If you read my New Year’s Resolutions post or are following me on twitter (@thepaleomom) or facebook (The Paleo Mom), you know that I made some tough resolutions this year. Because of ongoing issues with a form of psoriasis (called lichen planus), I am following the paleo auto-immunity protocol. This means that on top of the normal paleo food choices, I am also giving up all of the gray area foods. No caffeine, no eggs, no nightshades, no nuts, no seeds, no alcohol, and also low carb. It’s been tough, but I am doing it. The adjustment period seemed really long: over two weeks of cravings, low energy, and for some inexplicable reason, worse sleep and some digestive issues. I think that the changes to my diet messed with my cortisol (which probably wasn’t the greatest to begin with). Now, almost three weeks in, I am finally feeling more energetic and sleeping better and mostly not thinking about that 85% chocolate in my cupboard (mostly). And, I am finally seeing some improvement in the lichen planus lesions (these take a long time to heal even with steroids, which I am not using). So, my dedication to seeing this through is renewed. I figure I’ll need to keep this up for at least another month, probably two, before I can play with adding anything back in. For those of you considering removing one or more gray area food from your diet, I wanted to share some of my experiences.
Giving Up Coffee (and all Caffeine): The reason for doing this is to try and regulate cortisol. This was by far the worst part of giving up all of the gray area foods. I love love love coffee AND I love love love black tea. Comfort in a cup. One of the ways I unwind during the day. But I was worried that as long as my cortisol was wonky, my digestive system wouldn’t be truly healthy and I would continue to deal with inflammation and auto-immune issues. After the first 4-5 days of feeling exhausted and dragging myself around the whole day, I started to feel much better. But even after going through the withdrawal and finding energy without caffeine, I miss the flavor of those drinks. If I only get to add one thing back in, I hope it’s caffeine (even if the dose is kept low).
Giving Up ALL Dairy: Even grass-fed dairy, even butter, even the heavy cream in my coffee. Actually, once I gave up coffee, the rest was easy anyway. I cook almost exclusively with coconut oil and tallow which I render myself from grass-fed beef fat (which my butcher gives me for free!). If I do get to add caffeine back in, I found a pretty decent coconut-based creamer to use instead of heavy cream.
Giving Up Eggs: This wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The trick was to find a breakfast food that was easy to prepare, wasn’t laden with salt, and didn’t contain many carbohydrates. I settled on homemade sausage, which I make twice a week and then reheat the leftovers for the other days. I typically eat a bunch of raw kale on the side but I also have some homemade sauerkraut brewing which will be awesome on the side once it’s ready. I’ve used some conventional pork and some pastured pork, which is expensive and it isn’t clear how much better pastured pork is over conventional pork (very dependent on the farmer). I am experimenting now with adding some grass-fed beef to the mix (yummy)! It’s actually very satisfying and I find myself not missing eggs at all. This is a bit of a relief because I have a suspicion that eggs (or at least egg whites) are the biggest problem for me (and I’ve eaten eggs for breakfast nearly every day of my adult life). And while not eating eggs permanently will also limit the paleo baking I can consume, I think I can live with this.
Giving Up Nightshades: I’m surprised at how much I miss nightshades! Especially tomatoes. Not so much in my salads, but in those warm winter dishes like beef stew, paleo pasta, and pumpkin chili. I probably would eat something containing tomatoes only twice a week, but I miss those meals. On the bright side, I’m experimenting more with different versions of those dishes and the results have been pretty great!
Giving Up Nuts and Seeds: What I miss most about giving up nuts and seeds isn’t the handful of nuts for a snack but the paleo baking that I make for my kids. Of course, those all contain sugar and eggs too, so even if I can add nuts and seeds back in at some point, I might not get to eat my paleo baking!
Giving Up Alcohol: We’re not heavy drinkers (we’re barely even occasional drinkers, really), so giving up alcohol wasn’t an issue at all. The reason why I wanted to give it up, beyond the fact that alcohol can be a mild gut irritant, is that my food judgment is not typically that great after a glass of wine. For me, it’s not that one drink leads to another leads to another, it’s that one drink leads to some fruit, leads to some chocolate, leads to a bowl of popcorn, leads to more chocolate. And in order to make sure I stick to all of the other resolutions, I kinda need to make sure my judgment remains intact!
Giving Up Sugars: This was maybe more difficult because I also gave up caffeine (and normally I would compensate one for the other). It’s not that I was eating really high carb before, but I’ve probably dropped my carb intake in half. But I think I went too low carb at first. I think it was messing up my cortisol (I started having issues sleeping and having to pee in the night) and that I started to sleep better and had more energy during the day once I included a little bit of fruit or starchy vegetable into my meals. Certainly, my sugar is low enough to not cause a vicious cycles of cravings (and grapefruit still tastes delightfully sweet to me), but not as low as I originally intended.
As for the other stuff, I’m eating lots and lots and lots of veggies, getting to yoga classes and doing a little more easy strength training. I’ve been really good about going to bed alittle earlier. I haven’t been able to get outside much, which I need to work on (despite the weather). And I haven’t been walking as much as I would like to, so room for improvement there too. I’ve doubled my probiotic supplement, am drinking kombucha, and have started making my own sauerkraut (which will hopefully be ready any day now!). I feel like everything I am doing is focused purely on gut health. And although I have a ways to go, I am making progress, and that is good.