Want to know what two years of following AIP looks like?
My two-year AIP anniversary was a couple of weeks ago…
Since I started my Autoimmune Protocol caper, I have learnt so much. About health. About lifestyle choices. About myself. About the prevalence and diversity of autoimmune disease.
And, while I have written a couple of updates in the past (here’s the first one, and the more comprehensive one year number), because the community of AIPers is growing at such a fast rate, I thought a further update may be in order.
Because when you’re starting out on the Autoimmune Protocol, two years seems like a lifetime.
“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
― Janis Joplin
Here’s my biggest learning:
I have learnt that it is possible to put my 20+ years of autoimmune-related illness almost completely into remission by making dramatic changes to my diet and lifestyle.
It’s true. I’m not overstating or exaggerating.
Let me be clear. It’s not gone as in ‘forever gone’.
But it is immeasurably better than it was.
If you are not familiar with my particular flavour of autoimmunity, I suffer from Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). It is a hideous, shameful and painful affliction and looking back, it did a real number on me – especially my self-esteem.
Most of the time, I now live free of HS symptoms. That alone is life-changing. But this healing jaunt has given me so much more.
Here are some of the top-of-mind direct changes:
- One year after periodontal surgery and the very real chance I would lose teeth, my gums were declared healthy and I experienced bone regeneration
- With a strong family history of bowel cancer and 4 consecutive years of abnormal colonoscopy results, last year my gastroenterologist declared me ‘clean as a whistle’ and no further check-up is required for 3 years. It would have been 5 without my family history
- My sleep is incomparably better
- My mood is more constant
- A clear sense that I am a full participant in life, not merely an observer
- People actually comment on how great my skin looks (and this is a huge deal when you experienced chronic acne as a teenager and suffer from 20+ years of a chronic skin affliction)
- a passion for living my life in a way that serves me
A Little History
I spent 9 months in the elimination phase before I started reintroducing foods. And during this time, I was strict. I didn’t cheat. I gave up my beloved coffee. I gave up chocolate. I didn’t touch wine. I ate no eggs.
If I’m honest, unlike some people, I didn’t actually find the elimination phase too onerous. Sure, I would have loved the odd treat, but my mind was very definitely on the prize. And, I think this is because the pain of an HS flare was far worse to me than any dietary restriction could ever be. And that remains the case, even today. I was pretty seriously focused on healing my gut.
You’ve heard of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs? Well, since I’m a bit of a visual type, I thought an AIP Hierarchy was in order.
And, because they say that a picture paints a thousand words, the image below illustrates about where I am on my AIP hierarchy without me having to go into great detail!
AIP is about SO much more than diet
When you first start down this rabbit hole, you tend to be pretty focused on what you can’t eat. And it’s true, there are restrictions. But, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you add into your diet, too.
As I’ve already mentioned, the diet bit was pretty easy for me. You get your head around the formula, and you apply it. You build a repertoire of healthy, nutrient-dense recipes you like and you’re off.
But – it’s really, really important you make changes to your lifestyle that support your road to health. And, this takes commitment. Sleep matters. Managing stress matters. Getting outside matters. Spending time with people you love matters. Learning to put yourself first matters.
One of the absolute best ways to tick all these boxes and keep yourself honest is to track it. I keep a simple Excel spreadsheet. I call it my ‘Food ‘n’ Mood Diary’.
Bottom line: a whole-istic approach is key.
You need support, but your experience will be different from everybody else
There are so many ways to get support specific to this protocol. And, of course, I encourage you to spend some time with your nearest and dearest educating them on just why you are undertaking this course of direction.
But there is also an increasing number of AIP specific blogs, Facebook groups and local meetups out there, too. And, of course, there are now health coaches who specialise in supporting your success on the protocol, too!
Just remember that you are unique. What works for someone else may not work for you.
“Be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Bottom line: stick to your guns
Do the easy stuff first
Given the Autoimmune Protocol is about so much more than just diet, where do you start?
I can’t emphasise this enough. You’re in this for the long haul (just consider how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms and the time it has taken to arrive at this point!). So it makes sense to pace yourself. Break the protocol down into manageable chunks that work for you.
- If the diet seems daunting to you, consider signing up for SAD to AIP in 6. It’s a phased and supported approach to the elimination diet (I’m one of the coaches.)
- If getting enough sleep is an issue for you, consider picking up a copy of Go to Bed: 14 Steps to Healthier Sleep.
- If, like me, stress management is your particular area of struggle, set some goals to find ways to better manage your stress
- There are some great options for music for meditation and healing here.
- Check out the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s an eye-opener.
- Get out into nature. Every day if possible. Try ‘grounding’. Just ditch the shoes the next time you go for a walk at the park or beach.
- Consider Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages (there’s a special Morning Pages eBook that’s cheap as chips if you’re interested in learning more).
- Check out this post I did on 5 Mindfulness Techniques that Don’t Include Meditation.
- Creating a personal morning ritual was transformative for me. So much so, I created a FREE mini eCourse to step you through how you can create one for you, too.
Bottom line: break the protocol down into manageable chunks.
Respect the past but be ‘future-focused’
Looking – with positivity – to the future is a key indicator of health. Even if its not our best character trait, we all know that ‘positive thinking‘ is good for us.
But did you know that one quality most septuagenarians have in common is their future focus?
Not sure exactly what I mean by ‘future focus’? – Give a future-focused oldie a compliment about their gorgeous garden and they’ll be the one saying, “Come back in three years. It’ll be even better!”
AIP has allowed me to become more future-focused. If I can achieve this in two years, imagine what I can achieve in four or five…?
What could you achieve?
Bottom line: Mental attitude matters
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting a good nights sleep. Every night.
And by ‘good night’, I mean between at least 7 – 8 hours, preferably more when you are undertaking the Autoimmune Protocol.
Science is realising more and more just how critical our need for sleep is. Sleep is the time when our body regenerates and heals. It’s when the real work happens.
If you do nothing but clean up your diet and introduce a good sleep practice, you will be doing your health a big favour.
And, if you are having trouble sleeping, check out these handy suggestions to improve your sleep patterns.
Bottom line: Make sleep a priority
There will be a sticky bit
Everyone has one. And, let’s face it – this AIP caper takes work. But, I can pretty much guarantee there will be one area of the protocol that is particularly tricky for you.
For me, its managing stress.
We all get stressed.
But it is the way that we manage this stress that affects our health.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a master stresser. I even worry about my level of worrying. Pick the health coach with a degree in psychology!
But, I just continue to chip away at it. And, apply my mind to it.
For me, that means undertaking the training to become a meditation teacher and facilitator (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!)
Bottom line: This healing caper isn’t linear. You will discover a part of the protocol that is more challenging than the rest
The elimination phase doesn’t last forever (and isn’t meant to) but your investment in health will never be over
It’s true. Just when you get your head around the fact that the sacrifices you’re making on the elimination phase of your protocol aren’t forever (and in fact, in the greater scheme of things, they’re not even for that long), you realise this is a lifetime deal.
Have you heard that expression, “You can’t go back to holding hands”?
Well, in this instance, you’ll realise that you can’t ever go back to that state of blissful ignorance you had before you started AIP. You’ll always be a label reader now. You’ll always want to talk to the farmer about what he feeds his animals. You’ll be the one walking the perimeter of the supermarket. And that’s if you actually go to the supermarket anymore. It will just matter to you.
And that’s 100% ok!
Bottom line: AIP will change your life. For the better.
Dolly sums it all up best, I think:
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
― Dolly Parton