My Story of Eczema, Infertility, and Miscarriage

There is one thing that eczema, infertility, and miscarriages have in common…

All three can make you feel very alone and very tortured physically and mentally. I’m sharing my story with you because I think it’s SUPER important to change attitudes on child loss AND, inform people about the link between inflammation, autoimmunity, and infertility.

Bear with me first though- some confessions.

First, you’ll note as you read through this that I started writing it in December. I started but couldn’t bring myself to finish it, let alone publish it. I was afraid and still broken.

Second, because of the inspiration of some of my superwoman friends and colleagues in the health space, I’ve been able to process my traumas and gather the courage to share this with you all. THANK YOU to Anna Cabeca, Brie Wieselman, Christine Faler, Jaime Ward, Jenn Fugo, Jessica Drummond, Jolene Brighten, Keesha Ewers, Sheri Fox, and Steph Gaudreau.

You ladies all inspire me. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I have so much gratitude for having you all in my life. We don’t tell people often enough how much they matter to us, so I want to let you all know.

Third, there are some very raw and vulnerable moments, so you might cry reading it as I have writing and editing it.

My Story

Miscarriages SUCK and are still taboo in our culture. This is really unfortunate because those of us who have suffered in the dark know what a lonely, hellish place they can be. NO ONE should have to suffer in silence when they’re dying inside. And sadly, no one can really relate unless they’ve ever suffered the loss of a child. It leaves you with a hole inside that never goes away.

[Initial thoughts from December] I’m doing something I never do right now. I’m attempting to write this in the throes of many emotions. On one hand I’m extremely happy because my little sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It’s a pretty exciting time for our family this year since I had my little girl almost 5 months ago.

On the other hand, I’m feeling very sad. Alone. Gnawing pain.

Because today is the anniversary of my first miscarriage. That was one of the hardest days of my entire life.

Worst day ever.

Looking back, it taught me many lessons about life, autoimmunity, and eczema. But that doesn’t make it hurt less.

On Christmas day two years ago I was trying to act like it was a normal day. I should have been extremely happy to watch my almost three year old open his presents and have family over.  I was in the kitchen prepping Christmas dinner, but deep down inside I knew something was very wrong.

I was wearing a shirt that said “joy” and I couldn’t have felt further from that. I knew deep down that I was probably having a miscarriage. I went through the day thinking, “things like this happen… women have spotting and cramping and they still have healthy babies.” I was in complete denial.

I made it through dinner and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I had a sense of impending doom that would not leave. And like many women, I tend to labor in the middle of the night. The cramps got worse and then my worst nightmare was realized. I was definitely having a miscarriage.

If you’re far enough along it proceeds exactly like a labor. I’ll spare you the details because it was HORRENDOUS as I’m sure you can imagine.

The experience is seared into my brain. I wish it was a foggy memory but I can’t forget. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor just sobbing and feeling so alone. My husband was there but I don’t think he knew what to do. I just sat there for what seemed like an eternity.

Eventually, I laid back in my bed next to my husband, but I felt like I was the only person in the world.

I couldn’t go to sleep so I went downstairs to our couch, laid in the fetal position and cried for 4 hours. Literally to the point I was nauseous and had no tears left.

The next several days were a blur.

I was largely catatonic. My sister was one of the few people I told and she came over and brought me flowers which I really appreciated but it still felt unbearable. I’ve had a few low moments in my life but I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt depressed.

I was quite depressed after this. I was numb. Thankfully, I had my son because if I didn’t I really don’t know what would have happened.

I got pregnant again in March and was cautiously optimistic. Things seemed to be progressing fine. I made it past the 8 week mark and was breathing a minor sigh of relief since that is when I had my first miscarriage. But then at 12.5 weeks, I had another one.

This one was different. Still agonizing, but I felt like I knew what to expect and went through the motions.

Almost like an out of body experience.

Again, I’ll spare you the details. And again, I really only told my sister and super close friends.

I suffered in silence.

I don’t want that for you.

It’s the worst feeling in the world.

And, it’s the opposite of what you should do.

For mamas that’ve experienced any loss, you know your world will never be the same. There will always be a hole in your heart for your little angel. As time goes on it hurts a little less but it will creep up on you when you least expect it and that empty, hollow feeling can return.

Mother’s Day will never be the same, even if you have children. The two Mother’s Days since I’ve had my miscarriages have been filled with both love and sadness. Last year when I was pregnant was particularly hard. I was sad and silently hoping that everything turned out fine because I didn’t know if I can handle another even more dramatic loss. I cried A LOT on Mother’s Day in a mix of hormones, fear, and grief.

Rainbow Baby

Thankfully, my story had a happy ending. My amazing and beautiful rainbow baby was born in August of 2018. She’s such an amazing little girl. She’s been so sweet and so happy from day one. People comment on how smiley and what a good demeanor she has.

I don’t take for granted how incredibly blessed and lucky I am because I know that there are women out there that won’t get that chance.

