A Month of AIP Reintroductions

OK, so… I’m not quite sure how to write this post. Reintroductions were … hard? Frustrating? Really, really disappointing? Yes, they were all those things, and also very, very eye-opening. April’s health project was reintroductions. I actually started in late March, and the process is still ongoing, but after working on movement and sleep in the two previous months, I felt like I was in a good place to get started on some initial reintroduction attempts.

The short version is this: coffee is back (with caveats), ghee is back, eggs are surprisingly and frustratingly a no-go, and seed-based spices are a maybe. Maybe as in, I need to wait a couple weeks and re-test them. Also: sugar is bad, bad news. My advice is if you want to do reintroductions, keep your sugar intake (from any source, including honey, maple syrup, etc.) consistently low, or the sugar might completely derail your efforts to reintroduce other foods.

The longer version, according to food:

Coffee. I reintroduced this first because I was having consistent, almost chronic, problems with constipation, and at some point I decided it was worth the risk of reintroducing coffee to avoid resorting to OTC laxatives. It did the trick, and I seem to do well with it as long as I avoid drinking it first thing in the morning (I start with tea or water and move on to coffee a bit later), limit it to one cup, and eat at least a little something with it. If I have more coffee than that, even if its decaf, I get jittery in the short term and more tense and anxious in the medium term. Once I feel my digestion/elimination is reliably back on track, I will probably try to cut back on coffee again as a preventative measure to avoid it messing with my adrenals again.

Ghee. Reintroduced with no issues at all. Yay!

Eggs. I’m so upset that I wasn’t able to reintroduce eggs that I almost don’t want to write about it. I tried egg yolks first, and they seemed fine. Trouble is, I discovered that I don’t actually like things that use only the yolks: the texture of egg-yolk scrambles completely grossed me out; mayo without mustard (another AIP reintro) tastes funny; I’ve always hated hollandaise sauce with a fiery passion; poached egg yolks are even worse than the scrambles. The only exception is egg nog, but I haven’t quite been able to get myself to make it in May. Anyway, after reintroducing yolks, I tried whole eggs. They seemed fine, too. So then I went on to having some eggs every day to see if I can eat them more than occasionally. On the 4th day, I noticed I was feeling pretty tired, and I wasn’t sure if it was the eggs or something else in my life (more on that later), but I decided to stop eating them. Then, about a week later, I was out of all my usual breakfast meat options and decided to have an omelette for breakfast. Within an hour, I felt tired, weak, and had some noticeable brain fog. Then, maddeningly, that effect lingered for almost 2 WEEKS. So far, I don’t have a theory as to why eggs seemed fine at first, only to set me back so dramatically just a little while later, but whatever the case, no huevos for me for now.

Detour: sugar. While I was riding out the aftermath of the eggs, I celebrated my birthday. I made a fully AIP-compliant cake sweetened only with honey and dates. It was delicious. It was gorgeous. Everyone liked it, including my picky kids and a variety of non-Paleo friends. But. Ohmygodthesugar. My body completely rebelled when I gave it sugar. It caused heart palpitations, neuropathy in my legs and dimming vision in one eye. And it lasted for DAYS. At this point, I started getting SO FRUSTRATED that all this reintroduction stuff was taking SO DAMN LONG and not going nearly as well as I had hoped. There was a lot of temptation to throw up my hands and start eating everything. Reminding myself that it would take much, much longer to do any successful reintroductions if I gave in to that temptation was the only thing that kept me on track.

Seed-based spices. Once I felt recovered from both the eggs and the sugar, I tried making chicken with a sauce that included some mustard. I had no immediate issues, but I started feeling run-down and achy in the days that followed. This could have been a reaction, but some really stressful shit went down on those days where I felt terrible, and I’m inclined to think that my symptoms had more to do with the stress than the mustard. But the maddening thing is, I simply do not know. So I think the best course of action is to wait a couple weeks and try again, while hoping that life does not happen with a vengeance right when I’m trying to do a reintroduction.

