The AIP community has changed… a lot! Since our humble beginnings in approximately 2011, our movement has grown exponentially. This growth has been overwhelmingly positive, but there have been some downsides to it as well. Considering all the growth and change, we’ve decided to start 2018 with a “State of AIP Address” here at Autoimmune Wellness.
We’d like to have a discussion about the roots of AIP, where we are at now, and where we think things are heading. Most importantly, with that longview in mind, we want you, our community, to help us focus our energy.
We believe in the concept of servant leadership and want to find out how we can continue to strengthen and refine the AIP movement from your perspectives. We are poised to see AIP move into the mainstream and we want to make sure it arrives there with your needs out front.
Before we begin…
This is a long post! If you’d rather listen to the content in podcast form, you can do so below. But don’t forget to fill out our survey when you’re done.
First, a brief history of the AIP movement (2011-2016):
- The earliest threads of AIP began to take form in 2011 when some early-adopters (us!) were introduced to the idea of eating an autoimmune-specific elimination diet through the work of Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Loren Cordain, and Datis Kharrazian.
- In 2012, Sarah Ballantyne started blogging about her experience with Paleo and began to research and refine the elimination diet, providing the first comprehensive guidance on elimination and reintroduction of foods.
- Later in 2012, a few early-adopters started blogging about their personal experiences on the elimination diet and connected to form the beginnings of the AIP community. The first year or so, there were six of us: Mickey (Autoimmune Paleo), Angie (Alt-Ternative Autoimmune), Eileen (Phoenix Helix), Sarah (The Paleo Mom), Whitney (Nutrisclerosis), and Christina (A Clean Plate). At the time we were all very much in the middle of our healing journeys with diverse autoimmune diseases, but we connected on the idea that diet was key.
- 2013 was a time of grassroots growth for AIP. In April, Mickey released the first ebook about AIP, The Autoimmune Paleo E-Cookbook. This was the year Sarah Ballantyne was heavily researching the protocol and publishing more in-depth articles about the “why’s,” nutrient density, and reintroductions. It was also the year that we started to consider the lifestyle piece in managing our conditions. Our group was still small, but this year another dozen or so bloggers started sharing their stories and recipes with the burgeoning community.
- 2014 was the breakout year for AIP. In January, Sarah Ballantyne’s complete guide to AIP was released, The Paleo Approach, and went on to become a New York Times Bestseller later that summer. In March, the print version of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook came out. And later on in the year we got The Paleo Approach Cookbook, a second offering from Sarah Ballantyne, and Angie Alt’s The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook, along with a few other fantastic AIP ebooks. SAD to AIP in SIX had its first enrollment guiding 25 members through a phased transition to AIP. In these early days, the community was looking for recipes and support, and the offerings this year definitely answered that call! At the end of 2014, the very first AIP restaurant, Mission: Heirloom opened its doors in Berkeley, California, and the first AIP podcast, The Phoenix Helix Podcast joined the airwaves!
- January 2015, Angie and Mickey announced that they would be joining forces and blogging together, along with community voices, at autoimmune-paleo.com. At this point, the community had grown to tens of thousands of people, as evidenced by the movement’s exponential growth, engagement, and connection on our site and across all social media platforms (especially Instagram!). The movement was now large enough to support big in-person gatherings, with many meetup groups springing up, authors holding book tours, classes being given, and speaking at conferences about the protocol. This was the year that we started overhearing folks in the grocery store talking about AIP, and we had a large enough base of people who had experience with the protocol to start featuring success stories other than our own on our site. By the end of 2015, there were over 15 books and programs for people following AIP!
- 2016 AIP started infiltrating progressive doctors’ offices and went global. In the early days, people found out about AIP from reading online or picking up a copy of our books. This year, the functional and alternative medicine communities started hearing about AIP and we heard more and more from both our followers and clients that their doctors were recommending this approach. A GI doctor reached out to us about the positive results one of her IBD patients had with AIP, and that discussion turned into a full-blown medical study using AIP, later that year.
