AIP Is Not A Religion

notreligion

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” –Adelle Davis, Let’s Get Well

The Autoimmune Protocol changed my life. Pretty much everyone that even remotely knows me knows that. Not only does my plate look different, but also my family life, my career, and even my leisure time have changed dramatically. Everyone knows that my feelings on the power of food are, um, strong (to put it mildly). I agree with the late Adelle Davis . . . what we eat can help us be so much more. I’ve even referred to myself as a “Paleovangelist.”

It’s that reference, “Paleovangelist,” that brings me to the topic of this post. Despite my strong feelings and the weighty connotation of creating a made-up word out of Paleo + evangelist, I think those of us in this movement need to watch out for the tendency toward religious fervor. AIP is not a religion. Acting too intense sure does make us look like a cult though.

I first noticed the tendency toward religiosity in the community quite some time ago and it made me realize I needed to work on toning down my own words and actions. I see online groups where even the mention of non-elimination phase foods gets an unlucky member seriously chastised. It’s as though saying “chocolate” or “coffee” is sacrilegious. Then there’s the self-flagellation that’s lurking. Self-flagellation is the act of punishing oneself, typically with whips, in a religious context. It can also refer to severely criticizing ourselves . . . which I sometimes see in regards to something as small as eating almonds before it was time to reintroduce them. We’re talking about almonds here, no need for the “I’m so stupid” and the “I’m terrible at this” talk. These are some of the more benign examples of the religious fervor approach I’ve observed. Unfortunately in some cases things are much more extreme and people have stopped enjoying life all together as they view every possible action through the lens of “Is it AIP enough?”

The enthusiasm is understandable. At this point thousands and thousands of us have experienced the healing that came with AIP. After awhile it’s normal to start making other changes to better protect newfound health, like switching body care products to something less chemicalized or changing schedules to accommodate more sleep. Those changes often prompt feeling even better and then others notice and it’s hard not to want to tell nearly everyone about your profound recovery after what may be years of illness. The happiness that comes with abundant physical wellness is hard to contain and AIP can easily seem like exactly the right sized container for it. This is where Adelle Davis’s thoughts really apply. Once healing has taken hold we can use that energy to expand our lives, rather than contract into a restricted zone.

I’m not criticizing religion. I’m also not criticizing AIP. I’m just saying that the two shouldn’t be confused. AIP is a method of healing, not a way to monitor matters of the heart and spirit. It requires focus, but not devotion. What we do or do not eat is not the ethical standard by which we should harshly judge ourselves or anyone else; it is not the yardstick of our goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness. When our enthusiasm starts to look like worship and a full life gets squeezed into a space the size of an altar, we lose the chance to take this movement to the next level and the opportunity to introduce millions of new people to renewed health is lost.  As Joanna Harris writes in Chocolat, “Chocolate, I am told, is not a moral issue.” I could not agree more

My colleague, Amy Kubal, RD, has recently written about the “paleofication” she sees happening in the larger Paleo community. Her post hits on very similar points to this post and is a great addition to the thoughts here.

About Angie Alt

Angie Alt is part of the blogging duo behind Autoimmune Paleo. She helps others take charge of their health the same way she took charge of her own after suffering with Celiac and other autoimmune diseases; one creative, nutritious meal at a time. Her special focus is on mixing “data with soul” by looking at the honest heart of the autoimmune journey (which sometimes includes curse words). She’s also a world traveler who has been medically evacuated from two foreign countries. Strategizing worst-case scenarios is now something of a hobby. She is a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook: Eating for All Phases of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. You can also find her on Instagram.

41 comments

  • Alice says

    Thank you, Angie. I totally agree.

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Alice! I like to be a voice for balance in the community. 🙂

  • Sue says

    Amen to that! 🙂

    In all seriousness, I completely agree.

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Sue! BTW . . . hilarious use of “amen to that.”

  • Brenda says

    Amen! 🙂 I have friends who have gone overboard with their enthusiasm to the point we can’t talk about anything else and I also see those same people replacing old trigger foods with AIP-approved foods and they really haven’t solved anything – they just found a new trigger. Thanks for keeping it real!

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks so much for reading & sharing your experience w/ this issue Brenda!

  • Samantha says

    What a great post!

  • Vivian says

    I have a master degree in religious studies, and wrote my thesis on modern alternative spirituality, and I see a tendency to incorporate a whole lot of diets into a spiritual setting. Often I do feel that people religiously stick to a healing diet. And there is also a tendency to incorporate rather alternative practices to the lifestyle change. It might just be that these new religions (in a broader use of the religion terme) often have been focusing on ecology, safe skin care products, organic foods and so on. I also think it is natural for people to combine/relay on their religiosity when undergoing a major lifestyle change (no matter what religion they identify with). I know my observations are a bit on the side of the topic of this post, but I think it is interesting with the interaction of religiousity and lifestyle changes (possibly in connection to life crisis, as I think for most people a autoimmune condition is just that).

