“Autoimmune disease is an epidemic in our society.
But it doesn’t have to be.”
~ Sarah Ballantyne
By now, most of you have heard of the Paleo Approach. For those of you who haven’t, it’s the most comprehensive book ever written on the topic of reversing autoimmune disease. Seriously, I’d call it the autoimmune bible. The author is Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., also known as the Paleo Mom. She’s a research scientist specializing in inflammation and immunity, and she has an autoimmune disease herself, making her uniquely qualified both personally and professionally to write a guide to healing. Her focus is the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).
What I Love About This Book
- The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s gorgeous. It’s full of colorful graphs, photos, illustrations and textboxes that summarize and accentuate the information contained in the text.
- The second thing you’ll notice is that it’s big and heavy! Sarah read over 1200 scientific studies and condensed that knowledge into a 432 page book, which is part science textbook, and part a practical how-to guide. It’s also printed on 8-1/2 x11 paper, which is twice the size of a normal book. (Don’t take it into the bathtub with you, unless you want to do some strength training for your arms. I’m speaking from experience here.)
- It’s functional. The front and back covers have foldover flaps for you to use as bookmarks. Color coded corner tabs let you flip through the book quickly to find information. Every chapter ends with a review page that highlights the most important points covered in that chapter. There’s an index, a glossary, and detailed food guides, including vitamin, mineral and amino acid profiles of hundreds of different whole foods. This book was designed to be a reference book you can use daily to find the answers you need.
- It’s impressive. The leading names in the paleo movement have all endorsed this book. Robb Wolf wrote the forward, and the back cover is filled with praise from Dr. Davis, Dr. Kharrazian, Dr. Wahls, Paul Jaminet, Diane Sanfilippo, Melissa Hartwig and the Caltons.
- It’s personal. Interspersed throughout the scientific text are personal testimonials of real people, like you and me and the author herself, who have all used the Paleo Approach to heal.
- It’s honest. At the start of the section where she describes how to implement the Paleo Approach in your own life, she says this, “Let me be clear: there is no cure for autoimmune disease. Once your body has developed the ability to attack itself, if will never forget how to do so….(However), following the Paleo Approach is the next best thing because it can put your autoimmune disease into remission….for the rest of your life!”
- It’s in depth. No matter how much you know about autoimmunity and nutrition, you’ll find new information in this book. Even experts in the field will learn something.
- My favorite section, if I had to pick one, is the Troubleshooting Checklist. It’s a list of questions to ask yourself if you aren’t seeing improvements after 3 months on the protocol. Sarah was kind enough to let me include it here.
If you’re familiar with the autoimmune protocol generally, and the Paleo Approach specifically, you’ll find a few changes in the book that might surprise you at first. I clarified them with Sarah:
- Added Sugars: In the book, Sarah has a new category on the “Foods to Avoid” list, called “Added Sugars” and includes everything from high fructose corn syrup to raw honey. However, in her “Foods to Eat” list, she includes honey, maple syrup and molasses as pantry items. I asked her to clarify, and she said, “This is an acknowledgement to the fact that we are all human and there are times when a special treat can make all the difference in the world in terms of sustainability. So, it’s a list of best choices if you are going to have a treat. The number one factor in determining how much can be used is maintaining blood sugar regulation, which will depend on other foods being consumed and the individual’s sensitivity. The number one factor in determining frequency is how the individual’s body responds to those treats.” In other words, avoid added sugars as part of your daily diet, and pay attention to your body when deciding how often to include treats in your life.
- Wiggle Room: While Sarah Ballantyne believes the full Paleo Approach is the quickest path to healing, she understands that some people might find it intimidatingly restrictive. With that in mind, she has identified a list of foods that are least likely to be problematic for people with autoimmune disease. These are the foods she recommends reintroducing first. Or if you need a bridge between regular paleo and strict AIP, these are the foods she feels are safest to continue eating during that transition: fresh legumes (green beans and peas), fruitbased spices, seedbased spices, seed and nut oils, ghee from grass fed dairy, and egg yolks.
- Stage 4 Reintroductions: You might be surprised to see this category in the book, because it lists foods that aren’t paleo as possible reintroductions in the future, including soaked and fermented legumes, and soaked and fermented grains. Sarah explains their inclusion in the book as foods people who eat an 80/20 version of paleo might include as part of their 20% flexibility. She doesn’t necessarily recommend people with autoimmune disease reintroduce these foods at all. They’re listed as one of the last reintroductions accordingly, and should only be tried if all other reintroductions have succeeded and your autoimmune disease has been in remission for a long time.
