How I Ended Up with Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity
Where do I begin? How long should this be? I often share fragments of my story and am yet to put it all together like this. Two reasons for that, it’s multi-faceted, it’s not linear and there are a bunch of tangents, two, do you really care? To read it all, to know from the beginning… here it is… I would like to mention that my life has not been this epic sob story although this story does highlight my hardships. Isn’t that life though, real life, the light, and the dark? I want to share my story, to tell you how AIP and Keto and self-love changed my life forever in hopes that it might inspire you, motivate or teach you.
I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember. Even as a baby I was bigger than my older sister and ate more than her too. Of course, as a kid, you don’t know you’re fat or that it’s not accepted by society until someone makes it clear to you. I can’t recall that exact moment, but I know it happened at some point. I remember as early as the third grade coming home in tears from school.
Even before then my otherwise happy childhood was marked by bouts of illness. Hospitalized with pneumonia at 8 months old. Chronic bronchitis, reoccurring strep throat. I remember the inhalers and antibiotics. I remember the fevers that would burn me up in cold sweats. I was sick a lot. I remember taking Dimetap and it tasted like grape Jolly Ranchers. The mineral oil spoonfuls and rectal suppositories for severe constipation.
We didn’t know back then, no one looked at health this way, but even as a child from ear, nose, and throat to my bottom, from one end to the other my health issues screamed of leaky gut. I could have been the combination of C-section birth, soy formula and a full course of vaccines. It could have been the anti-biotics and my family’s predisposition to autoimmunity. I could be the inherited stress from my grandmother and mother who lived and fled a communist country. Whatever the reason, of all the kids in my family- I was hit the hardest.
Fast forward to being a teenager with full-blown self-esteem issues, body dysmorphia and a sadness I could not explain. Desperate for people to like me, I would take the shirt off my back for anyone. Although most would remember me as upbeat, high energy and happy, I always felt a disconnect, I felt like an outsider, unwanted and unsure. I know now this was all in my head. I was living my whole life with this filter on and it was the source of so much strife.
My go-to source of self-harm or self-medication was food. I would sneak leftovers and snacks. I would open the fridge and gobble up food before anyone could catch me. I would eat my plate and then my sister’s leftovers. I was put on every diet ever. I cried and my mom wanted to help me so she did it the only way she knew how. As an avid dieter- yo-yo-er herself we would do these diets together.
I will say my mom’s culinary skills and her love of real food were a bonus, at least our diets didn’t consist of shakes or frozen meals. Although, there was that one week on the South Beach Diet where all we ate was chicken and lettuce.
This pattern of ultra-restriction (with rapid weight loss) and then falling off the wagon in some epic way is surely what has fucked up my metabolism and hormones.
Add into this 10 years binge drinking, cigarettes, and some casual drug use. Oh boy! I wish I could go back and tell my 16 or 18, shit even 23-year-old self to SSSSTTTAAAPPPP IT.That girl was in so much pain. Emotional and physical. Navigating social gatherings, beach days, boat parties, flirting, intimacy, sex with low self-esteem, body issues, and my hidradenitis suppurativa was nerve-wracking.
Ashamed of my body fat, my scars, trying to hide the hideous painful boils of my autoimmune disease, being intimate, or showing certain parts of my body was a super scary thought. One which I numbed with substance abuse. I never even spoke to anyone but my mother, sister and a few doctors about my skin condition until I got married and even then, I would hide a lot of my pain and my scars. I was like a duck. Seemingly cruising on the pond while frantically kicking beneath the surface.
The Turning Point
Pregnancy, having a baby, motherhood have a way of putting things into perspective. I stopped giving a F about hiding my HS around my husband, especially because it got worse. Much worse. I am not sure if it was the sleepless nights, the hormone and emotional roller coaster, the stress of motherhood. but my health took a downward spiral while my body fat just kept climbing. When we moved to Hawaii and I finally weaned my son after nursing for two years, I was at an all-time low.
Swollen, depressed, feeling achy, tired and worn out at 29 years old I took to the internet for answers and found an article by Tara Grant on Robb Wolf’s website. She has my same skin condition. She put it into remission through diet. She talked a lot about nightshades. I bought her book, The Hidden Plague.
Finding out this disease was autoimmune, that it wasn’t my fault, that I COULD do something about it was the most empowering moment of my life. However, the journey has not been linear, it has been like climbing up a steep mountain with a windy road. Hidradentitis Suppurativa is a mystery, and it is notoriously hard to put in remission and keep in remission! So many factors at play.
Add to that giant goal the need to lose weight, get fit and healthy and I had a big job to do!
So how did I go about this seemingly impossible task?
