I’ve intended to write this post for a while now but I’ve been slowed recently by my search for a new job, studying, and lots of changes at home. Just as I finally got down to typing last week I was struck with my first cold in YEARS!! I’ve been aware that despite being incredibly ill with crohn’s, a bout of arthritis and on-going alopecia over the past few years, I haven’t once caught the flu or even a brief cold! It then occurred to me that this may actually have been down to the fact that my immune system had been on such overdrive with it’s attack response that those little bugs didn’t stand a chance! Until now. YAY! I see it as a good sign that I caught a cold; it tells me that my immune system has genuinely calmed down. I was pretty chuffed!
Anyway, down to business. A popular question I receive from followers is:
‘How do you manage reintroductions and gauge reactions with a condition like alopecia, which, doesn’t make itself apparent until it’s too late and the hair has already fallen?’
THAT’S A VERY GOOD QUESTION.
I began my reintroduction process with great trepidation. The whole time I was following the elimination stage (which was 5 months before my first reintro) I was super paranoid about making mistakes for fear that all of my hair would fall out or I would be rushed into hospital and pinned down for bowel surgery. Before I continue, let me point out that that level of worry is not healthy and is totally detrimental to your healing. Your thoughts hold the capacity to make or break you. So anyway, when it came to trying out these foods again I was apprehensive to say the least.
I then discovered some brilliant guides such as
Phoenix Helix: Paleo AIP Reintroduction Guide
Phoenix Helix: Top 5 mistakes people make reintroducing Foods
Phoenix Helix: Podcast – Reintroducing foods on the Paleo AIP
The Paleo Mom: The Reintroduction Quick-Start Guide
***PLEASE read at least one of these guides before you try reintroducing anything***
There is a specific procedure to follow that will not only make the process as safe as possible, but it will also enable you to clearly notice what you’re reacting to and how. The different foods are categorised in 4 stages according to what you should try first and what you should wait a little longer for. Timing is everything! Sarah Ballantyne covers this in her book ‘The Paleo Approach’, as does Eileen Laird in ‘A Simple Guide to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol’.
It became clear to me that reactions/intolerances to food will not necessarily manifest as a direct symptom of your particular autoimmune disorder. So for anyone with alopecia, there are warning signs to look out for before you come anywhere close to your hair falling out again. I’m still here and I still have all of my hair but I’ve definitely had a few reintroduction hiccups. No biggy!
The signs and symptoms to look out for may sound pretty subtle as you read this list but I have found that once you’ve healed and are feeling in great health, small changes become much more noticeable!
Sign & symptoms of food intolerance during reintroductions:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, stomach ache, heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, gas, bloating and undigested food in stool
- Increased mucus production – phlegm, runny nose or post-nasal drip
- Aches and pains in muscles or joints
- Fatigue, reduced energy or energy dips
- Skin changes such as rashes, acne, dry skin, spots, dry hair or nails
- Headache and dizziness
- Sneezing, itchy eyes or mouth
- Mood swings, feeling low or depressed, anxiety
- Food cravings for sugar, fat or caffeine
- Trouble sleeping
- For alopecia sufferers: I notice a bit of an itchy scalp
As you’ll discover in the guides I have listed, there is a 72 hour window during which time any of these symptoms may arise. The method for reintroductions is that you should try a mouthful of the food and wait a couple of hours to see if you have any obvious allergic reaction. If not, go ahead and eat a full portion of that food and assess yourself over the next 72 hours (DO NOT REINTRODUCE ANYTHING ELSE DURING THIS TIME!) Normally reactions will occur within the first 24 hours but some people do find symptoms can arise up to 72 hours later. Even if your reintroduction is not successful, it’s not all doom and gloom! Wait a few months and try again. Your body might just take a little longer to heal before it can tolerate certain foods.
Use a bit of common sense
Think about any foods you were a bit ‘funny’ with before you ever tried AIP and consider whether you actually want to reintroduce them at all. I have made a conscious decision not to reintroduce nuts and eggs (at least, not for a long time anyway). This is a real shame because both are perfectly paleo, very nutritious and of course, delicious. My reason for this is based on a history of allergies. I have always been VERY allergic to almond and occasionally a bit funny with peanuts (which are actually a legume!). I’ve never been able to eat macadamias or brazil nuts but I have always been seemingly fine with walnuts and hazelnuts. I used to call it my ‘selective nut allergy’. Who knows, I may actually have been allergic to walnuts and hazelnuts all along but my symptoms didn’t manifest as anaphylaxis and instead persisted as an underlying contributor to my autoimmune disorder. I’m not willing to take the risk right now. If I was dealing with a different autoimmune disease for which the symptoms would make themselves known immediately, I might experiment, but with alopecia I’m not willing to wait and see!
The same goes for eggs. As a child I came out in hives when I ate eggs and although I grew out of this kind of reaction as an adult, my ability to tolerate them was very temperamental. Sometimes I would be totally fine, other times I would feel nauseous, have stomach ache or end up with diarrhoea. I was always able to eat cakes though?!? Again, given that I was allergic from a young age, I imagine eggs could be an underlying problem for me. It’s pretty well known within the AIP community that they can be difficult to tolerate (especially if they’re soy-fed). Do your research and make a decision that is right for you. Many people find that it’s actually the egg whites that they’re intolerant to and in fact yolks go down a treat! Angie Alt (autoimmune-paleo.com) and Joanna Frankman (joannafrankman.com) can tolerate soy-free pastured eggs and Eileen Laird (phonexhelix.com) can eat any type of eggs. If you’d like to know how to separate yolks from whites and learn more about their nutritional value, have a read here:
Phoenix Helix: How to separate eggs. The nutritional power of yolks.
