Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Raw Truth about Living AIP

The Raw Truth about Living AIP

There's no recipe today. Today is just one heartfelt and personal post about living AIP. There's the long version and the short version. I think you should read both, but then again it's my blog so of course my opinion is biased. This post is raw and real and fairly emotional. You've been warned.

The Long Truth
Living with autoimmune disease is like trying to walk a tightrope with a rabid monkey on your back. Gotta find my balance again.     —Tangie P.
A Facebook friend shared this as her status this afternoon. I held it together for all of two and a half minutes while I said bye after visiting a friend and walked to the car. As soon as I slid behind the wheel and slammed the door shut, I promptly burst into tears. Because it is so true.

I started the Autoimmune Protocol almost a year ago. I fought the actual necessity of it for months before caving and admitting it needed to be done (read about that story here). I've been on some variation of AIP almost consecutively for the last 11½ months, and let me just be real here: it has been the most overwhelming roller coaster ride of my life.

Some improvements I saw immediately—weight loss, better digestive health, less bloating, clearer skin, more pain-free days than not, better moods overall. Other symptoms took longer to clear. And then the reality: some of them never cleared altogether. They were well-controlled enough without meds so I figured that I was good to go for reintroductions, and the symptoms would eventually just get better with time.

The fact of the matter is: they aren't. Some have even started regressing towards their previously inflamed state. So as I was leaving my friends' house, nauseous with aching knees and feeling restless and agitated and ill at ease for no apparent reason, I happened to glance at my phone and saw the status. And it just hit home. HARD.

I battle everyday to live my life with asthma, allergies, endometriosis, scalp and nail psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and mood and anxiety disorders. And I'm trying to do that by living the AIP lifestyle. And I feel exactly like my friend—I can't find balance.

I'll be forthright and honest. I will admit that I'm not eating strictly AIP (if you follow my Instagram, you already know). Like not even a healthy modified AIP. I make poor choices with bad oils, natural flavors, dairy, and cross contamination issues weekly—sometimes more than once a week. I consume too much alcohol much too regularly. I bite off way more than I can chew, and I'm constantly stressed because of it. I feel like I'm living life in fast forward one moment and so down and out and behind on everything the next. I have no focus and live in a brain fog for days only to be clear-minded and rife with motivation the next day. There's no consistency from one day to the next. I work too many jobs, but every time I try to cut back, I end up with more on my plate. It's hard to say no because "no" doesn't pay the bills. I'm in a constant search for socialization, and it's hard to say no to invites because saying "no" doesn't chase away the loneliness of being single and living by myself.

And because I can't say no, I'm tired. I'm tired of not getting enough sleep at night, but mostly I'm tired of that fact that my autoimmune condition requires so much sleep for my body to feel normal. I'm tired of the lack of convenience and of reading labels on everything I pick up to put in my mouth. I'm tired of asking about ingredients and recipes when dining out or visiting with family and friends. I'm tired of craving pizzas and cheeseburgers, chips and salsa, my mouth watering for a taste that will be a fleeting second of joy in exchange for hours and days of pain and discomfort later. I'm tired of hearing "Just have one. One can't hurt you." I'm tired of turning down drinks at the bar because I shouldn't drink at all and definitely never risk beer, vodka, or whiskey. I'm tired of being embarrassed to go on first dates because I don't want to have to order my food in front of him. I'm tired of explaining my diet, my food choices, of justifying myself. I'm tired of listening to the jokes and snide comments about eating gluten-free from strangers, friends, and family alike. I'm tired of hearing "Well, what can you eat?!"I'm tired of being asked "Is that on your diet?" I'm tired of being told, "OMG, I could never eat that way!"

Guess what. I hope you never have to. It's one of the hardest things I've ever struggled with. Because I just want to feel normal. I want to be an average 26 year old. I want to run from work to the beach without wondering if there's anything I can eat at the party that won't make me sick, if I should really drink that tequila and club soda with the girls. I want to be able to kiss that cute guy giving me the eyes without wondering if he's been drinking gluten-filled beer or eating spicy nachos (and not because it's that his breath might stink). I want to hang out with friends and coworkers and not care what restaurant they choose for dinner. I want to be able to only have to cook on the nights I want to instead of spending hours on meal prep each week only to realize on Wednesdays that I either prepared way too much or way too little.

I want balance. And I don't know how to find it.

Just to be clear, I'm not writing this because I'm against AIP. And I'm not giving up. I'm writing this because it needs to be said and it needs to be shared. I've had a bad day, maybe even a couple of bad weeks. But I've also had some great moments and some touching triumphs. I have met a wonderful group of AIP bloggers who are beyond supportive and full of knowledge that they are willing to share. I have met a wonderful web community of like-minded individuals who have reached out to each other to create a wonderful virtual network of support and education amongst themselves. I have heard from many of my readers how much I have helped or motivated them through their tough days.

Because, yes. There are lots of those. The tough days. And there are more to come. But I also would not be as accomplished or happy or motivated as I am on my good days if I had not dared to try. I would not be able to taste foods as clearly as I do now, savoring every nuance of flavor and texture with every bite, celebrating in what I can create and enjoy. I wouldn't be as knowledgeable on the necessity of food and proper nutrition to replace medicine and work towards healing myself. I would not be the same me at all. And good days or bad, I don't want to give up on her.

So that's the long truth.

