"Help! I'm new to...the AIP diet!"
For this post in our “Help! I’m new to…” series, we’ve been joined by the excellent Christina Tidwell, a registered nurse and holistic life coach who successfully manages her own autoimmune disease and now helps clients live happier and healthier lives too!
Today Christina’s walking us through the AIP diet – what it is, who the diet could help, and how to do it. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of tea and enjoy!
What is the AIP diet?
The Autoimmune Paleo Diet is a specialized version of the Paleo diet, with an even greater focus on nutrient density and stricter guidelines for which foods should be eliminated.
The Paleo Diet itself was created by by Dr. Loren Cordain, an American scientist who noticed a decline in his health when he stuck to a diet that was commonly held to be healthy in the 70s: wholegrains, fruits and veggies. However, after struggling with symptoms brought on by this diet (including joint pain and arthritis), he started to get stuck into reading about the subject and through his later scientific study created and coined the ‘The Paleo Diet’.
Dr Sarah Ballantyne PhD (a.k.a. The Paleo Mom), a medical biophysicist who had struggled with her own autoimmune issues, took The Paleo Diet and continued to research, turning it into a healing protocol that people could use as a guide to determine if, and which, foods were contributing to their symptoms.
Like the Low Fodmap diet, the Autoimmune Protocol is an elimination diet that is not intended to last forever, but rather for a set period of time in order to help identify food intolerances and promote gut health and immune system regulation.
For more information on AIP, check out The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne,
Who should consider trying the Autoimmune Paleo Diet?
Those who have an autoimmune condition and have not experienced positive health progression with basic elimination diets (gluten, dairy, sugar). People with food allergies or sensitivities can also benefit from adopting the Autoimmune Protocol for a period of time.
Would the AIP diet help my Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an umbrella term that covers many conditions that can lead to digestive issues. When looking for a solution for your IBS, it depends on what the root cause for your gut dysfunction is (food sensitivities, imbalance in good and bad bacteria in the gut, trouble breaking down and absorbing foods, etc.). Since the AIP diet removes common inflammatory foods it can help digestive issues related to food sensitivities.
IBS can also be triggered by imbalances in good and bad bacteria in our gut. By removing inflammatory foods and including nutrient-dense foods that promote proper gut health and feed “the good guys” we can support our microbiome as well.
A medical study that looked at the efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet specifically for inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and UC) and found that clinical remission was achieved at week 6 by 11/15 (73%) study participants. The researchers concluded that, “Dietary modification focused on elimination of potentially immunogenic or intolerant food groups has the potential to improve symptoms and endoscopic inflammation in patients with IBD.”
For those with an umbrella diagnosis of IBS, simply eliminating inflammatory foods and including nutrient-dense foods might not be enough. It’s recommended to work with a practitioner to help troubleshoot other factors that could be adding to IBS such as proper breakdown of foods, absorption of nutrients, bacterial or yeast overgrowth, effects of stress, hydration status etc.
What foods does the elimination phase of AIP cover?
In the initial elimination phase - which ideally lasts between 1 and 3 months, depending - removes grains, legumes, nightshades, dairy, eggs, coffee, alcohol, nuts and seeds, oils, processed sugars and food additives.
Eliminating so many different foods on the AIP diet can seem like a pretty daunting task at first glance! But if you’ve come across the AIP diet it’s likely you are looking for a change. Some of the biggest challenges to making any dietary changes are knowing where the heck to start, and finding the time, energy and inspiration to keep going.
With this AIP Batch Cooking Meal Plan Christina has done all of the hard work for you!
There’s a fantastic amount of vegetables, fruit, meats, seafood, herbs, and seasonings that are still an option for you, which can be easily combined to make seriously delicious AIP compliant meals.
It’s important to note that there is an elimination phase to the AIP diet and a reintroduction phase.
For the elimination phase you can choose to jump right in and eliminate all non-compliant foods from your diet or you can do it in a more gradual fashion. Neither is better or worse: it’s more about knowing yourself and what will set you up for success!
If you choose to eliminate at a slower pace here is a good idea of what to do first:
Week 1: Remove grains and alcohol and include healthy fats
Week 2: Remove legumes and nightshades and include bone broth
Week 3: Remove dairy and coffee
Week 4: Remove eggs, refined/processed sugars, refined/processed oils, and food additives and start including fermented foods
Week 5: Eliminate nuts & seeds and non-compliant spices
It’s recommended to be on the Elimination Phase for 30-90 days depending on your individual symptoms and how you feel.
Reintroductions are recommended when your symptoms are markedly improved and the inflammation in your gut has eased enough that you would really be able to tell if a food was causing you symptoms (rather than, “I don’t know, everything seems to make me feel badly!”).
