85 Amazing AIP Breakfasts! + Sneak Preview Recipe!

The community of AIP bloggers has been sneaking around the past few months using their magical powers to create our new e-book 85 Amazing AIP Breakfasts! Eileen from Phoenix Helix contacted us about the project, and we all jumped on board immediately because HELLO, breakfast is EVERYONE’S favorite meal of the day. And we greedily wanted new ideas for ourselves too! What did you grow up eating? Breakfast was the only meal where I’m embarrassed to say my mother failed us. Sorry, mum, I know you were busy worrying about lunch, snacks, dinner, soccer practices, and your own career! I don’t blame you for sending us off to school with a bowl of cereal, Pop Tarts, or my personal favorite creation: Sugar Toast. Yes, at age 6 years old, I would make my own breakfast and it looked like this: two pieces of fresh-baked white bread toasted and topped with butter and a sprinkle of white sugar AND brown sugar. Too funny. You see where my sweet tooth comes in right?

As an adult, breakfast means nutrition, energy, and mood control. It is still my favorite meal of the day, but now it’s almost always meat and veggies. But sometimes I still get that hankering from something sweet, carb-y, and bread-y in the morning! And on AIP – what do you do? You thank your lucky stars that the AIP community has done all the leg work. With this e-book, which you can get for only $12.95, you’re going to find 85 recipes divided into the 6 categories below. I also included some of my favorite recipes from the book below!


  • Beverages: Herbal Coffee, Vanilla, Cappuccino, Spiced Banana Collagen Shake, and more!
  • Bowls: 6 flavors of porridge including Apple, Pumpkin, and more! Biscuits & Gravy and even Sweet Potato Muffins in Bacon Bowls!
  • Skillets: Cinnamon Pork & Apple Skillet, Bison Bacon Pomegranate Skillet, and Sweet Potato Apple and Pancetta Hash, and more!
  • Soups: Greek Gyro Soup, Slow Cooker Breakfast Stew, Nourishing Whole Chicken Soup, and more!
  • Patties: Apple Pie Pork Patties, Turkey Breakfast Stack, Spicy Sausage Patties, and more!
  • Pancakes & more: Pumpkin Spice Pancakes, Silver Dollar Carob Pancakes, Cinnamon Crumb Cakes, Cinnamon Raisin Rolls, Fig & Citrus Hand Pies, and more!





To whet your whistle (although the above recipes already did I’m sure), I also wanted to share with you a recipe from the book for the Breakfast Stack by Jo from Comfort Bites.

AIP Breakfast Stack

4 servings


4 slices AIP-friendly bacon

1 pound ground turkey

1 medium zucchini, grated coarsely

1/4 teaspoon dried sage

couple of pinches of salt

coconut oil (if needed)

4 large flat mushrooms, stalks removed

2 medium avocados, stone and skin removed

juice of one small lemon

rocket or watercress leaves


1. Fry bacon in a large, dry skillet over medium heat until crispy. Set bacon aside. Leave fat in pan.

2. In a bowl, blend the turkey, zucchini, sage and a pinch of salt. Form into 6 patties. Refrigerate 2 for a snack later; cook 4 now.

3. If there’s not enough bacon fat in the skillet, add a little coconut oil. Cook patties 5-6 minutes per side. Check they are fully cooked throughout and then remove from pan and set aside.

4. Add mushrooms to skillet along with a splash of water. Cook a few minutes each side, until they turn golden. Turn off the heat.

5. Quickly mash the avocado flesh together with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice.

6. To assemble: place the upturned mushroom on a plate and arrange a small tangle of the watercress or rocket leaves on top. Place the turkey and zucchini patty on top of that and finish with a spoonful of guacamole and a slice of bacon. Eat while hot.

Paleo Date-Filled Arabic Cookies (Ma’amoul)

Growing up with a Lebanese father and very traditional Lebanese extended family, our holidays and celebrations were founded on the four major food groups: hummus, tabbouleh, roast chicken, and ma’amoul. Ma’amoul is a very traditional Arabic cookie made from semolina and butter and filled with a variety of sweets like dates, walnuts, and pistachios. The cookie is a dense, crumbly shortbread-like exterior with a sweet, orange-blossom or rose-water scented filling.


Have you tried orange blossom before? It is such a delightful eating experience. The smell of it alone reminds me of sunshine and butterflies but it’s unique flowery taste is something to be remembered. You can find it at nice spice stores or at Middle Eastern grocers (or via the Amazon link in the recipe below). My Paleo version of these cookies uses almond flour, coconut flour, and palm shortening, and is less dense and more soft than traditional ma’amoul, but the flavors are still spot-on and bring me back to childhood.


I am so excited to share this recipe with you guys, and especially with my fellow Middle Easterners who don’t have to go through another holiday season without their beloved ma’amoul. The decorative cookie is formed using a tabi, a beautiful wooden cookie mold. You can find a similar one on Amazon HERE. If you don’t have a cookie mold, you can use the directions below and maybe hand carve some pretty decorations into your molded cookie dough with a butter knife? You know – the ancient art of cookie decorating is making a comeback. Which reminds me: why haven’t hipsters made the cookie the new “It” food yet? Poor cookies got beat out by cronuts and waffle sandwiches.


