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 Kareem. Kareem comes from an Egyptian Muslim background and after being given an IBS diagnosis without relief for 12 years he was motivated to find his own answers. One thing lead to another and he found AIP and now helps spread the word about this healing diet as the leader of the Egypt AIP Facebook Group.
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’ve been treating SIBO for about six months now, but my gut story started with a “diagnosis” of IBS around 12 years ago when I was in college. Not sure what triggered it at the time but I wasn’t exactly maintaining a healthy lifestyle either. It was also around then when I first started coming to the realization that me and dairy would have to part ways and see other people.
When did you discover AIP and what was your first indication that it was working for you?
It wasn’t until two years ago, when my symptoms really started to control my life, that I decided I will no longer accept this “trash can” diagnosis of IBS. So I put my research hat on and scoured through the corners of the internet for answers, and that was when I first found a blog post about someone who cured their IBS with an elimination diet. Further research then led me on to Paleo, and Autoimmune Wellness (which was still Autoimmune Paleo at the time), where I found out about AIP.
I dove right in with the elimination diet and within two days I felt instantly better! When it was time to start reintroductions I found that I still had many intolerances so I felt that my problem had to do with more than just nutrition, and that was when again my research led me to connect my symptoms with SIBO which I’m currently working on with a Naturopathic Doctor.
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?
Well, being a Muslim, the only dietary restriction really is pork. So whenever I’m looking at AIP recipes online that contain pork I mentally substitute that with beef. But apart from that, what’s really tricky is navigating our food culture and eating habits. The Middle Eastern diet is actually very nutrient dense in the sense that we eat everything, and that creates a wrongful bias against dietary restrictions of any sort. A typical Egyptian breakfast always has bread as a staple food, so when I mention that I can’t eat bread I’m sometimes met with shrieks of disbelief. It’s sometimes funny, but can be annoying depending on the person. Another thing I noticed in restaurants are hidden ingredients you would never know about; like the first time I found out that sometimes they put a dash of milk on lemon juice to reduce the bitterness, without even telling you! Thankfully though, there has been a growing health culture and we saw our first gluten free cafes open up this year in Cairo. We have definitely come a long way!
Can you share some adaptations you’ve made to special dishes to make them work with AIP?
Absolutely! One of my favorite dishes was the Negresco, which is essentially pasta in béchamel sauce with chicken. It took us a few trials to get the consistency right but we finally managed to create the béchamel sauce with both coconut milk and coconut flour and replaced the pasta with zucchini. I think I prefer the new recipe even more than the old one now.
Are there any foods that were part of important food traditions you followed previously, but still work great within the AIP framework?
Yeah so the Middle Eastern diet includes lots of meats, so almost all meat dishes work within AIP and we tend to be big on organ meats too! It gets a little tricky with stews/tagines though since they involve tomato sauce (e.g. okra and veal tagine, or moussaka). Luckily, I’ve managed to reintroduce nightshades in moderation so I get by on the occasional stews.
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?
Well, initially everyone thought I was crazy limiting my foods that way, especially when I say I don’t eat bread, but when my family and friends started to see how much my symptoms were improving I guess they started to see that I might be on to something. Some even got more curious and started noticing things about how certain foods made them feel. It still gets tricky when I’m invited over to someone’s house for dinner. My friends/family have become a lot more accommodating and allow me to bring my own food and sometimes even cook compliant dishes just for me. But I still have to navigate my way through eating out or being invited to lunch or dinner with strangers. My advice would be to be patient around others, don’t let them get to you, and stick with it as long as you’re feeling better. Remember that this is all new to most people, and that they only believe what they see. If they truly have your best interest in mind, they will start to support you on their own once they see that what you’re doing is making you better.
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 definitely have a new-found appreciation to farmer’s markets and home-grown crops. Egypt is actually rich in farms and we have good produce if you know where to find it. The other thing is I started to see how many people are dealing with gut issues and have no idea that certain foods they eat could be making them worse. That’s what prompted me to start the Egypt AIP Facebook group to spread more awareness about healing diets and how important nutrition is to autoimmune and chronic conditions.
To keep up with Kareem (and check out how he honors his Egyptian Muslim roots!), connect with him in the Egypt AIP Facebook group.
Would you like to share your Diversity in AIP story? Let us know by filling out our interest form.