better in the last several months than I have in years and I know its because I have finally removed something that is causing inflammation and autoimmune flares. So let the sleuthing continue!



Simplifying Autoimmune Protocol Reintroduction - Part 1

CC image courtesy of Barbara Krawcowicz

CC image courtesy of Barbara Krawcowicz

As you may know, I'm currently in the full elimination phase of the autoimmune diet protocol (AIP). I decided back in June that I would try AIP again to see if it could help some of my lingering symptoms. After a phased in approach to the eliminations (of which I wrote about over on Mickey Trescott's blog, Autoimmune-Paleo), I decided to stick with 100% elimination for a number of months while I work at getting rid of my Giardia friends. So its been quite a while that I have been without grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, alcohol, nightshade veg, nuts, seeds or eggs!

Conducting an n=1 experiment with the Autoimmune Protocol definitely requires patience and dedication! The protocol takes a while, and often times people are (er, I mean, I am) impatient to add all the foods back in during the reintroduction phase because they miss them. Totally understandable. This is exactly what I did the first time I tried AIP, and I lost all the opportunity to really learn if any of the foods listed above could be triggers for autoimmune flare or symptoms.

So lets not waste all this effort of some fairly radical food elimination by rushing the reintroduction! I decided to plan out my approach this time, and in doing so am going to share with you. This will be a two part series that will out line the steps I am taking while I start my reintroduction phase.

What is a reintroduction phase?

The basic concept is that you start reintroducing foods one by one slowly back into your diet. By doing this, you control the variables you need to analyze so that you can identify if any specific food is a trigger. It's a lot easier in concept than it is in application. For example, I eliminated nuts & eggs (full list above) as an entire food group in one step. But during reintroduction, I'll need to reintroduce walnuts separately from almonds, separately from cashews, etc. The same with eggs: egg yolks separately from whites (more people are intolerant to whites than yolks). Couple that with the notion that it takes sometimes up to 3 days to create a response from an irritating food, you can start to see why reintroduction takes some patience! You'll want to vary the meals and keep track of any symptoms that may arise as a result of a reintroduction.

Preparation for Reintroduction

This is a super important step! If you are not prepared, then its easy to rush because you have not set any established guidelines for yourself. But what does that really mean? Most people are on full AIP elimination for 30-60 days. Well, I for one have been on it now for 5 months and plan to go to 6 months. All that time away from those wonderful foods - well the imagination gets to you after a while. I have conjured up mental images of just eating eggs and chocolate for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner... and snacks for a week but I know that won't be wise. With a little preparation, its much easier to be successful at the end!

  1. Decide what you will introduce first, second, and so on. This can be done based on your particular AI condition, or you may want to base it on seasonal availability of certain foods. Or, you may decide that you simply miss certain foods more than others. Either way, know which foods you will never reintroduce - for me, I won't introduce gluten; I already know its a bad idea for me - and which foods you want to try again. Remember, there is no guarantee after being on full AIP elimination, that you *will* be able to tolerate a food. You won't know, however until you try.
  2. Figure out a system for documenting symptoms and health markers. What we don't measure, won't improve! I always like to keep copious notes on all sorts of health markers when I reintroduce a food. You'll want to keep track of as many markers as possible: items such as sleep quality/quantity, skin health (rashes, itching, breakouts), digestive health (gas, bloating, belching, etc), energy/fatigue, mood, headaches, stool quality/quantity (use the Bristol stool scale), blood sugar/ketone levels, weight, joint pain/stiffness, etc. For some, this is going to be a journal and pen, for others its going to be a spreadsheet, and for me, I like to use a symptom tracker app, like this one that was recently introduced to me by a client.
  3. Food Detective - this is another app, but its really a great way to determine if a food is causing inflammation for you. It tracks the components of what you eat during meals and also monitors for elevated heart rate. Its based on the Coca Pulse Test that says if, after eating, your pules increases more than 16 beats per minutes above your morning pulse, then you may have eaten something you body is having difficulty breaking down or digesting. What is nice about this app, is that you can introduce two foods at a time and in combination with pulse tracking and symptom tracking (Step 2) you can narrow in on a food sensitivity and compress the time it takes for reintroduction.
  4. Set a schedule or plan. This last step is really important. You'll want to not only prioritize, in Step 1, but also set out a plan. The rule of thumb is that you want to introduce a single food across 3 days and at varying meals, and then give yourself another 3 days of rest without the food before having it be a "permanent" addition. The rest days are important because often times the symptoms are subtle and we won't notice them until they disappear. With the addition of Food Detective, you can have an additional food item introduced across the 6 days. This allows us to test 2 foods every 6 days. Depending on the number of specific foods, you can see how this might add up to a long period of time!! Start to plan out the foods and meals you plan to use in those weeks that you reintroduce.