Paleo Date-Filled Arabic Cookies (Ma’amoul)

Makes 8 cookies | Prep Time 20 minutes | Cook Time 17 minutes

Date Filling

12 large Medjool dates, pitted

2 T unsweetened coconut flakes

1 tsp orange zest

1 tsp orange blossom water

1 T water

Pinch sea salt


1 ½ c almond flour (I use Honeyville brand)

2 T coconut flour

½ cup palm shortening

1 T gelatin

1 tsp orange blossom water

¼ tsp cinnamon

Pinch sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a baking sheet lightly with palm shortening.
  2. Place Date Filling ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside. Wipe the processor clean.
  3. Place Cookie ingredients in the food processor and process until a dough forms, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides if needed and process a few seconds longer. Remove dough from processor and form into a large ball.
  4. Divide dough ball into 8 even pieces. Flatten each piece of dough in the palm of your hand into 3-inch circles. Place 1 T date filling in the center and fold the dough over the date mixture. Pinch closed to cover the date filling and gently roll the cookie in your hands to form a ball (the date mixture should stay on the inside).
  5. If using a tabi, press dough ball gentle into mold and tap on counter to transfer it to the baking sheet. If not using a tabi, press dough into an ice cream scoop to form a mound shape and release onto the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining 7 pieces of dough.
  6. Bake 325 degrees for 17 minutes until the bottom is golden brown and the tops of the cookie are lightly browned. Let cool to room temperature completely before serving. Serve at room temperature or cold. I like them straight out of the freezer (they don’t freeze solid).

Garlic Fried Chicken Livers (Paleo, AIP, Whole30, 21dsd)



Chicken livers are my favorite organ meat because they are the most mild and versatile. Beef liver, even when hidden in bacon, mushrooms, and herbs, still is undoable for me. And I’ve had it a lot. It just never gets any better. Maybe my taste buds will change soon for it.


I’m currently homeless. The apartment complex that was supposed to house me for 3 months in Atlanta decided they actually don’t have a furnished unit for us even though I start my new job in 10 days. This is going to be a real holiday treat trying to find last minute housing and furniture. I’ve had the worst luck lately with poor customer service. I guess it’s not really bad luck but a testament to how inefficient the service industry has become. Sigh. I cannot wait to be a homeowner, even though that has its own issues, at least you have a bit more control.


Well, what I can control right now is my breathing. And writing helps me get my mind off crappy life events. I enjoyed a big bowl of these yummy garlic-fried chicken livers with my pup last week on the balcony. One for me, one for him. He maxed out at two though. What a wimpy doodle.


These pan-friend chicken livers will convert organ meat haters! And you can’t beat the nutrition of offal!



1 review

Garlic Fried Chicken Livers

Preparation 00:10 2017-08-21T00:10:00+00:00 Cook Time 00:00 2017-08-21T00:00:00+00:00


  • 1 lb pastured chicken livers
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Coconut oil for frying
  • Sliced lemons and parsley for serving


  1. Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add chicken livers and toss to coat evenly.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in large deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken livers to the pan, ensuring they do not touch, and let fry for 3 minutes. Flip and let cook 3 more minutes. Place on paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with the second half of chicken livers, adding more coconut oil to pan as needed.
  3. Serve with sliced lemons and a sprinkle of parsley.

The Beautiful Southwest & More AIP Travel Tips

paleo sedona

I think I have a new favorite region of the country: the southwest. I type this as I’m flying on Southwest Airlines (my favorite except for their terrible WiFi) to Florida for the holidays. We are going to spend a couple weeks with family and then off to Atlanta to start a new job. I’m excited for a milder winter, new experiences, and to reunite with some friends in the city. Anyone in the Atlanta area with some clean Paleo-friendly or healthy vegan (not junk food vegan) restaurant recommendations? If I can’t get high quality, organic protein in a restaurant, I go the vegan route because I can usually count on some local produce in those joints 🙂


Back to my experience in northern Arizona… what a beautiful state! We spent time in Flagstaff (adorable downtown area with great local shopping), Sedona (purely magical and moving), and Scottsdale (right in the Camelback mountain range.. insane sunsets). Even though we were on vacation, we didn’t spend too much time relaxing. Just not in either of our DNAs, but a rainy and foggy morning in Scottsdale forced us inside, and I spent a solid 3 hours lounging on the covered balcony watching the fog and showers come over the mountains. It was breathtaking and reminded me of Hawaii. Rather pictures of Hawaii – never been there.


If you’re ever in Arizona, the drive from Flagstaff down to Sedona on AZ-89a through the canyons is breathtaking and a can’t miss. We rented a convertible white Mustang, so we could drop the top and get full panoramic views of our surroundings. Lots of hiking, most of it quite challenging actually, especially Echo Canyon which is a steep 600+ foot climb with lots of bouldering required. We did it on a rainy night as the sun was coming down, so slippery rocks and darkness were against us, but it made the descent so much more rewarding and fun! Completely exhausted and starving from a day of travel, we headed to the local Whole Foods for a feast at the hot/cold bar. I found a locally made Paleo energy bar called RBar (contains pecans) that I really enjoyed and roasted Brussels sprouts the size of my fist. I bought my AIP go-to Whole Foods protein: an organic, naked rotisserie chicken. Shredded a leg quarter up over salad and called it a meal. The RBars saved my butt the next day when we attempted the other side of Camelback and while almost at the peak my body said “feed me NOW” and I stopped for a snack break to take in the views while my husband finished the climb (I had already been up there the night prior). On our way down we were blessed with a double rainbow, one of many “lucky” symbols we experienced during our trip including a full moon on our last night (it was our belated honeymoon after all), and some odd recurring numbers.


A small electric grill we used to cook up some grass fed ground beef from Whole Foods in our hotel bathroom. Yeah, I’m THAT committed to not eating poor quality meat! You can buy it on Amazon . I packed it in my carry-on, and it took up as much room as a pair of shoes. My burger was cooked perfectly but clean-up took a few extra minutes (worth it!)


I’m not a totally hippie, but I do enjoy the occasional numerology or astrology reference, so I fit right in with the Sedona New Age scene. In fact, I frequented a hippie-friendly vegan restaurant called Chocolatree that was so incredibly accommodating to my needs that I ate there for both of my meals each day. Each time I went, I was overcome with a calm, spiritual, and grateful feeling. The energy in that place is one-of-a-kind and even my naturally anxious partner was instantly calmed by it. I ordered the organic coffee blended with homemade coconut milk and local honey, a lovely beet & green juice, and a huge salad with local-picked steamed veggies and massaged kale and sprouts at each meal. The chocolates at Chocolatree are handmade with the highest quality ingredients (NO soy in the entire restaurant), many lightly sweetened with honey, and interesting ingredients like bee pollen and lavender. I cannot say enough about how warm and peaceful I felt inside that little gem.  Traveling is always slightly stressful and my AI and histamine intolerance symptoms act up on when I’m on vacation, so I try to eat as nutrient-dense as possible with TONS of veggies. I usually just do 2 meals a day to keep it simple and take the stress out of sourcing a 3rd meal.


