Finding the Missing Link: Troubleshooting on the Autoimmune Protocol

Why am I Still Not Feeling Better? Troubleshooting on AIP

Even after years of research, trial and error, doctors appointments and tests I still find that a small part of me wants to believe in the concept of a magic bullet; a simple answer, a single diagnosis, an “easy” fix. Honestly, this is a bit comical because every logical and educated part of me knows that no such thing exists. Our bodies are designed through an array of complex systems that all work together, or in some cases, fail together. When one piece of the system stops working every subsequent piece is thrown off and struggles to function properly. Having an autoimmune disease is the health equivalent of taking a beautiful and intricate puzzle and scrambling the pieces.

I spent about eight years living with my pieces scrambled. I had no diagnosis, no solution, I was just sick. I would go to the doctor and get testing done and try to see if we could find two or more pieces that fit together, but they never really fit. Then I got my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis and the perimeter of the puzzle started to take shape. I kind of had a rough framework for what was happening to my body, but it still wasn’t really working. We tried different prescriptions, added on complimentary diagnoses that weren’t really definitive and tried to cram more pieces together unsuccessfully. You could even say that we stuck some pieces in the wrong spots, causing more confusion down the line, but regardless, the perimeter was solid. Then I found the paleo diet and began to understand the connection between what I was eating and the inflammation in my body and some more pieces fell into place. You could even start to make out the picture through the holes.

Then I hit a road block.

I got sick again and it just seemed like the puzzle was doomed. In fact, I had to start taking pieces out in order to find where I had gone wrong. Some of my complimentary diagnoses were misguided and some of my medications were making things much worse than they needed to be. I was about to give up and walk away when I found the autoimmune protocol. All of the sudden a cascade of pieces fell into place. Everything started to take shape. I was addressing the lingering sensitivities in my diet, then I started to address some of the environmental toxins that were possible triggers and I even started to work on managing my stress and my emotions in a healthier way I thought I had this puzzle thing in the bag, until I realized I was still missing the last few pieces.

I couldn’t seem to shake these lingering symptoms.

Why am I Still Not Feeling Better? Troubleshooting on AIPI had a small flare, the result of the stress surrounding a major life change, and after that it seemed that things were still just slightly out of whack. I wasn’t bed ridden like I had been in the past, my world wasn’t falling down around me, I wasn’t really in pain or immobile, I was just not 100%. At first I tried to just wait it out, as if staring at the puzzle for a while would make the pieces magically appear… that didn’t work. Then I started searching for pieces in unlikely places. I wandered away from the perimeter of my autoimmune disease and decided maybe my symptoms were just side effects of medications or some minor, unrelated ailment, which was not the case. Finally, I went back to the original drawing board, the puzzle box, the autoimmune protocol and started to troubleshoot. The Paleo Approach book by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne has a comprehensive troubleshooting checklist in it. I sat down with a pencil and began to work my way through it. I was following the elimination diet, avoiding cross contamination, eating fish 3x per week, eating offal, checking my supplement ingredients, sleeping, managing my stress… I went through the checklist and there was really only three things that came up as possible issues. I could stand to eat more offal, I could try digestive enzymes, and I could get tested for and underlying infections, imbalances, or deficiencies. I poured myself an extra cup of bone broth and decided to look into the concept of digestive enzymes, as I really knew almost nothing about them. I read two helpful articles that I will recommend to you here since I am neither a doctor or a scientist the first was from Dr. Mercola and the second was a resource on the Whole 9 Website

Both of these articles seemed to be in favor of trying digestive enzymes if you were experiencing unresolved digestive issues after changing your diet or if you were dealing with issues surrounding leaky gut. They also seemed to take a just try them and see approach. To be fair, I also read a lot of other articles that stated that no conclusive scientific data existed to support the claim that supplementing with digestive enzymes was beneficial unless you suffered from a severe pancreatic abnormality. Finally, I read a review from a woman who said she had tried them for her fibromyalgia at the suggestion of her naturopath and that they had helped. I decided to give it a try and researched effective and credible brands of enzymes and decided to try this broad-spectrum supplement. I started taking them as directed and to my genuine surprise I could see a notable difference in my overall digestive health within about four days. Just like that, one more puzzle piece fell into place.

My troubleshooting journey is still not over.