In the next installment of the series, I'll lay out my plan for reintroduction and which meals I will introduce those items to share that with all of you. 

Are any of you planning or doing a reintroduction phase now? Would love to hear about your experience! If you have questions, leave a comment below!



Simplifying the AutoImmune Protocol

Image courtesy of Toréa Rodriguez

Image courtesy of Toréa Rodriguez

This post originally was published as a guest post over at Mickey Trescott's AutoImmune-Paleo blog. This post is similar to one I wrote a few weeks back, but I expanded it into a step-by-step action plan. If you have never checked out Mickey's blog, or her cookbook, then spend a little time over there today. Her cookbook is fantastic to have around when you are considering a AIP approach to diet.

The Autoimmune Protocol. Just saying those words can lead to overwhelm in some people. No matter whether coming from a SAD (Standard American Diet) or coming from already eating a real food diet, the thought of making so many eliminations can be daunting. This certainly was the case for me. But in my heart of hearts, I knew I wanted to try the diet to see if it could help make me feel better.

I have been eating a real food diet for the past 4 years since being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease. And for that, my diet morphed into being completely processed-food free, grain free, legume free and almost dairy free (I still ate sheep/goat cheese, butter and occasional ice cream). But in the last year, I realized that I might feel even better if I eliminated some of the other foods, as outlined in The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne. I already know that I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal, but I was really worried I would quit if I could not do it “right”. So, instead of taking the stairs two at a time, I decided to take them one at a time and break it down into simpler steps.


First, I broke each of the food groups into their own category. This helped because I was no longer facing this huge list of “no foods.” Even if I read a long list of “yes foods” the long list of “no foods” meant I was seeking individual ingredients out and constantly having to make decisions. For me, this leads to instant overwhelm and with the shorter list of categories, I could start feeling some of the anxiety lifting. My summarized categories turned out to be: Sugars, Nightshades, Nuts/Seeds, Dairy and Eggs.


Then, I sat down and wrote out how how I would replace those items with other foods or habits. You see, I have crutch foods. I’d find a food that “worked” and I would stick to it. Breakfast? Eggs. Afternoon snack? 80% Dark Chocolate. Dessert? 100% Dark Chocolate. You get the idea. But now, I had to find a way to replace those things. So I wrote out some ideas for how to replace the repetitive foods that were going to be eliminated. Of course, I referenced recipes on Sarah Ballantyne’s site and in Mickey Trescott’s Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook to help me! Also in that process, I realized my sweet cravings were often after meals. So I decided to take short walks after meals instead of reaching for the dark chocolate. Now, your list might look different than mine, but I will share my list with you below.


And finally I set forth a gradual schedule for me to make small changes that, over time, lead to the complete elimination plan. This was new for me, being the “all in” kind of gal. I knew that I needed to phase this in, else I may give up entirely if I slip up. So small moves. I decided to eliminate a single food group every 3 days. During that 3 days, I’d be able to get used to my substitutions and plans from step 2 to easily prepare by shopping ahead of time. By the time 15 days rolled around, I had all of the food groups eliminated. Ta da! Full blown AutoImmune Protocol, baby!

Here is my schedule and set of replacements. You can easily use mine, but you will probably gain more benefit and insight by creating your own. I decided to eliminate the food groups based on what I thought was going to work best for my schedule, or what I thought was going to be easiest. To that end, I left eggs to be last.  Interestingly, I discovered that transitioning away from my daily egg-breakfast crutch wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it to be.

I can really see a difference with going full AutoImmune Protocol. Since eliminating those 5 food groups, I noticed my nagging skin issues (psoriasis on my face) have cleared up, my number of severe fatigue days are reducing, and my weight has started to normalize. These are things I have not been able to make any headway on over the last 4 years, so this is a good indication that something in those food groups was contributing to immune system overload. I am also super grateful that I took the time to simplify the elimination portion of the AutoImmune Protocol. I feel that this eliminated a lot of the stress and worry that would have accompanied my transition otherwise. If you’d like help simplifying your own elimination plan, feel free to reach out here or hereand I’d be happy to help!



Healing Update: Fantasy vs. Reality

If there is one thing I have learned about my path of healing/managing my autoimmune disease, and in my functional nutrition studies, is that every. single. one. of us is unique in their healing path. You can watch all the health summits you want that talk about real food, nutrition, eating "squeaky clean", stress, hormones - you name it. But no matter how many of these summits you take in, things won't get real for you until you take action with your own body. This has certainly been true for me.

The other thing is, I seem to think in black and white sometimes. I have this fantasy that healing is going to be a straight line progression of improvement. You know, I went from 100% to 10% and then had a steady increase of health since my lowest point. Yet, in reality, my actual healing path has looked something more like this. I had a huge decline in health when I started getting really sick and then its been somewhat roller coaster-ish with a steady overall improvement over time. But there are plenty of peaks and valleys in there!