One night we visited the restaurant at our hotel for a custom AIP 3-course meal. I called the restaurant in advance so I could make an appointment to meet with the chef. A young, slightly nervous guy named Michael graciously visited with us in person for 15 minutes to knock out a menu. He told me what fresh local produce he had available as well as grass fed and pastured meats. We settled on a lovely meal of a Field Green, Asian Pear & Persimmon Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette, Root Vegetable Soup with Thyme, and Lamb Belly seared rare with rainbow carrots and diced rutabaga.



Back to those repeating numbers, we stayed in room 26 and 226 at both our resorts, I’m 26 years old, and our final hotel bill was $1,226.22 (again, honeymoon, don’t judge), which we were given JUST AS I was telling the receptionist how odd it was we kept getting “26”-ed on this trip. All of our restaurant bills were also divisible by 11 ($44.44, $55.55, $66.66), which I got a huge kick out of! In numerology the number “26” is related to the number “8”, which is my lucky number for many reasons. In numerology, 8 also relates to karma, which I am a mega believer in. “What goes around comes around” and “everything happens for a reason” are my two favored beliefs. I know – I’m a looney and a sucker for theories of fate.


If you haven’t made it to Arizona yet, you must add it to your bucket list! It was a dream trip, and I was so happy to share some tiny moments with my Instagram followers and now my blog readers.Here are a few more photos to close out the post. Enjoy!









Peppermint Fudge (AIP & Paleo Versions)



I won’t hit you over the head with the blatant fact that AIP during the holidays is rough stuff. If I could give you one word of advice it is ALWAYS have something delicious on hand so you don’t feel like you’re being deprived. If delicious equals fudge to you, than say FUDGE IT, and purse these babies up. I sneak purse food at really inappopriate times (i.e. conversations with acquaintances, on the train, as I’m paying for a hot tea at the cafe and stumble across it).


We had another amazing “Goodbye Chicago!” dinner at Publican tonight with two close friends. A bounty of pork rinds, three kinds of ham, oysters, porchetta, venison, and vegetables graced our lips. If there’s one thing I’ll miss about this city, it’s the food options. If there’s two things I’ll miss about it are the memories we have made here, friends we have met, and heck it’s where we got married, so Chicago will always have a very special place in my heart.


I have a funny confession, and this is to show you, no one is perfect. Not your everyday AIP blogger. Not your momma. Not your puppy (okay, yes he is). Back in October during my sister’s bachelorette party, I had one drink at dinner, which of course did more than take the edge off but gave me quite a nice little tipsy-tipsy since I never, ever drink. I had to get cash for a bar, so I ran across the street to use the CVS ATM, but I also was suddenly stricken with the munchies. I rationalized with myself that one Kind bar wasn’t going to hurt a fly. I can’t tell you how giggly I was buying the sulfite, soy-free one (I read every single of the 20 flavors packages to find the least offensive one… just imagine a tipsy girl doing this in a Manhattan CVS late at night) because I felt like such an OUTLAW. Well, I enjoyed my dang Kind bar (I used to eat them all the time a few years ago) and my first and only VERY-non AIP food to date and thought nothing of it. No reaction because I’m not allergic to any of the ingredients, I just choose to avoid that processed crapola as much as possible. Anyways, this story is getting stoopid long. Fast forward to present times, and I’m making this horrified Kind Bar divulgence to my husband, and his response was along the lines of a very sarcastic “wow, better go to confessional as soon as possible you horrendous human. you should be ashamed and disgusted with yourself.” His humor and frankly spot-on response put it all in perspective once again.


Point being: LIFE HAPPENS. That doesn’t mean you should stray from AIP for any ol’ reason. Heck no. It’s very clear that if you want maximum healing, you should give the elimination phase your ALL, 100%. Don’t half-arse it. It ain’t gonna work. But what this silly story does mean is that you don’t need to condemn yourself to decades of restrictive eating. It’s easy to become tunnel-visioned on AIP because we have all gone through years of worsening health with no improvements and then we change our diets and “Wow”! Food is miraculous. But so are social activities and good sleep. This is a lifestyle and not a diet, and I cannot stress that enough. If you are going to treat yourself to anything this holiday season, please let it be forgiveness (and this fudge, whether it’s made with chocolate or carob!) You are not perfect and neither is anything in this world. You are pretty damn smart and insightful though if you managed to find my blog  in this midst of thousands and thousands of other food blogs that are hidden in the tomes of Google search results. Because that you means you love and respect yourself enough to further your health. For yourself, for your families, for your work, and your friends. You are to be ADMIRED! Sorry for my heavy hand with caps lock today. I’m just really excited to share my recipe.




Sweet & Tangy Pulled Pork




Pulled Pork cooked in cranberries for a tangy, sweet, unique Instant Pot main that will be on the table in a little over an hour!



I’ve been hitting a funky wall with recipe development lately. All of my creativity is being driven towards work right now… and finding creative ways to not go insane via lack of sleep.


Confession: I totally did some super cool Tae Bo moves in a closed bathroom stall the other day to wake me up. Don’t ask me why I didn’t stick with a standard wall sit or push-up, but my body just wanted a good ol’ Billy Blanks full body workout.


I remember doing his VHS workout tapes in middle school and wondering why the women’s abs looked like paper folded into an accordion during their flamboyant high knees. It’s because they had somewhere between 3.5 and 4% body fat. Clearly they needed more pork in their life at the time.