I have plans to pursue testing in the near future to rule out or address any lingering hormonal imbalances that may be hindering my healing process, but I have found this process to actually be quite rewarding because it has served as a great reminder that healing through the autoimmune protocol is all encompassing. It is not just about any one lifestyle element or any one part of he picture, it is about putting all of the puzzle pieces back in place. The great news is that most of the time we have all of the information, tools and resources we need right in front of us.

For a full troubleshooting guide I recommend that you purchase either the print or e-book version of The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, but here are a few tips to get you started:

• Are you following all of the recommendations outlined in The Paleo Apprach in regards to diet?

• Are you successfully avoiding cross contamination and exposure to race amounts of gluten and grains?

• Have you double checked your supplements for non AIP ingredients? • Are you eating offal 2-5 times per week?

• Are you eating a variety of foods?

• Are you eating probiotic foods or taking a probiotic supplement?

• Do you avoid eating under duress?

• Are you getting 8-12 hours of quality sleep each night?

• Do you participate in mild to moderate physical activity each day?

• Are you working to decrease stress in your life?

• Have your cortisol levels and thyroid function been tested?

Stuffed Plantains (AIP, Paleo)

Stuffed Plantains (AIP/Paleo)

If I had to pick one food that is my favorite AIP specific food, meaning that I didn’t eat it before following AIP, it would be the plantain. How I spent so much of my life not enjoying this starchy delight is beyond me. Plantains are a resistant starch, which means that they make great food for the good bacteria inhabiting your digestive system. It also means that they can help fill you up and add some healthy carbs to your diet if you are feeling hungry a lot or looking for some workout fuel.

It has been important to me since day one of following AIP to maintain an adequate level of healthy fats and carbs because I have never been in a position of needing to lose a lot of weight and I have always needed a little extra boost of energy for running after little ones and being on my feet a lot. Plantains are one of my favorite ways to do this. I love plantain chips as a snack and as you may have noticed from looking around at other AIP recipes, plantains make an awesome and versatile base for a lot of baking recipes as well.

However, this new recipe is an AIP friendly spin on a traditional South American dish called Canoas. The traditional dish used bell peppers, tomatoes and cheese, but this version is just as delicious, I promise. It is simple to make and will leave you feeling full, satisfied and healthy.

What is your favorite new “AIP- Specific” Food?

 

Stuffed Plantains (AIP, Paleo)

Stuffed Plantains (AIP/paleo) Ingredients:

4 Ripe Plantains, peeled.

1 lb of Ground Beef

1 small onion, chopped finely

3 cloves of garlic, minced

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp oregano

1 avocado

1 tsp olive oil

 

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take your peeled plantains and slice off a tiny amount of the plantain from the outside of the curve so that the plantain can sit without falling over. Then, slice down the inside of the curve without cutting all the way through the plantain. Scoop out about a tablespoon from the inside of the plantain so that the filling can be put in later. Brush the plantains with olive oil and bake on a lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes. While the plantains are baking, take a large skillet and brown your ground beef. After the ground beef has begun to brown add in your minced garlic and chopped onions and sauté. Stir in your spices and set aside until the plantains are ready, then spoon your filling into the plantain and bake again for another 5-8 minutes. Garnish with avocado and sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

How The Autoimmune Protocol Changed the Way I Look at My Body

 

How AIP Changed the Way I Think About My Body

I have never been super thin and I have never been overweight. I have always been right there in the middle, the curvy short girl with naturally wide hips, a decently endowed top half, and seriously solid legs. I would have fit all of the ideal beauty standards in the 1940’s and 50’s, I would have loved my hourglass figure, and relished in the puffy skirts and high waist lines of the day. However, I live in the era of photoshopped artificial beauty and the impossibly thin body shape. I also have an autoimmune condition that hasn’t been overly kind to my body.

I gained my mature shape pretty early in life and became self conscious around other girls as a result, however struggling with digestive issues really added to my perception of my weight through high school. Each day I would wake up with a flat tummy and go to bed looking 5-6 months pregnant. Low rise jeans were my worst nightmare, so I spent all of high school rocking dresses with leggings or jeans with empire waist tops that hid my belly, but by the end of the day the waist line of my jeans would be cutting into my skin and I would feel disgusting.