- Also in 2016, it became clear to us that our movement was no longer US-based, as both international readership and membership in the blogging community grew exponentially. The AIP movement began to grow in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South America, Europe, and even the Middle East. Our discussions also shifted to encompass the lifestyle changes, implementation, and patient advocacy. We released our co-authored book, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook and started The Autoimmune Wellness Podcast as guides to those who were not only looking for dietary information, but a well-rounded guide to all of the areas important to living well with autoimmune disease.
So, what happened to the AIP movement in 2017?
Let’s take a look at some numbers. We know the AIP movement is large and continues to grow, but this becomes more clear as we look at the stats. Here is some information we’ve gleaned from our website and social media channels that helps depict the size of our movement:
- Autoimmune Wellness has reached 4 million unique users with 13 million pageviews
- Over 130,000 people have signed up for our free AIP quick-start guide
- The Autoimmune Wellness Podcast has been downloaded over 400,000 times
- 86% of our readers on the site are female (compared to 93% on Facebook)
- 30% of our readers are 35-44, 25% are between 25-34, 20% are between 45-54, and 12% are between 55-64
- We have readers from 234 countries, including places like Antarctica, Nepal, South Sudan, and Turkmenistan (yes, really!). Our highest represented international communities are Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, and South Africa
- We have 42 US-based AIP meetup groups spanning the entire country (almost one for every state!)
- We have 23 international AIP meetup groups (including Egypt, Croatia, and Finland!)
- On Instagram, #autoimmunepaleo and #autoimmuneprotocol have been used over 100,000 times each
- There are over 50 recipe bloggers writing about AIP, over 30 AIP-friendly cookbooks, and literally thousands of recipes available for the elimination phase
- We think it is safe to say the AIP movement is massive, engaged, continuing to grow, and thriving!
This year, the AIP community got a huge piece of validating news in the results of the first-ever medical study of the diet for those with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). While tens of thousands of us already knew that the protocol works, having the data legitimize the efforts we’d been putting in for years and helped us open new conversations with healthcare teams. Even though the study was restricted to those with IBD, our anecdotal experience as a community says that we are likely to find similar results with other autoimmune disease types if we are lucky enough to see future studies. Here is a summary of the study results:
- There were 15 participants, nine with Crohn’s and six with ulcerative colitis.
- Angie’s group coaching program, SAD to AIP in SIX, was used to transition participants to AIP for the study.
- By Week 6 (that was full AIP elimination), 11 of the 15 participants were in clinical remission (six with Crohn’s, five with ulcerative). A 73% success rate!
- All eleven participants maintained clinical remission through the maintenance phase.
- Seven of the 15 participants were on active biologic therapies but not in clinical remission at baseline, and this suggests that diet can be an important component of successful treatment.
- The researchers concluded, “We did not hypothesize, a priori, that clinical remission would be achieved so early (week 6). Indeed, this proportion of participants with active IBD achieving clinical remission by week 6 rivals that of most drug therapies for IBD . . . (Konijeti, et al. 2017)” In other words, it works!!
The AIP community showed their collective creative and fundraising capacity through a successful launch of The Complete AIP Resource Library in August and November.
- Over 40 recipe authors and contributors collaborated to bring a high-value, low-cost resource to the community.
- Together, we were able to raise over $30,000 for charities that support the autoimmune community through research, advocacy, education, and real-food access.
This year Mickey, Angie and Sarah graduated the first 100 AIP Certified Coaches. In 2016, the three of us recognized the need to train others in this approach and started developing a certification program for those in both the natural and conventional health care systems. This year we enrolled, taught, and graduated our very first class!
- The first class of AIP Certified Coaches included MDs, NDs, Pharmacists, DCs, RDs, PTs, RNs, PAs, fitness coaches, mental health professionals, NTP/Cs, CHCs, Herbalists, LaCs, and other types of practitioners.
- We are happy to announce that AIP Certified Coaches are incorporating AIP into their practices around the globe, with many international coaches and others who work virtually over skype. (Looking for a coach? Check out the AIP Certified Coach Directory!
- These practitioners are now part of an “army” of AIP-trained professionals, able to make an enormous impact on the chronic illness epidemic around the globe.
This year the SAD to AIP in SIX program graduates neared the 2,000-member mark. In addition to being successfully used in the first medical study to evaluate the effectiveness of AIP, it has become recognized as the most affordable, gentle, and sustainable way to transition to the protocol and achieve wellness.
