Eating Strict AIP
It has been just over six months of eating strict AIP and so I wanted to share with you some of the things that I have experienced, noticed and learned during this period of time. When I first started the autoimmune protocol diet I was desperate and willing to try pretty much anything to feel better. In specific I have a host of issues but none greater than the feeling of choking / being choked, along with a tight and swollen throat. When I made the switch to AIP I was ready to try just about anything, which was the mindset that I was in when I first started to notice that gluten and wheat made my throat feel worse.
I don't think gluten is bad, as I discuss in my story about MCTD, but for some reason it appears to make my throat swell (or at least feel swollen) for a few weeks at a time. The desire to eliminate other things that might be causing a similar reaction to wheat and gluten is how I got started eating AIP. It was not easy to get started and there was a TON of learning that needed to happen to even come close to 100% strict AIP. Here are some quick things that I learned...perhaps your experience is different but this is my take on:
Dining at restaurants - The Achilles heel of eating AIP is basically any meal that you need to eat outside of your own home. I tried on a few occasions to eat at restaurants but every time I ended up with symptoms of cross contamination. Eventually I arrived at the conclusion that it is simply not possible to have someone else handle my food. At least for now. This is when I switched to eating ONLY food that I prepare 100% of the time. This is massively inconvenient and borderline not possible depending on what your lifestyle looks like. For myself, I needed improvement above all other wants and desires.
Non compliant foods - There are so many things out there that are close to being compliant foods but actually are not. For example I was eating black pepper as a seasoning for two weeks before I discovered that I had read an older AIP article and in fact the current accepted standard is no peppercorns regardless of color. Also you will probably end up buying a lot of canned coconut, but you will likely have to search far and wide to find some without added preservatives or guar gum. Watch which spices you use being sure to avoid nut and seed based spices. Any food that contains "natural color", "natural flavor", "spices", or any other nondescript food should be assumed to be non-compliant. The joke that I tell my friends is that my diet is so strict, if the food has ingredients then I can't eat it.
What CAN you eat on AIP? - This caused me to have a meltdown one night out of sheer frustration. If you search for information about AIP foods or what is safe to eat al you will find are endless lists of things which you can't eat. There are tons of things you can eat, and try to focus on those and not the things which you can't have. When people ask about your diet, don't tell them what you can't have, tell them what you can have. My favorite AIP compliant foods are turkey dinners with mashed sweet potatoes and rosemary gravy, with a giant pile of smashed cranberries and compliant veggies. I also eat a lot of avocados, coconuts and bone broth in addition to meats and leafy greens. Leafy green salads with oil and vinegar dressing is a daily staple for people eating AIP as is the bone broth. Meats and veggies make up the vast majority of the foods I have been eating for the past six months. Here are some of my AIP recipes to help get you started.
Packaged foods - If you need to eat AIP then you need to completely stop buying packaged foods. Imagine you live 100 years ago or more...the food you cook now should look like the food you might have cooked back then. If you eat a hamburger (meat, no bun) then it should come from fresh beef (grass fed specifically) and NOT from a frozen box in your freezer. Every last thing you eat should be made from one ingredient foods, fresh, by you. Sure you can probably buy things like AIP compliant BBQ sauce if you are made of money...but I'm not. Making your own foods, like this AIP compliant BBQ sauce or some fermented pickles to go on your fresh beef burger are how you go about eating great food without having to break the bank or eat non-compliant foods. I usually start with something big like a turkey and make a turkey dinner. Then I use the leftovers to make and freeze portions of AIP shepherd's pie. The bones and carcass get boiled for 24 hours into bone broth which I eat on its own daily, but I also use this as a base for chicken soup and other soup recipes. In total the compliant food is expensive, but how industrious you are will directly affect how for you can make your food budget go.
Feeding AIP food to regular people - I can definitely see how needing to eat AIP only when there are other people in the house that do not share the same desire to eat strict AIP can be a problem. In my house I simply made and served only AIP foods to my spouse, and then for regular dinner parties which I am known for having. For the dinner parties I added bags of corn chips for people to dip in the guacamole (be sure to save a non contaminated bowl for yourself) as this really helped to bridge the gap between AIP and the rest of the world. Otherwise people ate everything I served, without complaint, and even with compliments. I even figured out a few AIP compliant foods that I could bring and slip into other peoples pot luck dinners such as this easy apple coleslaw which is cheap, travels well, lasts without refrigeration very well, and most of all, everyone loves it.
