Do you have an autoimmune disease?
You’re in the right place if you want to address your autoimmune disease naturally. Right now, a life without symptoms or prescriptions may seem impossible to you. I’m passionate about helping others heal from autoimmune diseases because I’ve gotten my life back after years with a debilitating autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis. Now, I’m medication free and have no signs of my disease thanks to doing a nutritional autoimmune protocol.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I want to reach through the computer screen, hold your hand, and tell you with all the conviction in my soul, “Please start an autoimmune protocol. I know it seems overwhelming. Maybe your symptoms don’t seem bad enough to change your lifestyle. But your symptoms are voice of your wise body, asking you to make drastic changes. Please listen.”
What is the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol?
The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, shortened to AIP or simply Autoimmune Paleo, provides the body with building blocks for rebuilding gut health. The common factor between all types of autoimmunity is a permeable intestinal lining, also called leaky gut. The AIP removes foods that perpetuate leaky gut while bolstering the body with ingredients for balancing hormones and blood sugar.
Autoimmunity can never be “cured” because the autoimmune antibodies will always be present in the body. Once the gut is healed, however, the autoimmune antibodies will not be triggered. Since the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol is a temporarily, intensive healing diet, know that you will most likely be able to re-introduce many foods after you heal your gut. Some foods, including grains, will most likely need to be avoided to prevent a flare up.
Foods to avoid on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol
- Grains (including pseudo-grains like quinoa)
- Beans and legumes
- Eggs (of any kind)
- Nuts (including chocolate, unfortunately)
- Seeds (including coffee and seed-based spices like coriander and cumin, and seed oils)
- Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and spices derived from them like paprika, cayenne, and curry)
- Food chemicals and non-nutritive sweeteners, including stevia
Foods to enjoy on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol
- Pastured meats like beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, duck, and bison
- Bone broth and organ meats from pastured animals
- Wild-caught fish and shellfish
- Animal fats like tallow, lard, and duck fat from pastured animals
- Tropical oils like coconut and red palm (sustainably harvested)
- Olive oil and avocado oil (for cold applications)
- Any fruit (except ground cherries and tomatoes, which are nightshades)
- Any vegetable (except nightshades, denoted above), especially leafy green veggies, roots and tubers
- Herbs and spices that are not seeds or nightshades, like thyme, rosemary, turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc.
- Coconut flakes and coconut butter
- Vinegars, like apple cider, ume plum, or coconut
- Fermented foods like saurkraut, kombucha and water kefir
Can Autoimmune Paleo help me?
The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol addresses the roots of autoimmunity. It has been helpful in resolving the following autoimmune diseases and health problems that have an autoimmune component:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Celiac disease
- Hashimoto’s and Graves Disease (autoimmune thyroid)
- Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- This is not a comprehensive list and there are numerous other types of autoimmunity that can be addressed with the Autoimmune Paleo diet
(No information here is to be construed as medical advice. You should still consult with a qualified medical practitioner. And, of course, always talk to your medical practitioner before starting or stoping medications – especially medications that pertain to an autoimmune disease.)
Are you ready to address your autoimmunity with diet? Here are 9 tips for getting started with Autoimmune Paleo!
1. Get the essential books for Autoimmune Paleo
While the internet undoubtedly offers a wealth of resources for the autoimmune paleo protocol, there are a few books that will make all the difference as you embark on this journey. I highly, highly recommend getting the two following resources before you jump into the protocol:
First, The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballentyne is like the Autoimmune Paleo Bible. In this book, you’ll learn:
- Why the Autoimmune Paleo diet works to heal the gut
- How to re-introduce foods and when you should
- Non-negoteable lifestyle adjustments to boost healing
- Optimal meal frequency to improve wellness
- Tweaks to the Autoimmune Paleo diet, including a low FODMAPS diet
- Hundreds of scientific references to back up this exhaustively-researched book – Sarah is a scientist and knows the importance of analyzing study after study to support her writing.
When my copy of the The Paleo Approach arrived, my family members thought it was a textbook! So yes, it is a tome and the chapter on the immune system is slightly intimidating (but I thoroughly enjoyed it). If you are not interested in why autoimmunity develops and manifests, feel free to skip the Immune System chapter and get right to the How To part of the book.
