“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”
~ Art Williams
What Is the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)?
The AIP is a diet and lifestyle program designed to reduce inflammation, minimize autoimmune symptoms, heal digestion, and deliver nutrition that supports health. There are four elements to the protocol:
- the inflammatory foods we avoid
- the nutrient-dense foods we eat
- the reintroduction process where we personalize our diet
- and the lifestyle choices that support rather than detract from our health.
What can I eat?
- You can enjoy fresh meats, seafood, fats, fruits, and all fresh vegetables except the nightshades. Here’s an AIP grocery list.
- You can find many AIP recipes here on my blog, my pinterest page, and at the weekly AIP Recipe Roundtables.
- Check out my article: Meal Planning – A Paleo AIP Survival Tool, to see what I eat, and what resources are available to help you get started.
- There are also many fabulous cookbooks available for the AIP. I’m summarized them for you in this cookbook roundup.
- You can find AIP-friendly convenience foods and cooking ingredients in my blog’s Healing Store.
- Avocados make a great snack, as do coconut chips. Also, you can enjoy AIP approved treats on special occasions.
- Most deli meats, cured meats, hot dogs, beef jerky and pre-cooked meat contain nightshade spices, as well as other additives and must be avoided. The exceptions are Whole Foods Naked Deli Meats, and ShopAIP sells a variety of AIP-friendly meat bars.
- Is sugar-cured bacon allowed on the AIP? Yes, provided that it was cured naturally, contains no artificial ingredients and no spices beyond salt. Sugar’s role in the bacon curing process is to feed beneficial bacteria. There’s usually no sugar left by the time it hits your plate. That’s why if you look at the nutrition panel on a brand of natural bacon, it should say 0 grams of sugar, even though sugar is listed in the ingredient list. One more tip: uncured bacon is actually cured, but it’s cured naturally instead of with chemicals. This is why the Epic Bison Bar is AIP-approved. Your best source for natural (AIP) bacon is a health food store. In this blog post, I share some of my favorite brands.
- There are also specific healing foods recommended for people with autoimmune disease, so start adding these to your diet as well: organ meats, bone broths, fermented foods and a wide variety of vegetables.
How long do I have to stay on the protocol? The protocol was originally designed as an elimination diet to determine if you have food intolerances. You restrict the foods for 30 days, and then reintroduce them one at a time to see if you have a negative reaction. That is enough time for the foods to have cleared your system, so your body can give clear signals during the reintroduction phase. It’s now recommended that you wait until you see clear improvement in your autoimmune symptoms. That shows that healing is taking place. For some, that will be 30 days. Others may wait a few months. However, you don’t want to stay in the elimination phase forever. That can lead to orthorexia and/or nutrient deficiencies. The elimination phase is meant to be short-term. If you don’t see improvements within a few months, it’s time to do some troubleshooting. While on the AIP, make sure you eat as wide a variety of foods within the protocol as possible, and focus on nutrient-density.
Why can’t I just do an allergy test? The autoimmune protocol addresses food intolerances, which are different from allergies. Food allergies can be threatening, sending people to the hospital in anaphylactic shock. Intolerances, on the other hand, ramp up inflammation in the body over time, exacerbating the symptoms of autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, there is no scientifically proven lab test for food intolerances. (Although there are tests sold under the names IgG, Alcat, Enterolab, EAV and Muscle Testing, these tests often give both false positives and false negatives.) For that reason, the elimination diet is the gold standard for discovering food intolerances. It takes effort, but it’s your only guarantee of accurate results.
Why is the reaction to a food stronger after the elimination diet? When you eat a food regularly, to which you are intolerant, your body goes into a chronic state of inflammation in response. Symptoms vary from person to person. It might be digestive distress or joint pain or mood swings. For people with autoimmune disease, it exaggerates the symptoms of your disease. When you eliminate this food for 30 days or more, two things happen: (1) You start to feel better, and (2) your body has a chance to calm down its defenses. Then, when you reintroduce the food, the response can be acute. Although it feels bad, this is actually a good thing, because you have a clear communication that this food harms your body. As long as you stop eating the food, the acute response goes away, and you return to feeling better than ever before.
I have autoimmune disease and am just now learning about the paleo diet. Should I start right away with the autoimmune protocol, or begin with the full paleo diet (without the added AIP restrictions)? Begin with full paleo for 3-6 months. This will be a big change already, and some people are lucky enough to go into remission with no further restrictions needed. If, after 3-6 months, you haven’t seen the results you want, then transition to the autoimmune protocol.
Should I go off my medications when I start the AIP? No. Dietary healing is a slow process. You are rebuilding your body on a cellular level, and that doesn’t happen overnight. If you go off your medication, you will likely flare before healing has a chance to take place. Instead, wait until your symptoms improve and stabilize, and then work with your doctor to safely reduce your medications, one at a time. Everyone is unique: some people will be able to eliminate their need for medication altogether; others will find that a combination of medication plus diet works best. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else. Pay attention to how you feel and let that guide your decisions.
