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“We don’t need to be wise beyond our years. All we need is to be wise beyond our fears.”
That’s a picture of me on my birthday, eating a paleo chocolate cake. Yes, the cake included eggs and cocoa, so how can I be AIP? The answer: I started AIP 12 months before and had successfully reintroduced eggs and chocolate.
When I first researched the paleo diet and learned that it was a lifestyle, not a quick-fix, of course I was disappointed. Who doesn’t want a quick fix? Then I saw the AIP (also known as the paleo autoimmune protocol), and thought, ‘Are you kidding me?! How can I eat such a restricted diet forever?!’ I misunderstood: I thought that since the paleo diet was a permanent one, so was the AIP. I think a lot of people make this mistake. The AIP is actually an elimination diet, designed to be temporary. It removes common food intolerances, allowing the inflammation in your body to calm down and healing to begin to take place. Once you see clear improvement in your autoimmune condition, the next step is reintroductions. It’s a slow, careful process, where you test each food on the AIP, to see if it’s good or bad for you. Everyone’s different in which foods they can reintroduce, but almost everyone can expand their diet in some way, and a diverse diet is both more enjoyable and more nutritious.
A lot of the AIP bloggers, myself included, offer our blogs as resources for people going through the elimination phase of the AIP. That’s the hardest menu to navigate, especially when you first make the switch. A lot of your standard meals are no longer an option, and it helps to have guidance on the foods you can eat. A side effect, though, is that many people think we are all still strict AIP. It’s not true. None of us are. So this article is designed to show you what life on the AIP looks like long-term. There are certain aspects that are forever, like eating nutrient-dense foods and prioritizing a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to the food restrictions, though, it’s all about personalization, and finding the diet that is best for you.
- Sarah Ballantyne: The author of The Paleo Approach, the blogger behind The Paleo Mom, and the leading voice of the AIP community. She has an autoimmune skin condition called lichen planus, and she began experimenting with the AIP in early 2012 (which inspired the research that eventually became her book). She went strict AIP in the Fall of 2012 and began her reintroductions a year later. She found that egg yolks and cultured ghee actually made her feel better, so they are now a regular part of her diet. She can also eat seed-based spices freely. Some other foods she can enjoy in small portions once or twice a week (but not daily) are: chocolate, nuts, seeds, egg whites and coffee. The biggest thing she learned is how much her lifestyle affects her food tolerance: “When I am working late nights (like while finishing the cookbook) or my stress level is unusually high, I find my tolerance for all of these foods diminishes and I have to go back to square one (and frustratingly, that’s when I crave these foods more). My healing really sped up when I learned how to meditate, go to bed earlier, and support my circadian rhythms (by spending time outside during the day and wearing amber tinted glasses in the evening). For me, my healing journey has been just as much about lifestyle as it’s been about food.”
- Mickey Trescott: The author of the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook and the blogger behind Autoimmune-Paleo. Her AI challenges are Hashimoto’s and Celiac. If you follow her on Instagram, you know she’s been able to reintroduce foods, because she often shares photos of her expanded meals. She eased herself into the AIP in late 2011. She tested some reintroductions after a few months, but found that for the most part, she needed more time to heal. At first, she could only tolerate seed-based spices and limited soaked nuts and seeds. The longer she was on the AIP, the more she was able to reintroduce. Now, 2 years later, she can eat the following foods occasionally: all nuts and seeds (except cashews and peanuts), soy-free eggs, fresh legumes (green beans and peas), some nightshades (potatoes and peppers), white rice, and alcohol (wine and hard cider). She limits herself, enjoying nuts/seeds/eggs a couple of times per week, and the rest of the foods a few times per month. Otherwise she eats strict AIP the majority of the time. She finds if she overdoes any of the reintroduced foods, she doesn’t feel her best. When I asked her what lifestyle change had the biggest impact on her healing, she answered, “Sleep!”
- Eileen Laird: You all know me. I’m the blogger here at Phoenix Helix and the author of the guide, Reintroducing Foods on the AIP. With the goal of reversing rheumatoid arthritis, I began the AIP in January 2013. I began my reintroductions just 6 weeks later, but I had been paleo for 6 months before that, and did the reintroductions very slowly over 5 months’ time. I am able to enjoy the following foods regularly: fruit-based spices, seed-based spices, seed and nut oils, whole eggs, white rice, and homemade dark chocolate. Once or twice a month, I enjoy a glass of wine, and I save nuts for special occasions (like a pumpkin pie with a nut-based crust on Thanksgiving.) If I had to pick the one lifestyle change that impacted my healing the most, I would say meditation. When I was flaring, it was the one thing that could give me peace; it didn’t remove my pain, but it did soothe my sadness/anger/fear, and that was a huge gift.
