For 30 days in January, I followed the paleo autoimmune protocol. I did this partially out of curiosity, and partially to clear up an inexplicable skin rash that had slowly been covering more and more of my body. At the time, I had two other skin issues which I hadn’t expected to clear up or be effected by the protocol – boils that may or may not be a mild form of HS and a very persistent lesion. All of these skin issues I’ve had for more than a year, with occasional and unpredictable flares. Cutting out the usual culprits – gluten, excess sugar, soy, corn etc – didn’t help, so I decided to try the AIP diet.
You can find all of my AIP-related posts – which include what I ate and how I felt each day – here.
The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol in short, is a paleo diet minus:
– Nuts (including nut oils, flours, & butters)
– Seeds (including seed-based spices & oils, chocolate & coffee)
– Nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, chiles, etc and nightshade-derived spices like paprika, chili powder etc)
– NSAIDS (like naproxen sodium, ie, Aleve)
– Bone broth
– Probiotics (yeah bacteria!)
– Lots of dark, leafy green veggies
– Grassfed meats
– Oily fishes
– Organ meats
– Moderate exercise
– More sleep
I revved up for the 30 days by looking up as many AIP friendly recipes as I could and getting excited about what I could eat, like sweet potatoes and avocadoes! But even with all that, and a month’s worth of mental prep, and having done elimination diets like the Whole30 before, it was still really really difficult.
And it’s still ongoing. Even in the reintroduction phase, you stick to a strict AIP diet most of the time.
So, how’d it go?
I want to say everything cleared up. I want to say nothing improved. I want to say that something very clear cut happened.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that clear.
I felt pretty much as amazing as I usually feel when eating strict paleo. My energy levels evened out after the first week without coffee, my sleep was deep and good, my workouts steadily improved, and even when I got sick in the first week, I was only out of commission for a day. I had some digestive weirdness in the first two weeks, but that cleared up and everything is dandy now. I lost all of the bloat I’d gained over the holidays and a few pounds. My clothes are a little looser despite not trying to lose any weight.
But again, nothing I didn’t get on the Whole30 or strict paleo.
My skin issues? Eh. The inexplicable skin rash appeared to get better for two weeks, then refused to budge and even popped up a few new rashes. But my boils are much better and the lesion appears to be slowly, but steadily, improving.
I don’t know how to feel about these things – they are improvements, albeit small ones. But nothing as grand and amazing as I had hoped for and – perhaps naively – expected. All of these have been around for years and will likely just need more than 30 days to get better. Thankfully, reintroduction is still mostly strict AIP, so they will have more time. I will continue to monitor them closely.
Basically, the sheer difficulty of the diet didn’t show up in the results. I expected more because it was freaking hard, man. It’s one thing to think, oh, I can live without seed & nightshade spics. It’s another to go through paleo recipe after paleo recipe, turning them all down because of those spices. No tacos. No fancy burgers. No chili. No bacon-wrapped jalapenos. No almond cookies. No freaking chocolate.
I knew I’d reached a low point when I kept flipping past delicious amazing paleo recipes because each and every one had a deal-breaking non-substitutional ingredient and just started crying out of frustration. It’s one thing to focus on delicious food like avocadoes and sweet potatoes, but it’s another to have those almost every single day without much variation. I am, in effect, incredibly bored with food.
Paleo/primal eating seems to be sufficient for me to feel 95%. Continuing down the road of food restrictions and AIP is probably not worth the remaining 5%. I will still do the full reintroduction in order to avoid invalidating all the work I put into the AIP and also to give my body a little more time in case these skin issues really just need an extra month. Right now, though, I’m fairly convinced they aren’t autoimmune in nature – at least, not exclusively so. Thankfully, I’ll have a better idea about that if/when I manage to get pregnant, because pregnancy hormones repress the immune system and frequently cause autoimmune issues to go into remission.
Some tips for those who would try the AIP diet:
First of all, have you tried eating strict paleo? Or even the Whole30? If not, start there before you even consider AIP. Strict paleo already removes most of the prime autoimmune suspects and is sufficient 89% of the time (a number completely pulled out of my butt, btw). Check out the Whole30. Please.
If you’ve gone that route and stayed true for at least a year, and still have autoimmune symptoms, you might want to look into AIP. Write out your issues. Stare at them. Are these worth a full month of strict eating, as well as several months afterwards of dedication and reintroduction? Will you actually adhere and stick with it, without throwing in the towel in week two? Are you willing to commit?
If the answer to any of these is no – then maybe you should wait. Maybe now is not the time. Come back in a few months and reconsider. Because this will take unwavering dedication and is not worth doing half-assed. If you break it off in week two or even week three, it was a waste of your time. Life is too short for that.
Now, if you’re set on doing the AIP, give yourself enough time to prepare, both mentally and recipe-ially. I would suggest printing out the lists of what you can and can’t have and putting them somewhere prominent. Familiarize yourself way before you start. Keep them somewhere prominent, like on your fridge or at work. Or both!
Pick a month with as few social obligations and travel as possible. January was perfect for me, and winter in general is better because then, at least, tomatoes are not in delicious, mouth-watering season. But if you’re on the road all winter, maybe you should go with summer. Traveling while on AIP is doable but difficult and not worth the extra stress. Really.
Don’t. Deprive. Yourself. You’re already severely restricted, so don’t cut back on calories and don’t say no to treats you can – and want to – eat. Dried mango slices saved my sanity on more than one occasion and, yes, I probably ate way more than was really necessary. Eat until you’re sated.
Herbs. You can have herbs. Stock up on them. Double the garlic in every recipe. Add more ginger. Do it.
Roasted chicken is a godsend. Not only do you have three/four meals, you can make broth out of its delicious carcass.
Drink broth every day. Make a habit of it.
Let your friends know. Tell them they don’t have to accommodate you. Don’t expect them to. Then, if they do, weep with joy.
Pulverize the liver in a food processor and add it to your meatballs. Double the garlic. Thank me later.
Greens are your friend. Especially pre-washed and cut greens. They cook within minutes and go with everything. Eat them. Often.
Avocadoes are versatile and filling and a fine alternative to eating another. damn. apple. Find some quality olive oil and some tasty salt and liberally smother the avocado with both.
Coconut milk/cream is magical. Use it any time you’d use milk.
If you chop off your thumb, I won’t judge you if you have a little wine.
Plan in advance and make sufficient sauerkraut. It is easy, delicious, and a probiotic. It also goes well with burgers.
It’s okay to cry.
Next up, an AIP recipe round-up.