In my experience, two things are important during hard times:
- Prevention &
- Harm Reduction.
This has been consistently validated during my 20+ year career working with vulnerable & resilient people, and it seems to apply to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), too.
My mum died on August 1st.
Not entirely unexpectedly.
We had just found out she had terminal throat cancer. Or, we had just found out the throat cancer she’d been battling for a year was still advancing aggressively. We thought she had about 3 months to live & she definitely wanted to be at home. She wanted to write one more book of poetry & was furiously working on completing poems in between the radiation treatments that were supposed to have bought her the time to complete it.
I’d just finished setting up her house for end-of-life care & had spent the day trying to make the hospital bed in her living room look as much like an elegant, literary Gibson Girl’s day bed as possible. Because she was not going to go gently into that good night.
My sister and my dad were concerned that she’d be wroth to have a hospital bed the house, even though she clearly needed one. But all those tricky palliative considerations turned out to be unnecessary, because she died in the car on the way home from the hospital.
Anyone who has experienced the death of a close family member knows that you are immediately presented with contradictory tasks: disabling grief & the need to make myriad practical arrangements.
I decided to use prevention & harm reduction to assist me with both.
- I decided to simplify my eating & (mostly) joined Matthew on his low-FODMAP version of the AIP. I say mostly because I ate avocados, which are high FODMAP (they contain sorbitol). Though I’d been in ketosis on the Wahls Paleo Plus for 3½ months and was loving it, I knew it would be too difficult to keep up two versions of the AIP, in addition to the SAD proclivities of our teenagers.
- I also knew that bone broth was going to be my #1 preventative ally & I made sure the freezer was well-stocked with bones & the stock pot was actively turning those bones into broth.
- We got really simple about food & ate greens cooked in bone broth with steak for most meals for the first week or so. I added avocado & Matthew added green banana (for resistant starch) or blueberries (for fun).
- I decided to utilize all the dietary & non-dietary hacks that contribute to high performance workdays including: ample sleep, lots of water, daily exercise (walking counts!), spending time in the sun, daily skin care & oil pulling. I noticed I was forgetting to hydrate so I started making big pots of licorice tea that would just hang out steeping on the counter. When cool, I poured it into mason jars & I’d remember to drink it.
After prevention, harm reduction was my next consideration.
Anything to do with my mum is particularly triggering for me in terms of food. She was an alcoholic for most of my life, and as many adult children of alcoholics do, I have longstanding issues that I need to be particularly attentive to in times of stress.
Previous to going paleo, I had a carbohydrate addiction that was very problematic. One of the ways it was problematic was that it worked. Not well. And not really. But carbohydrates enabled me to manage my emotions in the moment, while exacerbating and compounding all my problems in the long term.
It’s the lure of the short-term effectiveness of self-medicating with carbohydrates that I still need to be wary of in times of stress.
Harm reduction isn’t about denying your needs. It’s about limiting the harm you do to yourself while attempting to meet them.
- First off, I paid close attention to what I was craving, and surprisingly, once I was off the higher-fat ketogenic diet, I craved fat, not carbohydrates. I’d find myself fantasizing about that gorgeous layer of grass-fed fat you find in short ribs. So, my #1 harm reduction strategy was indulging this craving with SPCA-certified short ribs. Rather frequently. (SPCA-certified short ribs do no harm nutritionally, just a little bit financially).
- But I wasn’t adverse to some carbohydrate indulgences either. It happened to be peach season. And peaches are my favorite fruit. There is almost nothing more divine that a bowl full of sliced peaches with blueberries topped with coconut cream. It’s in the realm of AIP, but it’s more sugar than I usually consume. But the coconut cream, in addition to being heavenly, helps mitigate the sugar from the fruit.
- I also included turnips, rutabaga & green plantains. I was eating a little bit of turnip now & then while in ketosis, but for harm reduction purposes, I gave myself to permission to eat these foods if and when I wanted them. They were comforting. And way less harmful than falling face-first into a bag of tortilla chips. Speaking of which, that’s what I mostly made from the green plantains: nachos.
I kept in mind that eating carbohydrates increases cravings for carbohydrates and tried to tune in to what would be most helpful for me in a given moment on a given day.
I’ve heard it takes a year.
We need to cycle through each season without our loved one before the grief fades. But already it is less acute.
I’m getting myself back into ketosis, because I prefer living that way.
I plan to gradually remove my harm reduction strategies, but retain most of my prevention strategies for awhile. I’m anticipating I may need to turn up the harm reduction on the weekend of September 6th & 7th, when we spread my mum’s ashes & celebrate her life.
Starting the day I learned she was not going to win her battle with cancer until the day she died, I worked on a blog to share her poetry. I don’t know if I will continue, as I was mostly doing it for her. Perhaps in time. Or maybe my sister will. In those days I posted 5 poems. You can find it here.