The following is a guest post from Lisa from Paleo & Co. one of our stockists. Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease back in 2015, she did everything she could to get well, and soon found the Auto Immune Protocol (AIP). Here she explains what it is and how it can help anyone with autoimmune conditions.
AIP and me…
AIP, or the Autoimmune Protocol is basically… amazing. It’s a powerful way to heal the body and promote wellness. Basically it’s a healing diet and lifestyle for people with autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s (which is what I have) but also Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, Chron’s Disease and Graves Disease (in fact, there are over 150 confirmed autoimmune, suspected autoimmune and autoimmune related conditions*, and this figure continues to rise.) So far most evidence of the benefits of AIP has been anecdotal – a quick look through Facebook AIP groups though and you’ll see LOTS of thumbs up from people with all sorts of autoimmune issues who have managed to slay their symptoms and get on with their lives. And things are moving in the right direction – with some initial research findings showing how AIP can work, such as this one.
What is an autoimmune disease?
I’m no doctor (and have no medical training whatsoever) so this is just based on my experience and my own (hours and hours) of research, but basically here’s an overview:
An autoimmune disease happens when our immune system, the thing that protects us from illness and infection, turns against us and starts attacking our proteins, cells and tissues instead (in the case of Hashimoto’s it attacks the thyroid). Everyone’s symptoms are different but for me, debilitating lethargy, (I couldn’t wash or dry my hair as it was too exhausting and painful to hold up my arms), brain fog, digestive issues, aches and pains all over my body, weight gain (despite eating ‘healthy’ and exercising) and hair loss were the main ones.
When I was finally diagnosed I did what everyone does – I consulted Dr Google… a few hours later I found AIP.
Those couple of hours lost reading and researching changed my life.
So what is AIP?
AIP is Paleo and then some. Basically, some Paleo foods, whist being natural, nutrient dense and good for us, can also have inflammatory effects. With Paleo we eat the foods that are nutrient dense and don’t worry too much about if these foods have inflammatory properties as long as the benefits outweigh the negatives. With AIP we don’t take that chance. All foods which can cause any kind of inflammation in the body (even if they have wonderful nutrients, such as a tomato) are out. It means that the immune system is regulated and stops it attacking the body, giving the body a chance to heal. AIP is also a great diet for healing the gut.
What’s in, what’s out on AIP?
So as well as the usual grains, dairy, industrialised seed oils, legumes, soy and refined sugar that are no-nos with Paleo, AIP also cuts out…
- Nuts and seeds (including seed-based spices as well as cocoa and coffee)
- Nightshades – such as tomatoes, potatoes, aubergine, goji berries, chillies and peppers (and any spices derived from these such as paprika)
- Eggs (which has to be the hardest for me!)
The good news is, this elimination phase is not forever. As soon as the body is showing signs of repair or symptoms have disappeared, people start to reintroduce food. And luckily for me eggs are one of the first reintroductions (Hello Hunter & Gather mayonnaise!)
The other thing to remember about AIP though is it’s not just about what you cut out. It’s about what you add in too. It’s all about getting as much nutrient density as possible. Things to add in an the Autoimmune Protocol include:
Organ meats (liver is my favourite but I’ve also had heart and it was really good)
Bone broth (make your own or try this one)
Lots (and lots and LOTS) of vegetables (especially leafy greens and sea vegetables)
Things like ferments can also be really healing (but be careful if you have histamine issues).
So what do you actually eat on AIP?
People are constantly asking me what I eat, so here’s a typical day:
For breakfast I’ll have tiger nut ‘porridge’ (or Tiger Not Porridge) as we call it, made with coconut milk or a breakfast ‘hash’ made with leftover protein/liver and sweet potato plus plenty of greens such as cabbage, kale and spinach – with a good drizzle of Hunter & Gather avocado oil.
Lunch is usually either soup or a huge salad with fish or other protein or soup made with bone broth and plenty of veggies.
Dinner can be as simple as a stir fry (with plenty of ginger and a squeeze of lemon) or an AIP sort of curry, like this one.
Snacking is harder on AIP – I try to limit fructose to 20g a day so a few berries is enough. I love tiger nuts (not actually nuts at all but tiny prebiotic powerhouses) and I do love these duck crackling snacks as well (I have reintroduced pepper thankfully!) Grace Plantain Chips and Awfully Posh pork scratchings are always good to have on hand too.
Food does play a huge part in healing with the AIP, but it’s much more than just a diet. Healing will only go so far with food.
AIP lifestyle changes
Another key to healing with AIP are lifestyle changes. To be honest they are common sense and things everyone should be doing anyway, but in today’s world we often need a little nudge in the right direction.
Get some Zzzz
First and foremost is getting enough sleep. I use blue blockers, switch off screens an hour before bedtime and do my best to make sure the kids don’t wake me up before 6.30 (not always possible though!)
Getting rid of stress is also a huge part of the protocol. Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation have probably helped my healing journey just as much as diet. As someone who’s always on the go, this has not been an easy transition for me. I started with ten minutes Headspace a day, which has been amazing and I recommend it to everyone I meet (I really should be on commission!). Since then I’ve added yoga, journaling and plenty of self-care (yes I hate that word too but until they come up with something better it will have to do!)
Movement/exercise is hugely important – although at first I needed to let my body heal and stuck to walking and yoga, I’m now a couple of years into AIP and enjoy weekly HIIT and boxing bootcamps – something I never imagined a few years ago when getting out of bed was a struggle.
Lastly, find your people and CONNECT. Not always easy when most socialising revolves around food, I know, but social cohesion and integration has been found to help you live longer – just take a look at this TED talk. (Just ignore the gluten-free comment!)
Connection is essential to our health and healing – both with people and with nature. I have started meeting friends for walks and outdoor exercise classes rather than restaurants and bars. We also have people around for home cooked AIP meals at Paleo & Co HQ rather than meals out.
At first my diagnosis was a huge blow. I grieved for my health –and that’s no exaggeration! Seriously. I cried, I sulked, I even went through the whole ‘It’s not fair’ whiny child stage. Luckily for my husband that didn’t last too long. But now, a few years on, I am thankful for my Hashimoto’s. It has helped me changed my life, put me on a path towards health and even given me a new career running a Paleo community website and online shop. So if you’re considering AIP or have just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, don’t worry… take a look at the following resources and start feeling well again soon.
Some great AIP resources:
AIP blogs and recipes:
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne (aka the Paleo Mom)
The Healing Kitchen by Aleana Haber and Sarah Ballantyne
The Autoimmune cookbook by Mickey Trescott
The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt
*The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook, Mickey Tescott, NTP and Angie Alt NTC,CHC