Nearly a year ago, I self-imposed the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet in my life. I was desperate. Fighting severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts and repetitive panic attacks, I was also facing numerous autoimmune-type symptoms like heavy thirst, food sensitivities, cramping, insomnia, chronic pain, joint flare ups, face rashes and mouth ulcers.

I’ve been on a modified AIP diet since Sept. 7, 2018. The AIP diet is an eating plan encouraged for those with autoimmune symptoms. It is not meant to be a long-term diet, but rather an elimination diet to help the person determine which foods are problematic for their specific body. One of the most renowned proponents of the AIP diet is Sarah Ballantyne, who writes at www.thepaleomom.com.

“The Autoimmune Protocol, abbreviated AIP, is a complementary approach to chronic disease management focused on providing the body with the nutritional resources required for immune regulation, gut health, hormone regulation and tissue healing while removing inflammatory stimuli from both diet and lifestyle,” she wrote.

But I can’t even eat the full AIP diet. Fruits and squash have both given me repetitive relapses in symptoms, leading me to eat a low-lectin AIP diet. As a restaurant owner, four times over, this radical shift in my eating habits has been challenging, and somewhat heart-breaking. I’m around “normal” food all the time. Food (cooking, tasting, travel) is a huge part of my relationship with my husband. It’s always been a social outlet.  I’ve had to modify my job responsibilities, and learn how to use mindfulness and discipline to guide my behavior. At first look, the diet has taken a lot of “fun” out of my life.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Brown

However, as restrictive as the diet regimen has been, it has worked: I’ve gotten my brain back, and my body has (mostly) stopped attacking itself. I know I still have healing to do, and I’m constantly learning about new theories in this growing health field. Still, even in the imperfection, bite by bite, I’ve restored happiness and peace to my mind. That has brought me greater joy than eating ever could. The notion that food can be medicine to flip anxiety on its head is incredible. I am free to be happy and strong again.

My battle with milder autoimmune symptoms continues. I’ve heard it could take someone like me two years to heal. I’m high risk. My identical twin is a Type 1 diabetic (diagnosed at 31), and my other first-hand family members have autoimmune diseases including psoriasis and celiac.

Along with the AIP diet, I regularly do intermittent fasting, where you eat during an 8-hour period and refrain from food consumption the rest of the day. Articles on Healthline and in the Wall Street Journal describe how it’s supposed to help suppress autoimmune symptoms, encourage proper cell functioning and foster “good” bacterial growth. It’s all been a part of my healing.

Please note, I am not a nutritionist, doctor or dietician. It is important to follow the advice of your doctor or seek out a functional medicine practitioner who can guide you as to what is appropriate for you.

But a study recently came out about the power of fasting-mimicking diets. Researchers were actually able to reverse Type 1 diabetes in mice by using an FMD over several months. The thought is that fasting, or caloric reduction, can help restart insulin production. So, in solidarity with my sister to try to beat Type 1 — and in the hopes for greater healing for myself— I’ve joined her on an FMD plan.

Courtesy of Jamie Brown

Here’s the scoop: You follow the AIP diet for your regular eating regimen, then for five days of the month, you enact an FMD eating plan. We are using the caloric suggestion of Prolon, a company that sells a 5-day FMD meal plan. We are making our own food because we’re both on AIP, but this is the caloric breakdown.

Day 1: 1,100 calories
Day 2: 700-800 calories
Day 3: 700-800 calories
Day 4: 700-800 calories
Day 5: 700-800 calories

For the rest of the month, we’ll continue to follow a AIP diet low-lectin diet. (A great resource for AIP is ThePaleoMom.com)

We did our first FMD in July, and here’s what I learned:

(1) There’s a wall.

I hit a wall 2 1/2 days in. I was ready to revolt, ready to quit. I felt angry and irritable (maybe “hangry” is the right word). Once I busted through that, my system calmed. The last two days were much more manageable.

(2) Expect new, often unwanted, obstacles.

I had small, mild bouts of anxiety throughout the fast. This was frustrating because I am accustomed to now having most of my days anxiety-free. I had to go back to mediation, breathing techniques and mindfulness to pull myself through.

(3) Energy rises in time.

By the third day, my energy level felt great. I went for a jog, and I actually felt strong.

(4) Less food makes you savor it.

When I sat down to eat each day, I found I chewed my food thoroughly before swallowing. Maybe it was because I wanted to savor it. Maybe it was because I subconsciously knew that if I chewed my limited amounts of food more, I would be better able to digest it and absorb it into my body.

(5) There’s freedom in disconnecting yourself from food.

I have the strength now to know that I can make it without constantly feeding myself. There is power in that. There is also freedom in that.

Courtesy of Jamie Brown

When those five days of fasting ended and I piled up a full plate of food, it sure made me grateful. Follow along with me, @jamie_making, on Instagram for more.

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