I developed constipation after starting the AI Protocol. Why would this happen? When you make a big change to your diet, constipation is a common temporary side effect. As your body adjusts to the new diet, this should clear on its own. During the transition, some things that can help are: (1) be sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, (2) be sure you’re drinking enough water, (3) be sure you’re eating enough healthy fats, (4) have a cup of warm water upon waking – drink slowly, (5) prune juice, (6) magnesium citrate, (7) probiotics and fermented foods, (8) digestive tonics, (9) abdominal massage, (10) squatty potty, (11) enemas.
I’m already thin and can’t afford to lose any more weight. How can I make sure I’ll maintain my weight on the AIP?
- Some autoimmune diseases result in unwanted weight loss due to digestive difficulties. The AIP is a nutrient-dense diet that helps heal the digestive system, so it’s actually a good choice in this situation. That said, some people accidentally eat low-calorie on the AIP. Here are some ways to make sure you eat enough:
- Track your daily diet in Cronometer. It not only tracks calories, but also nutrients.
- Eat plenty of protein, fat and starchy AIP vegetables.
- If you can afford it, eat an avocado a day. They are nutrient-dense and full of beneficial fats.
- Here’s a great recipe for a weight gain shake from SCD Lifestyle, providing 1200 calories in one drink: 1 avocado, 1 cup of coconut milk, 2 medium bananas, and 1 cup cooked sweet potato.
- You can also use this meal plan to get a sense of how much is enough: 14-Day Calorie Challenge.
What can I do to help myself succeed on the AIP?
- Plan ahead. Look at your daily eating habits and think of what foods won’t be allowed on the autoimmune protocol. Plan your substitutes in advance. What will you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks?
- Keep a journal of your autoimmune symptoms for 2-4 weeks before beginning the autoimmune protocol. This will be your baseline. Continue the journal during the AIP. You’ll be looking for positive changes once foods are eliminated and testing for reactions when foods are reintroduced.
- Enlist the support of your family and friends.
- Get support from the global community: Like my Facebook page for daily inspiration. Join this AIP Recipe Group for more great meal ideas. Join this AIP Support Group for support on any question or concern your have during your AIP journey.
- If at all possible, remove tempting food from the house, and fill your cabinets, fridge and freezer with AIP approved foods instead.
- Avoid restaurants during this time, if you can. Restaurant food always contains hidden ingredients over which you have no control. If you find you have to eat out, follow the tips listed in this article or look at the AIP notes on paleo restaurants.
- If possible, postpone changes to your medications/supplements/treatments until your AIP experiment is complete. Changes to your medical protocol can skew the results of your food tests. If you need to make a change, postpone food reintroduction until your response to your new treatment stabilizes.
- Be patient. The elimination period is a minimum of 30 days, and the reintroduction period takes at least a few months. Be prepared for that.
- Open yourself up to new meal habits. For example, in our culture, we think breakfast has to be either grain or egg-based, but much of the world starts their day with soup, salad or leftovers. I love soup for breakfast. Here are 50 other great AIP breakfast ideas!
- If you want some extra guidance making the leap to AIP, Angie Alt from Autoimmune Wellness offers an online group class, transitioning people over a 6 week period.
- Don’t binge. Sometimes, when people are allowed only a limited number of foods, they’ll binge on what they can eat (a whole box of clementines, a whole batch of homemade crackers), but binging is always hard on the digestion, no matter what the food, and the result will be a flare in your autoimmune symptoms. Instead, eat balanced meals and moderate snacks. Eat plenty; eat variety; just don’t binge.
- Take care of yourself mentally and emotionally during this time as well. This type of restricted diet can be a stressful experience. Carve out “time for you” each day, even if it’s only 15 minutes to relax. Meditate, take a bath, take a walk, listen to some favorite music, have a good cry, have a good laugh, whatever you need. Resource: 101 Ways to Treat Yourself That Have Nothing To Do With Food.
- Believe in yourself, and know that the AIP can be a powerful tool in your healing process.
If I fall of the AIP wagon, do I have to start over on day 1? Unfortunately, yes. The science of an elimination diet is that you need to avoid the foods for a minimum of 30 consecutive days. This is the only way your body can communicate tolerance/intolerance clearly during reintroductions. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Many people take a few tries before getting solidly on the protocol. Do the best you can, and eventually you’ll get there.
Have I missed a question? Just ask through the comment section below, and I’ll do my best to answer.
I’ve written a series of articles to guide you through the autoimmune protocol, step by step. It includes my experience with the AIP, mistakes to avoid, tips for success, and more. Click here to see the whole list.