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Feeling Better, Feeling Worse

empathy

Claire and I started the Autoimmune Paleo protocol in July 2014. One of the things that I struggled with so much in the months that followed was the heightened response that we had to foods that we used to eat with what seemed like no problem. I used to eat almonds daily, but months and months would go by and each time I tried reintroducing them I would have symptoms – restless legs, pain in my shoulder or finger joints, tweaky pain in my inner ear, skin rashes.

The reason for this is that when we eat a trigger food constantly our body tries to cover up the reaction. The reaction is still happening, but we don’t notice it as much. When we remove that trigger food and the reaction stops, the cells that are responsible for covering up the reaction are replaced with new cells that no longer know how to cover up the reaction. If we eat the food after an elimination period, we experience the full force of our body’s pain and discomfort.

I also started learning about Non-Violent Communication and Empathy about six months before starting the AIP, in November 2013. The first time I received an empathy guess that really worked, I could feel my entire body shift. There was a lightness. I could sit up straighter. I felt like the world was a little brighter, like I woke up in that moment. I started practising empathy every week with an empathy buddy, and started learning to pay attention to how my emotions showed up in my bodily sensations.

Giving and receiving empathy was the emotional equivalent of doing the AIP. I started clearing out things that were causing pain, and feeling good more and more often. But the flip side was that now I was really feeling my emotions, way more intensely than before. The mechanisms that had been suppressing them had been dismantled, and now the full force of my emotional pain and discomfort was accessible to me.

There are days when this seems like it was a bad idea. When an accidental bite of red pepper results in headaches and joint pain. When a seemingly innocent remark from someone else results in a spiral of shame, anger and self-hate that takes days to resolve. What is the value of noticing that in its full glory?

There’s a saying in Psychotherapy – you have to feel it to heal it. And I would add that you also need to feel it in the supportive presence of someone who can hold the space for you, whether that person exists beside you in real time and space, or exists in your brain as the experience of being held in that way earlier in your life.

We can’t heal triggers that we don’t know are there, whether they are food or emotional. It takes time, and self-care, and patience. The process is subtle and gradual sometimes. But eventually foods that used to be triggers are digested easily. And situations that used to cause emotional distress are navigated with ease.

I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m on my way.

 

 

 

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Teaching Kids About Personal Boundaries

I’ve been thinking a lot about healthy relationships lately, and as often happens when I’m really focused on something, I’m seeing it pop up everywhere around me. Right now that thing is personal boundaries.

What are boundaries? Personal boundaries are the ability to take responsibility for your own emotions, and to not take responsibility for the emotions of others. My husband sent me this article about boundaries, and it’s a great overview of what boundaries look like in adult relationships such as a partnership, friendship or work relationship. It really started the wheels turning in my head and got me thinking about my own ability to maintain healthy boundaries.

But you know what? Kids can have healthy or unhealthy boundaries too. They learn this implicitly, of course, by being in relationship with their parents and other adults of influence in their lives.

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The other day I got a crash course in my own kids’ personal boundaries. I came upstairs to ask the girls to turn off their computer games, and this request triggered intense screaming and anger from my youngest, who is 6. I mean, yes, I understand that she’d rather keep playing Minecraft or Crayon Physics, but this was life-or-death shrieking and rage. I also know that extreme over-reaction = a pretty good clue that something deeper is at play, but at this point my willingness to stay and find out what was really going on was low. Like pretty much non-existent. I closed the door and let her rage for a few minutes while I rode through my own emotions: (frustration, anger, violent thoughts, desire to check out and do something else, guilt at leaving her alone in her big emotions). When I was ready I went back to her and checked in to see what was going on.

Turns out that Claire had followed Bea’s suggestions of what game to play and which things to do while she was playing, and then handed over her game to her sister for a considerable amount of their allotted screen time so that Bea could help her get through some tricky levels. “Bea is being mean!” she screamed. “I didn’t really want to play that game but I said yes because she asked me! I thought she would be mad if I didn’t let her play! AHHHHHHHHH!”