The Short Truth?
It's hard.
But I'm not a quitter.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chicken Tagine (AIP)

I've been a busy bee, and I've been making lots of changes. I didn't manage to eat as cleanly as I wanted to with #30daysofclean, but I did make a final push to make the last week count. I'm not mad or beating myself up. Even though I could have done much better, I took it as a learning opportunity. I do better with short term goals and challenges. And that's ok. Instead of giving up altogether, I now know that I should make my goals and challenges daily or weekly instead of monthly. Biting off small bites more often is a lot more effective than trying to bite off too much at once and feeling overwhelmed. And I do get overwhelmed easily. I'm learning to admit what my weaknesses are so I can work around them instead of beating myself up for what I can't do.

And I'm learning to revel in what I can do. And to revel in what I enjoy doing. Like cooking and researching and sharing the results. Like sharing good food and good times with friends and family. Like reaching out and meeting new people and trying new things.

If you haven't tried anything new lately, check out this Chicken Tagine (pronounced kinda like tuh-jean) recipe. Tagine is a stew-like dish from North Africa. It's named after the clay pot that it's usually cooked in. The dish is swimming in flavor, and it's hard to overcook. Plus it sits on the stove, simmering away, which makes it a great weeknight dish if you throw everything together the night before.

Chicken Tagine (AIP)
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns (optional/omit for AIP)
4 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger, peeled
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves or 1 tbsp dried
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 large fermented lemon*
1 large pinch saffron
2 bay leaves
1 3-4 lb whole chicken
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced thick
½ cup fresh or canned green olives (not marinaded or brined)
1 cup chicken broth

In a small skillet, toast the cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns (if using). Once fragrant, add to spice grinder and grind until fine.* Add the spice mixture, garlic cloves, ginger, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, fermented lemon, and saffron to a food processor. Blend until a thick puree. If the mixture is too thick, alternate adding 1 tbsp olive oil or lemon juice until it's well mixed. The mixture should still be more paste-like than liquid. Add the bay leaves and stir. Cut up the chicken into 6-8 pieces (legs, thighs, wings, breasts). Layer the chicken pieces in a bowl with the marinade, making sure to coat as thoroughly as possible. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Marinate at least 2 hours but preferably overnight. Once marinated, remove chicken and reserve marinade. In a tagine pot or dutch oven, heat coconut oil. Add in the chicken to the pan and lightly brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside on a plate. Add onions to the pot and cook until they start to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Return chicken and all the juices to the pot, trying to keep chicken in one layer if possible. Add marinade, olives, and chicken broth. Cover tightly and cook on medium low heat 30-35 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (180°F with a meat thermometer). Remove bay leaf and serve with juices spooned over chicken pieces.

Suggested sides:
Apricot 'Couscous' (Recipe coming soon)
Moroccan-Spiced Veggies (Recipe coming soon)

*If you don't have fermented lemons, you can add lemon zest, lemon pulp, and or lemon juice to this dish, but it will definitely taste VERY different from the original recipe. Fermented lemons are a lovely concoction is that zesty, tangy, and salty all in one. Because of the fermentation process, you can use the whole lemon including the rind. The taste of fermented lemons is very hard to replicate. If you skip the fermented lemons, you'll need to add more salt to the recipe.
**If you don't have all the whole spices, you can sub 2 tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp ground cloves. The flavor will be a little less aromatic but should still taste delicious.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Balsamic-Braised Beef Shanks (AIP)

I don't know about you, but I often feel like I have to skimp on dishes because I'm short on time. And I like to keep things budget-friendly and budget-friendly cuts usually require lots of additional time in the kitchen. So how do you make the two work together? Here's another crockpot dish! This recipe does take a little more prep time than most crockpot dishes but once you throw it all together, it's pretty much done unless you choose to make the extra delicious sauce to pour over beef. (And now you aren't going to want to skip it, are you??)

This recipe does contain alcohol. What??! Alcohol on AIP?? That's a NO! Yup, alcohol should definitely be avoided because it's damaging to the gut lining. I think we can all agree that that's exactly what we are trying to avoid on the Autoimmune Protocol. So why does my recipe include wine? The alcohol itself is damaging to the gut, so if you cook all of it out of the dish (the super long cooking time here helps), then most of us eating AIP are good to go. If you want to read more about it, then be sure to check out the Paleo Mom's post here.

Balsamic-Braised Beef Shanks
2 lbs beef shanks
1 tbsp fat of choice
3 oz shallots, peeled
½ cup carrots, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
4 oz beef broth
4 oz balsamic vinegar
4 oz Cabernet Sauvignon or preferred red wine*

Salt the beef shanks on both sides. In a large skillet, heat the fat on medium high heat. Sear the beef shanks on both sides about two minutes. Place the beef shanks in the crockpot. Lower the heat and add the shallots and carrots until softened. Add garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant about 30 seconds. Add wine to pan to deglaze, scraping up all the brown bits. Add the balsamic vinegar and beef broth. Mix thoroughly and pour the liquid mixture into the crockpot. Turn the crockpot on low for 5-6 hours until beef shanks fall off the bone and are tender. Make sure to save your bones for broth (I keep them in a bag in the freezer until I have a full batch).

Optional step: Pour all the juices after cooking into a pan and cook over medium heat until reduced into a thick reduction sauce. Pour over the top before serving.

*Wine is fine if it's cooked all the way in the dish like this. But if you don't tolerate the yeast or sulfites in wine or you would like to avoid altogether, use the same amount of beef broth in its place.