I shared on IG this Sunday a picture of my Instant Pot full of broth and rice. Every Sunday night, I pressure cook a large bone-in pork roast with 1-2 cups of water, fresh garlic, dried oregano, and sea salt for about 80 minutes using the same technique as this recipe calls for.


Then I remove the pork, shred it as much as I can, return it to the Pot with 1 T apple cider vinegar for another 10-20 minutes of pressure cooking, and it absorbs all the brothy goodness that has been created via the pork bones. The shredded pork is always extra juicy and flavorful this way, and I’ll toss in a variety of dried spices like cinnamon or cloves, fresh garlic, lime juice, or coconut aminos.


The bones don’t get discarded. I eat the most crumbly pieces (and share with my dog Rafael) and then I save the rest of the bones for next week’s batch to add extra flavor.


I use the leftover broth to cook a large pot of rice for my husband for the week, of which I have been sneaking small bowls in light of my recent reintroduction. I forgot how much I enjoy a few spoons of rice, and it finally doesn’t mess with my digestion anymore!


I realize we’ve exited cranberry season by now, so feel free to use frozen cranberries in this recipe OR change it up and use another kind of fruit. Cherries? Blueberries? Plums? They would all be fantastic here!



Pressure Cooker Sweet & Tangy Pulled Pork

Preparation :10 2017-08-21T00:00:00+00:00 Cook Time 1:10 2017-08-21T01:10:00+00:00 Serves 6     adjust servings


  • 2 lbs boneless pork roast
  • 1 tablespoon fat of choice
  • 12 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 10 oz bone broth of choice
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs of choice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves


  1. Set your Instant Pot to the sauté function. Pour fat of choice into the bottom of the pot and spread it around with a spatula. Salt pork generously on all sides and place in hot oil. Sear on each side, uncovered, for 2 minutes until lightly browned.
  2. Set the Instant Pot to the manual pressure cooker setting for 70 minutes. Add cranberries and broth to the bottom of pot, being sure not to "wash away" the salt off the pork. Sprinkle chopped herbs, apple cider vinegar and honey on top and close the lid. Cook undisturbed for full 70 minutes.
  3. Release the pressure using the release valve, remove the pork to a cutting board and use two fork to shred the pork. Place back in the Instant Pot, sprinkle with a pinch more sea salt, and set the manual option for another 10 minutes. This allows the shredded pork to absorb the broth, increasing it's moisture and flavor.
  4. Remove pork and cranberries from the liquid and place in a large serving dish. Toss with the cinnamon, garlic, and cloves and serve warm.

For Tacos: Serve in steamed kale, collard, or chard leaves with crispy sliced lettuce, avocado, cilantro, parsley, diced cucumber, jicama or beet matchsticks, coconut cream, and lime juice.

For Bowls: Serve with all the taco accoutrements over a bowl of cauliflower rice with guacamole & roasted zucchini.

Recipe Notes




Looking for more Instant Pot pulled meat recipes? Check out my Instant Pot Pineapple Chicken & Maple Bacon Balsamic Pulled Pork!

AIP Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream (Paleo)

Oh these made me one happy little gal. My recipe development method is a little obscure, but usually an idea pops in my head so late at night that it wouldn’t be logically sound to begin testing it at 10 pm. So then I bound out of bed and get busy in the kitchen as quickly as possible. I have this silly Type A thing where I want to nail something on the first try, and I often don’t have the food budget to be testing and re-testing recipes over and over again. Sometimes my first-try is spot-on, and I feel 100% comfortable sharing a recipe right away!


I used to make a similar cookie for my family every Christmas except they were more flat and round and the lemon creme was less fluffy and more tangy. These beat the socks off those flour & sugar filled cookies though! Can Christmas hurry up and get here so I can make these again!?


If you haven’t tried sweet potato flour yet, please do! It is by far my favorite AIP baking flour. It’s naturally sweet of course so lessens the need for added honey or maple, and it tastes a little caramel-y. No, it’s not cheap, but it’s for special occasions and because you’re wroth it. Maybelline. I have a couple other recipes using it for my Mini Blackberry Tarts and Tartelette au Sucre (both are really, really delicious!) I know, I know, this is another recipe using my all-time favorite ingredient Japanese yam. I can’t help it. It’s PERFECT for binding AIP recipes, adding creaminess and subtle sweetness, and very affordable. Sue me. Or just eat with me. Whatever sounds more pleasant and humane.


Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream [AIP]

Makes 8 sandwich cookies | Ready in

1 cup Zocalo brand sweet potato flour

1/3 cup arrowroot starch

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp sea salt

1 T grass fed gelatin (the kind that gels up)

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

¼ cup honey*

¼ c + 1 T coconut oil, melted

2 T palm shortening

*If using a raw honey, melt it first then measure ¼ cup liquid. I have not tried this recipe using maple syrup.

Lemon-Ginger Cream

1/3 cup mashed white sweet potato* (Japanese yam or California white sweet potato)

2/3 cup palm shortening

1 T honey

1 T lemon juice

1 tsp arrowroot starch

¼ tsp ground ginger

Small pinch sea salt

*I use this type of sweet potato in many of my recipes because of how versatile it is. It binds well, adds a nice sweetness without using natural sweeteners, and makes for a creamy end product. I realize it can be difficult to find, but you may have luck at your local Asian grocer, health food store, or co-op. Using regular sweet potato here will alter the flavor and texture.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients (first 7 ingredients listed) together in a medium size mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and use a spoon and your hands to mix well. The dough will be moist but crumbly.
  2. Using firm pressure, scoop tablespoon-size balls into a measuring spoon and gently place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You should be able to make 16 cookies. Flatten each cookie lightly with your palm. They will be about 2 inches in diameter.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes until the edges begin to lightly brown. Remove and let cool completely. Make the cream in the meantime.
  4. For Lemon-Ginger Cream:  Place all ingredients in a high powered blender or food processor and process on low until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times in between blending.
  5. Assemble Cookie Sandwiches: Spoon approx. 1 T of Lemon-Ginger Cream on the bottom of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies to make mini sandwiches. You may have leftover cream, which can be served with berries for an additional treat idea. Serve at room temperature.
  6. To Store: Store in a sealed container at room temperature up to 3 days or in a sealed container in the freezer up to 3 weeks.

