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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 Donna Allgaier-Lamberti
Donna has multiple autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and lichen sclerosus. The paleo autoimmune protocol has been an essential part of her healing journey. And the beautiful girl in the photo with Donna is her granddaughter, Brenna.
- How long did you do the elimination phase? I stayed on the elimination phase about 2 years. I began my functional medicine treatment at the same time, which included a confusing array of supplements, probiotics, etc. In addition, my husband was diagnosed with early cognitive decline, so much of my time and energy was detoured to his health issues. This may have impacted the length of my own healing. Consequently, I got off to a slow start on AIP as I figured my way through the maze of changes I was making. I did not feel any real improvements for almost 8-9 months. But when I did begin to feel better, I found it happened quickly for me.
- How did you decide that you were ready for reintroductions? I think my “longer than typical” reintro time was due to several reasons. I felt like I was healing slowly, and once I began to feel better I was nervous to do anything that might set me back. I also had a LOT going on in my life. In addition to my husband's cognitive decline, I was responsible for a homestead with a flock of chickens and a 2-1/2 acre garden. So, I postponed reintroductions until life became a little less stressful. We ended up selling our homestead and moved to town. When both my husband's and my health started to improve, I felt ready to try reintroductions.
- What foods have you been able to successfully reintroduce? I have now been successful adding in almost everything I want to eat, as long as I do not eat too much of any one food. This includes seeds, cashews, cocoa, eggs, goat dairy, occasional alcohol, occasional dried legumes, and occasional grains which I describe in more detail below.
- Which ones can you eat regularly and which ones just occasionally? I don't have to limit the seeds or the cashews. I enjoy eggs several times per week. I limit goat dairy, dried legumes, and grains to small amounts occasionally. Alcohol, I only have a few times per year at special celebrations. My husband does not drink, and I find I am perfectly happy with a few swallows of kombucha or a plain coconut milk hot chocolate for a treat!
- When food reintroductions failed, what were your symptoms? I first tried to add green beans back into my diet and I had sleeplessness and restless legs. That reaction made my nervous, so I took a break from reintroducing foods and focused more on healing.
- Did any reintroduction failures later become successes? Yes, I did experience this. I believe I tried to reintro too early for my body, so I gave it more time and then when I tried again down the road, I was much more successful. Patience pays off in the protocol!
- Have you reintroduced any non-paleo foods? If yes, which ones and how often do you eat them? I've reintroduced goat milk butter, goat cheese, goat yogurt, gluten-free oatmeal, homemade baked beans, brown rice, wild rice, and spelt. (Spelt is an ancient grain that does contain gluten, but I reintroduced it under the guidance of my functional medicine physician, and I seem to tolerate it well.) Most of these, I only eat once or twice a week to get the enjoyment of the taste and not feel deprived. I don't want to put myself into the position of eating them too frequently.
- Is there any food you’d never reintroduce? I continue to avoid wheat, nightshades, cow dairy, and all processed foods, fast foods etc. I also limit my sugar (even natural ones). I am very dedicated to organic and GMO-free foods. I buy my meat from local trusted farmers whose farm I have visited and I have seen how the animals are being treated. When it comes to restaurants, we only go out on special occasions like a family birthday or anniversary, and I choose “safe” restaurants and safe foods like broiled plain salmon and steamed vegetables, which I do enjoy.
- What affects your food tolerance? In the beginning, it seemed that almost everything gave me GERD, so I focused on healing my leaky gut with my functional medicine physician. Once I healed, I was able to tolerate most foods, but only up to a certain level. If I eat a questionable food too often, I will get a skin rash, acne breakouts, or simply feel “off”.
- Have you ever done an AIP reset (where you did the elimination phase over again)? I have never done an actual reset per se. But if I do find a rash or acne reappearing, I back off on the foods I am pretty sure are contributing to them.
- Are there any foods allowed on the AIP that you discovered you don’t tolerate? Although caffeine is allowed on the AIP, I avoid it because my body doesn't tolerate it well.
- What was the hardest part for you about the reintroduction process? The hardest part for me was NOT having concrete and easy-to-spot symptoms to tell me to put the brakes on. I understand that in many ways I am lucky that even though I have Hashimoto's, I never experienced the common symptom of joint pain. But lacking that symptom also made it harder for me to tell when a reintro was not working because I did not have any “easy to tell” symptoms. As a result, I was left guessing quite a lot. This also influenced how long I stayed on the elimination phase, I think.
- What’s your advice for people contemplating reintros, or just starting their own reintroduction journey? Take your time and don’t rush the process. Most of us don’t get this sick in a short amount of time, and therefore I don’t think we can get 100% well in a short amount of time either. I read about people who feel that they can do this for a month or two and then be well. That was not my experience. Patience and consistency seemed to win the race. For me it’s like this quote, “When we know better…we can do better.” So research and education can make all the difference. My granddaughter Brenna is now 10 years old. I am now age 69. I am determined to be there when she graduates from college – another 15 years or thereabouts. So, I am highly motivated to take care of my health every day, so I can make that commitment become a reality. We are also healing my 74-year-old husband’s insulin resistance/cognitive decline, so an upward healing journey is paramount for the both of us. We are in this together. He started out on AIP and transitioned to a ketogenic diet for brain health, and he has regained his short-term memory and his constant confusion is gone. I believe in functional medicine. I believe in food as medicine. And I believe in the body’s ability to heal itself.
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. 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