It’s easy to assume that people know about the AIP and all it encompasses, but that’s not always the case. So, today, a comprehensive introduction to AIP – a reference point for those who are starting out or a refresher for those who may need it.
You hear a lot about the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) around here, specifically personalising your AIP way of life. That’s because I’m committed to using the principles of the protocol as the basis for all my mentoring, regardless of whether the full elimination diet is required.
Because AIP is based on science. Because it puts you firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about your health. Because it is an holistic approach that works in conjunction with conventional medicine.
And because I live an AIP way of life.
So, What exactly is this Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) framework?
Think of AIP as your health toolbox with all the tools you need for understanding how you react to the foods you eat, the lifestyle choices you make, and the environment you live in. It’s a very individual approach to creating a health template that works for you in a very personal way.
In a nutshell, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a three-phased nutrient-rich and holistic health approach for chronic disease management. It provides you with a roadmap for finding solutions for improving your health.
I love it because it gives you easy access to your maximum potential effectiveness, just from making healthy diet and lifestyle choices. For me, it’s a no brainer. Especially when you suffer from chronic illness.
We know that poor gut health and imbalances in gut microorganisms are believed to be involved in all autoimmune diseases. They are diseases directly related to diet and lifestyle.
Following an AIP way of life helps to heal the gut, to restore (and maintain) healthy gut microorganisms, to reduce inflammation and to regulate the immune system both through healing the gut, but also through regulating hormones and addressing micronutrient deficiencies.
Count me in!
The 3 phases of AIP and creating your AIP way of life
When you first consider following AIP it’s very easy, even common, to focus all of your attention on the elimination diet.
But this is just one aspect of the protocol… In fact, there are three distinct phases.
Phase I – The Elimination Phase is where you remove foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system. But, it’s not just about removing foods. It’s very much about adding more nutrient-dense foods plus actively work on making lifestyle choices that serve you, too.
Phase II – The Reintroduction Phase is arguably the trickiest phase. This is when you systematically reintroduce many of those potentially inflammatory foods that you have been going without.
Phase III – The Maintenance Phase and the one where you bed down this AIP way of life you’ve been working on. This is also where you get on with the business of being the best version of you that you can be, and living a great life!
Let’s break these phases down a little further:
The Elimination Phase
It’s a no-brainer that this is the bit where you remove all those potentially inflammatory (yet yummy!) foods for a time.
“One-quarter of what you eat keeps you alive. The other three-quarters keep your doctor alive.” – Hieroglyph in an Egyptian tomb
But, what does it mean in practical terms?
Well, it means you cut out all grains, pulses (legumes), refined sugars, trans fats found in modern vegetable oils, and processed food chemicals and ingredients. Your pantry will never look the same again! Dairy of any kind (even grass-fed ghee) will also now be avoided for a while.
And, the following foods are part of the ‘elimination phase’, too:
- Seeds (including cocoa, coffee – yes, coffee! – and seed-based spices)
- Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, chillis), and all spices derived from peppers, including paprika.
- Problematic sugars and sugar substitutes. Also, fructose consumption in excess of 20g per day (that’s a couple of pieces of fruit)
- NSAIDs (like aspirin or ibuprofen)
- all other food additives
So what CAN you eat?
The primary focus on the AIP is eating a nutrient-dense diet. Deficiencies in nutrients are the strongest diet-related factors contributing to increased risk of autoimmune disease. And, just as some foods are eliminated, there is also a big focus on eating more of the very nutrient-rich foods:
- organ meat and offal (bone broth and chicken liver pâté may well become your new best friend)
- fish and shellfish
- vegetables of all kinds, including sea vegetables. A wide variety of fresh vegetables, including cruciferous, root vegetables, mushrooms, alliums and leafy greens
- fresh herbs and (safe) spices
- quality meat and poultry (grass-fed, pasture-raised and happy is best)
- quality fats (pasture-raised/grass-fed and happy animal fats, fatty fish, olive, avocado, coconut
- fruit (keeping fructose intake under 20 g daily). Berries are a great low-sugar and delicious option.
- probiotic foods (things like fermented vegetables, kombucha and kefir, and probiotic supplements)
- glycine-rich foods (anything with connective tissue, joints or skin, organ meat, and bone broth)
Of course, diet is just one element of continued good health. Getting enough sleep, moving every day, connecting with people who make you feel good, spending time in nature in the sunshine and managing stress – both at home and at work – are all important factors, too.
The Reintroduction Phase
The elimination phase of AIP is definitely not a life sentence. The length of time you spend in elimination is very much dependent on you and your personal circumstances. Best case, you want to start reintroducing foods because you’re feeling #bloodyfabulous.
The absolute minimum recommended time in Phase I is 30 days, but you may find 60-90 days is better for you. Importantly, if you are not experiencing any health wins after three months, it’s definitely time to enlist the help of a functional practitioner. After that, depending on how you feel, you’ll either continue or start reintroducing foods – one by one – to see if they cause a reaction.
Reintroducing foods can be a tricky time. I recommend the following:
- choose one food to reintroduce at a time
- keep a food and mood journal to track your progress
- make it yours – reintroduce foods in alignment with the flow of your life
I have a downloadable reintroduction cheatsheet here.
The Maintenance Phase
This is the funnest phase of your health caper. It is the time where you get to play with bedding down diet and lifestyle choices that will serve you in the years ahead.
This is where you get on with the business of living your AIP way of life.
Most of my clients come to me in the maintenance phase of their AIP caper. Perhaps it’s because they’ve got their diet piece under control but they need some help with lifestyle aspects – things like learning to create boundaries or the importance of developing an internal locus of control. Maybe it’s because they’re feeling a little isolated and they seek a wonderfully supportive AIP Mentorship crew of women who understand. Often, it’s because life has thrown them a curve-ball and they need to recalibrate with a 30-day AIP Reset.
This third phase is the one where I have been able to develop my own personal roadmap towards better health.