Diversity in AIP is a story series showcasing the wide variety of people from different backgrounds adapting AIP to not only support autoimmune healing, but also to honor important cultural, religious, ethnic, or national food traditions. We are sharing these stories regularly to encourage folks of similar backgrounds to join our Autoimmune Wellness movement and to inspire the community as a whole about the growing reach of our healing message. If you are interested in sharing your story, please let us know by filling out our interest form.
This month’s “Diversity in AIP” story comes from Swati. Swati comes from an Indian Hindu background and after struggling since infancy with autoimmune disease, she found healing with a diet completely opposite of the traditional foods she had grown up eating. This story might sound a little unhopeful at first, since it was difficult for her to incorporate these foods into a healing plan for herself, but for Swati it resulted in a closer cultural connection than before.
Do you have an autoimmune disease or chronic illness? If so, how long have you been dealing with it (them) and when did you get your diagnosis?
I have a long history of autoimmune conditions. I had eczema as a baby and toddler. I started developing vitiligo (a skin disorder) when I was around five years old, and it has spread slowly over time. When I was around 10, I developed juvenile arthritis in a few joints, but it went into remission by the time I was 18. When I was around 25, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, but did not start taking thyroid medicine until I became pregnant with my daughter when I was 31. A couple weeks after my son was born when I was 35, I had a flare of arthritis in my knees, which is what finally led me to pursue AIP.
When did you discover AIP and what was your first indication that it was working for you?
When I had a flare of arthritis, I was having a hard time walking and was in constant pain, so I was very motivated to make changes in my life and diet to see if they would make a difference. Initially, I started out eating a mostly Paleo diet, but upon doing further research, I decided to take it to the next step and start AIP. I did a strict elimination diet with the help of my health coach, Angie Alt. I did her SAD to AIP in SIX program, and then stuck to AIP for about two months. I now eat a modified Paleo diet.
My rheumatologist was skeptical about my diet reducing my symptoms, and she was really pressuring me to take Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug often used for RA. The problem was that I had just given birth and I was nursing. I wasn’t really willing to give that up in order to take really strong drugs, without giving the alternative a try first. I ended up taking steroids for a month, and Placquenil for over a year. But after starting AIP, I noticed a significant difference. The Placquenil had started to give me hives, so I decided to discontinue taking it (with the help of my doctor). And surprisingly, I no longer needed the drugs! My arthritis has gone into remission and my inflammation levels are back down to zero, even a year after being off the drugs. I also was able to half my thyroid medicine, and my gut feels amazing.
Do you have an important cultural, religious, ethnic, or national background that plays a role in your dietary choices? If so, how have you honored your food traditions while following AIP?
My family is from the Gujarat state in India, and my parents are devout Hindus. Most Gujarati Hindus are strict vegetarians, and I was raised in a vegetarian household. Hindus believe that animals (especially cows) are sacred and the vegetarian diet is both a cultural and religious aspect of being Gujarati. The staples of the diet are rice, legumes, chapatis (flatbread), and cooked vegetables which often have nightshades and non-compliant spices. So understandably, there is nothing really in the Gujarati diet that lends well to an AIP diet.
So when I went AIP, I pretty much gave up all Indian food. I know this sounds sad, but really it made total sense to me. The diet had made me sick most of my life, and letting go of it was part of the healing process.
Can you share some adaptations you’ve made to special dishes to make them work with AIP?
I don’t think this question and the next are really relevant to me. I just can’t eat Indian food anymore, and I’ve come to accept that as my new reality. Anytime I eat Indian food, I immediately feel sick, so avoiding it has not been a huge challenge.
Are there any foods that were part of important food traditions you followed previously, but still work great within the AIP framework?
Same as above.
Has it been difficult to garner the support of family or friends in your culture, religion, ethnicity or country, while following AIP? If so, what tips would you give to others from your same background who want to try AIP?
I think at first my parents were very skeptical of AIP working. They didn’t understand how I could eat so much meat (even though I explained much of the diet involves vegetables). My parents are very supportive, but eating meat is offensive to them, and I think it hurts their feelings that I have rejected something that is so important to them. As in many cultures, my family shows their love through food. But we have adjusted over time. I bring my own pots and pans to my parents’ house so that I can cook my own food when I visit. My mom brings her own pots when she comes to my house. We eat together, but eat separate meals. I worry about offending my mom at times because she gets squeamish around meat, so sometimes I will wait to eat until after she is done. But overall they are very happy to see the improvements I’ve made in my health, and while they don’t understand my choices, they are happy that I am happy.
Did any aspect of your healing journey with AIP deepen your connection to your culture, religion, ethnicity, or nationality and the food traditions it follows?
I think I’ve come to realize that culture doesn’t have to be just about food. There are other ways to express who you are, or connect with people in your community. While I can’t eat the same food anymore, I can still enjoy my family’s company and participate in cultural events.
Would you like to share your Diversity in AIP story? Let us know by filling out our interest form.