Written by: Katy Meyer
WHAT IS AIP DIET
If you’ve been in the MS world for any amount of time, it’s likely that you’ve done some research into the role food plays in MS symptom management. And while some people claim that there isn’t a correlation between symptoms and diet, the amount of specific diets geared toward MS would seem to indicate otherwise. One of the most familiar healing diets for people in the MS community is AIP, also known as the Autoimmune Protocol. With its roots going back to as early as 2011, AIP is an elimination diet with the goal of eliminating inflammation in the body and identifying food triggers for autoimmune disease symptoms. While the list of foods to remove in the elimination phase may seem daunting, a large part of AIP is focusing on increasing nutrient density in order to promote healing in the body and gut. Some autoimmune conditions that are known to respond well to AIP include rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome and of course, multiple sclerosis (among many others).
HOW DOES AIP WORK
According to Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s The Paleo Mom, “The goal of the Autoimmune Protocol is to flood the body with nutrients while simultaneously avoiding any food that might be contributing to disease.” Because autoimmune disease relies on inflammation, the AIP aims to eliminate known inflammatory food groups in the beginning, which is known as the elimination phase. The list of things that are off limits during this time includes grains, dairy, eggs, nightshade vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, food additives and certain oils.
View “YES” and “NO” foods
While it seems like an impossible list to tackle, the elimination phase isn’t meant to be a long term solution. Instead, you’re encouraged to remove these foods for a minimum of 30 days or until you notice a reduction in symptoms. People often see this starting to take place in as little as 3 weeks and I can attest to this being the case for me! I was amazed at how quickly I started feeling better after implementing the AIP diet.
HOW TO REINTRODUCE FOOD
After navigating the confusion and challenges of the elimination phase, it’s time to move onto phase 2, the reintroduction phase. This can feel scary for some people because of the possibility that symptoms will be triggered, but if it’s done correctly, it’s a great tool to help figure out just how your body reacts to foods and how best to incorporate them back into your diet. Remember, the elimination phase is never meant to be a long term diet.
The key to reintroductions is to go very slowly. Once you’ve noticed a reduction in symptoms (yay!!) as a result of the elimination phase, choose a food from the list to reintroduce and plan to eat that food 2-3 times in a day and then avoid it for several days afterwards. Pay close attention to how your body reacts. Are you noticing any symptoms pop up? Does anything feel off? It might even be helpful to keep a journal as you go along. Don’t introduce anything else new in the meantime. You don’t want anything adding confusion to your body during this process. If after 5-7 days of waiting you’re still not experiencing any symptoms, you’re good to reintroduce that food into your diet!
The Paleo Mom website has foods divided up into 4 stages for reintroductions labeled 1-4. These are categorized starting with the most nutrient dense foods and those least likely to cause a reaction. The list moves down to less nutrient dense options with a higher chance of reaction. So starting with the stage 1 foods is the safest option. As I write this, I have to laugh because I accidentally didn’t follow the process as outlined my first time around and it absolutely caused some frustration and symptoms. After a restart and doing it correctly, I am a firm believer in following the reintroductions exactly as they’re explained by the experts!
ME AND AIP
My journey with AIP started in May of 2020 when my functional neurologist suggested I implement it to help manage my MS symptoms. Like is the case for so many, I felt overwhelmed with the “no”s on the list. I genuinely didn’t think I could do it. But because I felt like the stakes were so high, I jumped into the elimination phase with both feet. I couldn’t believe the changes in my physical symptoms within just a few weeks. I went from having terrible balance to being able to walk down the hallway without my hand on the wall. The tingling and numbness in my legs drastically decreased and overall, I felt more in control of my body. It was at that point that I realized how important diet and nutrition was going to be in helping me take control of this disease. So it was worth it- worth the sacrifice of foods I’d grown accustomed to, worth the time and effort put into meal prep each week, worth the upheaval of all I’d known, because I finally felt better.
Since starting my reintroduction, I’ve successfully reintroduced eggs, peanuts and legumes. Having the extra variety in my diet has been helpful for my mental approach to food and I feel confident having those foods regularly because I went through the reintroduction phase the right way! And even though the food options may be limited, that doesn’t mean that food on the AIP has to be boring. If anything, it’s helped me to branch out and find new nutritious foods to add to my diet and fun ways to prepare them!
How about you? Are you curious about how AIP could help you manage your MS symptoms? This is just a bare minimum overview- but there’s a wealth of information available about AIP and how to walk through the process in order to set yourself up for success. Dig into the research and see if an AIP diet is a fit for you. As scary as it may seem to do something so drastic, it’s worth it and worth the investment in your health for years to come. You just may end up finding that nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels.