Having a hard time either making the elimination phase of the Autoimmune Protocol stick for the first time, or sustain a healing diet long-term? You aren’t alone — and I believe one of the biggest barriers to compliance is sheer overwhelm. Having too many options, or trying to make too many changes at once is a sure-fire way to set yourself up to not be able to stick to your plan.
On the flip-side, simplifying and clarifying your routine can go a long way to making diet and lifestyle changes stick, either for the first time, or over the long-term. A lot has changed in the last five or so years the Autoimmune Protocol has been gaining in popularity, and I hope my insights in this article help you refine your plan to focus on what is going to get you the most mileage for the least amount of overwhelm.
These five tips may seem like no-brainers to those who may have been AIP for a while and have figured out how to be on a healing protocol long-term, but for those of you new to our community I hope they help you weed out what isn’t important so you can have better focus on what matters.
1. Choose simple, but flavorful recipes.
If you’ve been around the AIP community for any length of time, you know there is no lack of creative recipes serving the elimination phase. You might find that recreating some familiar flavors, like pizza, cheese, or breads, is possible on the elimination diet, but later you might find yourself overwhelmed with both the expense of the specialty ingredients and the time and energy it takes to make these recreations. While these recipes can be great for when a craving hits, having company, or a special occasion, most of us who eat this way long-term aren’t making complex recreations day in and day out.
Instead, choose recipes that use ingredients that are readily available in whatever season it happens to be, cooked simply, with lots of fresh herbs and some AIP-compliant spices for flavor. When you break meals down simply into meat, starchy or non-starchy vegetables, fat, and some herbs and spices for flavor, it is hard to get overwhelmed by cooking this way.
2. Focus on nutrient dense meals before treats and snacks.
Instead of worrying about making complex recipes for snack-time or as a treat, start with the basics — your actual meals. As long as you make enough for leftovers, you can eat a few bites of whatever is in your fridge as a snack, and fresh fruit for dessert. It may not be as exciting as a specially-made AIP snack or treat, but much easier, and likely to be an option that keeps your blood sugar stable.
Your main meals, may it be two, three, or four times a day, are your largest opportunity to bring healing nutrients into your body. Instead of focusing on the snacks and treats, spend that mental energy thinking about how you are going to bring more nutrient density to these meals, maybe by adding some broth, fermented vegetables, or organ meats to the plate. Heck, you might find your cravings for both snacks and sweets totally subside.
3. Invest in a few high-quality tools.
It is true that by transitioning to the Autoimmune Protocol you’ll likely be doing more cooking than in your previous life… OK fine, a LOT more cooking! It isn’t true, however, that you need to spend hundreds of dollars investing in complicated gadgets you’ll both need to learn how to use and maintain. How about this: make sure you have a very sharp chef’s knife, a cutting board, and a few good pots and pans (I recommend a cast-iron skillet, a stainless skillet, and a either a large Dutch oven or a stainless soup-pot). If you make one “big investment” in a kitchen appliance, I would chose an Instant Pot, as it has many features in one and there are many simple AIP recipes designed for this appliance.
While they can be fun for anyone who has time to spend in the kitchen and likes to play around with more textures and complex recipes, tools like stand mixers, juicers, high-powered blenders, ice-cream makers, countertop deep-fryers and dehydrators are not necessary to cook AIP.
Cooking simple, flavorful meals is more about technique than fancy tools. Start with those basics and spend some time on YouTube learning the basics of cooking, like knife skills, sauteeing, searing, roasting, and how to create a good soup base.
4. Don’t rely on convenience or packaged products every day.
It is true that there are some AIP products that can make eating this way a lot easier, either regularly, or in certain situations (like traveling). Where I think people get overwhelmed is thinking that they need to be buying a lot of their ingredients or products online in order to eat this way on a regular basis. You don’t! Our diet is based on high-quality meat and vegetables you can buy either at the store or directly from your farmers.
When I started AIP, there were very few specialty ingredients on the market. As they’ve trickled in, this sense of overwhelm has come with it, with folks thinking their pantry needs to be stocked with a variety of these goods at all times. You don’t need to have a specialty flour on hand to make AIP pancakes for breakfast every morning — some meat patties, ferments, and leftover veggies will do just fine. I actually think most of these products distract us from what we should really be eating — real food — and end up triggering some of the food habits that got us where we are in the first place.
There is a time and a place for convenience — perhaps a stressful season at work, or travel. But as a general rule, I believe it is best to focus on real, nutrient-dense, home-cooked food most of the time so we can work up some resilience to tolerate the sweeter or more processed stuff when we don’t have as much of a choice.
5. Don’t focus on too many changes at once.
Diving into the possibilities of change while trying to live better with autoimmune disease can be incredibly overwhelming. While the Autoimmune Protocol started out as mainly dietary recommendations, it has expanded to include many additional recommendations for certain situations (like SIBO, histamine intolerance, or MTHFR), as well as many lifestyle changes.
If you are just starting out on your journey, don’t be tempted to do too many things at once. Even if you suspect you might have a deeper challenge, like SIBO, or that your lack of stress management is holding you back, don’t be tempted to try and start everything at the same time. That is a sure recipe for disaster.