Which brings me to the thing about reintroductions that is, by far, the most frustrating for me: I don’t live in a lab, and that means no experiment is truly controlled. It’s a good idea to reintroduce a food when you’re feeling good, when you’re getting good sleep, when you don’t have inordinate amounts of stress in your life. But you can’t know for sure that life won’t throw you a curve ball the day after you eat something for the first time. So if you eat food X today and tomorrow you get some really bad news and end up sleeping badly that night, how do you know if it was the food or the bad news? If you can’t sleep because you’re ruminating about the bad thing, that’s probably a giveaway, but what if your sleep is just restless? If you get a migraine after reintroducing a food, but the weather also suddenly changed and changing weather sometimes triggers migraines but not always, how do you know whether the food had an effect? This stuff drives me BONKERS. And since I cannot conceivably control all the variables that affect my disease-related symptoms, I can tell that this whole reintroduction thing is going to be a long, long process. So when I said that it’s been eye-opening, I not only mean that I was surprised to find that I reacted to eggs, but also that the process so far has shown me just how complex our bodies are and that it is incredibly hard to nail down cause and effect.

So what’s next? First up, I’m going to try seed-based spices again. If they cause no reaction, I will move on to seeds, and maybe I’ll make some mayo to see if egg yolks are, in fact, OK. If I do react, I’ll probably stop there for a while and wait at least a few months before I try anything else. I’m trying to feel OK about that possibility, but I’m not really there yet. I realize now that subconsciously, I had a timeline in my head for when I would be able to eat certain foods again, and the fact that reality is not adhering to that timeline is causing me more frustration than I had anticipated.


A Month of Sleep

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of autoimmune disease. And not just the kind of fatigue you feel after a long day or a bad night—we’re talking crushing, debilitating, heavy-as-lead, bone-deep fatigue. So it’s not surprising that you hear a lot about naps, sleeping 14 hours, and how much folks love sleep in the autoimmune community. So let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: I hate sleep. I don’t like naps. I don’t enjoy waking up in the morning, rolling over and going back to sleep. I am not a sleep person—never have been and probably never will be. And ya know what? That’s totally OK.

To be perfectly clear: I understand the importance of sleep; I may not have really embraced it in younger years, but I totally get it now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if chronic sleep deprivation was a major contributing factor to my developing Multiple Sclerosis. One of the liberating things about going away to college was that there was no one nagging me to get more sleep, so I could sleep as little as I wanted and only catch up when it became really, really necessary. Obviously, this did me no favors health-wise, but I functioned surprisingly well on very little sleep, and I actually enjoyed it.

So in the years leading up to my MS diagnosis (I suspect I had MS for at least three years before being diagnosed), the fact that I had to spend much more time in bed just to function was torture. I had to sleep more, spend more time in bed, and just generally get a lot more rest. And I hated it. But I couldn’t fight it, and I was beginning to read up on all the immune regulation that takes place when we get good, restorative sleep, so I dutifully worked on improving my sleep habits. Those habits got much, much better over the years, and I began to see how much getting more sleep helped me both in an immediate, day-to-day sense and in the longer-term management of my health. But as a lifelong night owl, as a person with a history of depression, anxiety and insomnia, my sleep still wasn’t dialed in, and I still hadn’t figured out how much sleep my body actually needed to feel good (as opposed to simply feeling OK).

So I spent March focusing on sleep. This was the third of my twelve health projects for 2017. I made a conscious effort to go to bed much earlier, to eliminate things I thought were interfering with my sleep, and to avoid sleeping in except when I had an obvious deficit to make up for.

