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Category: My AIP Story

Surviving AIP: Two Must-Have Foods

Surviving AIP: Two Must-Have Foods

I’ve survived AIP as long as I have mainly due to two indispensible foods: Terre Plantain chips and Chunky Avocado. I eat these plantain chips dipped in chunky avocado nearly everyday in the mid-afternoon as a snack (alternating occasionally with sweet potato chips). They are absolutely indispensible for sticking with AIP week after week.

I was afraid to try the plantain chips at first because plantains were new to me and sounded weird. Plantains are basically a type of banana that you cook. If you cook them when they’re green, they taste starchy, like potatoes. I read about this, especially from Sarah Ballantyne in her blog (thepaleomom.com) and in her books. She’s a big fan of plantains. I had been eating Siete grain-free chips, which are made with cassava flour and taste similar to potato chips, but cost $4.99 per 5 oz. bag and contain chia seeds, so they are not technically AIP. I was looking for a cheaper chip that was compliant with AIP. Terre also has root vegetable chips that taste good, but they are cooked in safflower/sunflower oil so they are not technically AIP either. However, Terre’s plantain chips are cooked in coconut oil, so they are AIP-compliant, and they only cost $3.49 per 5 oz. bag at the Whole Foods near me.

So, I bought a bag and screwed up my courage to try them. I was pleasantly surprised. They taste closer to potato chips than the root vegetable chips. They are crunchy and salty and don’t curl up funny like sweet potato chips do. They are great for dipping into my chunky avocado. The price is reasonable and I find they often go on sale. They have become a staple, must-have in my AIP diet!

Terre Plantain chips with sea salt are a must-have to survive AIP.

The other must-have food that goes with the plantain chips is Chunky Avocado. I looked at a lot of different guacamoles in several different grocery stores and all of them had at least one ingredient that was not compliant with AIP (jalapenos, pepper, tomatoes, etc.). I tried making my own guacamole at home. I bought fresh avocados, mashed them up, and added AIP-compliant spices like lime juice, sea salt, etc.  When it was freshly made, this homemade guacamole was okay, but I found it was kind of runny. Too moist, too much extra liquid, and it just wasn’t as appealing as the store-bought kind.

Then, I found Chunky Avocado in Walmart of all places. The only ingredients are Hass Avocados, with no other seasonings. The taste is plain, but AIP-compliant and very easy to buy and eat as a dip. After I open it and it eat the first time, I squirt lime juice over the surface to help prevent the avocado from turning brown in the fridge. It will still turn brown around the edges, but the lime juice helps prevent the whole top surface from turning brown and also adds some flavor. Regular guacamole certainly tastes more flavorful, but this Chunky Avocado is quick and easy and helps me get through many AIP days. I can only find it at Walmart in the fresh section, next to the other guacamoles.

Chunky Avocado from Walmart is a nice dip that only contains Hass Avocados and is AIP-compliant.
Giving up Coffee on AIP Paleo

Giving up Coffee on AIP Paleo

One of the hardest changes I made in my diet starting on January 2 was giving up coffee. Since coffee comes from beans, which are legumes, they are excluded from the AIP Paleo diet. I had suspected for some time that the acidity from my morning coffee was contributing to my frequent acid reflux and annoying need to constantly clear my throat. I switched to low-acid coffee and it might have helped a little. I also switched to almond creamer to eliminate the dairy creamer I usually used. The almond flavor complements coffee perfectly and, since it contains sugar, adds just the right amount of sweetness. I thoroughly savored that sweet, hot liquid every morning. I sipped my coffee slowly and kept my cup on a cup warmer so it would stay warm longer and I wasn’t rushed to drink it.

So, when I started to “officially” do AIP for 30 days in January, I reluctantly switched to black tea and then to green tea. The first few days were definitely hard. That first morning, I looked mournfully down at the unsweetened, brown, translucent liquid in my cup and wondered how in the world I was supposed to get myself going in the morning for the next 30 days by drinking that dirty hot water.

