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“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
This Interview Series
Reintroducing Foods on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol was my first e-book, which I published back in 2014. I realized that the reintroduction process is often the trickiest part of the AIP journey. It can be confusing, overwhelming, and hard to navigate alone. I wrote the book to guide people through, and thereafter got a nickname: Reintro Goddess. (Just kidding, but wouldn't that be a great nickname?) I'm passionate about this process for two reasons: (1) Some people make the mistake of thinking the elimination phase of the AIP is meant to last forever. It's not. It's just the first step. The next step is personalizing the diet for you. (2) The reintroduction process is an experiment with you at the center, where you learn to communicate clearly with your body, and it's incredibly empowering! Everyone's reintroduction experience is unique. I thought it would be inspiring and educational to interview people who have been through this process themselves.
Introducing Natalie Hope
- How long did you do the elimination phase? I did 35 days of strict AIP elimination. My food-related health journey began in November 2016 shortly after my diagnosis. After originally doing research I embarked on an “anti-inflammatory diet”. The diet was primarily plant-based, and I gradually gave up gluten, dairy & nightshades (among other things). This diet did not make a big change. By Spring of 2017, I finally decided that the AIP was the right choice for me, and I set July 1st as my start date.
- How did you decide that you were ready for reintroductions? I had planned to do strict elimination for 30 days and ended up doing it for a few days longer. I had noticed a marked difference in my digestion, brain fog (no more brain fog), energy levels, plus my skin looked flawless. I felt a transformation was happening. I never expected my hair to stop falling out or begin to regrow overnight, but I felt the changes were positive and was ready to take the next step to reintroduce food.
- What foods have you been able to successfully reintroduce? I used The Paleo Mom’s 4 Stage Guide, although I didn’t do all reintros in her recommended order. Egg yolks are in stage 1, but I waited 6 months before reintroducing because I no longer had a taste for eggs. I reintroduced chocolate early rather than in the recommended stage 2. Fresh legumes with edible pods were my first reintro (pre-AIP I used to eat snap peas on a daily basis). My successful reintroductions include fresh legumes, eggs, chocolate, grain-free alcohol (wine and tequila), coffee, nuts and seeds.
- Which ones can you eat regularly and which ones just occasionally? How did you discern the difference? At home, I eat 80-90% AIP, with my successful reintroductions filling the remaining 10-20%. When I travel, I indulge more.
- When food reintroductions failed, what were your symptoms? The first symptoms for me always seem to be tummy issues: nausea, gas, and bloating. I had lived so long with tummy issues that they were just normal. I am now able to distinguish when I am having irritation caused by food. It’s truly a world of difference. For years, I continued to eat foods that were clearly making me feel unwell and just accepted it, because most people around also suffered from the same symptoms. It was normal to us. Another failed introduction symptom is a scalp flare: itching, burning, and sensitivity. Rice is a food that I have eaten on a few occasions, but it caused gastrointestinal issues each time, whether it was a bowl of rice or sushi. But I have also eaten rice flour in baked goods and not had any issues.
- Did any reintroduction failures later become successes? When I originally reintroduced chocolate I did not make the best choice. I suffered a moment of weakness/realness while I was on holiday right at the end of the elimination phase. I ate two paleo-ish donuts. It was full of sugar. I was very hard on myself for making the decision to eat it, which really didn’t help at all. It did not go well – I had my first severe scalp flare in months. I blamed it on the chocolate, but it was not that simple. I didn’t eat chocolate or any baked goods that I did not make for another month. That’s when I decided to buy a donut pan and took things into my own hands. I also experienced a negative reaction to eggs during my initial reintroduction. I took eggs back out of my diet for another month or so. I reintroduced them and have successfully been eating them since. I do not eat nearly as much as I did previously (5 times a week). I now eat them twice a week maximum. I don’t have the same love for them as I previously did.
- Have you reintroduced any non-paleo foods? If yes, which ones and how often do you eat them? Corn, specifically popcorn. I was obsessed with popcorn in my pre-AIP life, I used to eat it 5 to 7 times a week. I would qualify it as severe over-consumption. Due to this pseudo-addiction, I have eaten corn again with varying degrees of success. I have sometimes suffered a severe tummyache after eating popcorn. I’ve determined that the source of the kernels and preparation are key. Making it at home using non-GMO kernels and coconut oil is the best method. I’m also limiting my consumption to once a month.
- Is there any food you’d never reintroduce? Gluten and nightshades are not on my list for reintroduction. I noticed the difference that eliminating them from my diet made early on. However, I have and will make exceptions. I love to travel and experience local culture including food. I could eat a million gluten-free vegan croissant in Paris, but I would rather eat one gluten-y butter croissant while on vacation. I am still considering the reintroduction of some dairy (fermented and grass-fed), dried legumes, and gluten-free grains.
- What affects your food tolerance? I have felt that I can eat foods that I have been sensitive to when I am on vacation. A recent example was when I was in Portugal a few months ago, and I ate the local delicacy (pastéis de nata). I also ate corn tortillas and tomato salsa in Mexico City. I’ll be visiting Paris soon, and I plan to eat one butter croissant.
- Have you ever done an AIP reset (where you did the elimination phase over again)? If yes, what was the motivation, and did you find it helpful? No, but I was considering it at the beginning of the year when I was experiencing the flare that was caused by the eggs. I had also been drinking more alcohol than usual during the holidays. I didn't end up doing a complete reset, but I cut back on non-AIP elimination diet food and made more meals at home.
- Are there any foods allowed on the AIP that you discovered you don’t tolerate? No.
- What was the hardest part for you about the reintroduction process? I was quite nervous about whether my gut was healed enough and if I had given strict AIP enough time to do its work. I was somewhat scared that I would be reversing the work that I had done. I felt very healthy, and I was concerned about going right back to my previous diet. After my initial chocolate donut incident, I took time to consider how I wanted to balance eating healthfully with eating foods I enjoy.
- What’s your advice for people contemplating reintros, or just starting their own reintroduction journey? Be kind to yourself. Try not to put pressure on yourself to do something in a certain time. Listen to your body. I was disappointed to discover that popcorn is one of the foods that does not work very well for me. My solution for now is to limit it to once a month, but I am aware that this may change in the future and I will need to be flexible.
One Last Word of Advice
Each person's food reintroductions are unique, so don't expect your results to be the same as above, even if you share the diagnosis. Similarly, you also might make different choices based on how your body responds. It's fun to learn about each other's experiences and be encouraged by them, but this is all about learning to listen to your own body. Use the resources below to learn how to do the reintroduction process yourself.
Paleo AIP Reintroduction Resources
This is part of a series of interviews. Click here to read all of them.