    I also think religious dedication could be a good thing at times, but I think we should be careful to not become too much of a missionar, as not all people are as religious when it comes to food. And we need to be able to have conversations that doesn’t involve our sickness, food and healing. (I am not criticing anyone other than myself in this post, as I have a tendency to do this..)

    • Angie Alt says

      Hi Vivian! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I actually don’t think your observations are on the side of this post at all, I think they’re very central to it. You note a few things that I’ve thought a lot about (although I didn’t have the valuable educational background that you do to help me articulate them). I think the connection between religious-like dedication, life crisis, as in AI diagnosis, & major lifestyle change is very real & for many people (not all), almost necessary. I found myself there at one point in the journey, which is what made me recognize the tendency in the wider community to begin w/. That kind of dedication helped me at one point, but over time I recognized it was no longer serving me in a healthy way, that balance was important, & that it might not be the best focus for the community as whole, since it can be distracting from the true goal . . . letting people know they have options to help them heal from chronic illness. I think upon recognizing that, I wanted to be a voice that advocated against letting that tendency overwhelm the movement.

      • Lorraine Carlson says

        I totally agree with what you’re saying in this timely article, Angie. as well as Vivian’s thoughtful comments. In my own case, I’ve been helped immensely by following the AIP healing way of eating and how doing so has changed my life and outlook for the better, despite the erratic ups and downs of having RA. But I need to be reminded that following this protocol is not the be all and end point in itself, but instead is the means which is propelling me towards better health.

        • Angie Alt says

          Love that Lorraine! My thoughts exactly! This is a means to an end, not the end itself. Thanks so much for reading!

  • Such a great post. As someone who is about a month into my AIP healing journey, I could see this type of behavior and it made me sad, because real food should not be considered bad, or frowned upon if someone can eat and nourishes themselves from it. Nor should we feel bad about sharing the beautiful work of others just because it isn’t AIP. Food definitely does change and impact all of our lives, but it is not our identity.

    Thank you for your honesty!
    xo Amanda

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Amanda! I agree. Healing with food can help us become an even better version of ourselves, but it is not our identity. 😉

  • Heidi says

    This is a confusing post, Angie…maybe I’ve missed something? I’m almost nine months into AIP and I’m still spending a large portion of my day dedicated to diet alone. I haven’t experienced much healing yet but I do feel that I’m not contributing to food induced inflammation anymore. My AI disease is ulcerative colitis and almost by definition it does not want to indulge in 9 cups of veggies a day., so for the time being I’m doing some cooked stuff and some juicing (which seems to be working better)
    What I guess I’m confused about is that AIP does need to be followed religiously as we are healing. The hours spent sourcing (especially if one is in a more isolated non US city) and cooking food leaves time for very little else. – at least for me with my active UC which in itself is time consuming and isolating. At least I’m fortunate that my full time work is at home. I’m so looking forward to the day when I can relax about what I eat a little more – I hope and pray it comes to me one day.
    Anyways, your information is invaluable and I do appreciate what you share but I feel compelled to point out that there may be many of us who have to be zealous about AIP because we aren’t where you are yet.

    • Angie Alt says

      Heidi, I’m sorry for the confusion. My intent was not to say that there is not a time & place in the journey for lots of focus & energy being put into the AIP healing process (certainly I spend my first year extremely focused as well), but that it is good to recognize this as a means to an end, not the end itself. AIP is a way to widen our lives, not limit them. Thanks so much for reading!

      • Heidi says

        Well thanks so much for your kind and encouraging answer. I guess I’m more than a bit frustrated because of my lack of progress. I guess I should read your cookbook because it sounds to me like you address the psychological side of things very well. I’ve been waiting to see it on Amazon.ca but it’s not offered there yet. Do you know if they’re going to carry it at some point? I can order from Amazon.com but shipping to Canada is quite an add on. I know it’s available as an ebook but I prefer to hold a cookbook. 🙂

  • Sara Rose says

    This was helpful and a kind reminder to relax 🙂 THANK YOU.

    • Angie Alt says

      You’re welcome Sara!! Enjoy the healing!!

  • Suzanne Thibeault says

    Great post. I consumed it 😉 But I think what Heidi says adds to this discussion. I, too, have to devote many hours each day to the acquiring and preparation of my safe food. Even with batch cooking, it’s time consuming. The care and meticulousness we bring to this process does have elements of a conversion narrative, as you point out. We have left behind an old way of operating in the world and have completely devoted ourselves to a new way in the hope of healing battered bodies and hearts. AIP feeds us both literally and psychically, giving us peace of mind that we are on the path– it’s possible to say– to salvation. Quite literally, some of us are being saved by this protocol. In light of all this fervor, I have posted on my fridge these words: “Don’t let your struggle become your identity.” Thanks for everything that you do.

    • Angie Alt says

      At Suzanne, you put it beautifully. I think we just have to walk the line between focus & outright devotion . . . the kind that crowds out our identities. Thanks for reading!

