At one point, there were only 7 foods that I could eat.
I want to tell you the story of how I got there,
and how I got back to eating a (mostly) normal diet.
Sneak preview: it wasn’t all about the food.
In late 2014 I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and SIBO after many months of trying to navigate a whole host of seeming disconnected symptoms. Earlier that year I had stumbled upon the Autoimmune Protocol while working with a client and, after researching it thoroughly, had successfully implemented it with multiple clients since then. When I was diagnosed, I knew with confidence that I wanted to use the AIP diet as a tool in healing my own Hashimoto’s. However, the presence of SIBO created an additional challenge, as many of the foods that are traditionally allowed on an AIP diet were off limits (high FODMAP foods, such as onion, garlic, broccoli, pear, etc). In addition, I also did some food sensitivity testing to see if there were any foods causing problems that I might not be aware of…and there were.
Come to find out, garlic, sweet potato, zucchini, pork, cinnamon, and a handful of other foods were all provoking my immune system by way of my (very) leaky gut. I added these to my “eliminate” list, which when combined with my SIBO and AIP lists, left me with about 7 foods total. (I’ll probably be able to list them forever: carrot, celery, lemon, olive, coconut, sole, and scallop.)
7 foods certainly do not allow for a nutritionally balanced diet, nor is that level of restriction sustainable, but I was motivated to do whatever I needed to do in order to heal. I stuck with this list for two weeks as recommended by the food sensitivity testing protocol (believe me, I had to get pretty creative with my meals!!) before starting to reintroduce foods. After a few weeks of reintroductions, I ended up with a mostly low FODMAP version of the elimination phase of the AIP diet (which also excluded my specific sensitivities).
I maintained this for about 3 months until I could get my antibodies tested again, at which point I was thrilled to find that my TPO antibodies number had come down by about 40%! Even though it wasn’t yet at goal, I began strategically reintroducing non-AIP foods according to the process proposed by Sarah Ballantyne, and was fortunate in that I did not have any notable reactions. About 6 months after starting the elimination phase in January of 2015 I had successfully reintroduced most non-AIP foods, though I continued to limit many of them out of principle until I could establish a good health baseline. There were still many higher FODMAP (AIP compliant) foods that I couldn’t tolerate due to GI symptoms such as gas and bloating. It took me much longer to re-establish some tolerance to FODMAPs, but that is a topic for another post!
As mentioned above, I have used the Autoimmune Paleo Diet with countless clients with amazing results. I have seen many people put their autoimmunity into remission simply by healing up their leaky gut and identifying their triggers! It truly is an amazing protocol, and is beneficial not only in cases of autoimmunity, but for anyone looking to reduce overall inflammation in their body.
Benefits of the AIP diet:
-STRUCTURE: following the AIP template gave me both structure and resources, which were incredibly helpful in the beginning of my journey as I was still trying to get my feet on the ground. There are so many more resources out there today (recipes, cookbooks, blogs, etc) than there were even three years ago!
-COMMUNITY: any kind of elimination diet comes with challenges, and the more restrictive, the more isolating it can be. There is a strong community around the AIP diet, and I was grateful to experience their support and encouragement first-hand! I have been able to connect with a local AIP group in each city that I have lived in.
-FUNCTION: the AIP diet is incredibly nutrient dense and eliminates all major allergens and common triggers. As such, it is valuable for not only reducing the attack on the body, but also for helping it to heal. As I mentioned above, I have seen many people successfully implement it to reduce systemic inflammation even outside of the context of known autoimmunity.
Challenges of the AIP diet:
-SOCIAL: the biggest challenge that I experienced personally was not actually the limited number of food choices, but having to navigate (or forego) social events. I’ve always been a foodie, and in the years leading up to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, many of my social events revolved around dining out or attending events with food. This was a major shift for both me and my husband. (We felt like we had to learn how to date in an entirely different way!)
-(POSSIBLY) LABOR INTENSIVE: let’s face it, when you have a limited list of foods and ingredients like black pepper aren’t on it, any kind of pre-prepared food is difficult to find. I found that I prepared 95% of my foods at home while on the elimination phase, and while I was used to cooking quite a bit, learning to get creative with this new food list also took some time. (However, it doesn’t have to be complicated!! Even these days, most of my meals are composed of batch roasted veggies and batch prepared protein.)
So the big question is, would I do it again?
Absolutely, but not in exactly the same way. All three of the protocols that I used were incredibly healing, and taught me a lot about myself and my digestion. However, while implementing them all at once was effective, looking back, I don’t think it was necessary. When I consult with clients now, I work with them to create a food list that takes into account the most urgent needs first, and considers what is realistic for each individual.
The AIP diet is an invaluable tool for reducing inflammation and healing a leaky gut, and I recommend it quite often.
Eating low FODMAP foods can help alleviate symptoms in a huge way until the root cause can be identified and corrected.
Food sensitivity testing can be incredibly helpful in identifying sensitivities to foods and chemicals that may not be obvious.
These days, I know my FODMAP tolerance and after lots of gut-focused healing, have been able to incorporate many higher FODMAP foods back into my diet. I do still use aspects of the AIP diet on a regular basis. I know which foods are absolute no’s for me, and which ones I can handle in small amounts vs in unlimited quantities. Whenever I feel inflammation sneaking up on me or symptoms threaten to arise, I can use various gradients of the AIP diet to fix the issue before it becomes a problem.
It Wasn’t Just The Diet, Though…
While the elimination diet itself absolutely contributed to my healing, It was definitely not the only factor. Treating my SIBO, managing my stress, improving my sleep, balancing my hormones, and identifying my root cause triggers were all ESSENTIAL components of my healing, and together, they restored my gut and allowed me to bring foods back into my diet. In fact, my healing stalled until I addressed each of these things. These are all factors that I cover in depth in my Healing Hashimoto’s course and in my free PDF download: The Top 5 Things That Have Helped Heal My Hashimoto’s Naturally, and which I will continue to explore here on the blog in the coming weeks!
If you’ve ever been on a limited diet and felt stuck in your healing, know that there IS hope!!
Have you used a therapeutic elimination diet? Share about your experience in the comments!
Until next time,