I decided to make it special by learning how to make tea the proper English way. I was a bit surprised to find there are tutorials online! I actually have an English teapot and two lovely, matching bone china teacups that I bought at Whittard in Leeds when I was there on a work trip in 2013. The teapot and cups have been displayed in my china cabinet, unused, for 5 years. I decided that if I was going to drink tea every day for 30 days, I was going to do it in style. I learned that the key to making quality tea is to warm the teapot. So, I dutifully boil water in the pretty red kettle that my sister-in-law gave me at some point and pour some of the boiling water in the teapot first, swirl it around, and pour it out. Then, I add the tea (usually teabags with the strings hanging over the side), pour boiling water over top to fill the pot, put on the lid with a clink, and let it brew.

I also read online that a tea cozy is a must for keeping your teapot hotter longer. There are patterns for knitting tea cozies, but since I can’t knit, I hunted down a pattern for a crocheted tea cozy. It took some weeks to make it, but I finally finished and it was worth it. I love the way it looks on my teapot every morning! It brings me joy to see my teapot in its little sweater. Here’s the link to the pattern I used: BERNAT CROCHET POPCORN TEA COZY.

My teapot wearing the tea cozy I crocheted, and a lovely cup of green tea.

After a few days, my taste buds adjusted to the blander flavor of the tea and I got used to it. Another nutritionist advised me to switch to green tea because it has less caffeine, so I tried that next. I think the green tea actually tastes better than black.

Now, it’s May and I’m still drinking green tea every morning. I started reintroducing foods in April, but I haven’t reintroduced coffee yet. There were more important foods to start with and I’m okay drinking my tea for now. Since I started AIP, I haven’t had acid reflux again. It was clearly a result of something I was eating or drinking. I’ll reintroduce coffee this month with unsweetened almond creamer and see how it goes…

My Success Factors for Surviving the AIP Diet

My Success Factors for Surviving the AIP Diet

All of my life I’ve found it very hard to significantly change my diet. I’m a people pleaser and an obliger and it’s hard for me to have the willpower to eat differently than the people around me. I’m also afraid of feeling hungry and not being “allowed” to eat anything or only being allowed to eat yucky food. I still remember the days in high school and college when dieting meant you snacked on rice cakes. I tried one once and it was so bland and tasteless, I could barely choke it down. I also did Weight Watchers several years ago and had some success. I logged everything I ate for months, counted points, and forced myself to go to aerobics at the gym several times a week, and I finally lost 16 pounds, which was my 10% weight loss goal. Then, I got married, moved far away from my gym, started eating anything I wanted, and gained 30 pounds in a matter of months.

So, the fact that I’ve been able to stick with the very strict AIP diet for 2+ months amazes me. I say 2+ months because I went on vacation during the month of February and was not able to follow AIP very well during that trip and I indulged in some Valentine’s chocolates when I got back. Here’s a summary of my diet in the last 7 months:

Dates Diet Weight Loss
September – December 2017 Gluten-, dairy-, and egg-free (80-100% of the time) ~7.2 lbs
January 2018 Strict Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) ~5.6 lbs
February 2018 ~2 weeks vacation where I ate mostly Paleo including eggs, and some cheese, refried beans, corn tortillas, rice, etc.; ~2 weeks where I ate AIP with the addition of Valentine chocolates ~2.2 lbs
March 2018 Strict Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) ~5 lbs
April 2018 Started re-introducing foods  TBD

I’ve lost 20 pounds since I started working with a nutritionist in September 2017. (Happy dance!) This includes 7 pounds from following a gluten-, dairy-, egg-free diet most of the time for 4 months (i.e. I would occasionally have gluten-free pizza with mozzarella cheese, etc.), and 13 pounds from when I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet 3 months ago.

So, how did someone like me, who struggled with changing my diet my whole life, manage to eat a strict AIP diet for 2+ months? Here are the critical success factors that I recognize from my experience.