Hello, opportunity to learn about boundaries.

In order to not allow others to overstep your boundaries you need a few things:

  1. to actually know what you want
  2. to believe that you are allowed to choose for yourself and that it’s safe and OK to get what you want
  3. to be able to check in and see if a request from someone else matches up with your own wishes, or if it is something you can freely give with joy

This is what Claire needed to be able to do. She gave in to her sister’s request because she wanted to “be nice”, but then she was ultimately disappointed that she didn’t get her full amount of time to play her own game. Sound familiar?? I’ve been here myself for sure.

The flip side of boundaries is knowing how to find your own power without overstepping the boundaries of others. This requires a few things too:

  1. to actually know what you want
  2. to believe that everyone has the right to self-determination and is entitled to make their own decisions
  3. to be able to take responsibility for fixing your own problems and owning your own feelings, without trying to fix others or getting them to fix you

Once you start looking, you might see blurry boundaries in all kind of relationships. They often come in pairs:

  • the victim and the fixer
  • the giver and the taker
  • the controller and the doormat
  • whenever you get sucked into being “guilt-tripped”

Blurry boundaries can be cultural, and can also be inherited from our own families of origin. If you notice this kind of intergenerational pattern, be gentle with yourself. When we are small we adapt to fit what our family expects of us, and this is something our brains do to protect us. It keeps us safe when we are small, but can be stifling when we grow up and then feel stuck in those same patterns. In order to break the pattern we need to be able to notice that it’s safe to make different choices now, and then practice doing that in a safe environment with supportive people.

It can feel somewhat cold or uncaring to think about setting good boundaries, but unless we are truly giving out of joy and receiving with gratitude, resentment and a feeling of dis-empowerment can build up in our relationships over time. Good boundaries are a source of personal strength and self-esteem, and help us take responsibility for the direction of our lives. Goodness knows those are things I want for my kids, and things I’m working towards for myself too.

 

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2016: The Year of Heart

winter sun ice crystals

The past couple of years I’ve chosen a single word as an intention for the year ahead instead of making resolutions. For me, lists of goals and resolutions are easily abandoned, but a single word follows me through the year in a more fluid way. I also find it easier to hold a single word more lightly, letting it be a guide but not something that determines my success or failure.

2014 was the year of Harvest, which unfolded as a year of working to improve my follow-through on projects and gratitude for the bounty in my life.

2015 was the year of Practice, which kicked my butt in many ways. Practice is hard work! But I loved having Practice as my intention because it wasn’t about being successful, it was just about getting in there and working at it. If I was honestly trying, I was practising. In fact, Practice was such a great intention word that I considered keeping it for a second year in a row. I never really want to give up my practice. So this year’s word is layered over top.

2016 is my year of Heart. As I was reflecting on possible words and intentions to choose for this year ahead, the word Heart came up and I simultaneously felt a strong draw and resistance to it. That’s my cue to dig in. Well, I sat with that resistance for a few days before deciding, but that mix of strong feelings usually means I have something juicy to learn there.

Why the resistance, I wondered? Isn’t Heart a lovely thing to focus on for a year?

Yes, some things in the heart are lovely and warm and sweet. But there’s also vulnerability and hurt and smallness. There’s honesty. And pain sometimes. There aren’t really many places to hide when your heart is out there in the world.

This is my practice.

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A pause at the end of an exhalation

bea_claire_mouse_park_bridge

These days around the solstice feel like they are suspended outside of time. Like the moment between the end of an exhalation and the beginning of an inhalation; a pause at the turning of the cycle.

bea_claire_radar_hill

2015 was my year of Practice. I practised a lot of things: being vulnerable, tuning into my emotions, playing the ukulele, singing, giving empathy, showing up truthfully, working through conflict, doing yoga. I cried a lot. I came face to face with a lot of my own stuff. It was hard.

I also made a lot of progress. One day my heels actually touched the ground during downward dog. Another day I was able to ask for a specific kind of emotional support when I was really hurting and actually felt better afterwards.

Woah. Growth is possible. Healing is possible.

