As Dr.Sarah Ballantyne shares in her book, The Paleo Approach, autoimmune diseases are becoming an unruly epidemic in today’s society. Though 1/3 can be accounted for by genetic predisposition, the other portion is heavily influenced by environment, diet, and lifestyle factors, all of which have gone down the tubes in the last couple of centuries. As the standard American diet, heavy in grains, sugar, and damaged oils, becomes all the more prevalent, so does the risk of one developing an autoimmune disease, and that is not just a coincidence. That being said, while it is sad that more than half of the nation is developing debilitating, life altering autoimmune diseases, there is a beacon of light. This ever-growing ray of hope is called the autoimmune approach to Paleo, and it is undoubtedly one of the greatest means of finding healing in the seemingly hopeless and incurable health conditions that autoimmune conditions are.
What is the Autoimmune Paleo Diet?
The Autoimmune approach to Paleo (i.e. AIP) is a scientifically founded way of eating for those with an autoimmune disease(s), developed by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne of the Paleo Mom. Ultimately, the protocol eliminates all pro-inflammatory foods and lifestyle factors, which then reduces any potential, damaging attacks that the body may have on itself, thus decreasing autoimmunity and allowing it to heal. Along with a given autoimmune disease, there are typically many other health conditions that arise in an individual, including leaky gut and hormone imbalance. Therefore, with the combination of a nutrient-dense, healing diet and lifestyle, inflammation that would otherwise be stimulated through mere living, is exceptionally lowered. From there, the body is able to begin rebuilding itself at a cellular level, simultaneously regulating the immune system, supporting proper organ function, and many other parts of the body that have been effected by a given autoimmune disease. That being said, the autoimmune approach to healing should not be seen as an end all, be all, to cure one’s illness, but rather, the building blocks that allows one to take control of their health once more. Though I myself have been following AIP for at least a year now, all of the effects and internal damage caused by Chronic Lyme Disease are not all magically healed. However, what AIP has successfully eliminated all of the extra inflammation present from the autoimmune aspect of my disease, and thus help me find a way in addressing all of the other complications present. Overall, an autoimmune approach to the Paleo diet is full of healing foods that help the body reduce attacks on itself and thus repair and rebuild its damaged systems. After all, health truly starts with what we put in our bodies.
Foods on Autoimmune Protocol
When people first look at the food list on the autoimmune approach to Paleo, they may see it as too strict or difficult to adhere to, and thus get easily discouraged. However, this should not be the case, as there are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods that one will come to love as they watch their body heal. On the other hand, it is also important to realize that all of the foods that are eliminated, are done so for scientifically proven reasons, and are not simply rules to make one’s life miserable. Protein, in the form of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and organ meat, along with vegetables (including those from the sea), fruit, spices, herbs, and high quality fats, all make up a well-rounded, diverse AIP diet. However, there are some crucial exceptions to the list of ingredients above, that should not be taken lightly, as they can seriously hinder one’s healing in the grand scheme of their journey. On the protocol, one is to completely avoid all forms of grains, soy, legumes, dairy, seed, fruit, and berry derived spices (such as cardamom and black pepper), eggs, alcohol, NSAIDS, coffee, cocoa, refined sugars, processed vegetable oils, pseudograins (such as chia), nut, seeds, and their oils, sugar alcohols, nightshades, algae, and any other foods that may fit in between these categories, such as processed foods and their additives. Though it may seem like a ghastly list of foods to avoid, there are complete explanations as to why one with an autoimmune disease should avoid them until their disease is under control, all of which can be found in Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach. Overall, the reasons for the dietary restrictions are quite straight forward, as the foods that one eliminates for the time being, are all ultimately harmful to the immune system, hormones, and gut, especially if one is dealing with an autoimmune condition(s). That being said, it is important to focus on what you can eat while following the AIP Protocol, not what you have eliminated for the time being. Overall, if you are truly committed and believe in what you are doing, following the nutrient dense, low-inflammatory dietary guidelines mapped out by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne in the Paleo Approach or Paleo Approach Cookbook, will certainly come easier throughout time.
Is AIP for Life?
Ultimately, all of the “rules and regulations” of the Autoimmune-Paleo approach are not necessarily something one has to follow their entire life. That being said, if one has an autoimmune disease, knowing what foods can serve as triggers, is certainly the best way to obtain remission. However, the amount of time one needs to strictly adhere to the Autoimmune Protocol can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of their disease. Some see noticeable improvements in a few months, while those like myself, have to wait many months before changes start to take place. That being said, while one is in the elimination phase of AIP, it is very, very important to follow the dietary guidelines seriously. Though it is only natural to make mistakes, and sometimes ingredients hide in foods that we are unaware of, eating foods that can trigger the body back into its damaging attack cycle, can significantly slow the healing process down. However, after one feels that their body has begun to heal, they are more then welcome to reintroduce foods back into their diet, and can do so with the outline Dr. Sarah Ballantyne has provided in her online resources here, as well as in The Paleo Approach. As the AIP approach goes more “mainstream”, there are many individuals that bash the protocol for how seemingly strict and unrealistic it is. However, despite all of these negative comments and views on the protocol, those who have tried it based off of Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s work, know that it is one of the best things that they ever did for their life. In the end, it is important for people to realize that eating according to the elimination phase of AIP is not for a lifetime, and therefore should serve as encouragement and hope to those embarking on their journey to heal. The autoimmune approach is not intended to cause people to be afraid of food, but instead, learn the connection between what they eat and how their body reacts.
Is AIP Worth the Effort?
If I were to sum up my answer in response to the question, “is following an autoimmune approach to the Paleo diet worth it?” I would answer with a wholehearted YES! Having an autoimmune disease(s) is very debilitating and can easily overtake ones entire life. Therefore, through my own personal experience with AIP, I can truthfully say that I see no other way in fully tackling and overcoming an autoimmune disease without the protocol. I would say that though it may seem a bit daunting to follow the it at the beginning, it would be an understatement to say that the results are completely worth it. Not only is inflammation reduced, but the autoimmune approach to diet and lifestyle allows one to know their body from the inside out, figure out what factors may trigger an AI flare or symptom, and ultimately be at home in one’s body once more. Of course, much like any other medical treatment or therapeutic diet, the beneficial effects that occur by following the Autoimmune-Paleo Approach do not happen over night, however, this is where one must not readily give up. Everyone’s body is effected by a given autoimmune disease differently, therefore causing the outcome of following the protocol to be different as well. Some may experience significant relief in symptoms after a few weeks, while some it may take many months of persistently following the protocol, to find lasting relief. As for myself, because Chronic Lyme Disease is both an autoimmune and neurological disease, following an Autoimmune Protocol has not taken care of all of my daily symptoms and effects. However, it would not an exaggeration that without it, I would not have made it this far in fighting back against the seemingly incurable illness that Lyme is. Without the Autoimmune Protocol, the painful symptoms that plague my everyday are easily 10x worse, including joint and muscle pain, brain fog, GI complications, and more. That being said, there is some damage from Chronic Lyme that AIP does not address, therefore causing me to implement other dietary factors that are needed to further heal, after I strictly followed AIP for many months. However, I have not simply put away all that I learned about my body throughout the Autoimmune Protocol but rather, I have combined my knowledge to create a diet that best suites my illness, of which I call the Autoimmune-Keto Approach. Though it is still a mighty struggle to get through each day, following an autoimmune approach to the Paleo diet has allowed me to live and heal, despite the odds that come a long with the effects of Chronic Lyme Disease. Bottom line? AIP heals, bottom line, no ifs, ands, or buts, and there are many individuals who stand as living proof that it does so. In the end, you cannot argue with a life that has been changed for the better, therefore serving as the greatest evidence on why those with an autoimmune disease should give AIP a shot.
1 Corinthians 13:1-2 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”