Women’s health, fertility, pregnancy, and birth are sacred. We need to support each other through the good and the bad. We need to make a long-term commitment to each other not just in the days and weeks after a birth or a loss, but in the months and years that follow. Because these moments become the fabric of Who We Are and intertwine us all together. They form the blanket of support that we need to give one another.

So, I want you to know, I am here for you.

And those ladies I thanked above- they’re in your corner too. They are all in the health and functional medicine space too- many are women’s health specialists- but all are darn awesome women.

A few of them (you know who you are) are probably why I was able to get pregnant and keep the baby to term.

Together, we ran a bunch of tests on me. My hormones were low across the board (thyroid, adrenals, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. I had dysbiosis from stress and previous birth control pill use (that’s another long and horrible story).

The likely culprit for my losses began as STRESS. Long term stress. That stress depleted my hormones, damaged my gut, and caused food sensitivities, nutrient depletions, and my eczema.

You need progesterone to maintain your pregnancy and I couldn’t make enough. Had enough to get pregnant, but not enough to stay pregnant. This is a big problem for women today. We’re all depleted from the stress and abuse we put our body’s through.

So, I got to work.

The Fix

Since my hormones were a mess I got on compounded, bioidentical DHEA and progesterone. I also upped my dose of compounded T3/T4. I knew I needed to get my hormones going in the right direction quickly and this was the best way for me, especially since I’ve had reactions to other types of hormone support in the past.

I went on an AIP rotation diet to calm my system down and start to heal my gut. Then I did 8 weeks on a dysbiosis protocol for pseudomonas and staphylococcus (using herbal blends, monolaurin, and rotated probiotics) with liver support. I followed that up with 3 months of gut terrain rebuilding and immune support. I also did some work on resolving past traumas too.

In all, this process took me 8 months, but then….

I missed a period and found out I was pregnant even though I wasn’t actively trying.

Again, mixed emotions.

I was so happy, but so scared. I went through 75% of the pregnancy scared. Loss traumatizes you in ways you can’t imagine. I was super paranoid and had been before.

I took progesterone for the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy- 4 weeks longer than was recommended because I was that worried. It worked…and you know the rest of the story.

I had my beautiful rainbow baby.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t scars and wounds that surface from time to time.

So, I need my tribe, which now includes you.

I’m here if you need me, because I want to help mamas be healthy, clear eczema, get rid of autoimmunity, and have healthy babies.

That is my mission.

And, we have to support each other. As women we need to have a voice and not stay in the dark.

It took me a couple of years to come out and share this, but I’m so happy I did. Because if I help even just one mama get through her dark time or resolve her root causes to have a healthy baby, I’ve accomplished my goal.

I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day 2018 no matter your circumstance. Earth babies and angel babies all count!! It’s okay to feel both happy and sad too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you know anyone that could use support, please share this with them. I really wish I had reached out for more help or someone gave me a little nudge to get more support. If they aren’t ready, just be there for them through the process and step up when called upon.

You CAN Do An AIP Elimination Diet While Breastfeeding

Many people wonder if you can do an elimination diet while breastfeeding (and working, mommying, friending, and wifing… that’s wife-ing not wifi-ing)???

The answer is YES.

If you’re on our email list, you know that I decided to give myself the gift of health this year. The only thing I asked for as a gift was new sneakers (thanks hubby!). At this point in life, experiences with family and friends and my health matter much more than material objects.

I felt like my health needed to be more of a priority since the longer I nurse my 8 month old, the more some of my deficiencies and imbalances seem to becoming apparent.

I have news for all of the pregnant and nursing mamas out there, regardless of how perfect your diet, supplementation, and lifestyle are it’s super difficult not to become depleted in some way after you have a baby and are nursing.  This is a very metabolically (and MENTALLY) demanding time in a woman’s life, so we need to support ourselves accordingly.

And like we always tell our clients, you can’t take care of your family or be present in your life if you’re not taking care of yourself. So…. What was I waiting for??

Questions and plain old procrastination!!!

Contrary to what people probably think- I often have the same initial questions as you all do even though I’m a trained practitioner. I was concerned about my milk supply and if any treatments impact the baby or my milk content.

Yes, it is true (I’m being 100% honest).

Why?

For the same reason we as practitioners don’t recommend treating ourselves. It’s really hard to view yourself objectively. It’s easy to second guess, dismiss, or blow things off when you’re the only one analyzing yourself.

That’s how I got to my elimination diet.

I planned on doing all of this after I weaned my sweet, little babe. But all of my practitioner friends said a resounding, “HECK, NO.”

Truthfully, my immune system has been challenged since the baby was about 4 months old. I’ve had several viruses in that time. I usually get that many viruses in a year… not 3 months.

I also had a little eczema patch develop on my eyelid a couple months ago that I haven’t been able to completely clear.

So…..

Time to look inside (hello root causes)!!

On the advice of my observant and smart friends (read: persistent!), I ran some basic serum labs and things looked a little off.  According to my CBC (complete blood panel), my immune system seemed overwhelmed and my thyroid was less than optimal even though I take a compounded T3/T4.  My immunoglobulin levels were also off.

