Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Maintaining Balance While on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet

A group of us AIP bloggers got together and had a discussion about how important a sense of balance is when you're on the autoimmune protocol (AIP). And it occurred to me that the diet itself is as much an emotional and physical journey as the disease you're doing it for. We decided to label this week #aipbalance and post blogs sharing our thoughts and experiences of what it's really like being on the AIP diet and how to keep a sense of balance. I hope you enjoy mine... 


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Going on an elimination diet for your health is a very exciting thing to do. But it's also very scary.

You've eaten pizza, dairy, grains and chocolate bars your entire lifetime. Then you strip everything back to basics. You find yourself staring blankly into the fridge at a pack of turkey mince and some carrots and wondering what the heck you are going to have for breakfast. Suddenly, social gatherings become a problem, because you can't just eat sandwiches, crisps and sausage rolls anymore. You can't enjoy a beer down the pub with friends or chomp on a chunk of wedding cake. And you can't just grab a packet of crisps if you're feeling peckish. It hits you emotionally, and if you're not careful, physically too - which is the complete opposite of what you are trying to achieve by taking on a healing diet.

So what do you do? Give up? Think Christmas is going to be too hard and just give yourself a 'day off' the diet, eating chocolate, cheesecake and overindulging on the Prosecco? Wave the whole diet off as a 'fad' or label it 'unhealthy' because you're having a craving for lasagne? Of course not. And I'll tell you why. 

It can be really hard to find some sort of balance when you start AIP - and also as you continue. I've been on it for 16 months (with reintroductions) and I still have my moments, especially when there's carrot cake on offer somewhere. You just need to have a little chat with yourself and remember why you're doing it in the first place. Need a pep talk? Feeling a bit wobbly? Allow me... 


Maintaining balance on AIP is important for success

Social situations CAN be easy while you're on AIP
Social situations usually mean food and alcohol. But don't be tempted to undo all your healing work and tuck in to whatever's on offer. Remember what you're doing there in the first place. Social gatherings are about meeting up with people and enjoying their company - it's very rare that food is actually centre stage. Let me tell you something. I went to a wedding last year and I thought one piece of thickly-frosted, white chocolate wedding cake wouldn't make any difference to my healing. It did. The next day I was in agony with stomach pain and an upset tummy. So now I don't take the risk. If you're out, either take a small container of food with you (I usually take a cold, cooked leftover burger and some salad) or if that's not an option, order something as unprocessed as possible (an unpeppered steak and plain salad or a gluten-free, bunless burger with sweet potato fries). Remember that you're there not because of the food but to enjoy the company of your friends or family. Can't have the chocolate fudge cake for pudding that everyone else is eating? It's not that bad, order a camomile tea and chat to the person next to you instead.

You don't actually eat LESS on AIP, you eat MORE
Starting the autoimmune protocol is not simply a case of carrying on with what you were eating before but just avoiding gluten, grains, nuts, seeds, nightshades, eggs and dairy. You'll still need to fill up on nutrients. So what do you do when you're faced with a huge long list of spices, fruits, vegetables and entire food groups that you CAN'T eat? Yep. You EAT MORE. More of what you can eat. A wider variety of vegetables of different colours, safe starches (squash, sweet potato, carrots) and organ meats. My diet has MUCH more variety - and is subsequently more nutrient dense - than it was two years ago in my lasagne and garlic bread days. 

Don't take it too far
In the short term, the AIP diet is healthy. But remember the elimination phase is just temporary. As soon as you can, start bringing foods back in. It's normal to wonder whether your reintroductions will fail, but it's also exciting. Sure, you run the risk of a flare-up with each new reintroduction, but there's also a chance that it will have no effect and you can add it into your diet. If you start to actively worry about nutrition and health, and it starts to take over your life it can be a warning signal for orthorexia - a preoccupation and obsession with eating healthfully that actually can result in you taking in a lack of nutrients. And there's no reason for anyone without an autoimmune disease to go the full AIP - as long as you don't have intolerances to nuts or eggs, for example - you can do straight paleo, instead. 

It's not a dirty secret
When I first went fully AIP, I told everyone. Yes, I took the risk of my friends thinking I was taking on a weirdo, fad diet but I thought it would make things easier if I ever ended up round their house and they offered me a cup of coffee and a biscuit. I thought people would think I was weird, but I found them hugely supportive. If you think it would make it easier if a friend or family member knew what you are doing, then tell them, on a 'need to know' basis. Don't feel you have to push it on people. They're also more likely to be there for you with a cup of camomile tea and a date and coconut bar when it all gets too much. 

Have a word with yourself
Think about what happened that made you start AIP in the first place. Was it a particularly bad flare up? Desperation? Think back to the last time you ate a certain food that's off limits for you at the moment (for example, cake). What happened? How did you react? This short moment of reflection can distract you from something processed and sugary that's being waved under your nose and put you back on track. Remember how far you have come. Have you seen your symptoms improve already? Be proud of yourself for taking a huge step in beginning to ease the symptoms of your autoimmune disease naturally. When people tell me that diet can't help autoimmune disease, I just tell them that it worked for me. Take a good look at how far you've come - regardless of whether that's 2 days or 2 months - and politely push that chocolate cake to one side. You'll feel better for it.

Are you on the AIP or a strict elimination diet? How important do you think balance is? What struggles have you faced while on AIP?



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