  1. See a nutritionist. I would never have considered even trying a Paleo diet, much less a strict diet like AIP, if I hadn’t seen a nutritionist who recommended it. Also, just having an appointment with her in 2 weeks or a month held me accountable to actually follow the diet and not cheat. I hate being held accountable! But I also hated the thought of going to that appointment and sitting in front of Elizabeth and having to admit that I didn’t see results because I didn’t follow her recommendations. For me, having a professional to meet with every 2 weeks or 1 month was vital.  There’s no way I could have followed the AIP diet alone, or even with a friend. I needed a professional to give me food suggestions, product suggestions, and advice for dealing with any issues that come up (traveling, being hungry, getting constipated, etc.).
  2. Have a transition period. Those 4 months of going gluten-, dairy-, and egg-free were vitally important to transition my taste buds, my habits, and my mind for changing my diet. There was so much to learn in the beginning, so many labels to read, so many new foods to try that I would have been too overwhelmed to go strictly AIP from the beginning. When I first heard about the AIP, I thought I maybe could do it for one day, and I wasn’t even sure about that. Those 4 months of transition time allowed me to eat my normal foods with modifications (like gluten-free pizza crust and gluten/dairy/egg-free bagels) while my taste buds and mindset and home life adjusted. I had to tell my husband I couldn’t eat his grilled cheese sandwiches anymore, but I wasn’t getting “too weird” or too extreme yet. Around November, Elizabeth started encouraging me to think about doing AIP strictly for 30 days. I could see her point and finally agreed to start AIP in January 2018. This gave me the whole month of December to continue reading AIP resources and research and try some AIP recipes so I would be prepared.
  3. Work from home. I am lucky to have a job where I can work from home often. This was another vital part of making AIP work for me, especially in the first month. If I had the added stress of having to pack a lunch or eat out for lunch or having to sit in my office until 5 pm when I hadn’t packed enough food and I was hungry, I bet I would have caved at some point and eaten out of the vending machine or some food that was not on the plan. Working from home made it much easier for me not to worry about eating out and just focus on buying groceries and cooking meals that would fit the plan.
  4. Focus on 30 days. Elizabeth emphasized that you don’t follow AIP strictly for the rest of your life. You follow AIP for 30-90 days and then start slowly reintroducing foods. I was nervous to restrict my diet that much, but I kept telling myself, “It’s only for the month of January.” That became my mantra. I told my husband, Mike, “For the month of January, I’m being very strict with my diet.” I didn’t tell him all the details because he would have been shocked out of his mind. The idea of “it’s only for 30 days” was extremely helpful to get me through that first month. It’s not forever, it’s just for the next 30 days. When I met Elizabeth at the end of January, I was doing so well, losing weight, significantly less bloated, and feeling good, that she suggested I keep doing AIP for another 60 days. She said that it seemed like we found the right diet for my body. If I had not lost weight and I was still bloated and didn’t feel well, she said she would have considered another diet for me, but since I was doing so well, it was pretty clear that the Paleo diet was right for my body. I readily agreed to do AIP until the end of March (with the caveat that I was going on vacation in February) because I was in the groove then. I had done it for 30 days, and I felt confident that I could do it longer.
My Story, Part 2: Starting with a Gluten/Dairy/Egg-Free Diet

My Story, Part 2: Starting with a Gluten/Dairy/Egg-Free Diet

The nutritionist I saw was a young woman in her mid to late 20’s named Elizabeth. She had read my paperwork and we discussed my symptoms of bloating, acid reflux, etc. My diet at the time consisted of eating foods that I thought were healthy or at least not too bad: bagels or cinnamon raisin bread with margarine and coffee with almond creamer for breakfast, regular visits to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts for their sausage, egg, and cheese bagel and macchiato with almond milk, cheese 3-4 meals a day, homemade pizza once or even twice a week, Mexican food with refried beans and cheese, etc. I didn’t eat many sweets or desserts and was careful with potato chips. My husband would make me grilled cheese sandwiches every weekend. My stomach would feel a little bad afterwards, but he was so sweet to cook for me. Grilled cheese was his specialty. I ate some vegetables too. I loved to munch on raw green or orange peppers. I also ate white potatoes frequently, tomato-based sauces for my homemade pizza, and pasta for dinner about once a week. Like a lot of people today, I was under the impression that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet was healthy, so I tried to make meat-free meals occasionally, like pasta, bean and cheese quesadillas, and potato soup. I would eat a spoonful of peanut butter nearly every day as a snack that satiated me in the late afternoons. I read some vegan cookbooks to find some meat-free meals, but quickly gave up on that idea. Most of the vegan meals I found contained faux ingredients like faux-turkey that did not appeal to me at all.