It has been very challenging for me to eat this way for the past six months, but certainly I can say it has become easier as time went on. I have been able to find foods that I like to eat, and certainly I have grown to know my local grocery store offerings much better than before. I now commute to an Asian grocery store for many of the interesting and harder to find gluten free items such as sweet potato noodles, sweet potato starch, fish, fish sauce, interesting vegetables and asian (purple skinned) sweet potatoes. I also frequent farmers markets, actual farms, and any location that deals in organic meats and vegetables. Where you live will have everything to do with how easy or hard it is to find decent and decently priced AIP compliant foods in your area.
Warnings About Eating AIP
There are a few things that I noticed over the past six months that I wanted to mention. The first is simply that I noticed I was not eating enough variety in my diet during the initial few weeks. It was so hard to even find food to prepare and eat that I would get frustrated and return to the same few things over and over. It is good to find a few items you enjoy, but be careful to not fall into a rhythm with this. You will get bored of those few foods, but more importantly it is a fundamental aspect of eating AIP that you have a varied and diverse diet. Your plate should be a rainbow of different colors every meal when you are doing it right on the AIP diet. I would buy vegetables that I had never even heard of before and then try to figure out how to cook them. There will be failures. But there will be epic wins also.
I used to eat potatoes, but on the AIP diet I eat sweet potatoes, purple skinned sweet potatoes, yucca root, eddoes, turnip, jicama, parsnips, daikon radish...what the hell was I doing all my life eating potatoes? How incredibly boring. Sure I like fries, who doesn't, but if I could eat every food in the world again without concern there is zero chance I would return to a life of plain old potatoes 100% of the time. I barely even recognize that guy and am embarrassed that I ate that way for so long. Strangely, since AIP is essentially one of the most restrictive diets in the world, eating AIP actually did the opposite for me - it opened my world in a way I never expected. Instead of being restricted, I am free to eat all of these things now. Eating AIP has changed how I look at food fundamentally.
This brings about my next point and this in one I was unsure about writing about. But if it happens to me then surely I can't be the only one so I wanted to iterate my experience. After a few months eating AIP, and then actually starting to feel some improvement, I started to develop a fear of non-compliant food. I had to be so vigilant against cross contamination, hidden ingredients and non-compliant foods that I actually started to develop somewhat of a phobia of non-compliant food. When it actually came time to reintroduce items to my diet I found I was disinclined to try. My existence had been so poor prior to changing the way I ate that I was afraid I would reintroduce something and find myself in the midst of another month or more of panic inducing throat symptoms. Even when I was advised to eat non-compliant foods by my doctors (for gluten testing) I could not bring myself to do it.
This is kind of hard to articulate...the overall feeling was very negative. I was afraid of the non-compliant food, not just "continuing to eat healthy". If you start the AIP diet I would strongly encourage you to have a solid plan and timeline for reintroduction. I did not have one and I think this contributed to my state of mind. If I had a reintroduction plan in place months in advance then I could have used this as a road map to follow at a later point. By the time I was ready to reintroduce foods, I no longer wanted to reintroduce anything. Worst of all when I did finally start to reintroduce foods it was not a smart plan, but more a collapse of will in the heat of the moment. Have a plan well in advance and hopefully you will not experience anything like this yourself when starting to reintroduce foods.
My final note about AIP over the last six months is that breakfast sucks. Dinner is easy to make being AIP compliant since meat and vegetables makes a pretty reliably good meal, but breakfast will leave you unsatisfied in my experience. There is not a lot in the way of good replacement AIP breakfast foods. I developed a few skillet dishes using purple sweet potatoes, veggies and chopped up avocados which were good for the weekend morning hearty breakfast meals. Other than this I largely skipped breakfast. The first meal of the day for me every single day is a generously sized portion of bone broth soup. If I can I like to wait until at least noon every day before eating the bone broth. This accomplishes a window of fasting every day for me from about 9:00pm to noon the next day which is something I have researched and want to include in my lifestyle. Surely this is not for everyone, but eating on a reduced time schedule and dropping breakfast works pretty nicely for AIP...just be ready to be eating constantly for the rest of the day!
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About the author - Steve Goodale is a blogger and technical specialist from Ontario Canada, winner of the 2018 Industry Leadership Award, who reaches over three million readers per year with his popular pool and spa blog. Steve started the www.CookForMeBaby.com blog about healthy eating after being diagnosed with a rare and incurable autoimmune disease. You can read more on his story about life with MCTD here. For more healthy cooking inspiration check out his other delicious recipes.
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