Second, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott is currently my most-used cookbook in my kitchen. It includes:
- Food lists, including pantry items to keep in stock
- Recipes for Autoimmune Paleo kitchen basics, like fermented foods and coconut ingredients
- Two complete months worth of Autoimmune Paleo meal plans with shopping lists and recipes
- Over a hundred recipes (with gorgeous photographs for every recipe) for everything from entertaining-worthy appetizers to comfort food main dishes to healthy desserts
- Creative cooking techniques replicate off-limits ingredients. For example, a no-egg mayo made with coconut!
It just became available here on Amazon.
2. Understand leaky gut
A discussion of leaky gut is required to understand an autoimmune protocol. We need to know how our food is impacting our body — either perpetuating or healing disease — to be motivated enough to make drastic, sustained lifestyle changes.
Here is leaky gut described in a nutshell:
The small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, is supposed to have tight cell junctions to separate the chyme (food turns into chyme in the stomach) from the bloodstream. But a chain of factors, including stress and environmental toxins, causes these tight junctions to degrade.
Once the connections between intestinal cells are weakened, undigested proteins and bacterial toxins escape into the bloodstream. This leads to a heightened state of inflammation, allergies, and eventually autoimmunity.
Autoimmune symptoms dissipate when we heal our gut. Inflammatory toxins and proteins no longer end up in the bloodstream, and the body stops its own attack on our tissue.
In addition to the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, the three supplements I recommend to support leaky gut are:
- PrescriptAssist Probiotic, available here, or BioKult Probiotic, available here
- Restore, available here
- Vagal Tone essential oil, discussed below
Please read my post, The Leaky Gut GuideThe Leaky Gut Guide, for more details.
3. Bulk cooking prevents breakdowns on Autoimmune Paleo
Cooking large batches is the most important food prep tip for the autoimmune paleo protocol. It will literally prevent emotional breakdowns. I set aside a couple of afternoons each week to crank out meals for the rest of the week. Here’s what one of my cooking sessions might look like:
- Make meatballs with 3 lbs. of ground beef, freeze half the batch after cooking. That gives me about 6 meals worth of protein in the fridge and 6 more in the freezer.
- Roast 3 butternut squashes to make butternut squash puree. Freeze half the batch.
- Freeze 2 bunches of ripe bananas for smoothies
- Start a batch of bone broth
- Make a double batch of my Grain Free Gravy recipe and freeze half. It’s a good all-purpose autoimmune paleo sauce.
For a complete gameplan, read my post Autoimmune Paleo Batch Cooking: 12+ Meals in 2 Hours.
4. Meal planning is key for Autoimmune Paleo
Although meal planning sounds time intensive and complicated, this simple task takes only a few minutes out of your day and saves you from meal time distress. When I meal plan, I start by planning one dinner. I make enough of that dinner so that I have leftovers for at least three meals. That way, I have some easy breakfasts and lunches. I also plan some easy “reheat meals.” For example, I’ll make a big pot of soup that I can quickly reheat at mealtimes.
Basic meal planning entails writing down a grocery list, making notes about when you need to thaw out meat or frozen foods, and how much of something you will cook. You will also want to briefly outline a main dish and side dish for each meal or simply designate a meal as “leftovers.” Remember, cook in bulk so that you have leftovers!
To make meal planning a breeze, I can’t recommend Real Plans highly enough. For just a few dollars a month, you’ll get meal plans customized for an AIP diet. It can also be tailored, with just a few tweaks in your Settings, to accommodate additional food restrictions or reintroductions.
5. Find additional Autoimmune Paleo Recipes on Pinterest
One of the perks of being a blogger? All the time I spend on Pinterest counts as work 🙂 Which is a good thing, because I have a love affair with this visual social media network.
When it comes to the autoimmune paleo protocol, Pinterest offers a one-stop-shop to easily find hundreds of AIP-friendly recipes. You can go to the search bar and type in “autoimmune paleo”, then narrow your search by pins or boards. I recommend browsing the following boards for Autoimmune Paleo recipes:
6. Set the date to start the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol
The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol provides powerful healing potential, but it is not a flexible routine. As scary as it sounds, there is no room for cheating during this temporary healing period. It’s all about giving the intestinal lining an uninterrupted chance at healing, and incorporating an inflammatory food can flare up the disease or drag healing progress backward.
If you are currently experiencing symptoms of an autoimmune disease, I recommend starting Autoimmune Paleo as soon as possible. The longer autoimmunity goes unaddressed, the more damage it creates and the more time you will need to heal. If your disease is less aggressive, you have more flexibility with starting the protocol. You may choose to wait a month or two until things are quieter at work, for example, so you have more energy to devote to the protocol.