Here’s what I found out:

  • I cannot watch TV in the evenings at all. If I watch so much as one episode of one show after my kids go to bed, I will end up falling asleep 1-2 hours after I otherwise would. Some of this is just the fact that the 40ish minutes I’m watching TV delays my going-to-bed routine; but some of it is the fact that TV—any TV—is stimulating and interferes with my getting sleepy in the first place.
  • Spending time on my phone in the evening, on the other hand, does not interfere with my sleep, as long as I don’t check my email. Email is antithetical to winding down, it seems.
  • Doing chores after dinner is almost as bad as TV. Either I get stuff done during the day, or it has to wait until tomorrow.
  • Keeping my circadian rhythms consistent is essential. This is why I put strict limits on how much I allow myself to sleep in and why I keep the lights very dim after dinner. Sometimes I wear blue-blocking glasses, but as long as the lights are dim, I don’t necessarily need them.
  • Evening showers are magical. If anything is keeping me amped up and too awake in the evening, a shower will help me wind down. The key is to brush my teeth and put on pajamas as soon as I’m done showering and then go straight to bed.
  • Evening activities are bad news. I have choir rehearsals once a week, and even though I’m home by 10, I rarely get to bed before midnight because being out and about with people is just so stimulating. As a result, I’m always exhausted the day after choir and completely useless. At a loss as to how to get myself calm enough to go to bed soon after getting home, it finally occurred to me to try taking a shower as soon as I get home from choir. Bingo! It worked. I still get less sleep on choir nights, but it’s only about an hour less now and not 2-3 hours.
  • Having focused on movement in February, I’ve been getting outside nearly every day, usually in the first half of the day. I seem to sleep worse on the days I don’t get outside, and that observation has reinforced my movement habit.
  • My body seems to need 7 hours and 50 minutes of sleep to feel really good. When given enough time in bed and left to its own devices, this is how much sleep my body will inevitably get, as recorded by my nifty Oura Ring. The only exception seems to be the night after choir night, when I will sleep about one extra hour, after which my body seems to be caught up, since the following night I will be back to just shy of 8 hours.
  • I now know what it feels like to be the first person in my family to wake up. As a night owl, my kids have historically always woken up before me, and my first seconds upon waking up have almost always involved responding to some sort of demand from a child. It has been like this for nearly ten years. I always knew I hated waking up this way, but I couldn’t seem to change it because I couldn’t seem to force myself to get up earlier. But now that my kids don’t wake up at 5 am anymore and now that I am actually getting an ideal amount of sleep, I usually wake up before my alarm and am the first person up. And lemme tell you: it makes a HUGE difference!

I still don’t like sleep. I will never understand people (like my husband and quite a few of my friends) who looooove it or refer to it as their favorite hobby. But now that I seem to have figured out how much sleep I need and how to get it, I’m making peace with the fact that I need to prioritize sleeping sufficiently and well in order to manage my health. I definitely feel better now that I’m sleeping better, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing to make sure my body gets what it needs.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it!

A Month of Movement

This year, I decided to work on 12 health projects, the idea being that taking my health goals and dividing them into smaller, more manageable projects would make pursuing those goals less overwhelming. This would also provide a framework for accountability. If you’re familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I’m a Rebel, and one way my tendency manifests is my stubborn refusal to set so-called SMART goals for myself. It’s not that I’ve never tried to do this; it’s just that it triggers rebellion every time and always ends with me more or less giving my own goals the finger. This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals, it just means I have to approach them differently. For example, if I strongly feel that I want to identify as someone who can move freely, easily and without pain, I find it quite easy to work toward that goal as long as I don’t define the goal too specifically, chart out any step-by-step plans or start actually measuring progress in some defined way. This is the reasoning behind my 12 health projects, and so far, I’d say it’s turning out to be a good way for a Rebel Tendency like myself to work toward some worthy goals.

February was my month of movement, and if we ignore the fact that we’re already over halfway into March, I thought I’d give a little recap.

First of all, it was HARD. Like, waaaaay harder than I had anticipated. It turns out that our movement habits are super ingrained, and changing them takes more effort than I had appreciated.

Or maybe I did appreciate it, but I thought it would be hard for people who are more sedentary than me; I expected it to be easier for me because I already considered myself to be pretty active. Oops. Yeah, let’s just say February showed me how naive I can be.

