The Beginner’s Guide to Starting AIP
Diet and lifestyle changes are some of the best ways to reduce the symptoms of your autoimmune condition. And they may even be able to make your symptoms vanish completely!
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) is a Bottom Line of these diet and lifestyle changes. It was designed specifically to help autoimmune sufferers ease their symptoms and heal their bodies.
AIP is not a magic pill, and the improvements can take time. But if you’re willing to give AIP a try, then…
This article will give you a roadmap to successfully starting the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), so you can finally take back control of your health. All you have to do is take it step by step.
I’ll also explain why the Autoimmune Protocol can help many people improve their autoimmune symptoms as well as give you a different option to try if starting AIP seems like it’s just too difficult.
What is AIP and who is it for?
What is AIP?
AIP is a series of guidelines to improve (or minimize) autoimmune flare-ups.
Your flare-ups can be triggered by both lifestyle factors and the foods you eat, and that’s why AIP addresses both.
There’s an eating plan to stick to, which involves two phases: an elimination phase, followed by a reintroduction phase.
And you’ll also need to make sure you’re managing stress, getting plenty of sleep, spending time outdoors, making time for exercise and getting the support you need.
Who is AIP for?
The Autoimmune Protocol was created for everyone who is suffering from an autoimmune condition.
And that’s more people than you might expect – one in five folks in the US has some type of autoimmune condition.
In fact, there are over 100 different kinds of autoimmune conditions. But the most common ones are:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Graves’ disease
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- Hidradenitis Suppurativa
- Alopecia Areata
All these autoimmune conditions have one thing in common – their symptoms are caused by your immune system attacking your own body. And that’s what AIP is designed to help with.
How does AIP work?
More research still needs to be done, but AIP seems to work by healing your body in five ways:
1. AIP helps restore gut health
Leaky gut is thought to be one of the key causes of autoimmune disease. And AIP helps your gut heal and return to normal.
When your gut is leaky, there are gaps (which shouldn’t be there) between the walls of your intestine.
And this means that bacteria and harmful substances from the food you eat (called dietary antigens) are able to enter your bloodstream.
What happens next? Your immune system goes into permanent red alert to fight these off, and it ends up attacking parts of your own body too.
How does AIP help?
When you follow AIP, you eliminate the foods which irritate/damage the lining of your gut.
This gives it a chance to heal naturally, so it can function as an effective barrier again – keeping those harmful bacteria and substances out of your body.
Which means your immune system calms down and stops attacking your own tissues, so your symptoms decrease.
There’s also another gut-related benefit to AIP…
Having gut bacteria which are out of balance (a condition called gut dysbiosis) has been linked to autoimmune conditions. And AIP can help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut.
If you’ve been eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), AKA a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, you’re likely to have an overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria in your gut.
The good news is, AIP helps you reverse this overgrowth by eliminating foods from your diet which feed the bad bacteria and cause it to flourish.
And on AIP you’ll also eat more of the foods (including vegetables, fermented foods, and collagen) which support your good gut bacteria, encouraging them to grow.
The end result is a balanced, healthy gut full of friendly bacteria.
2. AIP can help balance your hormones
When your hormones are out of balance, it affects your immune system and causes it to function incorrectly. AIP helps bring your hormones back into balance to fix this.
There are all sorts of food-related factors which affect our hormones, like which foods we chose to eat, how much of them we eat, and when we eat them.
For example, dietary choices like eating too much sugar can throw our hormones off balance.
And there are lifestyle factors which affect our hormones too, like how much time we spend in nature, how much sleep we get, the amount of exercise we do, and how stressed we are.
If we’re stressed, sleep-deprived, and rarely spend time outside, our hormones will be out of balance.
How does AIP help?
This is where the two-pronged approach of AIP is so fantastic: it means you make the necessary changes to both your diet and lifestyle, so your hormones become balanced again.
And when your hormones are back in balance, they regulate your immune system so that it naturally begins to work correctly.
3. AIP helps reduces inflammation
Inflammation is common to almost all autoimmune conditions. And AIP can help reduce inflammation – which often alleviates other uncomfortable symptoms as well.
When your immune system attacks your body, it often causes inflammation. And this chronic inflammation can also be triggered or worsened by factors in your lifestyle or foods you’re eating.
Chronic inflammation doesn’t just cause you discomfort in the short-term (e.g. swollen and painful joints). It may also contribute to more severe health conditions in the future.
How does AIP help?
AIP is an anti-inflammatory diet – the protocol involves eliminating inflammation-causing foods like grains, dairy, and refined carbohydrates.
And it also targets your lifestyle – improving things like our stress levels and how much sleep we get can also reduce inflammation.
Reducing inflammation causes inflammation-related health problems to disappear, which gives your body a better chance of healing.
4. AIP helps fix micronutrient deficiencies
Not getting enough of certain essential nutrients can prevent your immune system from functioning properly. Following AIP helps your body get all the nutrients you need.
Our immune system needs lots of different types of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids. And so do our systems for detoxification and hormone regulation, which affect our overall health.