I began by educating myself as best as I could. I researched nightshades. I brushed up on my knowledge of paleo. This lead me right to the AIP (autoimmune protocol) door. I won’t lie, it scared the shit out of me. It seemed absolutely impossible. All spices, eggs, coffee, and nuts… how in the hell?? Remember back then, although I was gluten free and mostly dairy free I was still eating grains and potato and alllll the tomatoes and peppers!
However, I was curious, I knew in my gut that it was what I needed to do. As my 30th birthday neared I decided to start with a Whole30. It seemed more do-able. I consciously reduced my nightshade intake and did the 30 days. It was amazing. I lost 13 pounds with that first Whole30 and felt so much better, my depression began to lift. So I stuck it out with paleo throughout the summer and finally, that fall I committed to doing the AIP.
Serious About Healing
Yes, it took me nearly three months to muster up the grit to get through my first AIP. It was finally clear to me, that even though I was eating paleo, with all the paleo treats, the occasional wine, and nightshades, my skin was not improving at all. It was time to get serious about my health.
The AIP is quite the endeavor. An elimination diet that excludes all grains, dairy, gluten, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, processed foods, and nightshades. I began the AIP as outlined in Tara Grant’s book which keeps coffee and cashews in as long as you see progress. I saw some progress, but eventually, I gave up coffee and cashews too. I saw more progress. I kept a very detailed journal. Time, date: What I ate. How I felt immediately after and any notes following 24 hours of that meal. I logged in symptoms, sleep, stress.
I’m glad I kept the journal. It would have been difficult to quantify my progress. As I was still suffering from some fatigue and my hidradenitis wasn’t completely in remission I had moments of doubt, frustration. I cried a lot. But when I looked at the bigger picture I realized that my flares were farther apart and they were shorter. Lasting only 1-3 days, as opposed to weeks or months.
I added in one food back in at a time, coffee, eggs, wine, then nuts and seeds. Eventually, I added ghee too. I never tried to add in gluten or nightshades as even touching these foods caused my hands to itch, and I have since had a full-blown reaction when accidentally eating these foods.
Over the course of those first 6 months, I lost 35 pounds. I began to workout. I began to love to workout. Zumba, HIIT, weightlifting, spinning. I was on a roll. Then something happened…
I hit a wall. Progress came to a screeching halt. I stopped losing weight, I even began to gain some back. I was tired all the time again. I was bloated and I felt off. I had monster cravings and even though I had completed various Whole30’s (each time learning something new about my habits) I wasn’t seeing the progress I wanted in my energy, health or body.
The Low Carb Life
Through research, I deduced I was having symptoms of SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), when you have too much bad bacteria in your small intestine, which feeds off of starches and sugar. So I began to cut those out.
Naturally, I looked into lower carb paleo and found Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint. It made so much sense and seemed to be just what I needed. So I stuck to squash over sweet potato and berries over banana. I kept researching and troubleshooting. I read Robb Wolf’s Wired to Eat and did the 7 Day Carb Test as outlined in this book.
I gave up alcohol altogether. I wasn’t doing me any favors and I finally had to be honest with myself about that one. I had gotten comfortable with my eating habits, hoping I was one of those lucky people who healed in a few months. I wasn’t. I finally admitted to myself that I still had healing to do. I embraced the fact that I abused my body for years and this damage would not be undone in just a few months or even a year. I let that sink in. 2016 was a year of learning and reflection. It was also the year my HS finally went into remission.
Once I let go of the notion that I would one day be able to eat whatever I wanted without reckless abandon and focused on the positive changes in my life and my health things changed!
I focused more on self-love, on acceptance. Then making changes to my diet, to tweak as needed to feel my best didn’t seem like this great trauma or sacrifice. The changes I was making registered as my new lifestyle, as gifts to myself, as a celebration of delicious nourishing foods and healing my body.
When I began Keto…
From the 7 Day Carb Test, I learned that I was, in fact, insulin resistant. Which is when your cells stop reacting to the insulin secreted by the pancreas. It just keeps secreting insulin into your bloodstream, but the gylcogen isn’t being used for energy so it is stored as fat. In my case, I suspected the reason for the visceral fat on my body. Going down that research rabbit hole brought to light so many other things I had to work on. An overworked liver. Estrogen dominance. It was all connected. So, I took it one step at a time. I had my hormone levels tested in January of 2017, my estrogen was off the charts. My integrative medicine doctor confirmed my insulin resistance and estrogen dominance suspicions and we discussed going from paleo to a more keto approach. He was into it. He gave me The Epi-Paleo RX by Dr. Jack Kruse (a super interesting but intense read).
I went head first into keto-paleo without nightshades. I added grass fed butter back into my diet because honestly, I couldn’t afford to keep buying ghee and at the rate I was using it, making it was also cumbersome.