AIP Balance Week | Day 4: Exercise

As a foreward, this photo was taken in September 2013 prior to the start of AIP while I was on a Paleo diet and at the height of my exercise  craze (I am very competitive with myself and quickly learning that is not the best trait for someone with AI!) I was transitioning between a career in advertising (which I ran away from as fast as I could thank goodness) and going back to school for a master’s in occupational therapy (a career I am very passionate about – woohoo!) I felt a little lost without my 9-5, and frankly I was bored attending school part-time and working part-time. I filled this void with a big fat helping of high intensity cardio and long distance running. I now weigh 20 lbs more than I did in this photo, and I can still do just as many box jumps and pushups as I could back then but I exercise much less and focus on a high-nutrient diet, relaxation, hobbies, and self-love. I don’t regret my past choices, but I have certainly learned how exercise at the wrong intensity and frequency can negatively affect any female, especially those with autoimmunity and leaky gut. If you don’t believe me, please read The Paleo Mom’s article  “Why Exercising Too Much Hurts Your Gut”

My enjoyment of physical activity can be attributed to a few factors. I think my constitution plays the biggest role: I am fiery, anxious, high energy, and a competitor at heart. I grew up playing soccer and enjoyed the slide tackles (not even legal) just as much as scoring a goal. Once I took my first boot-camp style class, I was hooked and loved (love) being the chick who can run the fastest, do the most burpees, or be the last to pass out in the grass after some heavy tire flips. Exercise is a HUGE part of my identity, and I intend for it to always stay that way, but while on AIP I have learned that it must be in balance with other areas of my life. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I also had to learn this the hard way about roasted marshmallows. 

I mentioned in my post earlier this week on infertility that exercise restriction played an important role in the restoration of my fertility. This allowed my body to gain the weight and fat I needed to menstruate again. It also helped me refocus my energy on eating nutrient and calorically dense AIP foods instead of thinking of food as fuel for my workouts. The past several months have been the first time since I was 14 years old that I went a day (or days and days) without exercise. I used to wake up at 5 am to get an hour workout in, no matter how fatigued I was from last night’s gym session or happy hour. I would work out when I had a head cold. I would spend vacations exercising in the morning instead of getting rest. I convinced myself that at least an hour a day of high intensity activity was necessary for me to maintain my “ideal” body composition. And you know what – it WAS necessary. I would not have been able to look as lean and toned as I used to without all of that dedication in the gym. Great. And what did I get out of it? 1) Envy of females who also have distorted views of beauty 2) Male disinterest – I looked like a little girl, let’s be real here. 3) Worsened leaky gut 4) Amenorrhea 5) Anxiety if I couldn’t exercise.  Any of that sound healthy to you? Since focusing on more important things in life, namely my health, marriage, personal growth, and friendships, I have also spent a good amount of time reflecting on why I felt the need to overindulge in exercise. For one, I have an anxious personality and used exercise as a way to manage stress, but then I spent a percentage of my day worrying about whether or not I would have time to work out. Great, that makes a lot of sense. Next, I’m a sucker for dopamine rushes. I am known for giggle attacks, hyperactivity, crossing boundaries and spontaneity. Really, if there is a boundary, I am on the other side. If I make a goal for myself, I have to surpass it and in half the time I aimed for it to take. I have difficulty just being and this manifests in a lack of stillness. My brain saw the runner’s high as positive reinforcement and there’s only one way to break a behavioral response: take away the stimulus. Lastly, I’m habitual and use these habits to unconsciously manage my anxiousness. When I was little I would suck my thumb, bite my nails, and pick my scabs until they bled. So cute. As an adult, I dust on Thursdays, do my laundry on Fridays, and freak out if I don’t have a credit card in my pocket at all times (“What if I get thirsty!!!”). Clearly not easy-going by nature, physical activity has always been a way for me to get my “beans out”, as my Mom used to say about me. Man I was a hyperactive child – I don’t think I ever stopped moving. I’m still that way, which I personally find endearing because it reminds me of my beloved grandmother, but my husband finds annoying. 

Well, I’ll be flat out honest with you and myself. My perfectly toned little beach body was one of the reasons my body halted (in my opinion) the purpose of life (please take industrialism, feminism, and gender inequality out of the equation for the sake of this discussion) in the most basic way: to produce offspring that can carry on the responsibilities of modern human beings. Now that was an incredibly simplified explanation of how much value I place on reproduction, and I can think of dozens of women I know who would be aghast at my opinion of “the purpose of life” as stated above. My argument which is shared by a woman I greatly respect, Liz Wolfe, is that the female body is not in a state of balance or wellness if menstruation does not exist during our fertile years. And isn’t whole body (mind included) wellness our goal?

In the Paleo and vegan community, exercise addiction and orthorexia are real problems, which makes me really sad. I’m lucky enough to catch myself before I fell down a rabbit hole of true addiction, dependence, and withdrawal, but I fear that many people won’t reach that level of self-reflection on their own. Community leaders must address this growing concern especially since a large portion of the Paleo population are in the age risk zone for poor body image and disordered eating/exercise. The medical literature already supports the diagnosis of the “Female Athlete Triad” but it is usually only addressed in your PCP’s office without the help of a counselor which is necessary since there’s a huge cognitive component to it. 

