Thriving on The Autoimmune Protocol (Guest Post by Samantha McClellan)

Sweetpotatoes & Social Change 3

I’m taking a break from blogging this summer as I focus on my move, but in the meantime I have some great guest posts on various topics lined up from the autoimmune community. This post is by Samantha McClellan, who blogs at Sweet Potatoes and Social Change.

I am a determined, some would say stubborn, person. When I put my mind to something its like a switch being flipped, there is no going back. I just dive all in and go for it.  That being said, I am often very hesitant about making big changes.  I think it was this combination of personality traits that really made me hesitant to follow the Autoimmune Protocol.

After having my ulcerative colitis semi controlled for about two years through medication and the standard paleo diet I started to flare in the summer on 2013. I had had little flares before and I assumed this one wouldn’t last too long either. Unfortunately, it lasted for about six months and became so severe I was almost bedridden from pain and fatigue. I had tried everything and it was becoming clear that if I didn’t get better soon I was going to have to make some very difficult decisions.  I had heard about the autoimmune protocol, I had researched it a little, but I always stopped reading after seeing the list of food exclusions. I was already grain free, gluten free, mostly dairy free, sugar free, vegetable oil free and soy free. How in the world was I supposed to give up anything else and still be able to function? After not finding complete healing in the standard paleo diet, I was doubtful removing any more foods would make a difference, but I was out of options. It was either say goodbye to nuts, eggs, seeds and tomatoes or say goodbye to my colon, it seemed the decision had been made for me.

That was a Saturday, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I called my mom and told her we would need to change the menu for Thanksgiving dinner and just like that I was all in.  I decided to give it thirty days. However, by week three when my symptoms began to improve dramatically I realized that I was in this for the long haul. It was then that I started looking for ways to truly thrive on this diet rather than just eating the same five meals over and over again. It took some time, but soon my way of eating felt mostly normal to me, my life adjusted and so did the people in my life. The healthier I became the more empowered I felt and the more determined I was to continue. Here are a few ways I learned to stop depriving myself and thrive on the autoimmune protocol diet.

1. Cook ahead and always carry food:

This one is my first tip because it is the most important. If you feel hungry and are unable to eat anything you will feel deprived. Don’t think that you can go to a dinner party and just eat later. You will spend the whole time smelling food, watching other people eat, and feeling bad. It takes practice to plan ahead, but it is by far the best thing you can do for yourself. When we go on a road trip I pack my food, my hubby stops and gets something and we have a picnic, when I go to a luncheon at church I bring my lunch and enjoy it right alongside everyone else after they go through the buffet line, when I’m going to be gone all afternoon I pack a snack in my purse.  If you are worried about being tempted by a certain kind of food that you know you crave, try to pack a food that will curb that specific craving, like plantain chips instead of popcorn at the movies, but no matter what always carry food.

2. Take steps that are manageable for you:

Let me preface this by saying that the autoimmune protocol is a thoroughly researched and evidenced based protocol and you do need to follow it as closely as possible 100% of the time to achieve maximum healing. That being said, it is important to transition into it in a way that is manageable. As determined a person as I am, giving up coffee was hard. I knew that I needed to, but I wasn’t willing to cut out the caffeine cold turkey. I switched to green tea and slowly lowered my caffeine intake.  I was not manageable for me to start off being completely miserable and then add raging caffeine headache to the list of problems I was dealing with. We also had to make the financial choices that were manageable for us. With my husband still in graduate school eating all 100% grass-fed meat was not an option. We had already cut back our budget to the bare bones to be able to pay off student loans and afford to eat all real unprocessed foods but that was as good as it was going to get at that time. We vowed to switch to grass-fed meat when we could afford it and I researched our best alternative options. We stuck with wild caught fish, which we could find at the discount grocery store, grass-fed beef liver, which was affordable, and a lot of veggies to balance out the factory farmed meat that we still had to eat.  I was still able to do a lot of healing under these less than ideal circumstances and I’m glad I didn’t let this one area keep me from trying the diet all together.