If you are starting next week or next month, I suggest selecting a start date to prepare yourself emotionally. Write this date down on your calendar and use the prior few days to stock your kitchen, order the books and dig out your lunchbox (because you will be packing a lunch for perhaps the first time in years).
7. Forget the concept of “breakfast food”
One common pitfall of the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol is attempting to find suitable breakfasts foods. The simplest solution? Forget the concept of what breakfast should be. Who says that cereal, pancakes or granola bars are a mandatory way to start the morning?
When I did the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, I ate dinner leftovers or a hearty soup for breakfast. Autoimmune paleo breakfasts are that easy!
8. Support your vagal tone for digestive healing
Supporting stronger vagal tone is a critical step in healing the underlying cause ofleaky gut and poor digestion.
Stress turns off digestion, but the vagal nerve turns on digestion. When we smell food and sit down to our meal, our brain is supposed to send a signal to the digestive organs via the vagal nerve.
This nerve connects to the brain stem and attaches to each digestive organ. It turns on all the digestive processes:
- Stomach acid secretion in the stomach,
- Peristalsis – muscle contractions – in the intestines
- Enzyme secretion in the pancreas
- Bile release in the gallbladder
The vagal nerve is like a muscle – if your vagal nerve is weak, it can’t do the heavy lifting of turning on digestion. Yes, I’m calling a nerve a muscle, but stay with me through this analogy. It is the most accessible way to understand this concept. If you think of the vagal nerve as a muscle, it can have strong vagal tone (like a toned muscle) or weak vagal tone.
The essential oil blend Vagal Tone™ has been profoundly supportive in addressing my leaky gut. After using it daily for 6 months, I no longer need any other digestive supplements, I consider it one of the most transformative health tools I’ve used.
My experience of this formula was the reason why I partnered with formulator John Tjenos to bring Meo Energetics to the world. Before we created Meo, his Vagal Tone™ oil was only available to his clientele. Vagal Tone™ is available here, from Meo Energetics.
9. Stay centered: don’t take flack!
Many of you may be in the same boat I was when I started a grain-free healing diet to address my autoimmune disease. Fortunately, my immediate family was very supportive but certain relatives and friends unintentionally made things challenging with rather thoughtless remarks. Things like: “Why can’t you go out to eat with us? Just one meal at a restaurant isn’t going to kill you.” Or “Seriously, you can’t eat this either?” Or “I can’t believe you use lard when cooking. That stuff is so bad for you.”
Here is the response that I used to these snide remarks and it works well, feel free to use it if you get annoying comments!
“My change in eating habits may seem unusual to you, but this is very important to me. I’m taking my health into my own hands by drastically changing what I eat. It’s a challenge, but I know it will be rewarding. If you are interested, I can point you to some great resources that explain the vast research and success of this dietary approach to healing autoimmune disease.” Optionally, depending upon with whom you are speaking (i.e. a close friend), add “I am also open to discussing my current dietary restrictions with you so we can be on the same page.”
If someone keeps making difficult remarks about your food, add this:
“Like I said, I can show you the science and track record of this approach in healing autoimmune disease. But when I hear you make repeated comments that challenge the way I’ve chosen to eat, I feel disappointed that you are not making this easier for me. If you are not interested in learning about this approach, I request that you please don’t make any comments about my eating habits because your comments are an additional obstacle in this already challenging undertaking.”
You’ve got this. You may not find support from those who you wish would provide support, but you will find support elsewhere.
10. Don’t forget the Autoimmune Paleo lifestyle changes
“How do I live a normal life and follow the autoimmune paleo protocol?” If your “normal life” is munching a morning granola bar in the car and grabbing pizza with coworkers after work, then the short answer is “You don’t.”
Autoimmune paleo is a lifestyle change, but it will change your life. On this healing journey, you will discover strength you didn’t know you had. You will discover your gifts which you will use to support others in their own healing.
There are some tradeoffs, but it’s worth it. You’ll outgrow your old, normal life.
Although changes may seem jolting at first, I promise things will smooth out into routine quickly. Here are some of the lifestyle changes you may need to introduce:
- Packing your lunch for work (no more fast food or takeout leftovers)
- Prioritizing sleep
- Regular grocery trips to keep the fridge stocked with fresh produce
- Getting a daily dose of sunlight for vitamin D
- Finding stress management routines that work for you. The Paleo Approach has some great tips for this!
My goal at Empowered Sustenance is to support you in making healthy changes, so that you can change your life. Never forget, you are strong enough to make the difficult changes required to transform your health.
Do you want to start the Autoimmune Paleo protocol? What do you find most challenging about it?