So here we draw to a close this challenge series. There have been ups, there have been downs, they were the best of times, they were the worst of times… and other clichés as well. After 60 days of discipline… OK, maybe a few fewer than 60… I find myself feeling under considerable pressure to write this concluding post with the correct blend of summary, naval-gazing and nod to the future. Here goes…
The first two weeks of this challenge were certainly an emotional rollercoaster. From struggling to cope with the changes and restrictions this diet requires, to struggling to cope with the hunger and mood-swings it invokes, right through to struggling to cope with the doubt and concern over whether any of this was going to work, the first two weeks were certainly the toughest.
I don’t think I was fully prepared for just how difficult I would find the shift to the Autoimmune Protocol. Despite having already adopted a paleo diet, I found the additional restrictions of AIP quite a lot more difficult than I expected. I think part of the issue with the diet is the minimal range of flavours you find yourself with if you don’t have lots of time to dedicate to the kitchen. Boyfriend and I have a spicy palette by default and the removal of paprika, chilli, cumin, and other nightshade and seed spices robbed us of our go-to flavour profile.
If you work full time and want to keep your evening meals pretty simple throughout the week, you are in danger of experiencing the same flavours over and over – namely garlic and herbs – which can get old quite quickly. One thing I would suggest doing right from even before you start this challenge is to invest some time into looking up recipes you think you might enjoy and doing a little bit of planning. Try and make sure there is variety and you’re not eating lamb three times in one week.
Try and make your meals as exciting as you can. It will help to keep you from going insane.
The second difficulty I found was in making sure I had enough to eat at lunchtimes. Working full time and eating AIP means packing your own lunch because eating out is pretty much out of the question. A big meat or fish salad with half an avocado is the simplest solution (tasty too!) and that was fine for a couple of weeks, but as winter arrived and temperatures dropped, salad just wasn’t cutting it.
This is where you really have to get your planning down. Batch-cooking stew and soup is the way to survive this stage. If you go to work convincing yourself you’ll be satisfied with salad when you know you really want something hot, you will end up wanting to snack on something else. These were the days when I bought myself big bags of dates and ate the whole lot. On reflection, I neglected weekday lunchtimes.
Perhaps if I had a put a little more effort into creating satisfying lunches, I wouldn’t have developed such a sugar addiction.
After the first two weeks, the difficult transition to Autoimmune Protocol seemed to be pretty much complete. We eased into the new recipes we had found, I started to see some positive benefits in that my symptoms had seemed to improve a little bit, and I started to notice other benefits… mainly that I was getting the most and best quality sleep of my entire life! I suppose giving up coffee, chocolate and alcohol would lead to a more rested night sleep, but I hadn’t even factored it in as a potential benefit, so that was a really nice surprise.
The next few weeks ticked by without much incident at all and then all of a sudden, we were six weeks in! What an achievement. By this time, I had certainly got into the routine of AIP, which has positives and negatives. As a positive, I was finding it easier to stick to the diet, I wasn’t craving things as much, and my friends and colleagues knew that I was on an elimination diet, which made passing on office treats and lunches a lot easier. I was also almost entirely pain-free and realising it wouldn’t be long before the pain was completely gone. As a negative, with routine comes boredom and I found myself longing for that first pain free day so I could start planning for the reintroduction stage of the diet.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long. Day 43 of the AIP challenge saw my first pain free day in over a year! But as with all steps in this challenge, even this came with benefits and drawbacks. The benefits of being pain-free are obvious, but now I would have to embark on the reintroduction stage, reintroducing one food at a time in a controlled way in order to measure the effect it had on me.
I chose to start with nuts as I had found myself snacking on dried fruit a lot and I thought being able to eat nuts would stop me from consuming so much glucose. That all went well… and then I totally lost my mind and all control went out of the window. Seems as though I am actually better at psychologically dealing with the elimination stage than the reintroduction stage of a diet like this. Reintroducing that first food was like opening the floodgates for me and the last two weeks have seen less and less control over what I’m eating as I reintroduce foods all over the place with little regard for order or measurement.
Luckily, my pain doesn’t seem to have returned in anything like full force and I’m just experiencing minor discomfort here and there. What’s interesting is that falling off the bandwagon has taught me quite quickly that I can tolerate a great number of foods I had been eliminating with no problem at all. Nuts, eggs, tomatoes, a bit of chocolate – all of these things seem to be fine. The minute coffee passes my lips or I eat too much sugar though and the twinges in my bladder are almost instant.
In conclusion, I have achieved many of the things I set out to achieve with this 60 day AIP challenge. First and foremost, my main objective was to be pain free. And I am. Secondly, I wanted to know which foods were triggering my pain. And I now know that alcohol, coffee, and sugar are definitely triggers for me. This may not be a definitive list, but it’s a pretty good start. You may also look at that list and think it looks like a bunch of obvious culprits for causing bladder pain, but giving those three things up is pretty tough. Coffee and alcohol are such a part of our social lives these days that without this challenge, I would have still been telling myself that one or two cups of coffee a day and a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday evening can’t hurt – as I have been for the last 8 years or so – and I would still be in pain.
Other unexpected positive side-effects from the diet are that I’m way more in touch with my circadian rhythms. I’m sleeping much better and I just generally feel more with it throughout the day. I don’t get tired mid-afternoon any more and I no longer feel groggy in mornings. I feel like I’m able to make better decisions and I’m just more switched on. I’ve also leaned up and feel stronger and generally more fit, which is working wonders for Sunday morning climbing sessions. And I’m sure there are many more benefits I haven’t even realised I’m experiencing yet.
So, I said this post is basically a conclusion to this 60 Day Autoimmune Protocol Challenge. Does that mean this is the end? Who knows. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog. I’ve had some really supportive comments from you guys and I’m honoured that some of you felt like you could share your own stories with me on this blog. There is also a lot more I would have liked to write about but the time never seemed right to do so or the topics seemed to fit outside the remit of this challenge.
So, maybe I’ll continue. There are two more things I have learned about myself through completing this challenge. The first is that I need a challenge like this in order to kick bad habits like those couple of mugs of coffee or glasses of red wine. The second is that 60 days is too long a challenge for me to handle – six weeks is a better amount of time for me before I start wanting to rebel.
So, no doubt this will not be the last challenge I set myself. My journey is far from over and the next challenge is to maintain a healthy paleo lifestyle outside of this elimination challenge. What is life if not a set of challenges anyway? I’m sure the next one is just around the corner. And perhaps I’ll write about it here. After all, I now have that pesky sugar addiction to kick…
Thank you all for your support throughout this challenge. I hope that some of the stuff I’ve written about on this blog will be helpful to somebody. Wishing you the best on your own journey.
Signing off for now,