This post is a difficult one for me to write, mainly because today’s subject is not one that I was planning to share in this space. Thefreshkitchen has never been a place where I share much personal information, but because the recipes and articles I post here reflect what I’m cooking for my family and our menu choices of late have been greatly affected by some personal health challenges, I think it’s time to bring you all up to speed with what’s going on.
A few months ago, after a few years of unexplainable symptoms (some life-threatening, others just puzzling) that culminated in several weeks of feeling like my body was doing everything in its power to destroy itself, I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks various organs and organ systems. After a lot of research, conversations with doctors, and conversations with people I know who have lupus, I started the paleo autoimmune protocol, which is basically a highly restrictive form of the paleo diet. In a nutshell, it’s an elimination diet designed to determine if any foods are contributing to the disease by causing inflammatory reactions. The off-limits foods include grains, dairy, eggs, added sugar in almost any form, alcohol, legumes, nuts, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, chiles and peppers of any sort), and seed or berry-based spices (pretty much leaving ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric as your only options). It’s probably easier to describe in terms of what you CAN eat: most vegetables, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and pork, wild-caught fish, offal (organ meats and off-cuts of meats), and moderate amounts of fruit. You also eat a fermented food every day (think lacto-fermented sauerkraut or kombucha) and drink bone broth like it’s going out of style. It’s not a diet I would recommend to anyone lightly, especially to someone with little experience in the kitchen, without serious thought and planning ahead.
Because guys, it was HARD at first. I went into this diet because I was horribly sick and did not know what else to do, and with only anecdotal evidence that this would even work (the medical community seems to be split on how effective this is for people- it works for some, but not for others), I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone I have spoken to with autoimmune diseases said that diet has a big impact on how they feel, but trigger foods differ among different people. Because it can take months to tell if eliminating a certain food has worked or not, it seemed more efficient to me to follow the AIP guidelines and just cut all of the most likely culprits at the same time, then once your body has healed, slowly work them back into your diet one at a time and see how your body reacts to each reintroduced food. So that’s what I did.
I knew that eating this way would be challenging for my chile, dairy, and grain-loving self, but the ways these challenges presented themselves escaped my foresight. I didn’t forsee how difficult it would be to regularly include non-grain carbohydrates in my diet when some of my favorite sources of those (sweet potatoes and winter squash) are frustrating to prep when you have no strength in your arms or energy to use a knife, or how much my old fallback quick and easy meals include a bed of grains, or beans, or eggs. Brain fog, loss of appetite, weakness, and exhaustion made it difficult to get creative, so I ended up eating the same few core things over and over for the first month until I started feeling well enough to do something different. Frozen fish fillets, mugs of bone broth, whole baked sweet potatoes, quickly sauteed tender greens, and organic frozen mixed vegetables carried me through meals; these, coupled with a lot of prayer, grace, and God’s provision in the form of my husband’s gentle but firm insistence that he and our circle of friends take over the household responsibilities while I rested slowly helped my body out of that terrible flare up. Over the next few months, I learned to listen to my body, slowed down, and came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t just hit the gym and drown this illness in a rush of endorphins. I went through the cranky, headache-ridden carb withdrawals and spent days wanting nothing more than to chug an ice cold glass of milk.
Slowly, painfully, my strength has returned, and while I know there are more highs and lows to come, I’m thankful to feel a but more like myself again. My energy level is now good enough to keep up with the day-to-day needs of our two young children and to socialize with people. I’m back to cooking regularly, my appetite has returned, and I can even do yoga a few times a week. My prayer and hope is that I will continue to heal, that this disease will be manageable, and that I can share the culinary aspect of all of this with others in hopes that it can be a practical, tangible help to those who want to try healing their body from the inside out. It’s not a cure, but eating well can help you feel better, and you should be able to enjoy it along the way.
So, all of that said, I am now in the early stages of food reintroductions on AIP, and I’d like to take you on that journey with me via this blog series. I plan to reintroduce one new food every week and share the results with you, whether positive or negative, as well as share the recipe that I used to reintroduce that particular food. Regardless of how this goes, know that the food you see here on thefreshkitchen will continue to taste good, and hopefully as my ingredient pool expands, things will get back to normal here. Stay tuned for next time when I reintroduce egg yolks, something I’ve been waiting for for MONTHS! Catch you guys later!
If you are interested in learning more about Paleo AIP, the best resource I can recommend is The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD.
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