- Anne Angelone: A functional medicine practitioner and author of the Autoimmune Paleo Breakthrough. Her AI challenge is ankylosing spondylitis, and she started strict AIP in 2012 and began reintroductions 6 months later. She can now enjoy the following foods daily: nuts, seeds, coffee, cocoa, and seed based spices. When I asked what lifestyle change had the biggest impact on her healing, she said exercise: yoga and swimming specifically, and the more she heals, the greater her strength and endurance.
- Jo Romero: The blogger behind Comfort Bites and the author of the e-book Simple AIP Comfort Food. She turned to the AIP in July 2013, to heal her psoriasis, and started the reintroduction process 30 days later. She can now eat fruit-based spices, seed-based spices and whole seeds daily, egg yolks once a week (but not egg whites), white rice once a week, cooked tomatoes once a fortnight (but can’t tolerate raw), goat cheese once a month (but no other dairy), and nightshade spices once a month. She also enjoys dark chocolate on special occasions, but doesn’t eat it regularly, because she finds it causes sugar cravings, and too much sugar makes her psoriasis flare. Here’s what she says about the power of lifestyle: “By far the biggest lifestyle change that accelerated my healing was managing stress. I went to see a counselor to learn mindfulness techniques, took up yoga and I make sure I get half an hour purely to myself every day, just to sit and relax. It’s not much, but it has made a HUGE difference.”
- Whitney Ross Gray: The blogger behind Nutrisclerosis. You can tell by that name that she’s reversing MS. She started the AIP in 2010 and went through the reintroduction process a year later. She now enjoys all spices (fruit-based, seed-based and nightshade), but avoids nightshade vegetables. She adds egg yolks to recipes for their nutrient-density, but avoids whole eggs. She’ll eat seeds in a recipe, but doesn’t seek them out for snacks, and the only nut she eats are brazil nuts (for their selenium). She enjoys white rice daily, dark chocolate once or twice a week, tequila once or twice a month, and the occasional gluten-free baked good as a special treat. When it comes to lifestyle, she agrees with Mickey, naming sleep as absolutely essential.
Tips for Personalizing the AIP For You
- Wait until you are ready for reintroductions. As you can see in the examples above, the timing is different for everyone. You want to see clear improvement in your autoimmune condition first. This does two things: it shows that healing is taking place, and it gives you a baseline to test your body for reactions to inflammatory foods. How you feel mentally/emotionally makes a difference, too. If you’re afraid of reintroductions, postpone them until you’re ready. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the AIP and are close to cheating or bingeing on non-AIP foods, go through the reintroduction process instead.
- Do your reintroductions slowly and correctly. The reintroduction process can actually be harder than the elimination phase, because it requires such patience and focus. The most common mistake is rushing the reintroductions, muddying the results. I wrote my reintroduction guide to help. This is where your body communicates with you, which is empowering and important to your healing process. You want to do it right.
- Learn what you can eat daily vs. occasionally vs. not at all. The reintroduction guide includes a two-stage reintroduction process. Some foods are immediately inflammatory, and we need to avoid them altogether. Some are mildly inflammatory, which only becomes clear when we eat them daily. Some are neutral or even positive, and it’s a joy to incorporate them back into our daily diet.
- Don’t give up. If at first you aren’t able to reintroduce many foods, try again in 6 months. Often, the more you heal, the more foods you will tolerate. Mickey is a great example.
- Notice and celebrate how far you’ve come. So often, we focus on what is still wrong, that we discount all the healing that has already taken place. This applies to the foods we can and cannot eat, but even more importantly to our health: the abilities we lost that we have started to regain, and the negative symptoms that were disabling that have started to disappear. Living in a space of awareness and gratitude is a healing place. It feels good to body and soul to mark the milestones.
Parts of the AIP are Forever
Let’s look at that picture at the top of the post again. I look pretty happy right? Who doesn’t love cake? However, that’s not my daily life on Personalized AIP. That was a special occasion, worthy of the sugar overload, and I savored every bite. Daily life on the AIP is meant to nutrient-dense, and no matter how long you’ve been on this diet, your body is never too full of nutrients. When reversing autoimmune disease, we need to provide our bodies with the best building blocks possible, and that means incorporating seafood, organ meats, fermented foods and a wide variety of vegetables into our meals every week.
We also need to pay attention to that all-important lifestyle piece. While food is foremost in our mind, because we’re learning about food intolerance, lifestyle is equally important. Poor lifestyle choices can make our autoimmune disease flare just as fast as poor food choices. So get enough sleep every night, focus on reducing stress, incorporate joy and relaxation into your day, get outside in the fresh air and sunshine, try meditation or something similar, and find a way to exercise that supports your health. All of this is essential to healing, now and forever.
I've written a series of articles to guide you through the autoimmune protocol, step by step. It includes FAQ, mistakes to avoid, book reviews, and more. Click here to see the whole list.
This post was originally written as a guest post for Autoimmune-Paleo.
A big thanks to Mickey for hosting me!