AIP Stories of Recovery – February 2015

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“AIP Stories of Recovery” is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please email us through the contact form.

Cherene Birkholz I

Meet Cherene! Cherene is a wife and small business owner. Her health journey is like so many, a slow process of ever worsening symptoms and a recovery that was also about uncovering one piece of the puzzle at a time and then gradually implementing changes. Most autoimmune stories are not dramatic descents into illness; followed by hairpin turns toward wellness, but the joy of finding a way back to true health is no less amazing. I think you’ll find her transformation a very familiar and hopeful tale.

What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
My health issues began slowly. It was around 2004, that I notice that I couldn’t lose weight no matter how restrictive my diet or how much I exercised. Over the next three years, my list of symptoms grew. In 2007, I realized that I might have a thyroid problem because I saw a list of hypothyroid symptoms posted by Mary Shomon on the Internet. One of the symptoms was having a goiter and I had one. I scheduled an appointment with my MD and showed him my goiter. He confirmed that my thyroid was enlarged and he sent me for an ultrasound and blood work. My ultrasound indicated that I had several large nodules in my thyroid. As a result, I was sent me for a biopsy. The biopsy came back negative. At that point my MD said I was okay.

Over the next year though, my list of symptoms continued to grow; it included: weight gain, inability to lose weight, hair loss, night sweats, goiter, brittle nails, severe PMS, lactose intolerance, irritability, and extreme mood swings.

In 2008, I changed insurance and doctors. During my first visit to my new MD, I mentioned the goiter and the biopsy results. My new MD was concerned about my goiter and so he scheduled more blood work, another ultrasound, and referred me to an endocrinologist. The blood test showed that my TSH was at 74.5. I was immediately placed on Levothroid. My endo monitored my goiter with a couple of ultrasounds. He was happy that my goiter was getting smaller with medication and that my TSH levels were dropping to normal levels. He told me that I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and as long as I took my medication I would be okay.

Describe what your lowest point with your health journey was like?
In January 2013, I went to see my endo because I felt like my Hashimoto’s symptoms were coming back: weight gain, inability to lose weight, hair loss, irritability, and extreme mood swings. Plus, I had a new symptom, fatigue. In the morning, I’d feel like I had not slept at all. My doctor told me that I was exercising too much and to take a couple of weeks off for my body to heal. I was exercising like a mad woman trying to keep the creeping pounds off. Basically, he said that my Hashi’s was under control, because my blood was within the normal ranges. The rest of my symptoms were due to stress, over exercising, etc. I left his office deflated and let down.

What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
My tipping point was onset of brain fog and depression. At the beginning of 2014, I started to experience depression and brain fog. I’m a small business owner and my business was starting to suffer, because the tasks I am responsible for I was not able to handle. I realized that I couldn’t take my endo at his word and believe this was “as good as it got.” I knew I needed to look for an alternative approach.

When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
The protocol that helped me heal was the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). I knew I was on the right track when my brain fog started to disappear and my mood was more stable.

What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
Angie Alt was my coach. She helped me transition from my basic diet to AIP. I found her via The Paleo Mom Consulting website. I felt she made the journey a lot easier with her SAD to AIP in SIX program. She also helped me find stress management tools that worked for me. I appreciated her encouragement during a big life change.

Many of the resources I used came from Google searches and Pinterest. Here are some of my favorites:

The following books also helped to reinforce my new lifestyle:

Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
No, the doctors did not suggest other treatments. I decided to try AIP, because I believed that if I made a change I could feel better.

It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?
I try to remember to stop and take time to smell the roses; by finding joy in small things: spending time with my friends and parents; watching my cat hunt squirrels in our backyard; relaxing and watching a movie.

Cherene Birkholz II

About Angie Alt

Angie Alt is a co-founder here at Autoimmune Wellness. She helps others take charge of their health the same way she took charge of her own after suffering with celiac disease, endometriosis, and lichen sclerosis; one nutritious step at a time. Her special focus is on mixing “data with soul” by looking at the honest heart of the autoimmune journey (which sometimes includes curse words). She is a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Nutritional Therapy Consultant through The Nutritional Therapy Association and author of The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook: Eating for All Phases of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol and The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook. You can also find her on Instagram.


  • Ryan Lavers says

    I am a 38 year old Veteran who was unaware of My having A.I.P. until I began getting seriously ill and lost enough weight that I had 2 heart attacks by age 30 due to malnutrition. Since my diagnosis I have had some moderate sucess with the control of symptoms that are pretty much like super GERD . My question is during flare ups needing to go to the hospital and recieve IV medication therapy in the form of DTW10 and IV morphine I am wondering if you guys have advice as to how to deal with the Doctors arrogance and refusal to submit to my experise on what is coming and how to fix it from past endeavors mainly in the pain control area I am routinely left in pain which slows my recovery which also creates a irritating environment any advice wether a site I could send them too or a clinic here in the states that might be better at treating this and setting a treatment protocol for future attacks so my docs can go back to car wash medicine

    Thank you
    Ryan Lavers USN (ret)

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Ryan,
      I am so sorry to hear of your struggles, and I am frustrated for you that you are meeting so much resistance in our medical system. Are you aware of the work of Dr Terry Wahls? She is an incredible doctor who healed herself from secondary progressive MS using dietary and lifestyle changes. She has done a ton of work with veterans, including studies in her diet and lifestyle clinic. I would try a couple things… 1. Research her and her protocols and see if you can get your doctors on board with integrating some dietary and lifestyle changes by sharing her approach (she has done many studies with veterans you can print out and show them!). 2. Educate yourself about your condition and make changes on your own that are likely to help – for instance go gluten free, up the nutrient density of your meals, and try to dial in your sleep and stress management. You don’t need a doctor to lead you through this. 3. If over time your doctors see improvement, it will be much easier to get them on board. Here is Terry’s site: Please don’t be afraid to reach out to our community if you need help and support. We are wishing you luck in your recovery, Ryan!