Instead, spend some time thinking about the changes you’d like to make in your life, and make a game plan focusing on sustainability. Our book, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook has some great self-tests for determining which areas are highest priority for you. Then, start with one change, wait until you feel it is comfortable and sustainable, and then drip in another.
Do you have any tips for how you have simplified your healing protocol to best serve your long-term needs?
I found that batch cooking
wasn’t for me. It was just too exhausting however I am still making AIP approved burgers in batch.
I really appreciate this article on keeping meals simple especially just starting out. One does not have to be a gourmet chef to get all things your body needs to heal.
The Army has a phrase – K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Silly (they actually say Stupid but I didn’t want to be offensive!)😆
AIP Protocol has helped tremendously for me to regain my health. Thank you.
Thanks for the input DeAnn, and wishing you luck!
Thank you Mickey for a great article!! What you have described is the approach that I have taken for the last year. It was all I could do to focus on meals and keep it simple. Now that I’m a year into it, I’m starting to be able to at least think about other additions. For example, I just bought palm shortening today because I see it popping up in recipes that I’m reading.
I also want to thank you for the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook. It was the 1st one I purchased and I’ve made many of the recipes. The simplicity of the recipes and of the layout was very helpful when I was in overwhelm. In fact, I’m making the garlic-sage chicken patties tomorrow night for dinner. They have become a favorite in our house from the 1st bite we took!!
Thanks for the feedback Diana, and good luck! Hope those chicken patties turned out yummy 🙂
I appreciate this info on keeping it simple. I have my head twisted around so many things I “should” be doing. I am doing pretty well, but want to make some changes to reduce carbs (closer to keto), and not to eat too much meat. Is there a simple way to figure out how to do this? Thank you for all you do for us!
Hey Ann! I would just make an effort to increase your intake of non-starchy veggies – salad greens, kale, collards, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. The other macros should fall into line then!
This is my second go with AIP. I WAS overwhelmed the first time I tried it two years ago. But I made the decision to give up sweetener in December, then decided to eliminate dairy in January, though AIP was not on my mind at all. On January 21 I was hit with a case of flu that made turned my stomach with just the thought of drinking coffee. Once I felt better, I figured I would just continue to go coffee-less. I’ve already been wheat and sugar free for several years. It dawned on me that I was now almost completely AIP. I threw caution to the wind and eliminated eggs and nightshades. Overall, it was a small change since I’d been gradually moving in the AIP direction unintentionally.
Since the diet aspect was actually freeing for me, I found I had the energy to move right away to conquering the lifestyle factors. After only sleeping five hours a night for the last fifteen years, I implemented a “no screens” rule an hour before bed and created a soothing bedtime routine (I think of you, Mickey, when I’m washing my face since I read your routine with essential oils…lol), I turn the heat down and climb in bed with a book and quietly read until I’m sleepy. I’m now getting seven to seven and a half hours of sleep a night! Truly a miracle to me! I’ve also made a point of getting out for walks consistently, even though it’s often cold and nasty here in Ohio this time of year. Thankfully, stress isn’t much of an issue for me since I retired and have the quiet day to myself while my husband is at work.
I’ve actually found it fun to include nutritious, new foods to my diet and laugh at the overflowing veggies in my fridge every time I open it now…lol.
I’m only on day thirteen right now, but have had zero problems. I’m sure that’s because I’d been gradually making changes in the two months beforehand.
I’m excited to see where this journey is going to take me!
Amazing Paula! Thanks for sharing your experience, and I am so happy you are sleeping well and feeling better! Cheers!
Great tips! Especially number 4. I do need to focus more on my meals rather than worry about what convenience food I can have because I might feel I’m missing out on something. Truth be told, I feel better when I eat more nutrient dense meals, not snack food. Thank you for this much needed to me, article.
Cherie, I am so happy it helped reinforce an aspect you already noticed yourself 🙂
I’ve survived on AIP as long as I have, 62 weeks so far, because I have kept it completely simple. I narrowed it down to meat, vegetables and fruit. Rarely do I have anything too complicated or I would not have made it this far as I don’t like to cook. Your book was a great help in getting food, stress and sleep under control.
Happy to hear! I agree – I would not have made it this far on the diet without keeping things simple. Glad that approach has worked for you as well!
Thanks for this article. It’s coming at just the right time for me. I’ve been following an AIP diet for the past 8 months and the past 2-3 months, i started seeing more ups and downs in my energy levels, cravings, frustration and I realized that since I reintroduced rice and started baking treats, I have lost my focus on “real” cooking and spending too much energy and decision making time on things that don’t help or give me satisfaction. My focus for the coming weeks is to learn to balance my sugar levels throughout the day and get more non-starchy vegetables vs. what I’m doing now.
Charlotte – I’m happy you find it helpful, and I hope that by finding some simplicity in your approach to increase the veg and decrease the sugar you reach your goals!
Started back on AIP last week and trying hard to stick to it religiously. I was tired yesterday and snuck a handful of raisins as a snack. The resulting stomachache was a big reminder of how many things can be inflammatory for me. I keep Arbonne’s protein shake powder on hand for when I need an “easy button” meal. I like that it’s vegan.
Sorry to hear about the stomachache! I’d make sure to check on the ingredients of that shake, as most protein powders are not AIP (even if it is vegan). The simplest thing to eat is just meat and veggies. Hope you feel better soon!