I took the dive into the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) on May 15th, and as I write this I’ve just crossed 60 days on the elimination phase. Wowzers. When I started, I honestly didn’t know if I could make it this far. Maybe you’re of a similar mindset yourself? Or maybe you are even farther than I am! Or maybe you haven’t even started. It doesn’t really matter where you are on your journey, you can still (hopefully) benefit from my reflections, successes, and mistakes 😉
So, without further ado, here are my lessons learned over the past 60 days!
- First and foremost: IT IS POSSIBLE. I have done it for 60 days so far. And I’m still alive (so far anyway).
- I had to ditch a LOT (I mean a helluva lot) of excuses in order to make it to this point. But once I made the decision to commit, it was down hill and has actually been pretty easy.
- It hasn’t been as “bad” as I expected. I envisioned cravings and hangry Alyson, which isn’t pretty. There have been a few days where I really wanted chocolate, but otherwise I’ve felt great! In the beginning, I had to tweak the balance of carbs, fats, and proteins because I was used to eating way more carbs before. I found that when I increased fat quite a bit, the hunger and cravings vanished almost overnight.
- On that note, I’ve gone 60 days without chocolate. Yes, it can be done.
- I have surprised myself with my level of determination, discipline, and commitment. Up until now, the story I’ve always told about myself is that I am undisciplined and could never actually do “something like this.” (maybe this is you too?) This was one of the main excuses I had to ditch, honestly.
- On average, I eat a lot more calories than I did before. No, nothing compares to the past when I would have the occasional night of pizza, cheese fries, and beer, but on normal days, I eat more calories now than I ever did before. I’ve upped my healthy fat intake a lot (fattier cuts of grass-fed beef, duck, fatty fish, avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil, red palm oil, beef tallow, etc.) and I just eat MORE of everything. I fill my plate with veggies and if I still feel hungry, I just eat more.
- I’m better able to tell when I’m actually hungry vs when I’m just bored. It’s like once I quieted the noise of cravings and started improving my nutrition overall, I can hear my body better. And it feels damn good.
- Some people want to hear all about the changes I’m making and some don’t care. I don’t talk to each and every person about the AIP diet. Sometimes it’s easiest just to say “no thank you” when someone offers me something I can’t eat! But there have also been great opportunities for education and connection when I’ve come across people who are struggling like I was.
- I don’t feel like I’m really lacking anything (ok, sometimes chocolate is definitely lacking). When I first started the diet, I made a giant list of EVERYTHING I could eat and put it right on my fridge. That way, if I was headed to the store or simply opening the fridge for a snack, I could be reminded of the abundance of food that will nourish my body right now. I’ve tried to continue that abundant mentality instead of focusing on what I CAN’T have.
- I have reminded myself that this IS a diet. This diet has a specific purpose – to heal my leaky gut and to help me identify food intolerances connected to my symptoms. I won’t always be this restricted in what I can eat, and I want to add in other foods in the future as I can.
- I have been surprised at what I’ve reacted to! About a week into the diet, I started noticing a scratchy throat every time I would have raw coconut (mainly coconut milk and coconut oil). If I cooked them, I wouldn’t get it. But if I ate straight coconut oil or made a coconut milk smoothie, it would get bad. I talked to my doc about it, and he suggested I cut out coconut for a bit. Ummm..WHAT?! My understanding of AIP was that coconut was VITAL for doing this. But I have survived and discovered that even Sarah Ballantyne of ThePaleoMom.com recommends that coconut be eaten in moderation on AIP. I have had it cooked a few times, but for the most part, I have replaced it with other good fats like sustainably sourced red palm oil, avocado oil, and rendered animal fats.