What are immunoglobulins you ask??

When you hear people talk about IgG, IgE, IgM, and IgA, these are your immunoglobulins. These are antibodies produced by your white blood cells that help you fight foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites (or foods if you have a leaky gut!!). In Functional Medicine these are important because they give us an idea of what is going on regarding infections and autoimmunity.

My IgM was high which generally signifies acute infection. This wasn’t surprising since I’ve literally had viruses piggy-backing each other.  Ugh.

IgG is the most abundant and typically higher when you’ve been sick, especially as time goes on, but mine was low. Not a good sign.

The low IgG is telling me a couple of things…

My body has been fighting a battle against respiratory pathogens (and possibly foods, my own tissues, and/or some gut stuff). IgG is the immunoglobulin that can enter tissues making it important to fighting battles in your body. It binds pathogens and toxins directly. Mine being so low means that my ability to fight off infections and handle toxins is impaired. No Bueno ☹.

The writing was on the wall.

This was all the motivation I needed to get myself into action.

I knew if I didn’t do anything I’d keep getting sick, have potential eczema flares, and not have enough energy to be a good mommy/wife/worker/friend.

The Action Plan

  1. AIP Elimination Diet. I knew I need to clean up my diet. For me, this means going the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) route since we tend to follow a Paleo-ish diet in our home. Normally my diet looks something like this:

– No gluten.

-Occasional dairy outside of regular use of butter and full fat cream in coffee.

– Rice, quinoa, or corn only 1-2x per month.

– Occasional legumes.

– Otherwise, we mostly eat meat, fish, fowl, veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, and eggs.

AIP is a good place to start on an elimination diet, especially now that there are studies showing the benefit for autoimmunity. It also naturally takes out highly reactive foods.

I wanted to make it easy on myself (unlike my previous autoimmune rotation diet) because I’m spread pretty thin these days with an active little one.

I’m eliminating nightshades, nuts, seeds, coffee, all dairy, all grains, and eggs for 4 weeks. Simple enough. There are so many resources out there on the internet now, but I really like Whole 30 and Against All Grain since they have modifications for AIP.  I’m adding them back in one at a time over a 3 day period and watching for any reactions.

  1. Ramping up anti-inflammatory and immune supporting supplements. I’m taking a super concentrated fish oil at 4x dosing (I take 2 caps at breakfast and dinner). I’m using a variety of probiotics specific to my past needs since I haven’t tested my gut yet****. Notice I said YET.  I’m also using a mushroom blend that has reishi, maitake, coriolus, and shitake. Lastly, an immunoglobulin product.

Immunoglobulin products such IgG (usually dairy based) or IgY (usually egg based) help support the gut and immune system. Many people get nervous when they find this out, especially when they’re doing an elimination diet because of the dairy or egg source. The truth is that most people can tolerate these, except those with an IgE allergy or a severe sensitivity.  I’m using this twice daily.

  1. Adding in LDN. LDN, or low dose naltrexone, was recommended to me a couple of times in the past when colleague friends analyzed my labs. I always put it on the back burner trying to fix other things first. This time I decided to listen since my immune system needs some real help. LDN works by increasing your body’s internal opioids (think endorphins) and supporting the immune system.

Midterm Results

The diet has been easy to follow because I’m not over complicating it. I make batches of meat in the slow cooker (beef, chicken, pork, or buffalo) to have throughout the day or my husband will grill meat or fish. I always have big containers of greens for salads and use Primal Kitchen salad dressing so I don’t have to make it (good for marinade’s too). Last, there are always roasted veggies, plantains, yams, and sweet potatoes on hand. I’ll have berries or pears as a treat.

I’m 3 weeks in and feel good. I have more energy and my sleep seems to be more regulated outside of the baby waking me. I had been waking myself or unable to fall asleep. No new viruses.

My milk supply has remained consist too!!! YAY!!!!

My patch of eyelid eczema is almost gone too. I noticed the eczema fade after 1.5 weeks and I attribute that to both the LDN and diet because I had started the supplementation before and that was helping but didn’t have the same effect. (Note: NOTHING topical was helping it ☹). It’s mostly dry skin and a few tiny bumps which is encouraging.

What’s Next?

I’m so encouraged that I’m going to do another experiment that I’ll let you all know about next month. This one will be exciting (and scary for me). But you know my philosophy- I’d never ask a patient do to anything I couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

Stay tuned!! And, reply in the comments about your experiences with elimination diets.

Strict Elimination Diets are Possible- Part 4 of 4 (High Points, Personalization, & The Next Phase)

My 28 day Autoimmune Paleo Rotation diet is complete! This was a great learning experience for me since I haven’t done an elimination this long in 2 years, and even more, never one this strict.  This diet was more stringent than a typical rotation diet since it didn’t give any variability within each day as you’d normally get in a rotation. This makes it easier to plan and execute, in my opinion. You don’t have to think too much, kind of like wearing a uniform to school or work!

