Within days of receiving my Hashimoto’s diagnosis three years ago, I plunged straight into the full Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP). For the uninitiated, the AIP is a diet and lifestyle designed to reduce inflammation and help manage autoimmune disease. It begins with an intensive elimination phase, followed (months later) by a methodical reintroduction phase. The list of no-go foods (gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshades, sugar, coffee) can be daunting. But the true focus of the diet is on maximizing nutrient density by adding foods in (organ meats, bone broth, dark leafy vegetables). For most of us, it’s a profound shift. Undertaking this when I was at my lowest, struggling with debilitating fatigue and extreme brain fog, was
too much? insane? the only way out? a heavy lift. But I was in.
My Struggle With Expectations
You might think the fact that I was once a professional cook would be an asset. Well, it was and it wasn’t. For someone who regularly served friends a choice of two desserts, eliminating entire food categories was unmooring. My repertoire was suddenly useless, and resigning myself to serving safe but stultifying meals was not an option. Chicken breasts and steamed broccoli are not my love language. I had already lost my health, I couldn’t sacrifice my self-expression, too.
In other words, I was going to make this as hard for myself as possible.
What followed was a period of intense struggle and over-engineering. Bitterness was regularly on the menu. By refusing to ‘settle’, I overcomplicated my kitchen and my life at a time I could least tolerate additional stress or exertion. I allowed myself no ramp-up time and gave myself no grace. Despite having removed nearly every culinary building block I’d learned to work with, I expected myself to be proficient – no, an expert – in this new way of cooking instantly. In hindsight, it seems both cruel and ironic. Without self-compassion, there can be no healing. And I was flogging myself in a frenzied quest for the perfect healing – and tasting – diet.
A Mindset Shift
And yet… there was also empowerment in choosing this path. For the first time in my life, I was utterly committed to my own wellbeing. I stuck with something difficult and never once fell off the wagon. New words filtered into my narrative: disciplined, consistent, prepared. And the better I felt about myself, the better I felt, full-stop. Slowly if not steadily, my medication kicked in, my skills expanded, and my symptoms (many of them) receded. I reintroduced some key foods (eggs, nuts, coffee) and developed enough of a new repertoire to reclaim cooking as an expression of joy. I hosted Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And my husband’s 50th. And no one blinked at my modified-AIP offerings. I was back.
For day to day life, I eventually settled into a simple routine that provided diversity and ease without ever tasting like compromise. And that – long story long – is what I want to share with you here.
Ready for it? Three years of thrashing, growing, and reinvention can be boiled down to this:
Make a sauce.
Make a soup.
Roast some vegetables.
The soup is lunch. Or dinner. Or, if you’re Eileen from Phoenix Helix, breakfast. Make more than one if your ambitions stretch that far – they’re easy. This one and this one are on permanent rotation at my place. Roast vegetables are a culinary chameleon and any combination will do. I like these. They can form the base of a Buddha bowl, the filling for an omelet, the topping on a pizza, be tossed with some zoodles, jammed into a cassava tortilla for tacos, or simply enjoyed with your sauce. Having a good sauce on hand elevates even the most humble ingredients. I like this one – it goes with everything – or try any of these SEVEN from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks.
For extra credit, you could also:
- Roast a chicken or slow-cook some meat
- Pre-cook some cauliflower rice (or buy frozen)
- Toast some nuts (or buy dry roasted nuts)
- Wash, prep, and store (or buy ready-to-use) lettuce and greens
- Stock your freezer with frozen fruit and greens
- Keep several avocados, in varying degrees of ripeness, on hand
With some or all of these elements in place, your options expand exponentially. Smoothies, salads, and stir-frys are suddenly a matter of pulling things together – not starting from scratch.
But whatever you do, don’t stress. Your gut and your brain are connected – you can save both by cutting yourself a little slack. You are not a contestant on Top Chef. No one is going to vote you off the island (or love you less) if you repeat a meal or dish-up leftovers or (gasp) get take-out. Instead, put that energy into breathing. Or dancing. Or walking, or reading, or anything else that fills you up.
Nourishment comes in many forms and not all of them fit on the end of a fork.