Starting the AIP diet is probably the hardest thing I have ever done.
The what diet?! The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is designed to reduce inflammation for autoimmune conditions. The diet consists of a strict elimination phase followed by a slow and intentional reintroduction phase. The goal is to figure out which individual foods contribute to adverse autoimmune responses.
It's tough! During the elimination phase, you start by removing grains, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, eggs, and nuts and seeds. Many people will also eliminate other possible dietary triggers like nightshades (potatoes and tomatoes), caffeine, alcohol, and legumes.
While the process was undoubtedly difficult, it has been so rewarding and so worth it. As a gal with Hashimoto's, my goal in changing my diet and lifestyle using the autoimmune protocol was to see a change in symptoms and to see a reduction in my TPO antibodies.
After just a few months, my antibodies lowered significantly. After a few days on AIP, some of my symptoms disappeared, while other symptoms took months to fade. Everyone's experience is different! Don't give up on AIP or dietary changes just because your symptoms don't go away overnight. It took a solid four months for my worst symptoms to start disappearing, but I have continued to see progress over the last year and a half. My symptoms even continue to improve!
It took months or years for an autoimmune disease to surface, and it will probably take months or years to reverse your symptoms completely.
DO. NOT. GIVE. UP.
If there is one thing that you take away from this article, I hope it is this: every BODY is different. When it comes to autoimmune disease, what works for me may not work for you. I will struggle with different things than you will. You and I will have different trigger foods and different "safe" foods. Our stories are different.
Three pieces of advice I wish I had at the start
Practical Advice: Plan Ahead
The AIP diet is not something that you can jump into overnight. It's not as simple as just cutting out dairy or gluten. There is a long list of foods to avoid and a long list of foods to include for maximum results.
If you are just now reading about AIP for the first time, you probably don't want to jump into it tomorrow morning. Consider reading more articles about AIP, finding a few recipes you can cook in batches, and meeting new internet friends (like me!) who you feel comfortable asking lots of questions.
If you are still eating an unspecialized diet, consider taking baby steps. While some people suggest to rip the band-aid and jump all-in to AIP, I took small steps over three months. First, I cut gluten, then dairy, and then started removing large food groups altogether.
Do what you think is best for you. If you are anxious to see results and feel like you have a good grasp on the requirements of AIP, go all in! If you have not started removing any foods, start by cutting out gluten today.
Emotional Advice: This Season Is Temporary
It is perfectly acceptable to be sad and scared about the changes taking place in your life. While remission is possible, autoimmune disease is not something that we can ignore. We cannot go back to the way life used to be. Even with a reversal of symptoms, we have to keep up with a new diet and lifestyle to keep symptoms at bay.
An emotional game-changer for me was when I decided to stop trying to achieve "who I once was." I'm never going to be the same person I was before autoimmune disease... and I shouldn't want to be! My Hashimoto's diagnosis has made me stronger, kinder, and more patient. The goal is not to be the previous version of Juliana; the goal is to become someone BETTER.
Remember that the most restrictive version of the AIP diet is not permanent. The goal of this protocol is not to eat as few foods as possible, but to let your body heal so that you can reintroduce nutrient-dense foods over time.
Working on this mindset has been a process. There are still tears, still, days where I wish for what once was, but there are also days where I am genuinely thankful for this new story, a new diet, and new life.
Relational Advice: Ask For Help
I don't know about you, but asking for help is really difficult. However, having an autoimmune disease means that I am more tired and less able to do routine tasks that used to be easy. Some days, I simply do not have the energy to make food for myself or finish the tasks on my to-do list. Contrary to popular opinion, the goal of life is not to be independent, but interdependent. We are not built to live this life alone!
Autoimmune disease has made me more reliant on the people around me: my mom, my family, my boyfriend, friends, and even professors at school. Find your team. Ask for help more often than you used to. Asking for help opens up the opportunity for others to bless you! It allows someone else to serve.
With that said, we aren't useless or less-than because we have a chronic illness. You have the unique gift of a story to tell. You have a whole new skill set because of the lessons you are learning about life and the body. You can find ways to give back! Use the skills you have, and take advantage of the best days.