Next week I hit my one year anniversary on the Autoimmune Protocol. On Tuesday, to be precise. Not that I’m counting. Much.
Not sure what the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is?
It’s a nutrient-rich elimination diet that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system.
You can read more about it here.
It’s been a wild ride, this past year. Life changing, even. So much so, that I thought I should share some of the experience with you.
Did you know?
Autoimmune diseases are on the rise across the western world. Here in Australasia, they currently affect 1 in 20 people. In the United States, there are over 50 million sufferers. Pretty sobering stuff.
What exactly is an autoimmune disease?
According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Autoimmune diseases can be defined as,”a broad range of related diseases in which a person’s immune system produces an inappropriate response against its own cells, tissues and/or organs, resulting in inflammation and damage. There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, and these range from common to very rare diseases. Some autoimmune diseases affect mainly one part of the body (such as multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes) whilst others can affect many parts of the body (such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic vasculitis).”
As with many life-altering events, an autoimmune illness is almost guaranteed to cause you to re-evaluate your priorities.
― Joan Friedlander, ‘Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease’
My particular autoimmune issue is Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), sometimes known as acne inversa. HS is a painful, chronic skin disease that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin – usually in very uncomfortable places. Frankly, it’s horrible.
I have suffered from HS for over twenty years. And until this year, I never talked about it.
What I have learnt in the past year on AIP
In a nutshell, I have learnt that it is possible to put my 20+ years of autoimmune related illness almost completely into remission by making dramatic changes to my diet and lifestyle.
And, if that was all I learned, then I would be a very happy little Vegemite.
But, here’s what else I learned…
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. And, when it comes to what we eat, the Autoimmune Protocol is literally a manifestation of this. The protocol removes all potentially inflammatory foods from the diet to enable the body to heal.
And yes, it does take work. And planning. And requires a level of commitment that many of my friends have found difficult to understand.
But. In return, as you start to heal, you feel F A N T A S T I C. Truly. Brain fog lifts. You wake in the morning feeling energised. Bloating disappears.
You will develop an appreciation for the sort of food your grandmother (or maybe even great-grandmother!) probably cooked. Fresh. Seasonal. Local. Full of flavour.
I don’t even go to the supermarket anymore. The farmers market is my supermarket.
Gut Health Matters
Really, the protocol is all about improving gut health. But there are two things that I now do religiously that I believe have significantly improved my health.
And, they are all to do with my gut.
1. Bone Broth
I now make bone broth regularly from a mixture of bones from pasture raised animals. It has become a staple within our diet here at Casa TSL. I make it into soup, use it in sautéed veggies, add it to gravies and just drink it.
I alternate the type of broth I make so I am maximising the vitamin and mineral benefits. Last week it was beef bone broth. The time before that, it was duck.
2. Fermented Vegetables
We eat at least a tablespoon of home-made fermented veggies with every savoury meal. Think sauerkraut. I make the fermented vegetables about once a month from vegetables and salt. That’s it.
Fermented vegetables add all sorts of beneficial bacteria to my gut that I would not otherwise have in my diet.
And, one more thing – both bone broth and fermented veggies are ‘cheap as chips’ to make.
It is becoming more and more apparent, in this fast-moving era of getting twice as much done in half the amount of time, that we are not getting enough sleep. This is making us sick. We are designed to need sleep. It’s when our bodies regenerate.
In my case, I had a home invasion just over ten years ago. Bit scary. Three men in balaclavas decided to have a look around my home at 4.30 in the morning and I caught them. Fortunately, they weren’t very interested in me. Just my stuff. But – it messed badly with my ability to sleep.
Now, I make sure I’m in bed between 9.30 and 10pm. Every night.
And, I really understand the value of a good night’s sleep. But it took some work. And some time. And it involved resetting my circadian rhythms by implementing my own personal ‘Operation Sleepy Time’ ritual.
I’m pretty sure LM will tell you I’m a nicer person to be around as a result.
I didn’t know I was stressed. I didn’t know I was a constant worrier. Until I worked out that I was a complete stress head. And, on top of that, I managed to hide it from almost everyone. Can anyone relate?
Of all the changes I have made over the course of the past year, and that I continue to work on with the AIP, how I manage stress is the most difficult for me. By far. In fact, it’s a biggie for many people. Sarah Ballantyne wrote a great post on her personal battles with stress recently.
Coming up with strategies that work for you are key to managing stress. Yoga didn’t cut it for me. Meditating on my own sends me to sleep. But. I love walking in nature.
And, I’m a great fan of Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique.
We human beans are social creatures. Even us introverted types. Connecting with quality people really matters and has an impact on our health*. This AIP caper has unexpectedly connected me with an amazing and generous community of other autoimmune sufferers around the globe. I am immensely grateful.
So what now?
Now, I keep going on the protocol.
In terms of my diet, I keep slowly reintroducing foods. I know more of my food triggers than before. And, I know that these are different for everybody. Gluten will never be my friend. And, HS sufferers seem to have big problems with nightshades – so, I’m a little scared to try tomatoes and eggplant and chill. Although I do miss tomatoes dreadfully. Bizarrely, the odd white potato doesn’t seem to be an issue.
I keep working on managing stress and making sure I get enough sleep. I make sure I move everyday. Bella (the poodle) gets lots of love!
My autoimmune affliction has affected me in many ways – physically, emotionally, and no doubt psychologically. But, in a weird way, I’m a little bit grateful to have it.
Without it, I wouldn’t have overhauled my eating habits. I’m healthier now than I’ve been in years. People comment on how wonderful my skin looks. Me, who had chronic acne as a teenager.
I would not have addressed my stress levels and less-than-stellar sleeping routine. And, my hormones and gut health would have further deteriorated.
I am lucky. My autoimmune issues are not life threatening. I won’t die from HS. But, they have been serious enough to give me a big wake up call about what really matters to me – my health. My loved ones. A meaningful career.
And this past year on the autoimmune protocol has been life changing.
If you have any questions about the Autoimmune Protocol or Hidradenitis Suppurativa, feel free to drop me a line.
*conversely, spending too much time with ‘energy sucking’ people can be detrimental to your health!