An open letter to everyone and a reminder to myself on the importance of emotional support on the AIP.
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The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. AIP. The very term that makes some folks in the Paleo community suck in their breaths and say: No way, I ain’t going there! It’s too restrictive!
Yes, it’s true. It’s very restrictive. There’s no denying the fact. No grains, no nightshades, no legumes, no eggs, no seeds, no nuts, no dairy, no processed food, the list goes on and on.
The AIP is not an ego trip.
If you don’t have an autoimmune condition, there’s no real need to do it. For those on it or contemplating it, remember that it’s not forever either. You do it until your symptoms for your autoimmune condition are more or less stabilised, then you slowly reintroduce foods systematically. For some, it could be for 30 days. For others, it could be for months or years. In our haste to rid ourselves of symptoms or beat our autoimmune conditions into remission, we can easily forget that it took our bodies years, or if not decades, to reach its present state. Reintroductions should be done gradually and without haste. Something’s causing a flare? Cut some slack and concentrate on healing before attempting again. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel defeated when you pin your hopes on being able to eat X food by Y month and it does not turn out to be the case. Reading the e-book “Reintroducing Foods on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol” by Eileen Laird of Phoenix Helix has helped tremendously in wading through the potentially overwhelming territory of food reintroductions for someone like me who prefers things to be clear cut black or white. I’m not a grey-area person though I love heather grey clothes, just saying.
Making the AIP a healthy habit.
Though the list of foods may seem restrictive, it’s important to understand that the AIP is a healing way of eating and living. There are specific reasons why certain foods are out, and why certain healing foods are encouraged. The most accurate resource of what’s in and what’s out of the AIP (for me) is Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s site The Paleo Mom and her books The Paleo Approach/ The Paleo Approach Cookbook. As awareness of the benefits of the AIP grows, the community increases in size and you may come across conflicting information. The trusted sources of AIP recipes and information can be found here.
For many used to decades of eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) or other equivalent, it requires a lot of commitment and willingness to change. It may be difficult to overcome personal issues such as eating certain foods, but going on the AIP requires a level of openness and willingness (and perhaps even desperation) to heal. I personally feel that going on the AIP for a month is insufficient, as it’s not long enough to make it a habit of second nature. Six to eight weeks is more realistic, in my opinion. I had prior experience in eating Paleo/ Primal before commencing on my AIP journey and that made it easier for me to make the shift and turn it into a daily good habit, but I understand that it’s not the case for everyone. If you’re struggling to transition to the AIP, I strongly recommend getting professional step-by-step support. Angie Alt, a Certified Health Coach and author of the Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook has a fantastic program to help transition from the SAD to AIP in 6 weeks.
With that many food items to be eliminated while on the AIP, it is unfortunately easy to fall into the trap of disordered eating. With my all or nothing attitude to many things in life (something I’m working on), I’m aware that being on the AIP can potentially stoke orthorexic tendencies in me. Just because several foods are being restricted doesn’t mean that they are to be restricted for the rest of your life (unless if you have Celiac disease and are talking about gluten). It doesn’t also mean that the more you restrict, the better it is for your healing journey. Just because someone you know is doing the AIP + low FODMAP (for example) doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. Fearing certain foods and bingeing on others just because it’s allowed on the AIP is unhealthy. The importance is to listen to your own body and customise your intake or experiment accordingly. The Paleo AIP is all about eliminating food that harm the body and reintroducing them progressively as the gut heals. If you feel like you’re obsessing over food restrictions and that it’s affecting your abilities to function in daily life and making you unhappy, seek professional help.
We are only human.
Try not to beat yourself up over a setback, the last thing you want to do is add stress to your body. There will be times of weaknesses, times of craving, times of sadness, times of joy, times of happiness. Embrace all these feelings wholeheartedly and learn to move on from there. It’s not the end of the world even if you give in to cravings and ‘cheat’ by eating something that’s not on the AIP, and feel the unpleasant aftereffects. Sometimes, the mental stress is worse than the physical stress. But having said that, you should not make it an excuse to cheat either! Try not to put yourself in situations that make it tempting to indulge in something that will affect your body negatively. Be prepared by bringing your own food to social gatherings to eliminate any worries. There is no 80/20 option if you have an autoimmune condition. What you can do is pick yourself up and proceed from there, and get support along the way.
Support on the AIP.
That’s when it’s very important to have support you can depend on, be it family, close friends, acquaintances. Even if no one around you is supportive of your AIP journey, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having some form of support while on the AIP. For me, it has been a lifeline. Being a member of various online AIP support groups or communities has been very beneficial, as it takes out the potential loneliness of the autoimmune journey. Every body is unique, and everyone’s healing process is different. But it feels comforting to read about other people’s progress and successes, and it feels empowering to help others beginning in their AIP healing. I started this blog because I wanted to share recipes with others on the AIP, and somehow it’s turned out to be central to my healing process as well. Being in a foreign country without any friends is not easy, so I’m really glad for all the support I’ve found online.
Don’t be afraid to let your feelings out. Bottling doubts, anger, and uncertainties inside is unhealthy to the healing process. I have to keep on reminding myself of that. As quoted in one of my toddler son’s preferred books, ‘Calm-Down Time‘: “My words tell how I feel. My words help me calm down.” I’ve got that book all memorised in my mind from all the re-reading of it, and not only it helps him, but me as well! I’ve always been the wallflower sort; put me in a group social setting and I’ll try my best to fade back into the most non-intimidating corner. Ask me a few years ago about joining online communities and posting replies and questions and I would have said ‘No, forget it, it’s too embarassing!’ or something similar. I even felt awkward posting anonymous comments. That’s how self-conscious I felt. So running this site and being on social media totally contradicts with my introvert nature, but yet at the same time I find myself refreshed and challenged. Maybe it’s the AIP that’s healing not only my gut but my mind as well? Perhaps, but I know I still have a long way to go.
Cover image “” by Kate Ter Haar, CC-BY-2.0.