A little background: I played varsity soccer and ran varsity track and field in high school. I was very athletic, and even though I stopped playing organized sports in college, I remained pretty damn fit into my mid-twenties. Having kids indirectly had a negative effect on my fitness—I say indirectly because it was really the change in my habits that had the effect, not having kids in and of itself. Before I had kids, I walked and biked everywhere because I didn’t want to pay for public transportation if I could avoid it. After kids, I still didn’t have money, but I found myself a) traveling longer distances less frequently and b) using public transportation more often because I felt less flexible with my time when I was without the kids and more encumbered by kid paraphernalia when I had them with me. Nowadays I still walk or bike most places, but the distances are shorter since I tend to stay within a tighter radius of my home. Also, I work from home, so it’s easy to avoid leaving the house at all unless I make a conscious effort. And lastly, two massive MS flares in the past 3 years meant that I experienced two very long periods of extreme sedentarism, which were accompanied with all the reductions in fitness and muscle atrophy you might imagine. Needless to say, neither my endurance nor my strength are what they used to be.

So this is what I did:

  • Most days, I followed Katy Bowman’s Daily Movement Multivitamin.
  • Most days, I walked about 10,000 steps (with a variation between 7,000 and 15,000).
  • Most days, I hung from my chin-up bar.
  • Instead of going on bulk grocery shopping trips, I bought less on each trip, which forced me to walk to a store every day or every other day.
  • If a destination was a mile away or less, I walked instead of taking my bike.
  • If I wanted something, I got up to get it myself instead of asking someone to bring it to me.
  • I mostly worked at my computer standing up.
  • I finally found a pair of warm, minimalist winter boots and wore them for my walks, and I tried to stay barefoot as much as possible when I was home (i.e. when it wasn’t freezing).

This definitely all increased my daily movement, and it helped me avoid having super sedentary days, which I would normally have a couple times a week. I noticed that by walking and doing more, I really did have more energy. But even on a good day, 15,000 steps is a LOT for me. It wouldn’t have been a few years ago, but it certainly is now. And there were some setbacks and humbling experiences, too.

For one thing, I’m as lazy as the next person. I didn’t want to get up to get my own glass of water, damn it. When grocery shopping, I had a tendency to buy more than I could carry, which made the walk home more challenging; sometimes this was a good thing, but sometimes I overdid it and needed a couple hours to recover from the effort. I found all sorts of ways to convince myself that I didn’t need to go to the store, which meant less movement that day and fewer food options, which often translated to cranky kids who did not want the same snack for the fourth day in a row OMG, Mom. And I discovered that my alignment while standing leaves a lot to be desired, so standing while working sometimes caused more pain, not less. Also, it turns out you can’t fix your alignment in 28 days (unless maybe you are able to work at it like a full-time job?), so this wasn’t “fixable” within the scope of this health project, although I did work on it as much as I felt I could.

A minor emergency had me running home one day, abruptly interrupting my shopping trip. I was about a mile from home, and I could not run even half that distance. Ouch. This was actually a common theme: given my athletic past, I hate seeing how much less I can do now than I once could. I find it very disheartening, and it often made me feel like giving up. On the other hand, I expected my all-out effort would leave me feeling horrible the next day (since I’ve experienced a fair degree of exercise intolerance since getting MS), but it never came. To me, this means I’m getting fitter, and I can probably start challenging my body a little more.

My major setback was that I managed to throw out my back right in the first week. I have no idea how it happened, but one day I could barely move, seemingly out of nowhere. The pain would subside over several days, and then I would move in some way that suddenly re-ignited the pain. I was stuck in this cycle for most of the month, and it was super frustrating. I noticed that there was a big connection between my lower back pain and tightness in my hamstrings and calves. I tend to be very flexible, and my low back is not where I generally experience back pain (I’m more of a knotted-up shoulders kinda gal), so I don’t know where any of it came from, but it definitely seems interrelated, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the adjustments I’ve been trying to make to my whole-body alignment.