I feel great! I estimate my symptom reduction in the ballpark of 90-95%.

Itchy red bumps on my skin, random itching all over my body, light acne (associated with hormone fluctuations), and occasional headaches were my primary symptoms. I also tend to get ringing in my ears and a sore tongue or cankers with certain foods. The skin and tongue issues had been getting progressively worse, and if you recall from the beginning of my journey, I actually got a true hive. That was what I was afraid of all along! As often is the case in the healing process, sometimes things get worse before get better which I expected.

Now I only get the occasional itchy spot, not even every day. There’s no redness associated with it either. I haven’t had a headache (other than the virus) during the entire process.  My tongue is much less reactive, and I realized might be my canary in the coal mine. It seems to be one of the first symptoms to show up when I have a reaction to a food. Similarly, my soft palate may also burn. Any symptoms related to hormones have significantly reduced too. I have more energy and better sleep too. I’d say this was a successful experiment!!

The High Points

New Baseline Established. This is a really important point. Now that I’ve had a significant reduction in symptoms, I have established a new baseline. When I reintroduce new foods and observe for symptoms, I’ll use this as my new set point to gauge any reactions.

The big take-away here is that your baseline can and will fluctuate with therapeutic interventions. At the beginning of the rotation, I’d say mine was a 7 (with 10 begin horrible symptoms), and now it’s a 1.5. It’s always important to have an idea where you’re at so you and any practitioner you work with can measure progress.

Simple Food Tastes Really Good. I’ve always been a fan of bold flavors, but I realized that eating food prepared in a simple manner can be amazing too. A “hash” of ground buffalo, kale, and sweet potatoes with a little sea salt and oregano is really tasty, as are many other combinations. Eating this way gives the opportunity for high quality ingredients to sing.     

I Never Felt Deprived. This was probably the biggest revelation of all for me. I thought I’d miss having elaborately seasoned dishes with lots of ingredients, but even more, I thought I’d be starving. Neither were the case. I was surprisingly satiated the entire time. I made adjusts for increased physical demands on workout days, but I was never, ever starving. Nor did I ever feel like I was missing out by not being able to eat certain foods.

Symptoms Can be Confusing to Navigate Even for a Trained Professional. When you have lots of symptoms that fluctuate on a daily basis, especially at the beginning, it can be difficult to figure out what’s causing them. During those times, I relied heavily on my diary to track what I thought the likely culprits were. When I ate those foods again I knew to look out for reactions. I also knew not to combine them with the other suspect foods. I still don’t know with 100% certainty about a few foods. I’ll consider testing for them when I’m through the entire process if I think they’re still a possible issue.

The Healing Capacity of the Body is Amazing. I’d been experiencing my symptoms on and off for almost a year and a half. I’d take a couple foods out of my diet or try certain supplements, but nothing seemed to make them completely go away because I wasn’t doing the right things. I knew the first step was to do an elimination diet to get the food situation under control.

I’m shocked at how rapidly my symptoms declined. At the 2.5-3 week mark I largely felt as good as I do now. That’s pretty darn fast.

The Process Really Wasn’t Difficult.  One of the biggest ways we tend to psych ourselves out is to think that doing something different will be hard, which often delays or prevents us from starting new things.

Once I wrapped my brain around what I needed to do and got into the groove, I was set. The first 2-3 days were a little rough, but I made it through and then it became my new routine. I plan on maintaining these new routines as they are since it was so easy to follow.

The Hard Truth…You Are The Only Thing Standing in Your Way. We are in control of ourselves- period. We often sabotage our goals with negative self-talk or excuses. We can come up with all sorts of reasons why it isn’t a good time to do an elimination diet, lose weight, or quit sugar, gluten, or smoking, but they are purely justifications to make ourselves feel better about not doing what we know we need to do.

We all have lives. There will always be work, events, holidays, finances, stress, etc.- that won’t change. What can change is how we think about things. That is what will allow you to achieve any goal you have.

During my month long elimination I had St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and my birthday, as well as everyday life and a day long road trip. I decided not to let that stop me. I planned so that I could successfully make it through the process.

The Next Phase

Since I’m feeling so good I’m staying on the rotation in an expanded way for 2 more months. My plan is to add more foods back in systematically. I’ll test them on day one, and won’t add anything else new in for 2-3 more days. If I react to a food, I’ll keep it out of my diet for 3-6 months. If I don’t react, it will become part of my rotation.

In general, when adding foods back in, I usually start with things I like that I don’t seem to react to. I usually save possible problem foods for later.

I’m starting with eggs because I don’t think I react to them and REALLY miss them. So far, so good. No immediate reactions, so I’ll eat them again today two more times. I’ll watch for delayed responses to the eggs over the next 2-3 days. After that I’ll probably test walnuts, then pumpkin seeds. I’m not sure after that?? I’ll also continue to record everything.

