While some people on AIP Paleo (and especially those who are not on the protocol) may not think that 8 months is something worth celebrating, I will remain positive on this life changing adventure! AIP Paleo is probably the toughest and most challenging diet protocols, but there are many silver linings that come from it.
The following are 8 major ways my life has changed or “life lessons” I have learned, for better or for worse. Over the past 8 months, I have strictly followed AIP with a few success reintroductions (eggs, cacao powder, honey). Most people only have to follow AIP Paleo for 2-3 months. I have to stick with the protocol longer (and mostly will be on Paleo my entire life) because as a student my life is stressful. My flare ups are controlled while on AIP, so I stick with it.
1. Eating healthy tastes amazing!
Mac n cheese was my favorite food. I cried when I figured out that I would never get to put warm, cheesy carbs into my mouth ever again (at least, if I do not want to life with excruciating pain for the following week). While mac n cheese may not be a culinary feat, it was my comfort dish. Went away my ability to eat sugar, candy, drink alcohol, and a lot of other foods (read: luxuries) that most people take for granted each day. Admittedly, at first I had a difficult time. I was not the biggest fan of vegetables. It was hard for me at first to incorporate more veggies into my eating habits. Surprisingly for me, cutting out the “bad” foods was easier than adding in the healing foods. After two weeks, my tastes had changed drastically, and suddenly I could not eat enough vegetables. It was awesome to finally feel like my body was getting the nutrients it craved. Now, while most people think “healthy” and automatically equate that with lots of salad… please know that I HATE SALAD. I try to hide spinach into as much of my recipes and possible, but eating salad as a meal is, in my opinion, a terrible idea. Thankfully, I love to look for new ways to cook veggies to make sure that I enjoy them. And now, asparagus is one of my favorite side dishes (I know, even I surprise myself sometimes). Do not be afraid to explore new foods. Pinterest (or this blog!)is a great place to begin if you need help finding recipes.
2. Eating healthy does not have to be difficult or (too) expensive.
Often people tell me that what I do (cooking at eating at home) looks too difficult or complicated. And then they also tell me that it seems too expensive. I want to lay both of those complaints to rest. Firstly, learning to cook well is an essential skill for survival. And after spending 8 months exclusively in my kitchen, I have learned how foods and tastes work together in amazing ways. And I work in a small Madrid kitchen with only two burners, a microwave, no oven(!!!!), and a very small sink– not to mention, limited supplies: two pans, one pot, four forks/knives/cups. I splurged to purchase a blender and an immersion blender borrowed from a friend. Turns out that I can make some amazing recipes from all of this (which you will see in my many upcoming posts). When it comes to price of food: eating out in restaurants, picking up coffee, meeting for drinks. All of those activities add up to a ton of money. My food budget is around $350-400 per month depending on if I splurge for mostly organic or more expensive materials (like olive oil and coconut oil). While this seems expensive, I do not spend any money on restaurants, drinks, etc. while a lot of people spend their monthly budget on those activities (even a coffee each day adds up!).
3. Self Discipline.
Everyone always asks me…. How do you do it?! It is really hard, I cannot lie about that, especially when I am out with friends and family at restaurants. They all feel bad eating in front of me, but mostly I am okay with it. I eat before meeting up and I snack on any fruit or veggies from the menu that I can actually eat. Mostly, the “bad” foods seem like poison to my brain now. If I eat them, I know that I will get sick and nothing tastes so good that it is worth getting sick. Self discipline takes a lot of my attention, so I also let myself go in other ways, such as using my other monthly budget to “splurge” or “reward” myself with buying new clothes because 1) most people use food as an emotional outlet which I do not have anymore and 2) I lose around 5lbs (2 kilos) every 1.5 weeks and constantly have to purchase new clothes or pay to alter my old clothes (at least those I cannot sew by hand).
4. No more depression.
The most notable and best change for me so far has been controlling and mostly eliminating my depression. I will write a much longer post on this at some point, but my main point is that I felt so helpless for almost two years. It was bad, to the point where I cried every day. It is such a relief to know that I have control over something that controlled me for such a long time in my life. The depression took a toll on my mental and physical health, so it is wonderful to once again feel great about my body.
5. There is only so much you can do.
At times, AIP feels like such an overwhelming topic to tackle. There are so many foods that I cannot eat, and then there is the process of reintroducing them. For a little while, I had to keep a food journal and also assess my daily stress limits to see how each impacted my flare ups. It is really tough to spend so much time at the grocery store searching food labels and Googling all the crazy ingredients to see if something may affect you. Just like learning that citric acid is not from citrus, but rather derived from black mold and potatoes– a huge NO on AIP and for my gut health. I always reminded myself with words of encouragement. And sometimes the food industry would surprise me with a food that is truly “natural” and I could eat something out of a package! Those would be the days of small victories that became really important to me.
6. Being in touch with your body is a really amazing and insightful habit change.
In 6 months, I lost 60lbs. That kind of weight loss makes a huge change physically and mentally. Around month 3-4, once my flare ups had come under control, I dipped into a place where I was so focused on my body. I became over obsessed with how I looked and how I ate because for a little bit of time, I let the vision of myself becoming a bikini beach babe take over instead of focusing on eating healthy for the sake of being healthier. This is when diets tend to fail. At that time, I had a bit of an eating disorder, but thankfully I realized what was happening and worked very hard to get out of that mindset to one again focus on my healthy eating habits. Turns out, that no matter how much I eat of healthy food, I still lose weight regardless, especially when combined with light exercise. At the same time, being so in touch with my body really helped me heal. It made me appreciate all of the healthy parts of my body and to be grateful for what is good. This entire journey helps me fall in love with my body each day– both the healthy parts and those still in the healing process.
7. Social life can be difficult.
I would be so overwhelmed with people always asking me “oh can you eat this or that?” and having to say no– it is really discouraging to feel so different and alienated from the “normal.” People stop inviting you out to dinner or drinks and it is a little sad. However, I was open with my friends. I told them that I still wanted to be involved, even if I could not eat with them. Also, it gave me the opportunity to share my cooking skills with people. I started hosting many more dinners with my friends. They often enjoyed my meals more than the restaurants’.
8. Dreams change.
Not necessarily the fault of AIP, but directly related. Having an autoimmune disease drastically changes your life. It makes all of the possibilities that seemed easy inherently difficult because there is always the underlying disease that can flare up whenever possible, especially when under stress. I had big travel dreams for my future, but I honestly do not think that I can accomplish them as I once planned simply because my diet is very limiting. Unfortunately, many cultures are not very understanding about food restrictions, which means that traveling to those locations would be so difficult and stressful that it would not be worth it. Even traveling locally within Spain is difficult and stressful for me. For that matter, I have had to seriously re-evaluate my future plans in terms of career and living options. I need a solid home with a decent kitchen in order to live a life that is more or less reduced in stress in terms of my eating arrangements. That is a much more “settled” life than I ever anticipated; however, I will not let this disease prevent me from continuing to pursue my dreams of helping others around the world. That is one of the reasons I have started this blog. I want others who suffer from hidradenitis suppuritiva or autoimmune diseases to know that they are not alone and that they can face their diseases to have control over their healing.
Thanks for reading!