All went well. All of my symptoms began to subside. After a few weeks of the infamous keto flu (aka I thought I was dying), I was in ketosis. I had energy. My joints no longer ached druing my luteal phase. My skin never looked better. My hangry-ness went away. I could go hours without snacking or eating and sweet baby Jesus! The scale began to move again! I was hooked. The stable energy, the delicious food, the bulletproof coffee! Gimme!
After a few months of rapid progress, I hit that wall again. Not just on the scale but in feeling better… but at this point, I knew the culprit. I had gone almond butter happy… yup…my old food abuser ways had crept into my keto diet. Too many treats, not enough real food. Way to many nut-based foods and sweeteners. I digress, it is hard to change your eating habits. Especially in my life of work which includes looking at food all day. Knowing what everyone and their mothers is eating. It’s hard not to compare. Yes, maybe some folks were seeing great results eating fat bombs and keto cookies all day- that wasn’t me. So I did my first Whole30 + Keto. Absolutely not condoned by the program, but it’s my body, my rules yo and it was awesome.
After that, I went back to the basics. Back to my AIP roots. I omitted nuts from my diet and reduced sweeteners too. I dabbled in Stevia and Monk Fruit. Both are okay, erythritol hands down performs better though.
I became really committed to this whole food keto approach. I tried different macros. I tracked on and off. I still do. I made sure to eat quality proteins. Himalayan salt in my water for sodium and trace minerals which help with hydration.
I focused on a balance of above ground vegetables, healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil or MCT oil for my meals, less seed based fat bombs. More complete meals. More color. I played around with more or less protein and my workouts. I found a happy middle ground between AIP and Keto.
If you follow my Instagram you see how I eat. There is an ebb and flow. Some days a way higher in calories and fat while others are more protein heavy. Sometimes I eat root vegetables like beets or carrots, but mostly avoid starches. I like the sweet treat as much as the next person but have finally broken my addiction to them. So while I still use stevia or erythritol it is in moderation and that works for me.
At this very moment, I am doing an AIP KETO RESET (learn more HERE). A short term reset that combines AIP and Keto. I’m a sucker for self-experimentation and it is also my job to help other people. I firmly believe this powerful combination can do just that. All the autoimmune protocol restrictions on a keto template, so sans sugar or carbs and honestly I feel the best I have in months! I’m excited to see what the reintroduction phase will bring!
Here are some guidelines to a Whole Foods Approach To Keto for Optimizing Weight loss, Reduction in Inflammation and overall Vitality!
- Stick to ingredient meals: avocado or bacon, protein, greens and add sauces, fermented vegetables, and herbs to jazz things up. My favorite condiments are chimichurri, mayo, pickled veggies.
- Learn to drink unsweetened coffee or tea in the morning. It’s all about getting used to it. By omitting this one source of sweetener in your every day you set the stage and train your taste buds to not expect or need that sweet flavor. I hate sweetened coffee now! It’s crazy. The trick about unsweetened coffee is that it has to be good coffee. I like a light roast. Use a French press to make it. Blend with coconut oil or MCT powder, a little coconut cream and gelatin, add cinnamon too! Yum!
- Go to bed early! I don’t care how clean your diet is, if you don’t sleep you will feel like shit regardless. Also, when you’re sleepy your hunger signals are all out of whack.
- Don’t focus so much on the scale. The scale can’t measure your muscle mass, your BMI or yourself worth yo. Take before and after pictures, keep a journal of your non-scale victories!
- If you have an autoimmune issue I suggest you start with the AIP KETO RESET or at least a dairy and nut free keto. Go from there. I also avoid nightshades because they make me react but that can be very inflammatory to a lot of people, from acne to joint pain. You might want to try eliminating those for a bit too! All of my recipes are nightshade free.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Do not obsess over pee strips or macro numbers or what so and so said. How YOU FEEL will always be the most important indicator of your health. Look at your skin, your energy levels, your cycle and bowel movements. Pay attention to your body, it’s talking to you.
- Meal Prep, Cook Once, Eat Twice. Stock up your kitchen. Set yourself up for success. Having delicious foods at the ready will be your ticket. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of eating lame, fast or cheap options. While those are okay in a pinch you can’t live off of pre-packaged foods, beef jerky, and pickles.
- Don’t panic. There will be stalls. Healing crisis. Setbacks. Detox. Stress. Life. More forward. Stay the course. Re-examine as needed, tweak and carry on.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need fancy products or supplements, all you need it good food. However, I do find that supplementing with magnesium glycinate helps me sleep and I take a daily probiotic.
- If you have any questions feel free to comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org