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?