- Along the lines of reactions, I thought that maybe I could reintroduce almonds so that I could have something (almond milk) with which to make fatty smoothies since I couldn’t do coconut milk. Around day 48 I ate some raw almonds. I followed the protocol for reintroducing a food – small bite and then watch symptoms for ~ 15 minutes, slightly bigger serving and watch symptoms for ~30 minutes, then a normal sized serving and watch for 3 days. By the end of that day, I was nauseous and had stomach cramps. The next day was even worse. Ouch. Needless to say, I won’t be trying nuts again anytime soon! (There is a specific order for reintroducing foods for a reason. My advice: don’t go rogue!)
- My relationship with my body has become like a deep, trusting friendship. I can literally *feel* my body thanking me for taking this leap, which is hard to explain to anyone who has experienced something similar.
- I have learned to distinguish between food-as-end vs food-as-means. Ya know, eating something because you really, really want it and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy vs eating something simply because it fuels your body and you need to eat in order to not die. Before AIP, my relationship with food was mainly as an end. I ate a lot of things because of how they made me feel emotionally, and I was less concerned with how they made me feel physically and mentally. My husband would always complain that I wouldn’t eat leftovers, and that’s primarily because I had made / bought that food simply because it filled an emotional void in that moment, and that moment had passed. Now, I eat foods to heal my gut and fuel my body, regardless of my emotional state, and I’ve never felt better.
- My symptoms haven’t vanished overnight, but I have noticed some amazing, gradual changes. It’s been like watching a fog lift slowly from all around me only to realize that there is a whole world I’d never seen before. Before starting AIP, the digestive issues were probably my worst and most limiting symptoms. I’m still dealing with some pain overall, but I’ve had that pain for about 14 years, so I really don’t expect it to just suddenly be gone.
- I found out that I can travel AND maintain AIP! Around day 38, we took on a cross-country move. Yes, we drove 1600 miles through states like Nebraska and Iowa, and I was able to eat AIP the. whole. time! This required significant planning and food prep on my part (plus eating some meals that I really didn’t “want” because I had no other choice), but I did it. And I’m SO proud.
- I now realize that I can eat things like liver and not die. I didn’t know that about myself before! But in all seriousness, organ meats have SO MANY NUTRIENTS that most of us are severely lacking, and I just had no idea before I started AIP. I still can’t bring myself to eat anchovies though… #sorrynotsorry
- I’ve heard more “I’m so sorrys” than I think I ever have. “I’m so sorry you can’t eat dairy. That must suck so badly!” “I’m so sorry you have to give up gluten…will you ever eat it again?!” “I’m so sorry! What DO you eat?!” Most people can’t imagine giving up their favorite (aka comfort) foods. And it’s okay, because they aren’t doing it, I am! They are welcome to be sorry, but I don’t have to accept their pity.
- Speaking of comfort foods…my real test came around day 40 when we got to my in-laws’ house for an extended visit. Reese’s cups, ice cream, soda, homemade chocolate chip cookies. This house is always filled to the brim with sugary goodness. And in the past, I have always indulged! So now, just setting foot in that house is a trigger for me. I didn’t have any sugar cravings until I came here, honestly. Once I recognized the pattern, I was able to easily turn it off, but it really let me know just how much I was conditioned to the environment I was in and the people I was around!
- I’m learning to embrace that AIP is not all about the food. In the very beginning, I wanted to strictly focus on the food in order to make a strong habit and not give myself too many things to do all at once. Now that the food part is flowing more smoothly, I’ve been able to focus more on the stress relief and sleep improvement. It’s a process, and I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for how to integrate and grow in each of these areas. I think we are all figuring it out as we go, honestly.
- But improving my food naturally helped me improve my sleep and reduce stress. Drastically shifting my diet has had an almost cascading effect on every other area of my life. It all feels a little bit simpler, and I can live with that!
- I’m excited that making it 60 days on such a disciplined diet is setting me up for a repeatable process. Daily meditation? I can add that! Reading 24 books in a year? I can do that! No, I won’t try to do all of these things at once, but I have proven to myself that I’m capable of enacting changes through discipline.
Trust me when I say: if I can do this, YOU can do this!!! If you want to learn more about the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, check out my other post about it for more information and resources.