My Journey to the Autoimmune Protocol
This is my story.
When I reflect back to getting to this point, the point at which I decided to test drive the AIP diet, I am certain this journey truly began when I was an adolescent. At 13 years old, my growth plates closed earlier than expected and I still had not gotten my period. No surprise to you readers I’m sure, I was put on the birth control pill and instructed to remain on it until I wanted to get pregnant. Kind of a long sentencing for a 13 year old, but hey, I grew up in the height of teenage pregnancy awareness, so I have to imagine there was a double agenda to having me on the pill for so long. Not knowing any better, I committed to this theory, that it was in my best interest to be on the pill, and followed through with the doctor’s orders until the age of 22.
Amenorrhea wasn’t my only health issue. During my mid-teens I struggled with a range of irritable bowel symptoms. I experienced quite severe heartburn, reflux, and vomiting as well as lactose intolerance and chronic constipation. Endoscopy and colonoscopy ruled out any definitive conditions and I was just left with instructions to avoid spicy food and dairy. Neither of which really took the edge off, but I followed suit anyway. I also had asthma, chronic seasonal allergies, eczema, dermatitis herpetiformis, and severe keratosis pilaris. Needless to say, I was one of those kids who spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office always trying to figure out what was wrong.
Going into university I continued with all the same ailments. I moved from sunny Miami to chilly Boston for school, so it was not surprising nor impressive to any of my doctors that my asthma and skin conditions worsened dramatically. It wasn’t until 2010, my sophomore year in college, that I was introduced to a gluten free diet in the midst of a particularly painful episode of stomach pain. At that time, gluten free wasn’t what it is today. No one in my circles followed a gluten free diet and I turned to the internet for gluten free diet advice. It turned out that after a week of this intense stomach pain, I actually had appendicitis.
After graduating from school I chose to take a year off before applying for my dietetic internship. In 2012, I moved back to Miami and I decided it was time I finally go off the birth control pill to try and figure out if I could get a period of my own. I stopped taking the pill and to no surprise, nothing happened. My gynecologist had zero interest in finding out why I couldn’t get one on my own either. Her only concern was that I make sure to have protected sex if I was going to continue off the pill. When I pushed a little further about not being able to menstruate, she assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. She would just prescribe me fertility meds when the time came to try and get pregnant. (Like it’s that easy, pshh).
Turning Point 1
My gastrointestinal issues had remained pretty much the same. I continued with severe reflux and chronic constipation, which continued to be chalked up to IBS. Despite everything I was experiencing, I still didn’t let anything get in the way of taking my year off from school very seriously! I backpacked all over Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia and fulfilled my life-long dream of getting my private pilot’s license. Shortly after returning to the States however, I woke up one morning with incredible back pain and I could barely walk. An MRI revealed that two of the discs in my lumbar spine were not only bulging, but had torn, resulting in a complete loss of disc fluid, leaving me with very little shock absorption. If I had to choose the first turning point in my health story, this was it.
Everything changed around this time. I was only in my mid-twenties and I not only had chronic back pain that left me confined to my bed most days, but my lower GI symptoms worsened dramatically. I had intense cramping, stomach pain, bloating, incomplete emptying, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. I was using the bathroom up to 10 times a day most days, just because I couldn’t have a complete bowel movement. I didn’t put two and two together then, but if I had to guess, my lower back pathology drastically affected and still affects my neural signaling down there. So it’s not shocking that all the GI tests I’ve done over the years continue to come back negative.
Turning Point 2
At this point in my life I was a little more seasoned in the field of nutrition, so I attempted going gluten free again, understanding the benefits it had on reducing inflammation. One month after going gluten free, something I thought was completely out of the realm of possibility happened. I got my period. I menstruated for the first time ever, completely on my own. It was short lived and I didn’t get it again, but I knew there was something to staying gluten free, so I did. It also helped take the edge off of my lower GI symptoms, although I was still reliant on antispasmotic medication 4x/day, of which I remained on for 3+ years.
Between the ages of 24-27 I continued with amenorrhea and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms trying to find answers from numerous healthcare providers with very little luck. My health got progressively worse. I had increasing bouts of intense abdominal pain leading to the diagnosis of pelvic congestion syndrome, interstitial cystitis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). I became intolerant to many foods, I couldn’t maintain my weight, I became insulin insensitive, I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, I had chronic night sweats, and I suffered from anxiety and depression. I was now gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, carbohydrate intolerant, and fructose intolerant. But as always, I pushed onwards, I became a dietitian, found the love of my life, got married, and continued to search for answers.
Turning Point 3
I was now 27 years old and ready to dive into the world of motherhood. My husband and I wanted to start trying for a baby right away, especially because we knew I was likely going to need some help getting pregnant. While we accepted that there would be challenges given my history, we had no clue what having challenges really meant. It was supposed to be as easy as just taking some fertility meds right? Wrong. Very, very, wrong. I won’t go into too much detail with regards to the ins and outs of my fertility story for the sake of finally getting to AIP, but if you would like to know more of the details you can read on by heading over here.
While undergoing hormone replacement therapy to support my fertility, my stomach and back pains worsened and I spent most of my time in bed. I’m talking about a majority of the day, 7 days a week, for almost 12 months. The pain was intolerable, but my doctors brushed it off and attributed it to the fact that I wasn’t used to elevated hormone levels nor was I used to having an induced period. In other words, I was told that this pain was “normal”. I went on this way through multiple rounds of hormone replacement therapy in combination with trying intrauterine insemination (IUI), until I just couldn’t take the pain and suffering anymore. It wasn’t until the end of my last failed IUI cycle that my doctor finally connected the dots and diagnosed me with endometriosis.
Being diagnosed with endometriosis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t stomach being told I had another “condition”. (See list above under Turning Point 2 for the whole gamut of diagnoses I was already dealing with.) Thankfully, I didn’t let myself sulk for too long before I came to the stark realization that I needed to heal myself before I could even think of raising a child. I ignored my endocrinologist’s instructions to take more meds to suppress my hormones in order to prepare for IVF and I left the fertility space in search of natural healing remedies to help me get my life back, or at the very least reduce my pain and get me out of bed.
I turned to physiotherapy in order to help break up the abdominal adhesions causing me so much pain, which you can read more about here. And finally I arrived at the AIP diet under the guidance of my naturopathic doctor. As an advocate for health and wellness, I decided I would take the next chapter of my life, this journey to healing, and share it as a means of freeing myself from all the “conditions” and diagnoses in hopes it will help other women find their way to healing too. It has been the sum of my health journey up to this point, that has led to the creation of AIP Nutrition.
[Disclaimer: It took me a very, very long time before I could find the courage to write about my health experiences. I'm taking a chance by sharing the ins-and-outs of my personal life in the hope that it will help others. I, myself, am grateful for all the strong individuals out there who have already shared their stories and who have served as the inspiration behind me sharing mine. Please be kind in your commentary and feel open to getting in touch with me through my contact page. Kindly, Amalia]