Practice actually works.

claire_hamming_it_up

I feel like 2016 is going to be a turning point. I’m already feeling the shift out of little-kid land. Claire’s got her big teeth now, and the girls have a checklist on the fridge of things they each need to do before they can play Minecraft. Bea’s going to go to school part-time starting in January. I’m registered to take Psych 388 Introduction to Counselling by distance education starting in January.

I’m starting to feel the first twinges of nostalgia for the days of play-doh and afternoon naps. But I’m trying not to linger there, because then I might miss fully living these days that have their own kind of magic.

frozen_droplet

I’ve been mulling over what my word for 2016 will be. Honestly, I feel like Practice could be my word for the next 10 years and I would still be reaping the benefits. What else is there to do but continually practice?

bea_claire_m_christmas_day_walk

That’s what these in-between days are for. Mulling. Celebrating. Resting. Taking stock and setting new intentions.

A pause before the next inhalation begins.

bea_soft_focus

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How to do the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)

aip step by step

Ok, folks. Here is where the lines of parenting blog/food blog/whole-life wellness blog really start getting blurred. You may know that I started out focused on slings and baby-led weaning, and over the years my focus has shifted to other things. Well, a big part of those other things is eating an Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP). This post isn’t so much about parenting, except in the way that anything can be about parenting when you are making choices that affect your kids. But it’s been a key part of my life for the past year or so, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when doing the AIP. I’d love to share that with my readers and anyone else who could benefit from a whole-life approach to wellness, so here’s a very non-parenting post for The Parent Vortex.

What is the Autoimmune Paleo Approach?

The Autoimmune Paleo Approach (also called the Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP) is a multifaceted strategy for managing autoimmune illness. This includes a very specific diet that focuses on eating the most nutrient-dense meals possible while excluding specific foods that trigger an immune response. Other aspects include stress reduction, increasing sleep quality, getting good social connection and healthy levels of exercise.

My daughter and I started doing the AIP even though we didn’t have diagnosable autoimmune diseases because we were experiencing ever-increasing food sensitivities, as well as other symptoms that I learned were autoimmune related, such as restless legs and joint pain, difficulty concentrating and poor memory. My intention was to heal our guts to the point where we would be able to reintroduce many of the foods that were causing sensitivities for us.

What Makes the AIP work?

The AIP works by healing the person as a whole. Each component of the AIP approach contributes to reducing inflammation and immune-mediated responses, and has research to back it up. If you want to understand the scientific nuts and bolts behind the AIP, the best resource for you is Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. It is basically the textbook on how to do the AIP and why it works. Even if you don’t want to understand the science behind it to that degree (it is a very detailed book!), it’s important to know the high-level theory at least, because the AIP won’t be effective if you are missing key components, and it’s a heck of a lot of work to do the AIP and not have it be effective!

Here are the key components of the AIP approach, and the reason why each component is a key piece in the whole puzzle.

Food – The AIP removes all foods that trigger inflammation or immune responses, and replaces them with nutrient dense foods that facilitate gut healing. The elimination part is where we often focus our energy at first, and it is important to make sure you’re really 100% when doing eliminations because the inflammation and immune responses won’t fully calm down until you remove all food triggers. But adding in nutrient dense foods like bone broth and liver is also really, really important because your body needs the specific nutrients found in those foods to fuel the healing process. This AIP food pyramid is a good visual aid.

Eliminate: grains, legumes, nuts, seeds (including seed oils like canola oil), dairy, eggs, nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplants), coffee and alcohol

Include: a wide variety of vegetables, fruit in moderation, seafood, meat, poultry (pastured, grassfed and free-range if you can manage it), bone broth, organ meats, fermented foods and coconut

