The AIP diet, or autoimmune paleo diet, is what I like to think of as “Paleo Plus”. It’s like eating Paleo, but with additional foods kept out of the diet (for a period of time or, for some, long term). Thinking of AIP as “Paleo Plus” as opposed to using words like “restrictive” or “impossible” is important!
Words carry a lot of power. Like food, they can sustain us or tear us down. When I first came to AIP, I completely had this expectation in my head that the diet would indeed be “restrictive” and “extreme”. And let me tell you, that in turn slowed my healing process. For sure. I made decisions based on that mindset, and I basically kept eating foods that were clearly aggravating my leaky gut.
That was almost a year ago, and a lot has changed for me since then. First and foremost, my mindset has changed. And that, in turn, has changed everything.
I say all the above before getting into AIP deets because diet hinges so heavily on personal experience. People differ widely when it comes to which foods nourish versus cause harm to them. Comparisons offer little help. Intuition, on the other hand, when developed, can and should be your guide for all things diet-related. As a favorite blogger of mine put it, the answer to what you should or shouldn’t eat is simple: listen to what your body is telling you.
What is the AIP (Autoimmune Paleo) Diet?
Still, developing food intuition can seem pretty daunting to someone battling common autoimmune condition symptoms. We just want to get better!! And the AIP diet is an excellent place to start. It is important to point out that there is a good degree of variance about how to approach eating AIP. Still, I am convinced that if you have autoimmune disease, it is 100% worth it to follow the AIP diet. That is not to say it is a cure-all – no one in the AIP community would say that, or feel comfortable touting it that way. Rather, when followed as designed, it can help improve symptoms, sometimes in significant ways.
Since AIP is a diet, and diet is only one piece of the puzzle to healing autoimmunity, it is absolutely critical to work alongside a skilled medical practitioner, one who wants to find and heal the “root causes” of a particular set of symptoms. I can’t overstate this enough. Many (I would venture to say most) people with autoimmune conditions are actually dealing with a number of “issues”, ranging from hormonal imbalances to co-infections and much more. It’s truly essential that those get addressed, alongside following this anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense diet.
The center, the core, of the AIP diet is to eat nutrient dense food. When we eat a nutrient dense diet, we are giving our bodies the minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and more that it needs to heal and function. Foods that are known to irritate the gut are removed, and foods that heal and rebuild the gut lining are emphasized.
Why Follow an AIP diet?
So why the Autoimmune Paleo diet? Simple put, the AIP diet gives the gut a chance to heal itself by removing foods that , which is what in turn can help alleviate inflammatory symptoms. All autoimmune conditions are inflammatory in nature, so this diet in turn can, in many cases, have a real positive impact on the condition.
AIP is also as much a lifestyle as it is a diet. Healing is a multifaceted experience, and diet is simply one part of that. In order to truly heal, stress, relationships, sleep and mindsets, need to be re-evaluated and considered.
What to Eat on the AIP diet?
- Vegetables, of all kinds – Dr. Terry Wahls, as part of her Wahls Protocol, emphasizes eating 9 cups a day (measured raw). I know from my personal experience that even though I only ate this way for several weeks, during that time I felt immensely better! Nowadays I aim for at least 6 cups daily. And while that number may be daunting, when you divide it into categories: cruciferous, leafy greens, colorful, and sea vegetables (but not chlorella or spirulina, which stimulate the immune system) it becomes much more manageable!! Eat a large salad or make wilt the greens into broth and you’ve likely got 3-4 cups, right there! It is do-able.
- Quality meats, with an emphasis on organ meat and offal. The Paleo Mom recommends aiming for 5 servings of organ meat / offal a week. Terry Wahls also highlights it as an important part of your weekly menu. I personally have not moved beyond liver made into pate. That is still a goal of mine. Even if you can’t afford grass fed beef, that’s OK – do what you can! This is a learning process and that includes learning how to make the AIP diet sustainable.
- Herbs and Spices: I’m providing a link here because Dr. Ballantyne gives one of the most detailed list of which spices are allowed. Although this may seem trivial (it did to me initially) I found flare-ups would occur when eating spices on the “be cautious” list!
- Fish and shellfish. Fish provide two difficult to source minerals: iodine and selenium. On top of that, they also provide Vitamin D. Vitamin D is only found in a handful of foods (hello, organ meat!).
- Healthy fats. These include coconut, olive, fat from pastured animals such as lard and tallow.
- Fruits. Most AIP community leaders recommend roughly 20 grams of fructose a day. Eating too much fructose, in any form, can slow healing.
What To Eliminate:
Eat all foods from the above list and you will have eliminated the following inflammatory / problematic foods:
- Dairy – including goat
- Grains – including “gluten free” grains such as buckwheat and rice
- Legumes – all beans, peas, alfalfa, peanuts,
- Nightshades – all peppers, goji berries, and certain spices such as paprika (The Paleo Mom has an excellent guide to spices
- Nuts and Seeds (including coffee, which is a seed)
Reintroduction: / How Long to Follow:
While following the diet above is possible over the long haul, that may not be necessary for everyone! The idea is to give the body, in particular the gut, time to heal.
The length of time spent eating AIP will differ widely between individuals. Some will find a month sufficient; others will stay on it for a year or more. Instead of deciding up front how long you will follow the AIP diet, consider following it until you feel really good! And keep in mind that consuming a nutrient dense diet is a lifelong pursuit. Finding exactly what works for you and your body will take time and experimentation, so be patient with yourself!!
When you are ready to begin reintroducing foods:
- Choose a food (see Ready to Begin below for a list of the order in which to best introduce foods). You’ll be trying one new food a week.
- Take a very tiny bite of the food. Wait 15 minutes and see if you have a reaction (list below of potential reaction signs)
- Take another, just slightly larger, bite. Wait another 15 minutes.
- If no reaction, in 1-2 hours, eat the food as part of a meal.
- Monitor yourself for any reactions over the following days.
- And repeat process every ~7 days
Importance of Lifestyle:
“Going” AIP is one part diet, one part lifestyle and one part working alongside a qualified health care professional. Getting enough sleep, nurturing positive relationships, managing stress and taking the appropriate supplements are all part of the picture. Even if your diet is perfect, if you’re not managing your stress or engaging in supportive relationships, you will not see as much progress. But the beauty of the AIP community is its support. Remember, knowledge is truly power!
Ready to Begin: All the Details
- Specific food lists: Autoimmune Wellness will send you the most detailed and up to date foods to include and foods to exclude lists.
- How to Recognize a “Flare” / Reaction to a Food NOT Part of AIP: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne (AKA The Paleo Mom) gives a very comprehensive list of flare up signs
- Reintroducing Foods: Sign up for our newsletter to get a printable guide to the stages of reintroduction!! I also recommend Phoenix Helix’s Reintroduction Guide, accompanied with the Facebook group, below.
- Cookbooks: There are SO many! The gateway book for many has been Mickey Trescott’s The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook. The Healing Kitchen, a joint cookbook by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne and Alaena Haber, also is superb!
- Support: Facebook offers a number of support groups! I’ve found the following groups particularly helpful:
- AIP Elimination Diet Support
- Support for AIP
- AIP Recipes – SO helpful when searching for what to eat!
- Strict AIP – Elimination, Reintroduction, Advice and Support
- After AIP – Paleo Plus Food Reintroductions
- Meetup Groups! A listing by region.
Remember, this healing journey we are on takes a tribe – tap into the AIP community and you will discover that you can do this!! Also know that I am on this journey with you – one day, one meal, one moment at a time.