Elizabeth recommended the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) as the best diet to start with since I was already diagnosed with an autoimmune skin condition and bloating was likely from inflammation. She showed me a handout of which foods to include and which to avoid on the AIP. Basically, the AIP is an elimination diet that eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, nightshades, nuts, and seeds. What is left to include in your diet is meat, vegetables and fruits that are not nightshades, healthy fats like avocados, coconut, and olive oil, and that’s about it. I was shocked when I saw the lists. Even my peanut butter and my beloved orange sweet peppers were out. I thought there was no way on God’s green earth that I could eat a diet that restrictive. No way!

After seeing the look of shock on my face, which got bigger and bigger as I continued reading the list of “foods to avoid” that eliminated nearly all of my current diet, Elizabeth recommended starting a bit slower by eliminating the biggest allergens first: gluten, dairy, and eggs. I was still a bit taken aback. I realized dairy and eggs could be part of my bloating problem, but wheat? I had been eating bread my whole life and I knew it didn’t affect me. I knew for sure. Still, Elizabeth was a young, bright woman who was trying to help people by being a nutritionist. She was nice to me and I felt like I should try her suggestions so I wouldn’t disappoint her. My people-pleasing nature kicked in. I figured I could try it her way and then, when it made no difference for me to eliminate gluten, she would see things my way and I could go back to eating bagels.

My Story, Part I: How I Found the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet

My Story, Part I: How I Found the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet

A year or two ago, I started feeling bloated. I’ve been overweight for nearly all of my life, but this was a different feeling. My stomach protruded out and I felt like I was pregnant, but I knew I wasn’t. Some days seemed to be worse than others, but I couldn’t figure out what was causing it. I thought it was just  middle age (I’m 45) or maybe because I started menopause early.  I had read that middle-age and post-menopausal women can have problems gaining weight around their middle. I also remembered my mother having a stomach that protruded and looked bloated like mine. So, I figured I was just getting older and that was life. I thought about going to a doctor to ask about this bloating, but bloating is such a vague symptom, I figured it wouldn’t do any good. I was also having regular acid reflux that caused me to take Zantac, Pepcid, or at the very least several Tums 3-5 times a week.

Then, one day I decided to have boiled eggs for breakfast. I love eggs but I hadn’t made any in some time. I ate two boiled eggs. Shortly afterwards, I starting burping and had terrible gas and bloating. This time I knew the cause. I hadn’t eaten anything else, so I knew my gastrointestinal discomfort was due to the eggs. I started researching egg allergies and egg sensitivities. This led me to researching food sensitivities in general and tests they can do to detect food sensitivities. Eventually, I looked up nutritionists in my area who do food sensitivity testing. I found one across town who is in-network with my health insurance company. I never realized that my health insurance would pay for me to see a nutritionist. Now, I have seen her regularly (1-2 times/month) and have not paid even a co-pay. Apparently, in 2018, my health insurance changed and now they only cover 6 visits per year. So, after that I’ll have to start paying $45 a session, but that is still not too bad.

When I filled out the paperwork for the nutritionist, there was a question about any diagnosed conditions I had and what medications I was taking. I’m using estrogen patches twice a week due to the early menopause, and I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosis a couple years ago. Lichen sclerosis is an autoimmune skin condition that causes white patches of itchy skin on the genitals. My doctor told me it was autoimmune, that it had no cure, and that I was just unlucky to get it. She directed me to some information to read about it. I read about it, but I didn’t really understand the autoimmune part and I had no idea there was an autoimmune diet. Nothing I read indicated that there might be some way I could improve the condition except for applying a corticosteroid regularly to control the symptoms. I never made the connection between lichen sclerosis and any other autoimmune conditions. If you have to have an autoimmune condition, lichen sclerosis is not a bad one to have. It is just itchy and inconvenient and requires me to apply greasy ointment daily, but nothing I couldn’t live with.