Unfortunately, the modern-day diet which most folks eat is lacking in nutrients.
This isn’t just because it contains fewer nutrient dense foods – it’s also because the foods we eat may actually contain fewer nutrients than in the past, due to decreases in soil quality. (There’s a study on this here)
How does AIP help?
AIP involves filling your diet with nutrient-dense foods (like bone broth, green leafy vegetables, and oily fish), which can start to reverse micronutrient deficiencies.
Flooding your body with nutrients helps give your immune system the micronutrients it needs to start functioning correctly again.
And it also helps your body heal the tissues damaged by your autoimmune condition.
5. AIP helps to restore your immune system
An incorrectly functioning immune system is the fundamental cause of your autoimmune condition symptoms. AIP helps your immune system start functioning again.
When your immune system starts attacking your own body, you develop the symptoms of an autoimmune condition.
Having an autoimmune condition is usually linked to factors from your diet, lifestyle, and/or genetics.
Like having leaky gut, hormonal imbalances, and micronutrient deficiencies…aka all the things I’ve just discussed!
How does AIP help?
AIP helps heal your leaky gut, bring your gut bacteria back into balance, regulate your hormones, fix your micronutrient deficiencies and reduce inflammation.
And together, all these changes help regulate your immune system so it returns to normal.
The 2 Phases of AIP:
AIP is split into two phases – the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase.
Phase 1: the elimination phase
During this phase, you only eat the foods on the “allowed” list and you eliminate all the foods on the “avoid” list. (More on those in a moment).
How long does the elimination phase last for?
At least 30-60 days, which gives your symptoms a chance to clear up and allows your body to start healing itself.
And if your symptoms aren’t reducing, you’ll need to stick with the elimination diet until they start calming down (which can be 3-6 months, for some folks).
This phase might seem intensive, but it’s only temporary!
What can you eat on The AIP Elimination Phase?
Enjoy these foods:
- Meats, organ meats, fish, and shellfish
- Kombucha, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods
- Spinach, chard, kale, and other leafy green vegetables
- Cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts
- Asparagus, green beans, and sugar snap peas
- Sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables
- Avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil
- Duck fat, lard, tallow, and other healthy fats
- Basil, bay leaf, cinammon, and other AIP-approved herbs and spices
- Coconut flakes, coconut aminos, and apple cider vinegar
- Fruits (but only 1-3 servings per day)
What foods can’t you eat on The AIP Elimination Phase?
Avoid these foods:
- Grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa
- Milk, cheese, yogurt, ghee, and other dairy products
- Lentils, chickpeas, beans, and other legumes (including soy and peanuts!)
- Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and other nightshades
- All processed foods and refined carbohydrates
- Sugars and artificial sweeteners (e.g. stevia)
- Nut oils, seed oils (eg. sesame seed oil), and refined vegetable oils
- Spices made from nightshades (eg. paprika and chilli)
- Cocoa (including chocolate)
- Nuts and seeds
- Ibuprofen, aspirin, and other NSAIDs
- Preservatives, thickeners, flavorings, emulsifiers, coloring, and other additives
- Any foods you already know you’re allergic/sensitive to!
You can get a detailed AIP food list emailed to you by clicking on the button below:
Phase 2: the reintroduction phase
This is the phase when you start reintroducing foods into your diet – but slowly and in small amounts, to avoid triggering a flare-up.
How does reintroduction work?
There’s a specific protocol you need to follow, which was first outlined by Sarah Ballantyne in her book, The Paleo Approach.
Here’s the method:
- Eat half a teaspoon of the food you’re planning to reintroduce and wait for 15 minutes.
- If you don’t react badly, eat a full teaspoon and wait for another 15 minutes.
- If there’s no sign of negative symptoms, eat one and a half teaspoons and wait for around 3 hours.
- If you still haven’t reacted badly, eat a normal-sized serving and then keep an eye out for symptoms during the next 3-7 days. (And make sure you don’t attempt to reintroduce any other foods during this time).
If you stay symptom-free, congratulations: you can now include this food in your diet again!
What foods should you reintroduce first on AIP?
The order you reintroduce foods in really doesn’t make too much of a difference – it’s more important to only reintroduce foods one at a time, following the method above.
So if you’ve been missing a particular food, feel free to try reintroducing that one first!
How long before you can reintroduce foods?
That depends on you and your body!
You’ll need to wait a minimum of 30-60 days before you consider reintroducing foods.
And if your symptoms haven’t begun to improve after 60 days, you’ll need to wait until you start seeing improvements. Which may potentially take 3-6 months.
The important thing is not to rush this process and give your body enough time to start healing.
What if you have a bad reaction to the food you’re reintroducing?
Stop reintroducing the food and go back to a strict elimination phase AIP diet until your symptoms calm down again.
Then, pick a new food to try and carry on with the reintroduction phase of AIP! The food you reacted to will need to stay out of your diet.
You might find that some foods are fine for your body in very small or occasional doses. But if you eat them in large amounts, they trigger a flare-up.
You’ll still be able to add those foods back into your regular diet, but only in moderation.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth roadmap to reintroducing foods, this book is a good guide.
AIP isn’t just about what you eat
When you’re following the Autoimmune Protocol, there are four lifestyle changes you’ll also need to make in order to support your health.
1. Make sure you de-stress
Managing your stress levels is tough, and we’re all sometimes going to have days which stress us out.
Having said that, there are a few methods you can use to help you keep your stress levels under control:
Meditation is a highly effective form of stress relief, and that’s been scientifically proven (you can see a study here). There are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube you can listen to, and meditation apps you can download, too.
Deep breathing is another great technique for combatting your stress levels when they begin to rise. You can find lots of breathing exercises for stress relief with a quick Google search.
Changing your mindset is the toughest form of stress relief. But if you do it right, it can help you stop feeling so stressed out even if you’re in a stressful situation. You might need a few self-help books or a friendly therapist for this one!
2. Get enough sleep
This can be a bit of a challenge! And even if you are managing to get to bed at a reasonable time, you need to make sure the sleep you get is high quality.
There are several things you can do to improve your sleep quality:
Work with your body’s internal clock by getting up at sunrise and making sure you get some sunlight after you wake up.
Sleep for at least 7 hours each night to make sure you get enough rest – it’s been scientifically proven to be the minimum amount of sleep your body needs. You can see the study here.
Sleep in complete darkness by using blackout blinds, covering any small lights (e.g. from charging electronics) or even using an eye mask if necessary.
Make sure your bedroom stays cool by opening up a window or using a fan in the summer. There are studies to show it can help you sleep better.
And if stress is what’s keeping you from sleeping well at night, check out the tips in the previous section!
3. Make time for gentle exercise
The key word here is gentle – you don’t have to run a marathon or force yourself to do Crossfit classes! (Unless you want to, of course.)
These are the two tips you need to remember when it comes to exercise:
Choose a type of exercise you enjoy and which suits your current fitness level. Whether you pick yoga, running, cycling, swimming or even just walking – you’ll be more likely to stick with it if you enjoy it!
Consider doing some weight lifting as part of your exercise routine. It can help you build muscle and strengthen your bones. Just make sure you work with a trainer if you’re new to lifting weights, to prevent yourself from getting injured.
4. Connect with nature and other people
Spending time outdoors is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, and so is having a supportive community of people around you.
Here are a couple of tips to help with both of those things:
Try making an outdoor walk part of your daily routine – whether that’s a quick stroll at lunchtime or a longer walk in the morning/evening. If you can find a friend/coworker/family member to walk with, even better!
Find people to support you by reaching out to friends or family members, and joining online communities (like Facebook group and forums). Don’t forget there’s also professional support available from nutritionists and doctors!
6 Steps to Get Started on AIP Today
If you’re ready to take action and start your recovery process, these are five steps you can take today.
Step 1. Download our AIP 101 Guide and AIP Food List
They’ll give you a resource you can easily refer to when you have questions about AIP. And having an AIP food list on your mobile phone will make step 2 easier…
Step 2. Clean out your pantry and fridge, then restock with new foods
It’ll be much easier to stick with your AIP diet if you don’t have non-AIP treats around to tempt you. And you can use our AIP food list to help you restock!
Step 3. Ask your friends and family to hold you accountable
It’ll help get them onboard with your healing process – and research has shown that you’re more likely to stick to your goals if you make them public.
Step 4. Join some of the online Facebook communities for AIP
You’ll be able to connect with folks who are in a similar situation to you, and who share tips and advice from personal experience.
Step 5. Make a plan for what you’ll be eating this week
Or use our AIP meal plans if you’d like a little extra support to start with.
Step 6. Decide what time you plan to get into bed every night for the next week
Count backward seven hours from the time you need to wake up in the morning. Then, set an alarm for half an hour before you need to bed. It’ll help you stick to your new bedtime!
If starting AIP is too difficult, there’s an alternative…
AIP will help you heal your body and reverse your autoimmune condition more quickly – but it only works if you can stick to it! An easier alternative for many people is just eating a Paleo diet.
If your symptoms are less serious, a Paleo diet could even be enough to clear them up. And if you have more severe symptoms, you might find AIP easier to follow if you’re already eating Paleo.
Take a moment to think about it – have a look over our beginner’s guide to the Paleo Diet for more details about what Paleo involves.
The Takeaway is…
In the words of Nike: “Just do it!”
It’s easy to overthink things, put off the changes you need to make, and wake up in a year’s time realizing you’re still struggling with the same old health challenges.
Whether you’re going AIP, going Paleo, or going Paleo and then transitioning to AIP…don’t be intimidated!
Changing your diet can be scary, but there are plenty of delicious recipes you can cook involving real foods like high-quality meats, vegetables, and fruits. This flavorful AIP Chicken Korma is just one example.
The most important thing to do is begin today, even if it’s just skipping your bread and chocolate bar!
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