Thirty days ago I decided to give myself a virtual reboot. I was fed up with feeling less than stellar and decided to start a paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP) reset. Like a computer that had stretched its resources too thin and had been running for too long without a break, I was in danger of coming to a complete crash and needed to shut it all down and restart, beginning with the part of life I have the most control over: my diet.
But to understand the whys and the hows of this reset, I should probably start this story at the very beginning, because it has been a long and complicated path – confusing even to me and those closest to me!
My diagnosis, early treatment, and surgical odyssey
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1995, when I was just 19 years old. At that time, treatment options were basically just steroids like prednisone and carpetbombing immunosuppressants like the kind they give organ transplant recipients. Several years later the first biologic drugs came out and I made it through my 20s and into my 30s taking varying amounts and types of those three drug categories and living a pretty full and normal life.
That caught up with me, however, and at age 32, just months after getting married, I had an elective surgery to deal with two strictures in my colon. Complications during recovery lead to a total of six more surgeries over the next two years, resulting in borderline short bowel syndrome and a scarred body and spirit, and eventually discovering the power of healing with food. You can read more about that part of my journey in this post, How I Became Gutsy By Nature.
How I got off track
It happened slowly and over time. Like the parable that says a frog will not jump out of a boiling pot of water if it comes to warmth ever so gradually, I didn’t recognize the warning signs or that my health and quality of life had deteriorated so, nor did my diet and self-care go off the rails all at once. It happened one exception at a time and pretty soon I was eating all kinds of junk, deluding myself into thinking it was ok as long as I was still trying to be gluten free and getting some extra nutrient density in on the weekends to make up for my poor diet the rest of the time.
My turning point
I returned from business travel on a Friday last month and instead of being excited about the weekend, I was so bone tired that I just wanted to crawl into bed and stay there until Monday. The trip – which should have been relatively easy and stress free – had been absolutely exhausting and I’d had a “stomach ache” (I call it that, but know full well it was really my colon that was hurting) for part of each day for at least the last two weeks, probably longer. I already had a colonoscopy scheduled about two weeks later to look for a gastrointestinal explanation for recalcitrant iron deficiency anemia before moving on to painful test to look for bone marrow failure and I was getting more and more worried that the colonoscopy would show serious Crohn’s disease activity and maybe even point toward another trip to the operating room.
As I laid in bed, massaging the cramping pain in my belly, trying to will it away so that my poor body could get the rest it so badly needed, my resolve started to strengthen. I thought back to the focus and determination I had when I first embarked on a healing diet, three years earlier, and decided that I needed to take control again.
It was time for a reset
I actually got the idea from my friend Joanna Frankham, who is a holistic health coach and had started an AIP reset group on Facebook with the start of September. Though the group was already 10 days in, I asked for permission to join late.
The idea of the reset is to go back to the basic elimination phase of the paleo autoimmune protocol (commonly known as AIP) for thirty days and see if you feel a positive difference. If you aren’t familiar with AIP, I encourage you to read more at Autoimmune-Paleo.com , but the basic gist is that you avoid all processed foods, which includes all grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar, plus also eliminate potential immune-stimulators such as eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables. After a period of time to allow the body to heal, you systematically reintroduce these foods to determine your personal intolerances and autoimmune triggers.
How I did my reset
I am a planner, so I immediately jumped into to creating a complete breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal plan for the first seven days. This allowed me to just put myself on auto-pilot when it came to eating and took away the day-to-day decision making and potential for slip-ups. I threw myself into cooking (which is something I enjoy) and methodically crossed off each day’s meal as I prepared and consumed it. I repeated this process three more times, creating a meal plan every Saturday morning for the next seven days.
Resources that helped
There are so many more resources available now than there were when I first did AIP in 2013! So many bloggers have created such gorgeous and mouth watering recipes and published them in exclusively AIP cookbooks that my shelf literally sags under the weight! I’ve compiled these resources on this page and keep thinking I should write a blog post that explains how each one of these cookbooks has a particular niche they fill and who they are best suited for. Maybe one day! It’s a daunting task now that there are so many, and even more coming out every day. The next one I’m excited about is the Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Angie Alt and Mickey Trescott, due to be released later this fall and available for preorder now.