Stress Reduction – Stress alone can trigger an inflammation response, so managing stress is an important part of the AIP. I have found in my own experience that emotional stress is particularly likely to trigger my autoimmune symptoms, especially the emotions of anger and despair, even when I’ve been 100% compliant with food. What can you do to manage emotions like these? Everybody has different strategies that work for them, but things like talking to a trusted friend, counsellor or empathy buddy can help manage emotional stress in a healthy way. Other options include things like meditation, yoga, heartmath, emotional freedom technique (EFT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Eileen at Phoenix Helix likes colouring in fancy colouring books as a stress management strategy. You may also find that you need to make different choices around work or relationships in order to reduce your stress. A really key part of healing an autoimmune illness is learning to have warmth and positive regard for yourself, and learning to have compassion and understanding for that voice of harsh self-criticism that many of us have. When the body is attacking itself physically, there is often attacking and self-hate going on emotionally as well. Resolving stress and difficult emotions in a healthy way is a key step to healing both physical and emotional self-attacking.

Sleep – Our bodies need sleep in order to heal, so learning how to get a good night’s sleep is important for the healing process. When you first start the AIP, you may find that you need much more sleep than usual while your body starts doing lots of intense healing. Good sleep hygiene increases the chances of getting a solid sleep, including avoiding electronic screens in the hour or two before bed, having a winding-down ritual and removing any artificial lights from your bedroom.

Social Connection – Positive social connections are protective for our health in so many ways. If you struggle with this piece of the AIP, look for one small way that you can get involved with others doing something meaningful. I love singing with others but didn’t have an outlet, so I joined a local song circle. No performances, just happy singing and connection with other people. It feeds my soul every week. Your meaningful connection might be different – maybe dance, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or helping your neighbour walk their dog? I have also found my local Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community to be a good source of positive social connection.

Exercise – Exercise on the AIP is all about being just like Goldilocks – you want it to be just right. Exercising too intensely can also trigger inflammation and an immune response, so it’s best to avoid really high intensity workouts in favour of less intense, whole body movement. Some AIP folks love CrossFit, others prefer walking, yoga, swimming or other low-impact forms of exercise. I’ve been loving the online yoga classes at YogaGlo lately – affordable, convenient and there are so many classes that I can find lots that are just the right fit for me.

What doesn’t work on the AIP?

The AIP works when you stick to the guidelines 100% until you notice an improvement in your symptoms, then start doing food reintroductions slowly and methodically. This way your body has a chance to calm down the immune response, reduce the inflammation, and get started on gut healing before you reintroduce any foods that could potentially cause a reaction. It won’t work to take an 80/20 approach to the AIP, or to only eliminate a few of the food groups and continue eating others. Likewise with the various components – if you’ve got the food dialled in 100% but you are under a tremendous amount of stress, never exercise and rarely get enough sleep, your body won’t have a chance to actually heal.

The aim is to have a body and mind that is in “rest and digest” mode instead of “fight or flight” mode most of the time. All of the components of the AIP work together to help you get to and stay in rest and digest as much as possible.

Holy crap, that sounds like a lot of work. How can I make it easier?

The practical side of the AIP is that it involves a LOT of cooking from scratch, and a LOT of focus on self-care. For many people, this is totally new. We live in a culture that glorifies busy and assumes that we can be independent and should be looking after other people’s needs instead of our own. But the reality of the AIP is that it takes a good bit of slowing down to cook well and take care of yourself every day.

There are ways to reduce the workload and time spent in the kitchen, such as batch cooking, which can be a lifesaver when it comes to busy weeknights. You will most likely work out your own ways to make food prep more efficient over time and as you get to know the foods that work best for you. But the reality is that no matter which way you look at it, you will be trading in convenience foods for whole foods prepared by hand, and that will simply take an investment of time each week. Try to think of it as an investment of self-love every time you carefully prepare something that is delicious and nourishing for your body and soul.

Overall the AIP has been a life-changing experience for me. Not only have I identified the specific foods that don’t agree with me and healed to the point where I have reintroduced some foods that used to cause reactions and now don’t, I’ve learned that it’s OK to prioritise my own health and wellbeing. It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to not eat out at restaurants or order pizza in, and it’s OK to choose only those things that really nourish me. It certainly wasn’t easy, especially in those first few weeks, and especially in a mixed-diet household, but it has definitely been worthwhile.

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