Phew! No wonder we are a little tired this season ;).
How has the AIP community changed over the years?
If you are just joining our movement now, it might not be readily apparent how much has changed. Here are some of the biggest things we notice:
- More resources. We’ve gone from a few blogs to countless print and digital resources to help folks cook, meal plan, and navigate their health journeys.
- Doctor recommendations. We never used to hear “my doctor told me to try AIP.” Now, we hear it all the time!
- A shift from virtual to real connections. The hub of our community has changed from primarily virtual connection on social media, to deeper connections via in-person meetup groups.
- The community is huge. We regularly overhear folks talking about AIP in the grocery store, while traveling, and in other public places.
- It is global. There are now AIP bloggers and groups in many different languages and countries.
- More convenient AIP foods. We now have a plethora of options for ready-made meals, snacks, and ingredients to make compliant dishes.
- More accessibility for real foods. We are finding “real food” staples like broth, turmeric root, and pastured meat in regular grocery stores, and easier access through online shopping.
- More focus on troubleshooting. We know a lot more now about the different areas and ways to troubleshoot that go beyond simply what is on our plates.
- Reintroduction support. As more folks move on from the elimination phase, there has been more discussion and resources about support through reintroductions and a conversation about long-term healing.
- A shift to incorporate patient advocacy and lifestyle changes. We as a community have embraced the concept that healing is not just about food!
- More open-mindedness about blending conventional treatment options. In the beginning, going without medication or surgery seemed like a badge of honor, but now the community has opened up to the idea of using the best of both worlds to live our healthiest despite autoimmune disease.
- Haters gonna hate. Our movement is big enough that there are folks out there actively trying to discredit it. This may seem like a downside, but it is actually a testament to the fact that we are now a part of a bigger shift in both the food system and healthcare (those outdated systems feel the threat!).
So, what is next for the AIP community in 2018 and beyond?
- A real focused effort to get AIP mainstream. We are poised to take AIP even further and firmly establish its viability as a healing option for those with autoimmune disease.
- More doctors will jump on board to recommending AIP as they hear positive experiences from their patients and as they see the results of past and future research on the protocol. The obstacle here is showing the doctors that there is an emerging field of health coaches and nutritional therapists who are capable and willing to bridge the gap between their recommendations and how a patient implements it in their own lives.
- Expansion of real-life AIP resources like restaurants, retreats, and centers. There is a growing demand for this niche market and we are excited to see it take off.
- Bridging the accessibility gap and making AIP more affordable and practical for those on a low income or with limited access.
- Further research on the use of AIP for other autoimmune conditions. The first study has awakened interest from researchers in other areas and we are hopeful to see more money allocated to this research.
- An expansion of community events like meetups, workshops, and classes both in the US and around the world.
- More stories. We anticipate more members of the community both blogging and sharing their stories on social media (including those with “rare” conditions – we might find out that these conditions aren’t as uncommon as we think they are!).
- More AIP Certified Coaches who are trained to specifically implement this approach in a 1:1 setting.
- A more rapid global expansion. We look forward to translated resources and even practitioners in other countries incorporating AIP into their approaches.
- Tens of thousands more folks will find healing and tell their friends – leading to even greater exponential growth of our movement! It’s all pretty exciting, isn’t it?
Now that you have the longview, you can see how far AIP has come and its potential to impact even more people in the future. In order to fulfill our mission here at Autoimmune Wellness, we need to be strategic.
Can you help us decide where to focus our energy?
We would love your input on how we’ve been doing as leaders in the AIP movement and what we can do next. We are taking feedback in the form of a reader survey during the month of January.
We always strive to keep our core concepts close to our work. We believe that the key ideas we outlined at the beginning of 2016 for reclaiming wellness are still the same. You can find these 20 simple statements by reading our Autoimmune Wellness Manifesto, or listening to episodes #17 or #18 of the Autoimmune Wellness Podcast where we interview members of the AIP blogging community about each tenet. We hope these will continue to serve as touchstones for you too.
Lastly, thank you for being a part of our community, whether you’ve been one of the original members of our healing crew or are a new follower. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to this movement, and hope to serve you even better in 2018. Happy New Year!