How I dealt with business travel
This picture represents two stress free travel tips… the first is to pack your own snacks if you have any kind of dietary restriction. Though it is getting easier to find something resembling real food at the airport, I don’t count on it. So today I brought some toasted coconut chips from @dangfoods and a bison bacon cranberry bar from @epicbar (both of which are part of the AIP survival kit from @barefootprovisions) and one of the Trader Joe’s two ingredient fruit bars I picked up yesterday. The second tip is to get a backpack 🎒 for your computer and other necessities! Carrying a heavy load on one shoulder is a recipe for back pain and worse, but a backpack distributes the weight and helps me conserve energy and get less fatigued. I got this one from LL Bean and really like it because of the easy access pockets and the built in laptop 💻 sleeve. Happy travels everyone! ✈️ # #travel #aip #autoimmunepaleo #crohns #paleoforcrohns #aiptravel #paleotravel #spoonie
Meal planning at home is one thing, but I travel extensively for work and that is when I get the most lax about my diet and lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep and keeping up a stress-reduction practice. I’m still working on the lifestyle stuff, but I took care of the diet issue like any good capitalist would… I outsourced it!
I turned to a company introduced to me by my friend Eileen Laird of the blog Phoenix Helix when we got together for a blogger’s retreat this summer. The company is called Paleo On the Go and they make super high quality and delicious fully cooked meals that ship to you vacuum sealed and frozen. They have many clearly marked options specifically for AIP as well as other dietary protocols like the Whole30 or sugar detox programs. I have taken two business trips during this reset, both of them by airplane, and kept myself on track by packing the frozen meals in my checked luggage and then reheating them in my hotel microwave. Click here to see the complete AIP menu available from Paleo On the Go.
For shelf stable foods, I turned to the online paleo store Barefoot Provisions. They also have a section of their website specifically dedicated to the AIP and even off an AIP “survival kit” which I ordered at the start of the reset and used throughout for snacks while traversing the country on various planes, trains, and automobiles. Click here to see the AIP collection on Barefoot Provisions.
NOTE: I respect both of these companies so much that I signed up to be an affiliate for them. That means that if you use the links in this post or elsewhere on my website, I will receive a small commission for referring you. Please know that I only recommend companies and products I have fully reviewed and use myself.
This week I am staying in a suite hotel, so I have a big fridge and it is stocked with AIP friendly meals from @paleoonthego. I am amazed at how well they stay frozen, just wrapped up in a basic insulated bag and packed in my checked luggage. The vacuum seal packaging also makes them really compact (I am always amazed at how much food is really there when I open them up!), so a lot fits in a small space. # Now I am off to a local health food store to see if I can find some snacks and fresh items to supplement. Other than good to eat on the way, I don’t transport anything I can buy locally! # #aip #aipreset #paleo #paleoonthego #paleoforcrohns #paleotravel #aiptravel #roadfood #realfood
A photo posted by Jaime Hartman (@gutsybynature) on
Although I am feeling much better after these 30 days (no more daily stomach aches and my blood counts are turning around), the results of my colonoscopy were sobering. Not as bad as I had feared, but still the worst scope I’ve had since I started this odyssey of healing with food. I need to keep this healing momentum going and also keep it simple. I probably could start reintroducing some of the stage 1 foods like black pepper or egg yolks, but honestly right now I feel like that is too much stress.
So, I’m going to do another 30 days on the basic elimination diet – making sure that I am not just eliminating foods but also getting in the extra healing and nourishing foods like bone broth and lots of organic vegetables and organ meats. After that, I will reassess again.
I’m also going to focus on some lifestyle factors like getting decent sleep (anyone interested in joining me in the Paleo Mom’s Go To Bed challenge?) and stress management, including finally completing a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, ever since I first received Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living from a dear friend back when I was recovering from the first round of surgeries in 2007. I’ll share more about that once the class actually starts, as well as how my second 30 days of the dietary protocol goes.
In the mean time, I just want to thank all of my regular readers and followers on social media for your unconditional support. It means more to me than you could ever know!
UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, my blogging friends and health coaches Joanna Frankham and Emma King joined forces to create a formal group coached AIP Reset program. This is designed for people who have been following AIP for 6 months or more, either with or without reintroductions, and have realized that over time they are having more disease flares or are experiencing returning or new symptoms. Learn more about it on their blog, Conscious Autoimmunity.