But despite this setback and the fact that I wasn’t able to be as consistent with certain things (like the movement multivitamin) as I wanted to be and that I never once did the yoga I had planned on doing, I definitely finished the month moving much more and much more consistently than when I started. I think it’s fair to say that I made certain things (like walking instead of biking, choosing to get up and move instead of asking someone to bring something to me) part of my daily habits, and that means it’s a behavior I can continue without too much conscious effort even as I turn my focus to sleep (March’s health project).

12 Projects for a Healthier 2017

Today is the first day of February, which might not be the most obvious date to declare a plan for the “new” year, but this plan has been slowly forming throughout the month of January (December was too crazy around here to do much reflection, which I think is a feeling many people can relate to.), and with 30 successful days of AIP eating under my belt, I’m finally ready to set my intention for 2017.

Instead of making a resolution to pursue one or more concrete goals, I’m focusing on a few areas of my life in which I want to make improvements. And, inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, I’ve decided to design 12 projects—one for each month—to help change some key habits that I’m fairly sure will make major contributions to my health and well-being. I’m building in some flexibility, meaning I’m not defining my projects too rigidly and I’m allowing for the possibility that I may need to adapt them along the way. I’ve learned over the years that I won’t stick to plans if they’re laid out in too much detail or if the goal is too specific—I’m a clear Rebel according to the Four Tendencies taxonomy created by Gretchen Rubin (more on that in future posts!)—but if I know why I’m doing something and I can identify strongly with what I hope to accomplish, I do well with a loose and flexible plan.

With that in mind, here are my 12 health projects, organized by month (but not set in stone):


January — Eating Habits (getting back to the full Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, which I have accomplished with my January Reset)

February — Movement (building more gentle movement into daily life)

March — Sleep (improving the quantity and quality of my sleep)

April — Reintroductions (experimenting with adding non-AIP foods back into my diet)

May — Mindfulness (getting back into the habit of daily meditation)

June — Strength (adding strength training to my movement routine)

July — Outdoors (increasing my time spent in nature)

August — Indoor Environment (decluttering, rearranging, detoxing my home)

September — Friendship (focusing on cultivating the important relationships in my life)

October — Writing (getting into a more regular daily writing habit)

November — Get Christmased (using this book to help create a holiday season that doesn’t make me crazy)

December — Celebrate (enjoying the delights of the season without “shoulding” on myself)

Again, I reserve the right to switch these projects around or even change them completely as needed. If I find a project needs more dedicated focus, I might extend it by a month. If I feel the need to focus on one of these areas sooner rather than later, I might move a project forward in the calendar. I actually already did this: I originally had Sleep listed for February because it seems like such a foundation habit, but I decided that the aches and pains I’m experiencing from too much chair sitting need to be addressed more urgently than my less-than-stellar sleep. So Movement it is.

I’ve also designed these projects to build upon each other. By spending a month focusing just on eating clean AIP, I’ve established this habit and can continue it with less dedicated effort (so much of it has become automatic at this point) while focusing on a new area. The end of a month does not mean the end of that habit; it just means that I will continue the habit in more of a maintenance mode rather than as an area of active focus. After a month of focusing on movement, my hope is that movement will be such an integral part of my day that I can carry that habit forward as I work on sleep. I’m also front-loading my projects to get the most bang for my buck at the beginning. I know that having my diet dialed in gives me much more energy than when I’m limping along eating only Paleoish. That extra energy gives me the momentum to focus on movement, which I might otherwise feel too tired to address. Similarly, improving aches and pains with natural movement will make it easier to work on sleep—it’s hard to sleep when you’re in pain—and once I’ve been moving naturally for several months, it should be easier to incorporate strength training than if I were to start working on strength right away. And so on and so forth.

Although I read The Happiness Project quite a while ago, it was a recent podcast with Gretchen Rubin that inspired me to adapt the framework to work on my health, specifically. I’ve already got the first project under my belt, and it feels so good! I have many more good days than bad compared to just a month ago, and I feel like I have the momentum to move forward.

(In case you’re wondering what I’m doing on day 1 of Movement, I’ll be using Katy Bowman’s Daily Movement Multivitamin, which I highly recommend.)