  • Diane says

    The religious analogy is interesting for me as I was diagnosed with lupus shortly after joining a church and being baptized. Soon after that I was married and my husband and I both began a paleo diet on the advice of his brother and sister who had both improved their arthritis symptoms by following it. I have spent as much time studying the scriptures and the tenets of my religion as I have spent studying my disease and my new lifestyle. It took until two immune suppressants couldn’t control the rash on my legs before I started AIP. About a week later the rash was gone. I still have some symptoms, but my life is much better. AIP is as much of a learning journey and is my new life in the church. So, AIP/paleo and my religion have travelled side by side these last few years.

    • Angie Alt says

      That is a really interesting transition Diane! Thanks for sharing how the two have been closely mirrored in your life.

  • Deb says

    Loved the article and it reminded to show myself some grace when I make the best out of not so great food choices when I have to travel. On a different note, I am trying to sign up for the SAD to AIP in SIX. Is the May class full? I can’t reserve my spot. Thanks in advance!

    • Angie Alt says

      Hi Deb! Thanks for reading! Enrollment for SAD to AIP in SIX’s May start date is not yet open. Don’t worry, you did not miss it. It will open soon though. Stay tuned on on our social media. 😉

  • Martine says

    I was going to say, “Can I get an amen?” (thinking I was being ever so witty, but then I saw your whole thread of quicker and wittier comments. 😉 Anyway, seriously…such a great article! I feel very strongly about this, as I’ve witnessed the religiosity of which you speak. I love how you put it into perspective by saying AIP requires focus, not devotion. Thumbs up to you, Angie, for another articulate and smart piece. 🙂

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Martine! And yes, you can def. get an amen!

  • meg says

    Great article. I have to confess that I have been hard on myself before. I accident got dosed with Nightshades and flared horrible to the point where walking was excruciating. I was upset with not be more careful, but I know it’s part of the process. I personal understand the reluctance some have about reintroduction when dealing with a serious AI.

  • Tera says

    I’m so happy to see someone tackling this topic! I could not agree more and think this is so applicable to all different ‘diets’ out there. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and come up against when I try to describe how I choose to eat. Funny enough I usually say “i’m paleo, but i’m not religious about it.” Because sometimes we just aren’t perfect. Anyway, great article!

  • I love this article – I too have been guilty of “paleoevangalisim”… And even now I can be a bit AIP-evangalistic”… thankyou for injecting a real sense of reality….

    When you find something that works and helps you heal, you do naturally want to shout it from the rooftops – you want to tell EVERYONE…. but that is not always the best way to convince people that it is the right-way…..

    sometimes the softly-softly approach is better though.

  • Fiona says

    Angie -lovely post.

    Chocolat is my favourite movie of all-time.

    Something may come along any day to shake up what we know . Just like the little chocolate shop in that traditional French town. Perhaps a quaint little grassfed collagen bone broth cafe around the corner (don’t we all wish!). Or whatever new-ness will nourish/heal our bodies and souls the best. We always need to stay at least a little bit open.. In fact, we all MUST be open in many ways, or we wouldn’t have found our way here.. Such a nice reminder- thank you xo

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Fiona! I love the example of the chocolate shop from Chocolat. You are totally right! The next new thing could be a huge break through & being open is the way to receive healing.

  • Rheagan says

    Thank you so much for this post! I haven’t personally experienced the religiosity sometimes associated with AIP, but I could see how one could get there. I think it’s a potential pitfall of any diet/lifestyle that requires a high level of discipline to stick with. To me there is a difference between discipline and devotion. My brother-in-law is religiously vegan, to the point of not being able to have a conversation with him because it’s all he can talk about and we are the “animal killers” who must be convinced of the error of our ways. He is totally devoted to his cause, to the point of alienating friends and family who don’t share is views and fervor. I prefer to think of myself as disciplined about following the AIP. It is a means to an end to help heal my body and live my life to the fullest. I think if everyone could stay away from the judgments (of self and others) and remember that we are all just trying to do the best we can for our individual needs and health, we would all be so much better off!

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks for reading Rheagan! I could not agree more!

  • […] be argued that the topics I’ve explored over the last several months (you can read them here, here, and here), were a bit directed at AIP long-termers, folks who have been walking the path for a […]

  • […] is not a sprint to the finish line. In March I wrote about how easy it can be to let our focus on AIP morph into a religion. See a theme here? I really think that balance is an important part of the healing […]

  • Amy says

    Thank goodness. I thought it was just me! The fervour around paleo actually turned me away from it for a long time – which has really impacted my life and health. Now I stay away from sites that have AIP zealots and listen to the calm voices that use AIP as a form of love – self love. Pretty much the opposite of the self flaggelation and judgements by some.

    Awesome article and a much needed read x

    • Angie Alt says

      Thanks so much for reading Amy! I’m glad it was a breath of fresh air.

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