I was active and in shape as a teenager, I rode horses for many years, took dance classes and lifted weights at home, but I couldn’t understand why my belly never seemed to look any “better”. By the time I made it through college and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis the decade or more of fluctuating weight and abdominal distention had taken their toll on my skin and muscles and I felt like the resulting stretch marks and lines were ugly and noticeable to everyone. Every piece of clothing I wore revolved around hiding my belly and minimizing my self consciousness.

body image quoteAfter achieving remission for the first time and following the paleo diet for about a year I began to feel more comfortable in my skin for the first time. I was still struggling with a little bit of bloating here and there but all in all I was in love with the fact that my stomach stayed flat(ish) through most of the day. One of my crowing body image achievements, in fact, was wearing a form fitting non-empire waist dress when I got married. I loved that dress and the way I looked in it and never once did I obsess over how my tummy looked.

Fast forward another year or so and I was sick again with the weight fluctuations and abdominal distention back in full swing. I couldn’t afford to buy all new pants and I couldn’t fit into the ones I had so for a few months I wore belly bands designed for newly pregnant women to disguise the fact that my pants wouldn’t button. Obviously, I was physically miserable, but emotionally I had never felt more unattractive and bad about myself in my life. Pair that with going on an off of steroids which caused me to gain weight and look puffy and finally after almost six months I made a decision that I still stand by today, to only buy clothes that I was comfortable and felt good in. I traded in my uncomfortable low rise buttoned jeans for beautiful maxi skirts and dresses and eventually even found an amazing and stylish pair of jeans that accommodated my fickle belly. This was one of the best decisions I ever made in regards to my body image because feeling comfortable and beautiful regardless of being sick or well always makes a big difference in my morale. Plus, I found that people automatically tend to associate wearing skirts and dresses with being put together so I started getting a lot more compliments about my outfits which was a wonderful boost to my spirits as well.

Finally, when I went on AIP and began addressing the underlying issues behind my disease I finally discovered that the best thing I could do for my body image was to be healthy and physically comfortable in my own skin. I no longer get crazy bloated even when I don’t feel great because my food is actually being digested and the bacteria in my gut are balanced and working for me rather than against me. I can eat without fear of how I will look in an hour and I don’t feel gross by the end of the night. In fact, I hardly ever weigh myself anymore because the number hasn’t changed in months and I am ok with that. I won’t lie to you, I still have cellulite on my thighs that I don’t love, I still have some faint stretch marks on my belly and hips from years of ulcerative colitis induced weight changes, and I still wish my abs were just a little more muscular, but in the end, what I learned was that having a positive body image is a lot less about what you actually look like and a lot more about how you feel in your own skin.

Bacon Wrapped Green Beans (Paleo/AIP-Reintroduction)

Bacon Wrapped Green Beans (Paleo/AIP-Reintroduction)

Green beans are a hot topic in the AIP community sometimes. When I first began my journey on the autoimmune protocol, green beans were not listed as being necessary to eliminate and since my hubby is a little picky about the vegetables he likes we kept on eating them without any trouble. Since then, green beans have started being listed as a gray area vegetable. Green beans are technically legumes, but they are in an edible pod and so immature that they usually do not cause any digestive trouble. That being said, if you have just started on the autoimmune protocol go ahead and leave them out for your first 30 days and then reintroduce them to see if you have any issues. (for tips on how to handle the reintroduction process, I highly recommend this e-book) There is really no need to eliminate them longer than that as long as the reintroduction goes well. If you never eliminated green beans and you’re still having some unresolved issues you may consider omitting them for a few weeks and see what happens.

All of that being said, green beans are a very personal grey area and should be treated as such. However, because we eat them regularly I have decided to share this recipe with you all.

I am in the process of experimenting with the recipes I am planning on serving on Easter this year and I can already tell that this one is going to be a big hit! My family loves green beans and we typically eat them on most major holidays and at family events, but this fun spin on a classic is sure to impress. This recipe is so simple but feels surprisingly fancy and fun! I mean what isn’t better when wrapped in bacon?

There is no reason that the side dishes at your next dinner or gathering need to be the boring part of the meal. A simple change to a classic side dish can make all the difference!