Graph courtesy Toréa Rodriguez

Graph courtesy Toréa Rodriguez

Let's rewind. 4 years ago, I was really sick and trying to hide it. And even though over the years, I had taken steps to work with naturopathic practitioners and MDs and do a lot of healing, I still never felt back to 100%. And yes, one of my MD's told me I will never again feel 100% and I refuse to believe that - (there is my bullheaded tenacity again!). But overall, I have been feeling great in comparison to how I felt 4 years ago! I still want that 100% though. Two steps forward...

...and a few steps back... Last fall, I did my first stool test to look for gut infections. Yeah, I know - there is NOTHING glamourous about stool tests, but I got over it. We found H. pylori (Heliobacter pylori for all you bio geeks out there). And while I didn't exhibit common symptoms associated with an H. pylori infection, we decided to treat anyway with a natural protocol. "Holy adverse reactions BatMan!" My body did not like this protocol one iota so I decided to stop and try again later. In the meantime, my front teeth had become very sensitive to temperature, and already carrying around some excessive weight, I quickly gained another 10 lbs (in ~ 2 weeks). Oh and my GI health was somewhat neurotic, alternating between chronic loose stool and constipation (not good on either account and the loose stool thing - yeah that was already going on for at least a year). I know, this is all very much TMI - but you know what? Its important to talk about these things because this can be the body's way of telling you, "Hey, everything is great, have a nice day!" or "Hey, buddy, listen up. Things are not all that great and we need to take different action here!".

Time to take action. So I signed up for Dr. Sara Gottfried's Detox - mainly because it was around New Year's Resolution time and I was so sick and tired of this excess weight. And while it worked for others in the program, it _did not_ work for me. BUT, I did learn some interesting things about my body. I learned that my morning blood sugar was erratic and needed some help. And I learned that my body does *not* do well on processed foods of any kind - no matter how "healthy", raw, grass-fed, fermented, etc it is - protein powders? Not my friend. 

However, I continued to slide. My adrenal fatigue days were back. Exhaustion was a constant theme, and recovery from mild exercise was hard to predict. Some days I needed 3 recovery days and others just one. Then I decided to sign up for a nutrition certification course, but one that included lab tests so that I could further investigate what was happening in my body.

Okay lets fast forward to this summer. During my FDN training, I learned a lot about gut health, what happens when people get leaky gut, and further, about gut infections that most people don't realize they even have. Suddenly it clicked. Back in the fall, I messed with my microbiome with the H. Pylori protocol. Then I messed with it again during Dr. Sara's Detox. Imagine the Theory Lightbulb flickering on above my head: "I bet you, that all this autoimmune stuff, the leaky gut and recent tweaking my microbiome has landed me with some infections that are not so obvious." This also corroborated with the fact that for the past few years, I cyclically felt like I was coming down with a cold or the flu every few weeks, but never would. So I elected to do more testing on my mucosal barrier and, yep, another stool test.

Giardia lamblia. CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

Giardia lamblia. CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

The results are in! Okay folks, brace yourselves. My mucosal barrier test confirmed leaky gut (wait, hadn't I already done a gut healing protocol? More on why that is in a future post.) and the two tests combined confirmed that not only do I have a bacterial dysbiosis (meaning I had nearly 2X as much aerobic bacteria than anaerobic when they should be closer to 1:1), I have a very healthy population of yeast or fungus (also not ideal), and Giardia lamblia, a well-known parasite! Phew - that was a lot of information from just two tests, but it certainly does point towards some of my more nagging symptoms and GI issues that I have not been able to solve. Plus, when your body is constantly fighting an infection, the last thing its going to worry about is weight normalization. So the clues were all fitting together, finally, into a whole picture puzzle. 

Progress continues: my new protocol is rocketing me several steps forward. Since June, I have begun the Autoimmune Paleo diet protocol (as outlined in The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballentyne PhD) to eliminate any foods that might be causing inflammation. I have also started a botanical protocol to go after my dear parasite, bacterial and fungus "friends". It's a long protocol (6 months) and I intend to eat AIP the entire way through to keep my immune system as strong as I can.

So here's the great news: Im seeing improvement  in the GI health area (slow, but its there), and I have dropped 8 lbs without trying. My fatigue has nearly gone away, at least its been in remission somewhat which is a huge improvement over this spring. And my recovery days are becoming more predictable or correlative with exercise/stress output. Overall, Im really starting to feel closer to that 100% from years ago.

And while this is still a work in progress, I think the key point here is to not give up. Continue investigating, continue doing your n=1 experiments on yourself to discover how you can maximize your health in every area possible. Just don't try tackling it all at once - thats a sheer case of overwhelm waiting to happen :)