    • Rebeca Lozano says

      Dear All, Firsly I would like to say that I am having a hard time starting the AIP but I am not going to give up i know slowly I will be able to change my diet. I would like to share my story. I have diagnosed Autoimmune Thyroiditis being pregnant at the age of 38, I start taking 25mg, and then It when up to 50 mg of Levothyroxine. Today I am already in 100mg and If testing does not go well in September it might be increased. I got my last testing while I was on holidays in Spain my home country, as at the moment I live in Bangladesh, and the doctor call me to ask me how I was able to have a normal life, my results were TSH 102 microU/ml and my T4 1.35ng/dl. I was disappointed when I keep asking my doctor why and the only answer I got was It is like that but dont worry you take 100 of levothyroxine and u will be fine. But… no answer about things like? if my illness is autoimmune, why they never did a testing to my immune system how do they know I produce antibodies…? So …after doctor just give medicine I think it should be another way, but very very hard to find a doctor who practices functional medicines. I have so many doubts about what I can eat and not and also I live in Bangladesh I hardly can get anything. Thank you so much for reading my words, I am so so sad about getting more and more medicine dose. Would someone share with me the experience of starting low and after 3 years… zas! 100mg. Could you really explain what does it mean hashimoto s, does my thyorid still fuctions, could I recover its fuction. Thank you sooooo much!
      Rebeca Lozano
      Spaniard in Bangladesh

  • Rocio Cordero says

    Thank you for share this experience about Hashimotos because I have it since 2011, I feel hopefull when I see person overcome the disease. I didnt know about The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol and the power of the food. Im so glad I found this page. I already begin the elimination phase and I have been so hard to leave the traditional food but when I read these stories I get power to keep going with the diet.
    God bless your job of trying to help people to eat healthy for the best of the own body.

  • Jody Carson says

    I don’t see much about Sjögrens. I have Sjögrens and was wondering if anyone has had success with the Paleo Autoimmune diet that has Sjögrens. Thank you

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Jody, yes many in our community have Sjogrens. We aren’t medical practitioners though and can’t advise on dietary interventions for conditions, but many folks have found help with a variety of autoimmune conditions by going through the process of elimination and reintroduction.

  • Cindy says

    I have autoimmune which was causing Alopecia Areata. Is it possible to resolve my hair loss issue and get new hair in the bald patches?

    • Angie Alt says

      Cindy, we can’t say for sure if it will help you, but we’ve known lots of folks in the community w/ alopecia who have had success. Maybe it’s worth a try for you?

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Cindy, we aren’t medical practitioners and can’t recommend anything for medical conditions, but we have met some folks in the AIP community have good results with alopecia. Sometimes you never know until you try!

  • clarissa says

    Hi all, I started the AIP about 3 and half weeks ago and I do feel great. I was diagnosed about 3 years ago with Hashimoto’s. I never really suffered with bad symptoms besides hair loss. My scalp still itches and hair still falls out (I wouldn’t say as much). I went on the AIP cold turkey and just keen to know how long will it take for my hair to stop falling out? I need some motivation. On the AIP illumination phase you mention sweetners like honey on occasions. Whats is occasionally? I love having rooibos tea with a half teaspoon of honey in it every night. Could this be stagnating my healing process?

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Clarissa! Good news you are feeling improvements in just a few short weeks. Unfortunately everyone’s progress is different and there is no standard timeline for healing – it depends on multiple factors. While I’m not a doctor and can’t give medical advice, I would be very surprised if the tea or honey was causing hair loss for you. If you want to hire a coach to help you get to the bottom of it, we have a list of very experienced practitioners here: Good luck!

      • clarissa says

        Unfortunately there are no certified AIP coaches in South Africa 🙂 Guess I’ll have to become the first. When do I start introducing phase 1? Do I wait till my itchy head and hair loss stops completely before introducing? Thanks

  • Cheryl Ewing says

    Hello, I am a 39 year old mother of two. Fit, active and very proactive in my health. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 20 years old. My control is good and since going low carb 18 months ago. It is even better.
    I went through a stage of rapid weight gain (7kg in 5 months) several years ago. Thyroid tests were done which were at the higher end of normal. No thorough thyroid testing was done. I was put on Victoza with alot of success. 3 years later, I battle with weight, I am tired alot and I am moody. I am petrified of weight gain. I increased my carbs to above 20g when I started to really struggle with brain fog and that has improved since then..
    My specialist refuses to check for Hashi’s and my TSH remains in normal range. I am convinced I have an underlying hypothyroidism. Do I restrict my diet further and start AIP? Already very low carb with no processed foods and clean living.. so would AIP give me more???
    Thanks for your time!

    • Angie Alt says

      Cheryl, we can’t answer those questions for you. It might be worth a try to feel better, but it also sounds like you need to search out a specialist who is more willing to collaborate w/ you in terms of discovering whether or not there is an underlying condition.

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