To learn more about why eggs can be problematic for some people, read here:
The Paleo Mom: The whys behind the autoimmune protocol – eggs.
- Green legumes with edible pods (sugar snap peas, runner beans, peas, green beans, mangetout, etc.)
- Fruit and berry based spices
- Rapeseed oil
- Butter (see my thoughts on dairy below)
- Red wine
- Chilli peppers (mild and in small doses)
- White rice
- Tomatoes (so far I’ve only tried a few cooked in my soup)
- Dark chocolate
Yet to try
- Raw tomatoes and tinned tomatoes
- Sweet peppers
- All dairy except butter
- Potatoes (again!)
I always like to remind myself that everyone is different. What I can tolerate isn’t necessarily going to work for somebody else and what he or she eats regularly could be very difficult for me to handle even just once! I’ve run into various difference symptoms while experimenting with these foods and not all were successful the first time round. I am most noticeably struck by fatigue which very often develops into joint aches (particularly in my knees where I once suffered a bout of crohn’s related arthritis), I become moody and irritable, anxious or depressed and very often break out in acne or dry skin. My mum also says I look very heavy under the eyes when I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t! The only gastrointestinal symptoms I have experienced were brought on by potatoes which caused my strongest reaction so far. I had a lot of stomach pain, nausea and cramping along with all of the above.
The reason I say I’m ‘unsure’ about dark chocolate is because my reactions have been a bit hit and miss. I’m usually fine with one or two squares in isolation but I noticed that if I eat a piece each day I develop joint pain and fatigue, which is eventually followed by acne. I haven’t had any chocolate since mid-December 2015 so I’m due to try again. I also suspect that my reactions were partly stress related so it’s difficult to judge.
How to reintroduce
It’s taken a long while to try these foods because I always wait for an appropriate time. I don’t want to experience symptoms while I’m working or out with friends so I always end up delaying my experiment and then that delay gets pushed back further because something else comes up! ‘Experiment’ is the key word here and you really should treat it as one – a science experiment under controlled conditions. You should make sure you’re in a good mood, you’ve slept well, you’re feeling healthy and not experiencing symptoms from a previous reintroduction. Then of course make sure you’re comfortable and able to deal with the consequences if it’s unsuccessful.
I can tolerate vegetable/sunflower oil perfectly well. I’m aware that it’s not healthy and actually toxic – I NEVER COOK WITH IT – but I do make exceptions when I’m eating out at restaurants. I am particularly limited as a paleo-eater because I’m allergic to coconut so pretty much all paleo snacks are off-limits to me. As this is the case I do purchase root vegetable crisps (chips) cooked in sunflower oil to keep as an emergency snack. Or whenever I get the munchies…
I’m fine with red wine and can even tolerate quite a large quantity (very occasionally!) but white wine upsets my stomach and gives me diarrhoea. Weird, huh?
As a result of an allergic reaction to an anti-TNF biologic treatment last year that was inevitably cancelled, I developed a strange allergy to foods high in latex – avocado, banana, kiwi and plums. At one stage they would make me feel short of breath with a debilitating back ache as well as tired and anxious. I would have to knock back anti-histamine to make it stop. I don’t react so strongly now – just a little bit of fatigue the last time I tried a few months ago but I am still yet to properly reintroduce them full-time. Healing is an on-going process and this is so evident to me because with time I have been better able to tolerate foods and my very random development of a food-latex allergy has improved.
My thoughts on dairy
I’m not sure if I will ever bother to reintroduce dairy. I can’t make up my mind. I don’t miss it so I’m not in a hurry. I see it as the slightly-less-wicked sister of gluten. It can contribute to the development of a leaky gut which is the root cause of autoimmune disease. I’ve got no intention of going there again, so why bother flirting with it? I imagine I would probably tolerate dairy quite well but as with nuts and eggs, I don’t want to risk waiting until it’s too late. I need immediate reactions that tell me no! If there’s one thing the vegan and paleo communities can both agree on, it’s the absence of dairy. The only exception I’ve made is butter. I never use it at home but I will happily eat food cooked in butter at a restaurant. This is my way of finding a balance between and a decent, undisrupted social life and keeping my health on track. I can’t knock back shots of vodka until the early hours but I can enjoy a good meal (with butter!) and a glass of wine.
Love your food
Whatever you do, don’t fear your reintroductions. I’m a strong believer in positive thinking, energy and vibrational output. I think one of the reasons I struggled with some of my reintroductions the first time round was because I was so worried – thinking that these relatively safe foods were going to destroy me! I was probably even more wound up because I felt I had something to prove to my doctor and I really didn’t want bowel surgery (for crohn’s)! Man, I could talk about this all day. I’m currently reading Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ which will most definitely provide content for a future blog post about how there is more to healing than just diet. I believe that our attitude, emotions and the environment we submit the cells of our body to has the biggest impact on our wellbeing.
Be thankful for your food, allow it to nourish you and visualise yourself in good health. Give those tomatoes a little kiss if you need to!
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