I know in the past I may have had some type of reaction to tomatoes- usually cooked in combination with a high protein meal. That will probably be one of the last things I test since I know I’ve had issues in the past. I will also test raw tomatoes in a salad and see if I handle those in a different way since the preparation can be a factor as to if you’re going to have a reaction as well. For certain foods, it’s a good idea to test raw and cooked variations.

It’s never a good idea to jump back into your old habits or patterns that you had when you weren’t feeling well. Some people are just “dying” for certain foods and an alcoholic beverage. If that’s the case, you really need to check in with yourself and figure out where you’re feeling deprived or unfulfilled in your life because there’s a good chance you’re filling a void. No, you don’t need bread or cheese or ice cream, or beer, or whatever…. you want them. There’s a big difference.

Personalization

I believe another key to success and enjoying a diet of any kind, but especially a rotation diet, is to eat foods you like that are allowed on the program. There is always room for personalizing the menus to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid to try new things either. I realized I liked lamb and collard greens, but don’t like dandelion greens.

Adjusting quantities to meet your caloric demands is also important. A 125 pound woman that does yoga and walks will need substantially less than a 125 pound woman that lifts heavy weights or trains for triathlons, or 225 pound guy that competes in strongman competitions.

Supplementation is another opportunity for personalizing. As discussed in the previous post, digestive enzymes and betaine HCL are good support supplements for a program like this, but many other types of supplements would work well here to support healing.

Once you’ve gone through the process of a 30 or 60 day elimination and still have some symptoms, testing may be the next logical step. GI infections are often the root cause of leaky gut and food intolerances, so identifying and treating them will often provide the last piece of the puzzle you need to heal and feel amazing.

I previously worked on Candida and some dysbiosis, so I’m focusing on rebuilding and supporting my flora as an ongoing part of my program.

Final Thoughts

This was an awesome experience that was long overdue because of my own procrastination. Once I get through the next month or two of the expanded rotation and testing foods, I’ll take what I’ve learned and apply it to my normal diet. I’ll keep the rotation feature in because I think it’s a bad idea to get into the habit of eating the same food daily. I’ll also expand my diet as wide as possible since I believe in varied nutrition- somewhere in the realm of Paleo-AIP plus. I add the “plus” because I know I handle certain foods well that aren’t considered Paleo or AIP. For example, I tolerate certain legumes and quinoa when prepared properly. While I don’t think it’s a great idea for me to eat them daily, I will eat them on rare occasion with no issues.

The take home message is to tune into your body and listen to what it tells you. Make adjustments as you need to. There’s a whole lot of wisdom and guidance at your fingertips every single day- you just need to be open to hearing it.

 

Strict Elimination Diets are Possible- Part 3 of 4 (Supplementation and Keys to Success)

Completing 3 full weeks of this elimination diet has definitely enlightened me. This process is getting more and more interesting as I go through it! This week I tried ground lamb, collard greens, and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and loved them! I also had dandelion greens and hated them- so much so, that I tossed the whole batch after a couple of bites.  Some experiments work, some don’t. Below are some more diet observations and thoughts about supplementation while on this rotation diet.

Diet Observations and Progress

Days 15 and 16 were not the best. First, my 3 year old got a virus on Easter that peaked on Monday (Day 15). The poor little guy was miserable and I was a little itchier than the previous day or two. My itching subsided after breakfast and I made it through the rest of the day relatively itch free. The following day however, the itching increased a bit, even after breakfast. To make matters worse, I got the virus too. I was congested, sore, and had a headache. I took a homeopathic blend, maitake mushroom extract, and upped my vitamin D, antioxidants, and probiotics to see if I could decrease the severity and duration of this lovely virus.

On Day 17 when I woke up something interesting happened. I was way less itchy (like 95% less) and it remained that way for the entire day. Not even a minor hint of irritation anywhere. I was also feeling better than the previous day. Still congested, but less fatigue and achiness. Nothing changed in my diet, so I assume the cocktail of supplements I took helped my immune system with the virus and my itching, so I decided to keep the regimen going.

Day 18 and 19 brought very minimal morning itching upon waking that left about 30 minutes later. I also felt much better concerning the virus. Symptoms were a down about 85%. I felt so good on Day 19, I went back to the gym. I didn’t push too hard and felt pretty good. I definitely got fatigued faster than usual, but listened to my body and backed off when I needed to.

I had another interesting finding on Day 19. I weighed myself and was 6 pounds lighter than Day 1. This diet is not calorie restrictive in any way. You can eat what is necessary to maintain your activity level. I believe a combination of factors contributed to the weight loss- decreased total calories, decreased total carbs, improved blood sugar handling, and decreasing inflammation.  I eat 3, sometimes 4, whole meals per day and I feel completely satiated most of the time. This was really intriguing to me. I realized that even though I ate a 90% Paleo diet, I was still not regulating my blood sugar well since I’d often be ravenous 2-3 hours after a meal or shortly after a snack. Not good.