 

Bacon Wrapped Green Beans (Paleo/AIP-Reintroduction)Bacon Wrapped Green Beans (Paleo/AIP- Reintroduction):

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 lb of fresh green beans

10-12 slices of bacon

2 TBS of coconut oil

1 TBS maple syrup

2 cloves of garlic, minced

¼ tsp sea salt

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees wash and dry the green beans and toss in salt. Bundle 5-8 beans and wrap in one slice of bacon. Lay the bundle seam side down and repeat with the remaining green beans. In a small sauce pan over low heat combine coconut oil , maple syrup and garlic. Whisk until melted and combined. Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture over the top of each bundle cover the bundles with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Then, if the bacon isn’t quite crispy enough for you place them under the broiler for 2-5 minutes.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting (AIP/Paleo)

Carrot cake Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting (AIP/Paleo)

February has finally past and the first little hint of spring is in the air. The hope of warmer weather, flowers, and Easter got me thinking about some of my favorite spring recipes, not the least of which is carrot cake. I actually always loved carrot cake, even as a child, because I preferred the cream cheese icing to the disgustingly sweet buttercream found on every other find of cake. So, I decided to try to figure out a way to make an AIP friendly carrot cake.

You know that my goal on this blog is to make recipes that are easy to make and comprised of nourishing but easy to source ingredients. There are some delicious looking cake recipes out there, but up until this point I hadn’t been able to come up with one that was simple enough for my taste. I went back over my past recipes and decided to try something similar to the cranberry orange muffins I made around Christmas. They are made with avocado instead of egg and worked quite well.

I was honestly shocked at how well these turned out, icing included. They came out perfectly on the first go round and then to really put them to the test I served them to a group of 7 non paleo, non AIP eaters to see what they thought and they all enjoyed them! Taking the first bite was like biting into a little piece of heaven for me, I don’t remember the last time I got to enjoy a fully frosted, beautiful cupcake. I absolutely love cupcakes they are my favorite thing to bake, so being able to make this recipe come to life really filled me with a lot of joy and I hope that it will bring joy to you too.

So, if you want a special treat this spring ask the Easter bunny to leave the eggs and hide some avocados instead.

 

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting (AIP/Paleo)

Carrot cake Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting (AIP/Paleo)Cake Ingredients:

1/3 cup of mashed ripe avocado

½ cup of maple syrup

½ cup of coconut oil

1 cup of pineapple juice

1 cup of coconut flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp ginger

1 TBS cinnamon

1 ½ cups of finely shredded carrots

¼ cup of raisins

 

Frosting Ingredients:

1 cup palm shortening, softened

¼ cup of coconut butter

¼ cup of coconut cream

¼ cup of maple syrup

1 tsp of grass fed gelatin

shredded unsweetened coconut to decorate

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a blender or food processor combine your avocado, maple syrup, coconut oil and pineapple juice and blend until combines. In a large bowl mix together your coconut flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, spices, salt, carrots and raisins. Mix your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and stir until a thick dough forms. Line your muffin tin with paper or silicone liners and fill each cup about ¾ of the way full, pressing the dough firmly into the cup. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow them to cool completely before frosting. To make your frosting, combine all of your ingredients with a standing mixer or hand mixer until a stiff frosting has formed. Then pipe your frosting onto your cupcakes and decorate with shredded coconut. If you want the frosting to be slightly stiffer just put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Store cupcakes in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

AIP Pulled Pork BBQ (Eastern NC Style)

AIP Pulled Pork BBQ (Eastern NC Style)

BBQ has to be one of the most divisive issues in the US food scene. Everyone thinks that their brand of BBQ is the best. I have lived in a lot of different places and I have tried a lot of different kinds of pulled pork BBQ, from the sweet yet tangy tomato based style of Virginia and Western North Carolina, to the sweet molasses style of Kansas, to the dry slice of meat and choose your own sauce mess that passes for BBQ down in Alabama (sorry, but its true), each of these styles is different but they are all tomato based and heavy on the sauce. The one style that is truly different from all the rest is the tangy vinegar based flavor of Eastern North Carolina BBQ.

Now, I have to watch my words carefully here, but lets just say that with my background this style of pulled pork was an acquired taste. The combination of vinegar and spices is so different from anything I was used to it didn’t seem like “real” BBQ to me.

That being said, after starting on the autoimmune protocol diet and saying goodbye to tomatoes I realized that this style of BBQ might be my best shot at an easy pulled pork recipe.