Important note: if you aren’t feeling better after 60-90 days on full elimination diet it’s best to work with a practitioner to troubleshoot rather than restrict more! Long-term restricted diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies and cause further symptoms if not addressed.
The Autoimmune Paleo Diet – how to tackle the Reintroduction phase
During the reintroduction phase you reintroduce foods you eliminated, one at a time, to test whether they work for you or are causing you symptoms. It can be really tempting to rush out and eat all of the foods we missed during our elimination, but this stage is critical and you don’t want to skip it!
It’s recommended to reintroduce foods in stages from those that are least likely to cause a reaction (and are the most beneficial to have back in your diet). Be sure to keep a diary during this time so that you can accurately track your reactions and symptoms in the moment.
Here are the four stages of reintroduction to follow:
Legumes (only including the beans with edible pods)
Nuts and seeds (only the oils at first)
Fruit and berry-based spices
Nuts and seeds (whole, flours, and butters, this includes chocolate, but excludes cashews & pistachios)
Alcohol (in small quantities)
Cashews and pistachios
Nightshades (only eggplant, paprika, and sweet peppers at first)
Cream, kefir, yogurt
Cheese, whole milk
Nightshades (all remaining, including white potato)
Alcohol (in larger quantities)
Other gluten-free grains
You might notice that foods like sugar, processed foods and processed vegetable oils aren’t included. We don’t need to “reintroduce” those per se, as it’s generally recommended to steer clear of those in general. Additionally, it’s recommended that those with autoimmune disease remove gluten long-term because of its implications in immune stimulation.
When reintroducing foods
Choose the food you want to trial back in. When eating it for the first time, only eat one bite. Wait 15-20 minutes to notice any immediate reactions. If none occur, take another small bite. Again, wait another 15-20 minutes. If no symptoms arise, take another bite. Do not take another bite for 2-3 hours, staying in tune with how your body feels, and tracking in your diary. If you don’t notice a negative reaction, continue to eat a full-size serving that day. If you do notice a reaction, stop eating the food and make a note in your food journal.
Wait 3-5 days to retry another food on your list so you are able to accurately assess symptoms and attribute them to a particular trigger food. Some reactions can be delayed, so it’s best to allow yourself that space when reintroducing.
If a food does not work for you it does not necessarily mean it’s out forever, just for right now based on where your body is at - you can plan to re-trial that food later on! Our bodies and microbiome are constantly evolving, and foods that don’t work for you now, may work for you in the future, so don’t despair!
What are you looking for during the reintroduction stage?
When bringing foods back in, it’s really helpful to keep a food and symptom journal like this one to keep track of how your body is reacting.
When reintroducing foods you’re looking for reactions such as:
digestive issues (gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea)
skin breakouts or rashes
itchy eyes, mouth or ears
your specific disease symptoms returning, among others.
It’s always best to work with a practitioner throughout this process to help guide you. Many times impairment in digestion and absorption of food along with lifestyle factors can also be playing a role in your persistent symptoms. It’s helpful to have a knowledgeable guide to help you navigate this process. Any healing diet is meant to be tailored to you and your individual needs, so do keep that in mind as well!
The AIP diet is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It’s simply a guide to help you incorporate healthy, whole foods into your diet and to remove the ones that personally affect you! As always, please consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any diet, supplementation or exercise program to make sure they work for you specifically.
Top Autoimmune Paleo resources
Here’s a few of our favourite AIP-specific online resources and blogs:
- The Paleo Mom: Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s website is a fantastic resource for people who are new to the AIP diet.
- Autoimmune Wellness: An incredible website dedicated to helping you get started with AIP, demystifying the process and providing tons of really helpful resources for the Autoimmune Protocol Diet
- Christina’s free batch cooking meal plan: an easy way to start you on your AIP journey without having to overthink your meals!
- Paleo Running Momma for lots of yummy paleo-compliant recipes
- Our Food Diary: The perfect tool for tracking your health throughout the AIP diet
- Wholefully: A fantastic website created by Cassie, dedicated to holistic living and featuring lots of delicious recipes that can be filtered by diet!
If you’re considering the AIP diet, remember the key points from our blog post:
Remember the AIP diet is not forever: it’s an elimination diet designed to help you heal your gut and pinpoint your specific trigger foods.
Work with a medical practitioner where possible to guide you through the process.
Be thorough and consistent with your reintroductions.
Track your progress in a food diary.
If the diet isn’t helping do not plough on: instead, schedule an appointment with your GP/specialist/dietitian to look at your results.