I also recognized that I am very sensitive to protein amounts and form. If I don’t eat enough whole food protein with my meal I’m prone to being hungry sooner. Before, I was eating too many “pre-digested” foods such as protein shakes and bars that didn’t help satiate me.  Getting enough whole food based protein with fiber and fat= satiety and improved blood sugar regulation.

Increased energy and almost zero itching defined Days 20 and 21. Things are definitely moving in the right direction!!

At the end of 3 weeks, I have about a 95% reduction in the symptoms that prompted me to do this diet in the first place. I haven’t had any red bumps, welts, or hives in over a week, and the itching has significantly diminished.

I couldn’t be happier with my progress! I’m also learning more fine details since I’m paying so much attention to my body.  I realized early in week three that if I have too much betaine HCl it makes me feel fatigued after a meal. I had upped my dose to 4. I didn’t feel much in the way of other symptoms, just profound fatigue. I backed the dose down to 2 (3 when eating certain meats) and feel fine again.

Supplementation

Taking supplements is always a very individualized experience. We usually don’t all need the same things, however, if you’re doing a program that is designed to decrease inflammation and heal the gut, then there are some things you can try to improve the program.

My top two for increasing nutrient absorption and taking stress off of the digestive system are Betaine HCl with Pepsin and Digestive Enzymes. Lacking enough of these can result in amino acids, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies, as well as an increased chance of GI infection from decreased barrier function and protection.

Probiotics also give you give good bang for your buck. During this program I’m taking both S. boulardii (10 billion cfu) and a 100 billion cfu Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium blend. S. boulardii has many benefits, but I chose it since it improves host immune defense, decreases inflammation, and helps combat harmful microorganisms. I selected the blend because Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species support a balanced intestinal ecology and microbiota, enhance the immune response, and support bowel regularity and transit time (how long it takes your meal to get broken down, absorbed, and exit your body).

Beyond the above suggestions, I recommend adding most nutrients based on known depletions or imbalances, or for a specific reason such as getting sick. I added in the stack of a homeopathic, maitake mushrooms, with increased levels of vitamin D, an antioxidant blend, and probiotics since I knew I had a virus. I plan on doing this as long as I don’t feel well, but I’ll stop once I feel better.

Other supplements that are common for reducing inflammation are curcumin, boswellia, and higher dose fish oil. GI support and healing supplements include glutamine, n-acetyl glucosamine, colostrum or proline rich peptides (PRP).

I’m a fan a cycling supplements or using them when needed. There are very few things most of us need to take forever. Paying attention to your body can also help guide you. You may realize that something that once helped may now be an issue for you. Stop taking it or decrease the dose.

Keys to Success

Success in any lifestyle change, including diet, involves a few key steps that set the stage.

Planning. Plan your meals out one week at a time. Sit down on the weekend and outline what the next week will look like for every meal and snack. Each time you go to the store or farmer’s market (and you’ll definitely be going more than once per week if you’re eating fresh, whole foods) have your list. If they don’t have what you planned on, feel free to adjust on the fly. Just make a substitution!.

Also plan on how you’re going to prepare the food to accommodate your schedule. I started cooking earlier in the morning, or sometimes with a slow cooker overnight.

If you’re going out to eat, look for places ahead of time that can accommodate your needs. Don’t be afraid to call. So many restaurants now are willing to accommodate dietary needs- you just need to ask.

Planning takes away guessing and stress!

Record everything. I have a spreadsheet that has columns for my protein, fat, carb, and seasoning sources (also doubles as my grocery list). I also record any symptoms, improvements, general observations, and changes I make (such as adding or eliminating supplements or foods). This makes it easier to make necessary adjustments and have an accurate record of what actually happened rather than guessing.

Be mindful. Tune into your body and pay attention to everything. How do you feel mentally and physically during the diet? Do certain foods give you reactions? Do you feel more energy? There is endless input that your body provides as feedback. Take note and respond accordingly.

Also be grateful for each meal. Everything on your plate was once a living organism that was harvested to provide you with life giving energy. That’s something to be tremendously appreciative of.

Reduce your stress. Your body will heal faster the more you reduce your stress. If you feel stressed, take a step back and do some deep breathing or sit and meditate for a few minutes. Journal, exercise, talk, dance…. Do whatever it is that makes you feel good.

Minimizing your sources of stress is helpful too. Reduce your responsibilities, ask for help, and say “no”. These are empowering tools if you use them.

Be adventurous. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I tried several new foods. I loved some and hated some, but the point is that I tried. You’ll never know if you actually like something or not unless you step out of your comfort zone and try it. Some of the ugliest and scariest sounding foods are quite tasty.

Practice self-forgiveness. If you slip up it’s not the end of the world. Get back on track and keep moving forward. We’re all human.

Enlist support. Having a buddy to go through this with is always helpful, but if you don’t have one, let your friends or family know what you’re doing and why it’s important. There are also online forums that can provide support too.

I’m excited to see what’s in store for the final week. I hope the positive trend continues! Next week I’ll discuss food as medicine and big picture take-aways.