The Female Athlete Triad is a group of three signs commonly found in female athletes and over-exercisers that negatively affect overall health: amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and disordered eating. Literature suggests that up to 60% of female athletes experience at least 1 of the symptoms of the Triad. Of great concern is the rapid acceleration of bone density loss in women who do not menstruate, which becomes even more of an issue during menopause. You want to enter your menopausal years with the strongest bones and muscles that you can because osteopenia and sarcopenia are inevitable to some degree. Women with Female Athlete Triad syndrome who are not menstruating (i.e. low concentrations of progesterone and estrogen) lose about 2% bone mass per year, which puts you at an increased risk for developing stress fractures of the long bones, vertebrae, and hips, which are difficult to heal. Disordered eating represents an interesting mental component to the syndrome, and I beg to differ that a family practitioner can effectively address a solution with the patient without recognizing the cognitive role here. While I was never diagnosed with the Triad, my amenorrhea would put me at risk for low bone density which is especially concerning to me as a student of occupational therapy. Fractures are serious medical ailments and the risk of brittle bones was enough to scare me into taking control of my affinity for high intensity exercise.

The purpose of my posts for AIP Balance Week is to bring awareness to a variety of topics that affect women with autoimmune disease that may not be acknowledged much by our community. I knew for years that my over-exercising wasn’t helping my leaky gut or hormonal dysregulation, but I talked myself into daily workouts because “exercise is healthy” and “the more toned you are, the healthier you are”. As Sarah Ballantyne and Stacy Toth so bluntly put it to a group of us, “Health is not measured by weight.” AMEN. Again, I will never be a sedentary sloth… I love to move my body and appreciate what it can do, but I can say that I have achieved balance between exercise and my other hobbies and relationships, and I urge anyone with a similar struggle to do the same. This required weeks and months of changing my habits, forcing myself to skip my workouts and to not feel guilty about less active days. Now, I still do the majority of my work standing and I never sit on the couch to watch TV, but I find these are principles of a healthy active lifestyle and are the true keys to a life of physical wellbeing. I maintain a regular gym schedule (4 days a week versus 7 in the past), but I found that long distance running is my trigger for addictive tendencies, so I allow myself one 3 mile run per week versus my previous 15 miles a week. The cool breeze and feel of the grass under my feet are now relaxing to me and I no longer get that “runner’s high” and rush of dopamine (the addiction neurotransmitter). Mostly, I have enjoyed all the extra time and mental space I have to dedicate to cuddling with my dog, making recipes for G&E, calling friends and family, and freakin’ sleeping in! It has been the loveliest time of my life to date. 

If my experiences remind you of your own, try to slow it down. Give it your best shot for a few months and let yourself have a break. Here are some ideas of activities that are restorative and relaxing. I find them to be the perfect solution for my Type-A, anxious and driven personality, which is a common characteristic among exercisers and competitive athletes. Don’t I sound charming? Yeesh.

  • Yoga: Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, who cares? Finding yourself in a restricted physical space on your yoga mat without distractions allows your mind to focus and unwind. If you need that sweat of high intensity work outs, find a yoga studio that has hot yoga classes.
  • Walking: Nothing beats walking – it’s free, you can do it in almost any climate, it’s a social or solo-reflective activity, and it’s easy on your body. I find long 60 or 90 minute walks still give my legs the worn-out feeling I would enjoy from a good run. I recently read that for every 5 minutes of running you do, 15 minutes of walking provides the same heart and lung benefits. Replace your 30 minute run with a 90 minute walk, bring your dog, your iPod, or your best friend and enjoy taking it slow. My all-time favorite activity!
  • Meditation: Okay, fine, sitting as still as you can doesn’t burn much in the way of calories, but that’s the exact reason why you are doing this. Take your mind off calories, performance, or waist circumference. Reflect on what you REALLY care about – likely your friends, family, career ambitions, and health. Or don’t think about anything at all. My go-to meditation chant is “Just Be.” I say it over and over to myself and soon find my head buzzing in this lovely, empty way. My sympathetic nervous system always thanks me for giving it this 5-20 minute break.
  • Gentle Swimming: There’s freedom in letting yourself be engulfed by the weightlessness of water. Splash around in a pool, go for slow strokes in a lake, or do some focused laps at your gym. Swimming is easy on your body like walking and can be quite therapeutic for people with arthritic joints, muscle inflammation, or emotional stress. 

Oh boy, that was a tough post to write. But how else do you become a better, stronger person if you don’t look at yourself in the mirror and tell it like it is. I saved the best post for last tomorrow: Body Image and Disordered Eating. I don’t know a female who hasn’t experienced this… and it makes me want to blow up every magazine and celerity TV show out there. 

AIP Balance Week | Day 1: My Story

AIP Balance Week brought to you by your AIP community …

We have dedicated this week to acknowledging and addressing the emotional effects autoimmune disease has on each of us. AIP-ers tend to focus heavily on physically healing our bodies, going to great lengths to source the highest quality food we can find and afford. We spend countless hours in the kitchen which can take us away from hobbies and social activities that used to provide joy. Eating out at restaurants is stressful at best, and I cannot imagine having to also cook for a family or raise children when on AIP. Packing compliant lunches for work and planning ahead for vacations and holidays requires focus, willpower, and dedication. I have a ton of respect for the AIP community and admire everyone’s self-determination to heal and prosper. We should all be very proud of ourselves and each other.

Most of us came to AIP after successive failures with conventional medicine, vegan diets, steroids, ignorant doctors, and/or ignoring our symptoms until they really interrupted our quality of life. We managed to open our minds to organ meats, intensive food preparation, increased grocery budgets, and a bit of social isolation (more on this later in the week). And we’ve had little wins. Some in the form of successful reintroductions… others in the physical lessening of painful inflammation. I often reflect on my health prior to beginning AIP. Day after day of fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, vomiting, mood swings, unexplained rashes, facial swelling, mouth sores, hair loss, amenorrhea, severe constipation and diarrhea, bloating, reflux, and drastic weight loss. My intestines felt raw, my body felt abused, and my mind confused. I rarely experience any of those symptoms anymore since going on the AIP. The ones I blamed for stealing my quality of life, my perkiness, my freedom, my hope for the future. Food used to flat out scare me because I didn’t understand how or why it was hurting my body. I was angry at my doctors, especially in 2012 when I re-read my blood work from 2008 that showed gluten antibodies. No one told me at the time (“It wasn’t important to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis” my doctor later said), and I continued a grain-based diet until January 2012 when my GI doctor gave me a prescription for low-dose naltrexone, a diagnosis of IBS,  possible Crohn’s and 3 types of gastritis, and a mandatory Paleo diet (he wrote “Google Paleo Diet” on the back of my lab work).

