I hear from readers with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis all the time raving about the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) for changing their lives. Eileen Laird reversed her autoimmune disease Rheumatoid Arthritis with food. I invited her to share the basics of AIP and some of her favorite recipes.
Written by Eileen Laird, Phoenix Helix
The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, lovingly called the AIP, is a method of reversing autoimmune disease through diet and lifestyle. What does that mean? By making different choices about what we eat and how we live, we can have a powerful impact on how we feel. The effects can be transformative, as the testimonials at the end of this article show. However, the AIP isn’t a cure, and it doesn’t replace thyroid medication. Then why do it at all? For many people with Hashimoto’s, debilitating symptoms remain even while taking thyroid medication. The AIP helps eliminate the symptoms the medication doesn’t address. It’s about reclaiming a full, functional and joyful life.
5 Elements of the AIP
1. The Foods You Remove
The AIP begins as an elimination paleo diet. We permanently remove foods that are inflammation triggers or gut irritants. And we temporarily remove foods that are common food intolerances. Here’s the list:
Emulsifiers and Thickeners (guar gum, carrageenan, etc.)
Grains (including corn)
Dried Legumes (including soy and peanuts)
Eliminate for at least 30 Days and Reintroduce
Nuts (including nut-based oils)
Seeds (including coffee and cocoa and seed-based oils)
Nightshades (both vegetables and spices)
Fresh Legumes (green beans and peas)
Is that intimidating? Believe me, I know! I think you have to reach a point where your health is in such shambles, you’re ready to do anything to get it back. The AIP is hard to do, but it’s not as hard as living with autoimmune disease.
2. The Foods You Add
Nutrient density is a key component of the AIP. It’s not enough to just remove inflammatory foods. We need to nourish our bodies with the foods that contain the building blocks our bodies need to heal: wild-caught seafood, organ meat, fermented foods, bone broth, and a wide variety of fresh vegetables.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
Simple Tender Pot Roast with Holy Grail Gravy
This gravy tastes better than any gravy I’ve had in my life, and it’s 100% grain and flour-free. Added bonus? The gravy takes only minutes to make, and the pot roast is made in a crockpot, which does the cooking for you. I call this recipe Simple Tender Pot Roast with Holy Grail Gravy.
Sweet Coconut Shrimp Curry
My favorite recipes are the ones that are absolutely delicious, yet fast to prepare. This Sweet Coconut Shrimp Curry is one of those recipes. From start to finish, you can have this on the table in under 30 minutes.
Pink Grapefruit & Avocado Salad
You don’t need a recipe to enjoy good grapefruit. It tastes great all by itself. However, it also pairs beautifully with flavors you would never expect, such as avocado and balsamic vinegar. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? Trust me – Pink Grapefruit & Avocado Salad tastes delicious.
Soup for Breakfast: It Does a Body Good
Did you know that millions of people around the world start their day with soup? And how smart they are! What’s a more nurturing, soothing and healing way to start the day? For people with autoimmune disease, homemade broths are recommended as an essential healing food.
Raspberry Coconut Panna Cotta
This Raspberry Coconut Panna Cotta is delicious year-round, so feel free to make it any time you want to give yourself, or someone else you love, a gift.
3. Living for Health
Your diet can be absolutely perfect, but if you’re living a high-stress life and sacrificing sleep, it won’t matter. Lifestyle choices can cause autoimmune flares, just as much as dietary choices. Here are the major lifestyle recommendations: Get a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. Incorporate stress relief into your daily life. Get outside into the fresh air and sunshine every day. Beware of sitting too much; if you have a desk job, get up once an hour to take a stroll around the office. Have an outlet for your emotions. Build a support network. Make time for joy.
4. Reintroducing Foods
Strict AIP isn’t meant to last forever. That’s nice to know, right? Once you see a clear improvement in your autoimmune condition, it’s time to start reintroducing foods and learning which ones you can incorporate back into your diet. This is different for everyone. One person might do well with nuts and seeds, but find dairy causes them to flare. Eggs might be nourishing to one body, but kryptonite to another. It’s a powerful form of communication with your body, and once you have this skill, you have it for life.
If you have autoimmune disease, you know your body is complex, and sometimes the path to healing isn’t a direct one. The final stage of the AIP is tweaking the protocol for you. If diet and lifestyle changes don’t give you the results you hoped, it’s time to investigate other potential issues: hormone balance, gut infections, nutrient absorption, etc. Look for a good functional medicine practitioner to help you.
AIP Success Stories
Sue Vennerholm was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2010 and started the AIP 2 years later. Her health had been steadily worsening. Prior to the AIP, she had debilitating fatigue, needing to sleep 11-16 hours a day. Her brain fog was so bad she couldn’t hold a conversation or even write a grocery list. She couldn’t work or maintain friendships, and became so depressed she forgot what happiness felt like. The AIP was transformative for her. Within one week her brain fog was gone. Within 2 weeks, her depression had lifted by 80%. Over the next year, her energy slowly returned, and now she’s able to do the extreme athletic activities she loves: mountaineering, climbing, and trail running. Key to Sue’s healing was supporting adrenal recovery by reducing her stress level; she said if she learned that sooner, she would have regained her energy much faster. You can learn more about Sue’s journey through her blog, Backcountry Paleo.
Sophie Van Tiggelen was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2009 and started the AIP 3 years later. After her diagnosis, she went gluten-free, thinking that would be enough to reclaim her health. Instead, her health plummeted. At her worst, she experienced severe anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, weight gain, bloating, painful periods, hair loss, brain fog, and joint pain so intense, she couldn’t walk. After 3 months on the AIP, her symptoms disappeared. Now, she feels “normal”. She has energy throughout the day, mental clarity, and can enjoy life with her husband and teenage daughters. She does have to listen to her body – if she eats a food that doesn’t agree with her, it can cause a flare. She also found a functional medicine practitioner helpful in prescribing supplements that supported her healing. You can learn more about Sophie’s journey through her blog, A Squirrel in the Kitchen.
Mickey Trescott was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in the Fall of 2011. At that point, she was unable to keep a job or even do housework. She stayed in bed most of the time, because standing made her feel exhausted. Chronic pain prevented her from leaving the house or even doing gentle exercise. She was left feeling anxious, depressed, and hopeless that she would ever feel better. That’s when she turned to the AIP. Not everyone is an overnight success story. Mickey is a good example of patience paying off. It took a few months before she felt her symptoms begin to improve, and 2 years before she completely turned her health around. Now, she works full time and has the energy to live on a sustainable farmstead with her husband. She’s pain-free, strong enough to do heavy labor, and has a vibrant, happy outlook on life again. She follows a nutrient-dense AIP template (with some reintroduced foods) to maintain her health. You can learn more about Mickey’s journey through her blog Autoimmune Paleo and in her guest article at Hypothyroid Mom How Autoimmune Paleo Changed My Life.
About Eileen Laird
Eileen Laird uses the autoimmune paleo diet and lifestyle to manage rheumatoid arthritis, reducing her pain by 95% without immunosuppressant or steroid medication. Her blog, Phoenix Helix, features recipes, research and personal stories about the autoimmune experience. She also writes Autoimmune Answers, a regular column in Paleo Magazine, and is the host of the Phoenix Helix Podcast, the only paleo podcast focused 100% on autoimmune healing.
If you want more information on the AIP, Eileen recommends The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.