3. Take ownership of your choices:

This is a big one. If you are going to follow the autoimmune protocol, commit and be proud of it. You are taking ownership of your body, your disease, and your life. Educate yourself, read the books, read the articles, learn why you are eliminating certain foods, don’t just blindly follow a set of rules . If you do, I can guarantee that you will not get everything that you can out of this process. I often talk to people who mention ”falling off the wagon”, cheating on their diet, and I wonder why they made that choice. Usually, I find out that they didn’t really understand why that “one little tomato” was such a big deal because they hadn’t educated themselves about why removing nightshades is important. If you understand the whys behind the diet you will be less likely to feel frustrated and deprived and more likely to feel empowered and educated.


4. Allow some AIP-friendly treats in balance:

Minimizing your consumption of fructose and other sugars, even natural sugars, is an important part of AIP. However, if you are following the protocol for longer than thirty days it may become necessary for you to allow yourself a treat every once in a while. My birthday came about a month after I went AIP, I was so devastated at the thought of a dessert-free birthday, until I found Mickey’s raspberry “cheesecake” recipe. It was so delicious that my family gobbled it up and when I went back for seconds there was none to be found! I didn’t feel deprived for a second that day because I was able to enjoy a delicious dessert and not sacrifice my health.

5. Find a handful of places where you can comfortably go out:

This step took me a while, and that was a good thing. During those first initial weeks and months of healing it is important to have as much control over your food as you can and restaurants make that very hard. Socially, for the first few months I would meet people for walks, go for tea, or invite people over to my house instead of going out to eat. However, after a while I did have to start venturing out and I was able to find a couple of places that worked and allowed me the freedom to go out on occasion. This really helped me feel like my social life was still in tact and gave me the occasional night off from cooking.

6. Stay in the moment:

This is my last little bit of advice (for whatever it is worth); when you are first starting out don’t focus on the what-ifs. Don’t worry about what foods you may or may not be able to reintroduce, don’t worry about what that will mean for your life, your future, your ability to travel and so on. Healing is a process. Things you may not be able to eat now may not present a problem after you give your gut a chance to heal, but that doesn’t really matter because the only thing you have control over is the now so focus on doing whatever it takes for you to be healthy today and do it in a way that makes you feel empowered and content.

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a cook and one of the bloggers behind Autoimmune Wellness. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner by the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is the author of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, a guide and recipe book for the autoimmune protocol, and AIP Batch Cook, a video-based batch cooking program. You also can find her on Instagram.


  • Really useful tips and support thank you!

  • […] Thriving on The Autoimmune Protocol (Guest Post by Samantha McClellan) – The Paleo Mom […]

  • Holly says

    I have a question for anyone really who has done the paleo autoimmune.
    Did anyone gain weigh initially? I’ve been doing paleo for 3 weeks, and we are ending
    the nuts/seeds in a couple of days (we have stuff made up so have to finish it) and will be on
    full auto-paleo. But in the mean time, I am way bloated. I figured out 3 days ago onions are not
    on the list for me (we have been using in our stew) and it’s a bit better, but still stomach sensitive
    but bloating throughout my body. Has this happened to others?

    • Mickey says

      Many people have done the autoimmune protocol and have had to troubleshoot issues like you are describing. Have you seen the book The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne? She gives a great overview of customizing the protocol for people who may need other modifications. If you react to onions, then you may have an issue with other FODMAPS. Hope it helps!


  • Cubby says

    Samantha, your post was exactly what I needed to read! I’ve been feeling so deprived lately after being on a SIBO-healing diet (like a strict Paleo) for 8 months and recently starting the AIP Whole30 to try to pinpoint some continuing health issues. Sometimes, just reading about someone else’s experiences and realizing there is hope at the end of the tunnel is all we really need. I love your attitude switch from deprivation to motivation and empowerment. Thank you so much for your great tips!

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