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Trying the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP diet)

Before we embarked on the AIP diet I considered that my family’s lifestyle was pretty healthy. We don’t eat takeaways (okay, we’ll have fish and chips every three or four months), we don’t eat fast food, we don’t eat out in pubs or restaurants often. We are all involved in team sports and go to the gym. I started making my own baked goods when the children were small because it was easier to bake than bundle up three kids into the car, drive and navigate a shop with them. I’ve baked sourdough bread for the last decade, switching to gluten free in 2014. If we have pizza it’s homemade. As a family we cook from scratch 90% of the time, and all of the kids who are now teenagers can cook.

Prescription: AIP diet

So when a Functional Medicine doctor prescribed the AIP for my son to address his alopecia I thought that it sounded interesting and was keen to try it. In fact, we started the very next day. There was none of this phased approach, we dived straight in. It seemed to make sense for the whole family to go on the diet as three out of the five of us were dealing with autoimmune conditions, and I figured that it would be easier to cook one meal for everyone than multiple meals for the two without AI conditions.

My supermarket shopping reduced dramatically as when you’re only buying meat, fish, veg and fruit there are literally two aisles in the whole shop which are of interest. I became a label reading expert. Why, oh why do food makers take a perfectly healthy food like organic olives, and then add industrially processed sunflower seed oil? Oh, cost, that’s why. I found some great dairy free milks that weren’t full of thickeners and gums. But probably the most interesting part was getting pushed out of my comfort zone to try foods that I’d not eaten much before like plantain and cassava flour.

Will it fix everything?

I know that many people hold out the AIP diet as a panacea to fix any AI issue, but that wasn’t my experience. I found the constant shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning up to be really time-consuming and tedious. It was also expensive. My shopping habits changed… before AIP I’d visit the same one or two supermarkets each week, I started to visit my local butcher and greengrocer each week. I’d also have an organic veg box delivered. I’d buy fish from the market on the weekend. Plus trekking down to the local ethnic store… Like I say it was time-consuming.

I used the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook as the basis for our meals. It was fine. Some dishes were better than others! We were trying the diet in the Summer so lots of the soups and stews just weren’t appealing. It was very easy to keep making the same dishes. I reached the point where I couldn’t even look at another sweet potato. Our experiment was further compromised by a trip to France which coincided with our final week on the elimination diet. We were self-catering but our food bill went through the roof. The kids were not enjoying the food at all and couldn’t wait to start the re-introductions.

Reintroductions

After a month we started to reintroduce the foods that we’d been excluding. It’s really funny how much you miss different things, for example eggs. I never thought that I had such a close relationship with eggs until they went away. So what happened to our various AI diseases? Well it was only a month after all… there was no improvement to my daughter’s ulcerative colitis, my Hashimoto’s felt the same and with regards to alopecia Harrison didn’t lose his eyebrows during that month. So that’s sort of a positive, but as we reintroduced foods (still avoiding gluten and dairy), his eyebrows did slowly fall out too.

Recommend it?

Would I recommend trying the AIP to people with AI diseases? Yes, but… only if you have a LOT of time to invest. I found that the stress of the experience likely mitigated any positive effects. I found that I was having to think about food all of the time which I didn’t enjoy. (It reminded me of when I lived in a converted garage in the South of France with no kitchen – I lasted just over a week before moving). Plus my kids were complaining about being hungry, and they weren’t enjoying the food flavours. Every time we sat down to eat someone would be unhappy, it didn’t make for a relaxing eating experience. AIP just felt too extreme and I feel that it would be extremely triggering to anyone who has a less than great relationship with food already. If you’re just cooking for one person and enjoy meal planning and batch cooking then it’s probably worth a try.

My kids and I fondly remember those plantain waffles, to be honest I should maybe try those again. They had a unique flavour (in a good way!) When I hear about people who eat this way long-term it sets off alarm bells because it’s so limiting. The whole point is to start making reintroductions to see what you’re able to tolerate. There’s a danger that the diet starts to define people and it’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole with it. If you’re trying it as an elimination protocol I’d start with 30 days and if you feel good after those 30 days then start the reintroductions. If your autoimmune symptoms are still apparent you could perhaps extend an additional month and then check in and perhaps start reintroductions at that point.

Do you need a coach for the AIP diet?

In my experience I’ve found that adopting a paleo template to eating is much less extreme and gives comparable benefits. I also found it considerably less stressful than AIP. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/thirty-day-paleo-reset/ If you’re looking for support with AIP there are coaching programs out there, but there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to manage this diet by yourself. The paleo template that I use is modified for autoimmune conditions and has been a proven route to managing multiple autoimmune diseases within my family. I have a Hashimoto’s diagnosis that is in remission, my daughter’s ulcerative colitis is no longer flaring and my son is having amazing hair regrowth (without loss) despite having previously lost all of his hair. Another positive is that meal times are no longer traumatic, and I’m able to spend time on other things apart from just food shopping/prepping/cooking and cleaning.

If you’d like to get your autoimmune condition under control then let’s talk. Here’s a link to my calendar https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min.

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