I remember leaving that doctor’s appointment and heading straight to my pantry. I grabbed all my boxes of vegan-friendly seed crackers, soba noodles, and organic cereal and threw them straight in the trash – my first mini victory. I already had a fridge full of kale, cucumbers and sweet potatoes, so transitioning to a Paleo diet was not difficult for me in the least. I embraced the Paleo diet in full force. This was around the time my husband used to massage my back and stomach every night (I would call them “kidney massages” or “liver rubs”). My intestines were so inflamed after a day of gluten and soy-based vegan food, they were pushing on my organs and causing incredibly sharp pain. I look back now on all those nights hovering over my toilet, shivering with goose bumps and incredible nausea, spent thinking “this is going to be my reality every day for the rest of my life… there is no cure for autoimmune disease”. I can painfully recall the thousands of days in a row that I felt my body was rejecting life. The facial swelling and weight fluctuations particularly affected my self-esteem, and it became something I fixated on as a marker of my wellness. I lost 25 lbs within a year on my petite 4’ 11’’ frame. My friends and family worried; they accused me of having an eating disorder and I became scared to even tell them about my vomiting spells because I didn’t want them to think I was doing it on purpose. It was a lonely and scary time in my life, and my now husband was the only support I had through all of it. I mention these personal moments because these memories have contributed significantly to my emotional health these last few years. Along with the endless doctor’s appointments, thousands of hours of online research, expensive tests and procedures, and lack of social support, I only have recently found acceptance of my autoimmune disease and peace with my body (thanks to AIP of course).  All of those moments of frustration built onto one another to the point where I couldn’t visit the doctor without breaking out into tears at least once in my 7-minute appointment. Have I made it clear how angry, sad, and resentful I used to be about my health? AIP has helped me make tremendous strides in my mental wellbeing, and I can’t thank Sarah Ballantyne and the other AIP lady bloggers enough for their knowledge and support the last 10 months.

Emotional health deserves more than just one blog post though, and I feel very strongly about supporting the community through my story, so I will be posting a series of articles on the topic this week that have affected me and women I know in the past several years, and that I have a hunch may be on the minds of at least a few of my thousands of readers who come to my site for support during their great AIP Journey.

  • Infertility & Autoimmunity
  • Social Isolation on AIP
  • The Harms of Over-exercising
  • Body image & Disordered Eating

AIP Balance Week | Day 2: Infertility & Autoimmunity

A major part of my healing journey has focused on the restoration of my fertility, which was the first thing to go after my acute Hashimoto’s attack in 2008 and the last thing to be restored after following the AIP in 2014. At 20 years old, I didn’t mind skipping the hassle of a period. After all, mine had always been fairly painful and disruptive. Ten pounds of water retention, cramps that required loads of Tylenol, headaches, and constipation used to be my reality for 7 days out of the month (uh that’s 25% of the year!!)  I saw my lack of period as a blessing and spent 3 years not being too concerned about it. During this time, my body fat percentage became lower and lower each year, dropping to 14% (that is NOT to be admired, ladies) and my weight to a measly 87 pounds. This was greatly in part from my severe leaky gut; I wasn’t absorbing the nutrients or energy from my food, and I remember that my body would shed 8 lbs in just a few days during a really bad flare. Again, back then this didn’t bother me. I was in my early 20’s and enjoying this new found size 0 and XXS wardrobe. Another factor was my lifelong dedication to exercise, which I will be speaking about in another post this week. I had discovered high intensity interval training around this time, increased my running distance, and became fairly obsessive about controlling my weight and composition via exercise. My poor system was getting it from all angles – I became severely anemic and vitamin-deficient. Half my hair fell out, my skin was dry, and I had no breasts or booty anymore, which is not my  inherent body type. I am Lebanese and generally quite curvy in that mini Kim Kardashian way a lot of us Middle Eastern women are… and that’s something to be proud of dang it! The things you learn as you age and cancel your cable subscription. 

                So why does body image fit into this picture? My vanity, interest in fitness, and media exposure to “beautiful women” superseded my determination to fix my hormonal health when I was a single, shall I say dumb, college girl. Post-college, my gut was literally telling me “You are not skinny because you are healthy. You are skinny because you are NOT healthy.” I knew this was true and deep down I knew it needed to be fixed but I really was in a deep hole of over-exercising and getting way too much positive reinforcement from other females with my leaky gut induced weight loss. After dozens of doctor’s appointments, it was clear that my reproductive system wasn’t inherently broken like I thought. I didn’t have PCOS, I wasn’t in early menopause, and I didn’t have ovarian failure – all of these things frightened the crap out of me but explained my symptoms so I started to go through the grieving process of a life without children at age 21. Now I know that simply my body didn’t have the nutrients or energy stores to withstand bearing a child. My autoimmunity and leaky gut were wreaking absolute havoc on my intestines and immune system, which was really the oxygen to the fire. I never starved myself into thinness (I LOVE food if you haven’t noticed and my nickname growing up was Alaena “Hungry” Haber), my disease and exercise habits took me there, but I didn’t do anything about it until my body started aching for the possibility of children.