Strict Elimination Diets are Possible- Part 2 of 4 (Working Out and Adjusting Your Program)

Week number two is in the books! There was definitely less drama on the skin side (no hives or red bumps= win), but there were definite peaks and valleys. Overall I’m feeling great for the most part.

Diet Observations

Monday was Day 8 and I felt amazing 90% of the time. I had lots of energy and significantly less itching than Saturday and Sunday. My workout was great and my brain was firing on all cylinders. The only bump in the road on this day was a little gas with my acorn squash at dinner. I plan on testing that again soon to see if it was random, or if I have issues with acorn squash.

I added in progesterone (only cycle days 15-28), DHEA, licorice root extract, an adaptogenic herb blend, and vitamin C to help support my hormones and adrenals again. Curious to see if it makes a significant difference in my symptoms.  I’ve been recovering from adrenal fatigue and major hormone depletion since the birth of my son 3 years ago. It’s considerably better, but far from 100%.

Days 9 and 10 were positive as well, with high energy all day, however, the itchy skin and runny nose seemed to be making a bit of a comeback. By the evening on Day 10, I considered the itching moderate. It’s strange too since there’s a completely random distribution- palm of hand, scalp, belly, or arm- really anywhere. There aren’t any red spots or welts of anymore, just itchy skin that isn’t even pink or red most of the time. I’m still trying to make the connection between certain foods and the itching flares, but there’s no obvious link yet. I have a few other theories on my itching too, but I’d like to see if I can eliminate the GI causes first.

Another Day 10 observation was that I have a harder time breaking down shredded beef than ground beef. I felt as if it was sitting in my stomach for a long time despite having taken my usual amounts of HCl and digestive enzymes. Seems odd, however, the ground beef is already in smaller pieces and easier to chew. I noticed by the end of the day my jaw hurt from so much chewing. I suspect I got a little lazy and wasn’t chewing enough by the end of the day which contributed to the poor digestion.

Day 11 was similar to the previous 2 days, except that I had a little more fatigue in the morning that I suspect was from a killer workout the day before. I knew I’d need to take it easy and do light recovery movements so I wouldn’t over stress my adrenals and nervous system. A positive was that my skin was looking clear and radiant. No sign of any acne or redness. Win!

Anyone that’s done an elimination diet knows eating out can be traumatic, so I was excited and nervous for Day 12. I went out to lunch with my sister which meant extra planning. Luckily, we are blessed to have some local, truly Paleo restaurants here which made my day much easier. Agra Culture Kitchen and Press is an amazing choice if you want healthy food in the Twin Cities. They cater to many diet variations- Paleo, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, fresh pressed juices and Bulletproof coffee (which I really miss). They made my meal out of the house very easy and stress free. Anyhow…this day was short of miraculous. I was symptom free 90% of the day! No itching (my worst symptom), no runny nose, no NOTHING!!

My nirvana didn’t last on Day 13, sadly.  The itching resumed at a low level in the morning, but after breakfast it was gone again. The main issue today was that I was hangry (hungry and angry). This is usually a result of low blood sugar. I set myself up for disaster since I ate breakfast 2 hours late, which lead to a day of grouchiness (my husband didn’t appreciate it… sorry dear). Clearly my adrenals and blood sugar are still not 100% which I already assumed.

Meal timing and content are important when you have adrenal fatigue. If your calories or carbs are too low, you will feel fatigued and sluggish mentally. Eating at least every 4 hours is a good idea to keep blood sugar and energy levels even throughout the day. That’ll keep the people around you happier too!

Days 13 and 14 also brought perfect, Bristol #4 bowel movements. That’s another big win in my book.

Day 14 was similar to the previous day in that I started out itchy, but it went away fairly early in the day.

Week two was definitely better than week one with several wins and a decrease in symptoms. So far, so good.

Adjusting Your Program on the Fly

I never operate in a “set in stone” manner, nor do I expect my clients to either. Humans have a complex physiology with a seemingly infinite number of variables (many of which we don’t know much about yet). We need to pay attention and tune in to what is happening when we change the inputs (diet, supplements, exercise, stress, sleep, etc.) and adjust accordingly to our own individual needs.

Here are some of the modifications I’m making:

  1. Sticking to lower histamine foods given my reactions in week 1. The histamine issue may be worse than I thought, so I’m trying not to eat leftovers either (which sucks a bit since I’d mostly been making my meals for the day in the morning). Freshly cooked is best with histamine. I’ve also axed fish and shellfish for now which saddens me because I love them. I also realized I may need to test methylation, Candida, and my gut microflora as those can be causes of histamine issues.
  2. Adding in supplements when necessary. I realized I need to use more HCl and enzymes with certain proteins that I don’t seem to breakdown as efficiently. I add in one extra cap of each. I also added in a DAO enzyme supplement to help clear histamine when necessary.
  3. In order to maintain my energy and facilitate recovery post-workouts I added in an amino acid powder with no additives immediately after my workout, plus an extra meal later that day.

There will probably be more to come. The point is that you need to be alert to what your body is telling you and listen.