Traditional Eastern NC BBQ is still not AIP friendly since it is typically made with white vinegar, white sugar and a combo of red and black pepper but a few simple substitutes make this recipe just as tasty as the original (this is coming from true Eastern NC natives, not just me). It is also a super easy recipe that uses ingredients you probably already have in your pantry so it is perfect for a weeknight or anytime you need a simple dinner.

What is/was your favorite style of BBQ?

 

AIP Pulled Pork BBQ (Eastern North Carolina Style)

AIP Pulled Pork BBQ (Eastern NC Style) Ingredients:

2.5 lb Pork Butt

½ tsp Sea Salt

½ tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Ground Ginger

¾ Cup of Apple Cider Vinegar

4 TBS Maple Syrup

 

Directions:

Rub your pork butt with your spices until covered. Place it in a large slow cooker and pour in your vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. About 30 minutes before it is done shred your meat with two forks and mix in your maple syrup. Cook for 30 more minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Why Batch Cooking is the Answer to A lot of Your AIP Problems

 

 

batch cooking final

There is no denying that making the switch to the full autoimmune protocol elimination diet is a big adjustment. No matter what, there will probably be more cooking, planning, and thinking about food than you’re used to. That being said, I often hear people voicing concerns, complaints or even excuses for “falling off of the wagon” that could all be fixed with one relatively small lifestyle adjustment…. Batch cooking.

Batch cooking is the practice of cooking large amounts of food ahead of time and storing them for later use. Most people do this at the beginning of the week or the beginning of the month. Personally, I batch cook my breakfasts and lunches and any pantry staples like bone broth or kombucha at the start of every week, pretty much without exception. I don’t know how else I would be able to have been able to succeed on this diet without adopting that practice early.

Here are five of the top complaints I hear surrounding the adjustment to the elimination phase of AIP and how batch cooking can help:

 

Eating This Way is Too Expensive

If you have only been eating processed foods then, yes, you may have to spend a little more, but if I can do it on a grad student budget you can do it to. Just find the highest quality food that YOU can afford and work from there. Batch cooking will help you save money because it forces you to plan ahead and have food available so that you are not running out to the store for expensive convenience foods or extra ingredients that you don’t need. Buy all of your food at one time and don’t go back to the store. Cooking your own food WILL save you money in the long run I promise.

I Don’t Have Time to Do All of This Cooking:

Cooking a lot of food at once may sound time consuming but it actually takes me just about the same amount of time to make a week’s worth of breakfast hash as it would to make one day’s worth. What takes a lot of time is having t make every single thing you eat from start to finish over and over and over again. Maximize the time you are in the kitchen by making more at once.

I’m Spending Too Much Time in the Kitchen:

If you are making breakfast from scratch every morning, making lunch every day before you go to work, preparing snacks and coming home to make dinner, you’re right you are spending too much time in the kitchen. However, if you spend an hour to an hour and half on a weekend making your breakfasts, lunches, snacks and staples ahead of time you won’t have to touch the stove until dinner during the week and you’ll be free to get back to the rest of your life.

I’m Too Hungry at Meal Times to Cook From Scratch:

Well then you are not planning ahead like you should be. I am the poster girl for the term Hangry, also known as the anger that results from getting too hungry. If I don’t plan ahead I will end up just eating whatever is closest to me. By batch cooking at a non meal time I am able to ensure that I have food readily available during the day when I get hungry. Batch cooking also forces me to plan my dinners head of time so I am never faced with looking at an empty fridge with no plan at 6pm on a week night.

I Am An Emotional Eater:

This is a struggle for many people, but part of the unhealthy nature of emotional eating is that people tend to over eat on foods high I sugar or fat that are convenient and within reach. Ensuring that you have healthy, AIP friendly foods within reach, that are easy to eat will not solve your emotional eating tendencies but give you a much healthier option. So be sure to plan ahead and always make sure you have an AIP friendly snack or meal on hand.

Eating this Way is Not Convenient:

Well, to this I say you’re right. When compared to the ability to get a full meal handed to you without every having to get out of your car, I suppose it is not convenient. However, spending your life with your body attacking itself in painful and damaging ways is also not convenient. Batch cooking does, however, make the AIP lifestyle more convenient my efficiently using your time and allowing you the convenience of ready to eat food at the times when you need it most, during the week, at work, or while you are running around all day long. The minute my feet hit the floor in the morning I have an AIP friendly breakfast waiting to be heated up and eaten… doesn’t get much more convenient than that!