                Once I met my now husband, I became embarrassed of my amenorrhea. He is 11 years older than me and althoug not the most mature 37 year old, I knew he would be ready for children sooner than men my age. I didn’t feel at all womanly, and although he was still very attracted to me, I always had an inkling that he wished I had my period. I had lost my “It” that I felt I had prior to Hashimoto’s – the sexual attractiveness that you can practically smell on an ovulating woman. I think you all know what I’m talking about. Once we got married, friends and family members who didn’t know about my infertility would ask, “Now, do you want children?” I didn’t know how to answer that. “Yes, if I can have them” would have been terribly awkward and inappropriate. Usually I would cover up my defensiveness and hurt feelings with a, “We have so much more we want to do before we even think about children.” Which is true, but a sinking feeling in my stomach started to develop whenever I would see kids playing at the park or mothers walking their babies in strollers. I started to feel very guilty about my lack of menstruation and felt bad that my husband married into a life without the joy of children. He would of course be outraged by these thoughts of mine, and he was always very supportive saying that all he needed was me. But his words weren’t enough and I quickly went into a daily cycle of anxiety and depression over it. My body was healing in so many ways on AIP – the pain and fatigue had completely subsided, I began gaining weight, my digestion normalized, and I could successfully reintroduce a lot of non-AIP foods back into my diet! I was incredibly grateful for the healing I had achieved all on my own, but I woke in the morning and went to bed at night wishing for my period to come back. In order for this to happen, I decided I had to accept the weight gain, cellulite, and increase in body fat percentage that was needed for this to occur in my body. I had to accept my genetics and get the hell over being a size 0. This was fairly easy to do because how could I ever argue anything feels greater than being able to facilitate life of another human? I have a feeling that for me nothing will be as satisfying on a primal level as motherhood. 

                I credit my naturopath and Dr. Sarah Ballantyne to giving me the tools to make this happen. My naturopath wrote me this prescription for exercise: “No running. Do things you enjoy each day that are gentle on your body like walking and yoga.” My 11-year running habit went Kaput! That in itself was difficult to cope with… I had used running as an anxiety reducer and as a measure of my health since I was 15 years old. I instead went for long walks when I had time and many days I simply didn’t do anything but walk to the train station or the grocery store for activity. I began biking everywhere – school, social events, the beach. Walking and biking made me feel like I was still getting the health benefits of exercise without compromising my attmpt to gain weight. This restored my confidence in a lot of ways and helped me not be THE obstacle to my own goals. I consulted with family members that were doctors, with Sarah and a couple other leaders of the AIP community that I trusted. They all told me to give it time, to keep eating a high nutrient diet, and to give myself a break damn it. My mindset began to change… instead of feeling like I should just accept a future without children and be done with trying to “fix”  myself, I began imagining myself and my husband chasing after our little boy and girl. I imagined teaching my daughter how to cook, how I would make their baby food from scratch, and what their personalities would be like. I started letting myself have AIP treats like these chocolate chip cookies, and enjoyed big bowls of meaty soup, seafood, and veggies and stopped thinking about calories and food composition being the end-all-be-all of my  health. I doubled my daily carbohydrates and allowed myself the freedom to enjoy my food with no emotions attached to it except pleasure and pride. My overall healthy but light on calories salads, juices, lean ground beef, chicken thighs and steamed vegetables took a back seat for several months, and I really have enjoyed sitting down to 2 large meals each day whereas a big meal used to be a source of anxiety and guilt. What freedom I now have from the sickness that is disordered eating (I may be being too loose with that term as I have always been very dedicated to high quality foods, but I have historically put too much emphasis on sticking to a certain caloric range). Again, thanks to the AIP. Pattern?

                Prior to these changes in my diet & exercise, the emotional strain of my infertility hit a high point (or a very, very low point, depending on how you look at it) about 3 months after my wedding, and I vowed to stop letting it bother me so much. I allowed myself to let go of the guilt, worry, and fear that I experienced the majority of each day. And the envy I had for young mothers I saw out and about. I focused on how incredibly healthy my digestion had become, how blessed I was to be able to tolerate bone broth, avocados, and chocolate again, foods I used to be intolerant). How lucky I am that I found a group of fellow AIP gals who truly get one another… I finally had the social support I needed to be successful. I continued to gain weight fairly rapidly and part of me was scared. The louder and smarter part of me began having flutters of excitement because I knew that my gut was finally healed enough to absorb all those beautiful foods I was putting in it! What an odd dichotomy of emotions I have been through the past year… but boy has it made a stronger, more empathetic, and confident woman.

                I am incredibly proud and overjoyed to announce to the community that we plan on having children in the next couple years, and that it is now a possibility instead of an unattainable dream! I recognize that this is a VERY personal story to tell on the Internet and that it will forever be permanent in Google history. I am okay with that for several reasons. 1) I am not ashamed of my body, my autoimmunity, or the rollercoaster of emotions I went through for the past 6 years and neither should you, 2) I started G & E to share my story and provide support through food and laughter to women all over the world who have been through the loneliness and fear that accompanies an autoimmune diagnosis, and I am going to stay true to that mission and 3) I consider myself an AIP success story, and I want anyone who is thinking about doing the AIP or who is currently on it to KNOW that success is a viable possibility and that quitting should not be an option you give yourself. Good things take time, and getting over my “fat fears” (both dietary and body) was likely the numero uno reason I have found success. 

                Infertility is a terrifying effect of autoimmune disease in many women, and it is very rarely talked about. I think this is because females feel ashamed or embarrassed of their infertility and  there’s a lack of evidence-based research on the subject, but this anxiety-fueled idea that we must be the perfect woman and wife must go. I wrote an article for Autoimmune-Paleo a while back about AI and fertility that you can read. My sadness but steadfastness comes through in my words, and this blog post today is such a joyous turn of events in my personal life. I had many women e-mail me after reading that article for support, and I want you each to know that you can do the same. It was important for me to update readers on the status of my fertility given that when I wrote that blog post, I still was struggling with hormonal balance and my gut had not healed enough yet to gain the weight I needed to restore my period. I wish that I had heard other women’s stories and struggles with infertility during the past few years, so I wouldn’t have felt so alone in my solo seeking of a solution. Again, please email me if you need advice or just someone to vent your frustrations to… alaena@grazedandenthused.com, and I will respond to you shortly. 

Tomorrow’s AIP Balance Week post will be on Social Isolation on AIP