Hard Workouts are Possible on a Strict Elimination Diet

One of my biggest fears, and why I put this elimination off for so long, was that I thought it would kill my workouts and recovery. You can’t use protein powders like whey, beef or pea, and many supplements you’d replace those with are off the table as well.

This elimination is about as strict as they come, however, it doesn’t limit quantity which is helpful. I also wasn’t used to eating so many purely whole food meals in a day. I have a shake for breakfast half the time and always have one after workouts.

Surprisingly, my experience has been exactly the opposite of what I expected. I generally have more energy and feel more satiated during the day.

My workouts are 80% weight lifting and 20% metabolic conditioning. Certain days are definitely more taxing than others.  I do this 3 times per week and fill in the other days with hiking, sprinting, mobility work, or riding my mountain bike. As a rule though, I always have rest days and listen to my body. If I’m feeling really fatigued I don’t push as hard or I skip a day. I’ve suffered severe adrenal fatigue and really don’t want to go there again.

I eat my breakfast 60 minutes before my workouts to give enough time to digest. I adjust the portion down sometimes if I feel I won’t be digested enough. I’m also taking vitamins and supplements that support energy metabolism (which I also did before).

The second workout during week one was when I noticed a little more fatigue which could’ve just been part of the adjustment period, but I made some changes to be safe. As soon as my workout is done, I have my straight amino acid powder and try to eat within 30-45 minutes to replenish my muscles and prevent excessive soreness. To further aid in recovery, I often add in a fourth meal if I’m feeling a little hungrier.

Strength and endurance haven’t decreased 2 weeks in which I’m ecstatic about. I’m hoping I can maintain this throughout the duration.  So far, lots of energy and normal levels of post-workout soreness and fatigue.

Next week I’ll discuss supplementation and keys to success, as well as my progress update!

Strict Elimination Diets Are Possible- Part 1 of 4

As a rule I try to practice what I preach. I also like to try everything that I can before I recommend it to a client, because if I can’t do it, I’m surely not going to recommend it to my clients. Following my own advice, I decided it was time to embark on the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) rotation diet I’d been procrastinating on. I’ve been having odd symptoms such as single itchy, red, bumps that look like bug bites that show up on the flexor surfaces of my body (think areas with creases like arms, hands, legs, etc.), mild acne, occasional sleep issues, and an irritated tongue with certain foods.

I put it off like most people because there wasn’t a good time- family events, my birthday, travel… the list was long. Timing is just a ridiculous excuse. No time is ever a really good time- you just need to do it. With the gentle nudging from a good friend that is a hard core advocate of the diet, I jumped in.

It required much preparation and planning, but now that I’m one full week into it there’s no problem. I’ll admit I was hesitant because my mornings are busy with a toddler I have to get ready for school, getting myself ready, and work. I had to add food prep to this, but now it’s a cinch since I pre-planned my menu for the week and will sometimes cook things the night before. I’ve developed a rhythm and it’s working, which truly is one of the keys to success of any protocol or habit change.

I thought it would be interesting to share the details of my experience with you since I often ask people to rotate their diet on an SCD, GAPS, Paleo, AIP, FODMAP, or low histamine diet. So here it goes!

The first 2 days sucked! I was tired, brain was foggy, and I was still really itchy. Day 2 was actually worse because I got a headache to boot. This isn’t unusual and I expected it, because anytime you change inputs to the body you often get push back. I suspect my symptoms were largely due to no coffee, less carbs, less total calories, and possible detoxification shifts. A bonus was that I felt completely satiated all day long both days and this NEVER happens for me.

Days 3 and 4 I felt much better- clear brain, more energy, and my itching had decreased. Yay! The only negatives were a little bit of a runny nose with meals and I was extra sore from workouts since I wasn’t having my regular post workout shake. I decide to add in a smaller 4th daily meal right after the workout which helped.

Day 5 was similar to days 3 and 4, but I didn’t have a bowel movement. Red flag! That’s not what I want to see happening and I wasn’t sure why… yet.

I went downhill fast on day 6 and the lack of bowel movements continued. That morning after I ate my breakfast I was super itchy, got an actual hive for the first time, my runny nose was out of control, my tongue was irritated, and I slept horribly. The light bulb went off in my head and I realized I had eaten foods that I had long suspected I had issues with (plantains and avocado) or those with higher histamines (shellfish) over the previous few days. This was enough to trigger a fairly significant inflammatory reaction in my body. I took some anti-inflammatory enzymes, DAO, high dose vitamin C and fish oil which got the reaction to calm down in less than 12 hours. This illustrates a huge point I always tell my clients: even though a diet says you can eat a food, it may not be tolerated by your body!! We all need to individualize our diets for our own needs.

Day 7 was definitely better. The hive was gone, the itching and runny nose significantly decreased, sleep was better, and the BMs returned! I’m still feeling completely satiated on 3-4 simple, whole food based meals per day and I’m back on track. Next week I’ll report back on my progress and talk about how to deal with workouts and performance on diets like this.