Friday, August 29, 2014

Autoimmune Protocol: It's Not All About Restrictions

During my first week on the Autoimmune Protocol, I posted a summary called "What is AIP?" in which I listed all the restrictions, all the things I couldn't eat, and moaned about how much I hated it so far and how much it sucked. I printed out a long, long list to post on the fridge to remind myself of all the things that were now off limits. I was not excited about the prospect of eliminating almost every food I ate daily. But now, almost 6 weeks later, oh how my tune has changed! I *love* this way of eating and what it has done for me.

However, the restrictions, while necessary, are not the only thing that has to change on AIP. This is not just about food. It is about healing yourself, about gut health, about possibly putting an autoimmune disease into "remission" and reducing your symptoms. It's about doing what is necessary to take care of yourself. I learned all of this in my research, and found this book to be the most helpful: The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. It is written by a PhD and the explanations are steeped in science. But let me just touch on a few of the other things I am doing to improve my health.

In addition to a list of foods that you cannot eat, there is also a list of important foods to *include* for better health, because they are nutrient-dense (click the links on each food to read more about those benefits).

1. Bone broth (made from grass fed animals, simmered for a long time to break down the bones and joints.) This one was easy for me. I like bone broth. I just have to make time to cook it and then I have a nice warm mug of broth with breakfast or for a snack each day.

2. Organ meats. This one was tougher, but I did it. Grass fed liver:

AIP grass fed cow's liver, raw

Yeah, gross. If you want the full effect, click the photo for a larger version. I had never even seen a liver until this one. I got it from a local farmer with grass fed beef. I HATE handling raw meat so this was way out of my comfort zone. But it is supposedly so good for you and I wanted to do AIP correctly. So I used this recipe for pate and chopped that sucker up and cooked it with onions.

autoimmune protocol liver and onions

Then I whipped it up with herbs to make this "delicious spread" too have on raw carrots or cucumber slices.

Um. No. Just... no.

It was seriously just so far worse than I expected it to be, and the recent memory of that raw, bloody liver in my hands did nothing for my appetite. But by gosh, I made this! It was so nutritious. There had to be a way to get it down. I'd read that even a small amount of liver is beneficial. So I divided the recipe into 4 baggies and froze 3. Every day I would try to eat a little bite in a different way: warm on a carrot, cold on a cucumber, mixed into meat. I even tried to make a little ball of the frozen pate and swallow it with water like a pill, but don't try that. It gets stuck in your throat and you start gagging up liver and that is one flavor you do NOT want to choke on. Trust me.

Eventually I found it easiest to heat up 1-2 tablespoons of pate in the pan with my morning bacon and just scoop it up onto the end of the bacon and eat it. 

I also purchased some ground beef that is 25% ground heart and liver. I will be trying that next week as a meatloaf or meatballs... heavily seasoned.

3. Fermented foods. Introducing good bacteria into the gut helps with healing. Probiotics are nice, but fermented foods are even better. This was easy for me; I started buying Bubbie's sauerkraut and pickles (no vinegar added; naturally fermented) and drinking the occasional glass of kombucha (from the grocery store... but watch the ingredient list!)

4. Fish, grass fed gelatin, and healthy fats. I love fish, and eating wild salmon gives me healthy fats I need, too. I also get my fats from olives (canned with salt and no additives and NO pimentos, which are a nightshade), coconut milk, and avocados for the most part.

When I make sure I get these foods into my diet every week, I definitely feel better and have more energy.

Aside from food, there are some lifestyle components to the Autoimmune Protocol.

1) getting adequate sleep (8-10 hours/night) and its role in reducing inflammation. If you have read my blog for long, you know I have had sleep issues from the time my last child was born. I had to be up every 2 hours in the night (minimum) when she was a baby, and I never really got back into a good sleep schedule. Even when I have a nice quiet, dark room by myself all night, I was waking up every 2 or 3 hours for pretty much no reason. Well, sometimes I had to pee, or sometimes there was a kid in the kitchen fixing himself a late night snack (and I wake up at the slightest sound!) I also would wake up from heartburn sometimes. But now, on this diet I am sleeping better and more soundly. No more heartburn or acid reflux. I didn't know this, but nighttime waking can be a symptom of thyroid disease. Since starting Synthroid I have slept better and I no longer wake every 2 hours. I do still wake around 3 every night, but usually can get back to sleep. I generally go to bed earlier now and get up as late as possible (usually around 7 am). Better sleep has really increased my quality of life.