- Medications: In this chapter, Sarah lists the medications that can cause leaky gut, and therefore cause autoimmune disease. Ironically, this list includes almost every medication ever prescribed for autoimmune disease symptoms: painkillers, steroids, digestive aids, hormones, immunosuppressants and antibiotics. Some people misread this information as a directive to go off their medication. Please don’t. Your symptoms need to improve enough that you no longer need the medication, before discontinuing, and that kind of healing takes time. Going off your medication cold-turkey will almost always increase your symptoms and provoke an autoimmune flare. Sarah says this very clearly at the end of the chapter: “Changing, tapering, or discontinuing your medication – especially if you are taking prescription drugs, but also any daily over-the-counter medication that your doctor may have recommended – should, without exception, be done under the supervision of a health care professional. I must also emphasize that changing your medication is not, in most cases, something to tackle when you initially adopt the Paleo Approach. By improving your diet and addressing lifestyle factors first, you will be able to heal your body as much as you can while you are still taking these drugs, which will significantly help you adjust to discontinuing them.”
- If I Could Add One Thing: Honestly, this book is amazing and there’s very little to critique. If I was given one editing wish, I would add a 1-page quick summary of the protocol at the start of the book. Something you could cut out and stick on your fridge as a reminder.
- Handling the Stress Factor: If you’re new to the paleo autoimmune protocol, reading the book can be overwhelming. It’s a challenging program, but Sarah helps by offering options for transitioning into the protocol – either going “all in” or taking it one step at a time, and she gives suggestions for baby steps. She also has a big section on lifestyle factors, such as reducing stress and getting more sleep. Those factors are essential in healing, but they’re also excellent tools to take care of yourself as you do the protocol itself. Use them!
Interview with Sarah (the Author)
Since Sarah has an autoimmune disease (lichen planus), she wrote this book for herself as much as she wrote it for all of us. Through the Paleo Approach, Sarah put her autoimmune disease into remission and also healed a myriad of health conditions: IBS, acid reflux, migraines, anxiety, asthma and allergies. I asked her to share some details about her experience:
How many times did you attempt the Paleo Approach before successfully completing a strict elimination period, without cheats?
When I first started, there was almost no information out there about why’s behind Paleo Approach eliminations and even a lot of conflicting information on exactly what to eliminate. There was also no information whatsoever on what superfoods to eat more of and zero information on the importance of lifestyle factors. That lack of information really slowed me down in my own implementation. It took me about four months to realize that I should eliminate coffee, that paprika was a nightshade, and I lived in denial about needing to cut out chocolate for months. From the time I decided I needed to modify a paleo diet for my autoimmune disease to when I really understood exactly what the Paleo Approach meant was about 10 months (although, I figured out the elimination piece at about the 4 month mark and did see improvement then). It wasn’t so much about falling off and getting back on the wagon, so much as discovering what exactly the wagon was in the first place! And of course, this experience was one of my main motivators for writing The Paleo Approach. Now, the information is compiled and set out for others to follow without the dragged-out process of accumulating knowledge that I had to go through.
What foods have you been able to successfully reintroduce, and how long did that take?
I have successfully reintroduced grass-fed ghee, soy-free pasture-raised egg yolks, and most seed-based spices. I do okay with small and occasional amounts most nuts, seeds, egg white, and coffee, but definitely reserve these for very occasional treats and only when my stress is well managed and I’m getting enough sleep. It took almost a year from when I had the Paleo Approach nailed down to when I could consume these foods without problems.
The book is an incredible gift to the community, but came with a sacrifice: the work it entailed caused your autoimmune disease to flare. What steps have you taken to regain your health?
The biggest thing I’ve been focusing on is sleep. I’ve also been carving out more time for stress-management activities, including walks and strength-training classes. I also opted to delay the release of The Paleo Approach Cookbook so that I could slow my pace a little to look after myself better.
What is the most challenging aspect of the Paleo Approach, for you personally?
Page 246. “It’s okay to say no.” I’m terrible at saying no and have a bad habit of overcommitting myself. This has the snowball effect of increasing my stress and decreasing the amount of time I can commit to stress-relieving activities and sleep.
A Video Preview of the Book
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Update: A giveaway was held to celebrate the publication of this book, and the winner was chosen with a random number generator. Congratulations to Flavia Gomes! If you didn’t win, don’t despair. The book is reasonably priced and worth every penny. You can purchase a copy here.