AIP Thrive Guide Part 1: AIP Diet for Beginners

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or certified nutritional therapist. I’m writing about AIP from my experience only. This information is not to negate or replace a medical professional or NTP’s opinions, recommendations, or guidelines. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you might have.

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One of the things I love most about this healing journey is how incredibly, unbelievably powerful food is when it comes to recovery. Before “The Crash,” as I like to call it - when I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, and a long list of food allergies - I was a compulsive eater; I just liked food, and the feeling of eating food. Cheerios, cheeseburgers, eleven cheese lasagnas, red velvet cake, and (the ultimate guilty pleasure) blondies and ice cream from Applebee’s. Just thinking about it now makes my stomach turn!

Then came the summer when my relationship from food went from gluttony to deprivation. I don’t ever remember deciding, “Oh, I’m just gonna stop eating.” I think it was a combination of heat, metabolic breakdown, and anxiety, but I just didn’t really want to eat anymore. I lived off of mango smoothies (made of frozen mangos and a little bit of almond milk) and dinner rolls (the kind you warmed up in the oven). I wasn’t getting any of the vitamins and nutrients I needed, and it sent my body into a downward spiral that culminated in “The Crash” a few months later, following a period of extreme anxiety and nervous breakdown.

Thankfully, I’ve got a stubborn mama who, after spending weeks on the couch next to me, riding out panic attacks, did her research and found an integrative doctor who was able to turn my health around through diet and a handful (or two!) of vitamins, herbs, and supplements. It was during this time that I began to realize that food is so much more than a hobby, or a “reward.” It’s more than fuel; holistic health practitioner Ann Wigmore said, “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”

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Over the last few months, as my health has taken an unexpected (and currently inexplicable) downward turn, I’ve become more aware of food’s ability to heal than ever before. I’ve eaten on a very strict MED (Medical Elimination Diet) for the last two and a half years, but over the course of a few months, foods that I’d been eating with no problems started causing inflammatory reactions. Enter The Autoimmune Protocol, or the AIP diet.

The AIP diet is an offshoot of Paleo, but it’s so much more than a variety of the caveman’s diet: it works to reduce inflammation in the body, soothe the immune system, and heal and seal the gut by cutting out inflammatory foods and focusing on high quality, nutrient dense, whole foods. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut,” and whether you believe it or not, healing the gut can heal your mind and body (and, in turn, your spirit! It’s so defeating to feel like your body - and the food you’re eating - has turned against you).

A traditional AIP diet has an elimination stage (Stage 1), followed by a reintroduction stage (Stage 2) about two months later. In my case, while looking for answer for my health concerns, I’ve stayed on the AIP diet, and intend to do so. Also, my food allergies won’t allow me to reintroduce certain foods that are generally allowed in Stage 2, like eggs and dairy.

Read on for an Intro to AIP.

Stage 1 - Elimination

This part sounds scary, but stay with me! I know it’s hard to cut out foods that you’re accustomed to, and believe me, you’ll get some weird looks, but think about it this way: this is your health we’re talking about. You have all the power you need to make a change. If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!

Also, after dealing with inflammatory reactions for a few weeks whenever I had lentils, almond butter, and sunflower oil, it was a relief to cut out those foods and feel “safe” when I sat down for a meal!

Foods to avoid:

  • Processed Foods and Food Additives

  • Refined or Artificial Sweeteners

  • Grains (including corn) and Psuedo-Grains (quinoa, buckwheat)

  • Dried or Fresh Legumes (lentils, beans, peas, soy, peanuts)

  • Eggs

  • Dairy

  • Nuts and Nut-Based Oils

  • Seeds and Seed Spices (mustard, cumin, paprika, etc.)

  • Nightshades (vegetables, like tomatoes and white potatoes, and spices, like cayenne and chili powder)

  • Vegetable Oils

  • Dried Fruits

  • Gums (guar gum, xantham gum)

  • Alcohol

Foods to include

  • Vegetables (no nightshades! for a full list of nightshades, click here)

  • Fruits

  • Coconut milk, oil, aminos (an awesome replacement for soy sauce), etc. (I really didn’t think it was possible to be this thankful for coconut unless you were stranded on a deserted island, but it is!)

  • Healthy Fats (avocados and avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil)

  • Bone Broth (I could go on and on about the benefits of bone broth, how versatile it is, and how much I love it, but just trust me: get some high quality bone broth, like Kettle and Fire’s Beef Bone Broth, and make it part of your daily routine.

  • Fermented Foods (kimchi, kraut, kombucha, etc.)

  • High Quality, Grass Fed (preferably local and organic!) Meat

  • Non-Seed Herbs (ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, basil, etc.)

  • Natural Sweeteners (honey and maple syrup)


Stage 2 - Reintroduction

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Like I said before, I haven’t reintroduced any foods yet. I hope that, over the course of the next few months, I’ll be able to, but for right now, I’m focusing on hearty, whole, nutritious meals full of healthy fats and tasty root vegetables (fall recipes for the win!).

Just remember, it’s important to wait at least a month, and preferably 6-8 weeks to allow the gut to heal. After the elimination phase, for those who are ready to begin reintroducing foods, Mickey and Angie, the beautiful hearts behind the blog Autoimmune Wellness, recommend going into it with a plan (and a food/symptom journal!).

The 72 Hour Rule is the standard: after your inflammatory symptoms have lessened or even disappeared, eat a small amount of one of the foods you’ve eliminated, and watch for a reaction. This could include brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, or stomach pain. If you don’t have a reaction in 72 hours, have a meal with a bigger serving of the same food. Again, wait 72 hours for a reaction. If there’s no reaction, proceed with other foods that you eliminated.

Note: if you have a reaction, especially a long lasting or particularly bad one, wait until your symptoms have gone away and you’re feeling like you did before you reintroduced foods to try another food. It’s a slow, methodical process, but you’ll have a keen sense of awareness with your body, as well as knowing exactly which foods you can tolerate, and which ones cause averse reactions.

The Paleo Mom suggests starting the reintroduction phase with foods that are less likely to cause negative, inflammatory reactions: egg yolk (just make sure they’re pastured, soy-free, and wheat-free), grass-fed ghee, seed-based spices (no nightshades), starches, or FODMAPS. After the initial reintroduction, you can try adding nuts, seeds, and alcohol (tip: soaking or peeling nuts helps with digestion!).

The Paleo Mom categorizes nightshades (but no tomatoes), coffee, chocolate, sesame seeds, yeast, and fermented dairy products as moderately reactive, followed by egg white, chili peppers, large amounts of alcohol, tomatoes, and NSAIDs, with the understanding that tomatoes and NSAIDs may never be able to be included in your diet.

Have you tried the AIP diet before? How did you do? Leave any thrive tips, advice, or recipe ideas in the comment section below! Also, for more information on the AIP diet, check out Autoimmune Wellness and AIP Lifestyle.