2) reducing stress. This was a huge one for me! I spent most of my life dealing with stress by binge eating. That is not a good option at all. And while this is probably the hardest part of AIP for me (even harder than liver), it is also one of the most essential for my health. So I am working on this every day. There are two parts to this. First is reducing the actual sources of stress so there is less to deal with. So far, I dropped a volunteer position that had turned into a source of stress for me, and I have cut a toxic person or two out of my life. I made some new rules, such as, if I do not want to answer the phone, I don't. If I do not want to say yes to an obligation, I smile and say no. I pay more attention to what I truly want and focus on the things that bring me and my family joy. The second part to the equation is learning to actually deal with stress in a more effective manner. I'm working on this one... but it's tough. I still *want* to turn to food, but am doing so far less often and making much healthier choices when I do. I have been learning basic meditation, which I find quite soothing. I have learned to center myself and control my breathing and even lower my own blood pressure in this way. I try to turn to friends, relax in a warm bath, or even just have a good cry. Sometimes I cook, which I find very calming as well. Standing in the kitchen peeling and chopping vegetables puts me in a good, happy state of mind. Walking, biking, and swimming all help reduce stress in the body, too, and moderate exercise is another part of the AIP lifestyle, as is getting outside in the sun every day. 

So you see, it's not just about restrictions. On AIP, there is a lot to *do* for your health. And those are the things I am now focusing on. 

I am no doctor, but if you have struggled with random symptoms and just don't feel well, or if you know you have an autoimmune disease, you might consider AIP. Hey, it's just a month, and then you can slowly add things back! Ask your doctor. This has changed my life.


Anonymous said...

You are brave tackling that liver. I would in no way try that, but I might eat it if someone else cooked it for me.

Thank you for continuing to be positive and up beat and for sharing your journey in spite of the rude, nasty comments some people left on your last post. I guess they think they are perfect. I say more power to you Lyn that you can create a cake that is healthy instead of giving in to temptations. Go girl!


Betsey C. said...

Ugh, liver! I'm sorry, but there is no way I would be able to eat it. I give you a lot of credit for trying! I know it's very nutritious, but no way. And I am not a picky eater at all -- in fact I think liver is the only food I have ever tasted in my life that I don't like.

I'm so glad you are feeling so much better! How are your feet feeling these days?

Lyn said...

Yeah guys, the liver was not tasty. I am hoping the ground beef with it mixed in will be better... much easier to eat it that way if the flavor is hidden!


My feet are *so* much better! They only hurt a bit in the morning and after I walk or stand too long. Very tolerable! I am even walking my daughter to school on some days, which I truly missed last year. Feeling very blessed :)

Anonymous said...

You are probably bingeing on chocolate, doomed to fail like Gwen said. Chocolate cake has no place in a healthy diet.

Lyn said...


Actually, I am frying bacon to add to my chicken and vegetables for dinner! The cake will have to wait, since it's frozen at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, since I'm nob much of a meat lover, I really like liver. Skinned, fried slowly with onion.

Although I usually eat it out at a homestyle restaurant down the road since the hubster does not like liver.

The pate? Not so much. The thought of having liver ground and smeared cold on anything, despite my love for liver, is gag-worthy. :{

I give you credit for the major effort and wish you well with the ground meat combo.

Lyn said...


hmmm, maybe I should have tried a bite before pureeing it. I'm not sure if there will be a next time, but if there is, I will give that a shot.

Anonymous said...

Have you had your TSH/thyroid levels checked since starting the AIP diet? I'm hypothyroid too but so far nothing other than medication has made a difference for me.

Lyn said...


not yet; he wanted me to get thyroid levels done again after 6 months. Do you have Hashimoto's also? AIP targets autoimmune disease, which some hypothyroidism is not (just TSH levels would not look for autoimmune; they have to test for "TPO" which is thyroid peroxidase antibodies) and from what I have read, this diet often lowers the numbers significantly. It will be interesting to see. I am on Synthroid as well. All of my hypothyroid symptoms are gone now.

Anonymous said...

Cut the liver into tiny pieces, freeze in a single layer, place in a glass jar in the freezer. Swallow a handful each morning. No taste, goes down like a vitamin.

Lyn said...


That's an interesting idea. Do you cook it first? The pate stuck in my throat and broke up when I tried it, but maybe a solid piece would go down better. It is pretty much a "supplement" so I don't mind taking it like one.

Anonymous said...

Yes I have Hashimotyo's and a few other autoimmune disorders. They tend to travel in groups.

Lyn said...


I think AIP is worth a try if you think it is doable for you. My endocrinologist did say he felt the most important things for me to cut out were gluten and dairy, so if you want to try it you could start with those foods. I hope you start feeling better soon!

Anonymous said...

No, raw. Just make sure you know where the liver came from.

You can also get desiccated liver tablets, or dehydrate the raw liver, grind it and fill capsules.

Sharon said...

I've never tried beef liver straight, but frequently chop up 1/4 lb or so to mix with other ground meats. Don't notice it that way. I wish they sold that ground beef/liver/heart mixture here, sounds like a super convenient way to get in more organ meats.

Anonymous said...

I grew up eating liver and I love it. But you need to add lots of butter, not coconut oil. 2 sticks of butter.

Steelers6 said...

Liver. Ug. Forced to eat as a kid when parents raised beef.
I cannot even look at these pics or read about it. Don't wanna hurl. Good Lord.
In any case, so excited how you're doing.