Of course if your symptoms are extreme or severe (such as excruciating pain or passing blood), see your doctor as soon as possible.
But for the thousands of people who suffer with bloating, constipation and/or diarhoea the IBS diet also known as the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, is a great way to calm your digestive system and figure out if certain foods are causing a problem.
Looking at the ‘allowed’ foods on the autoimmune protocol I wondered what on earth I actually could eat. If you thought Paleo or vegan was restrictive, they’ve got nothing on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). Meat and veg. Fish and veg. Some fruit. Not all fruits. Not all vegetables. Mostly plain meat, fish, and some vegetables. Oh and some fats. Not all fats.
The immune system is a very complex system. It’s primary role is to defend against ‘invaders’ such as a cold virus, dodgy kebab, the dirt that gets into a paper cut, or just the trillions of germs (both good and bad) that we encounter every day.
But sometimes the immune system gets a little muddled. It doesn’t fire into action when it should, meaning you’re more susceptible to catching a cold or get every tummy bug that ‘does the rounds’ at work. Or the immune system can become over reactive, perceiving perfectly healthy foods as ‘bad’, manifesting as food intolerances and allergies to dust, cats, pollen etc. Asthma, eczema and hay fever are common results of an immune system that’s got confused, to describe it in its simplest form.
Autoimmune diseases can range from mild to completely debilitating. Some autoimmune diseases include:
The exact causes of autoimmune diseases aren’t known, but bacteria and viruses, drugs, and chemical and environmental irritants are all thought to play a role. In addition, stress, or to be more precise the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are known to have a multitude of negative effects on the body, being linked to everything from mental health problems to blood sugar regulation, obesity, heart disease, digestive functioning and more.
A recent area of research has been looking more closely at the role of gut health and immunity. With 100 trillion bacteria in the human gut, comprising all different types in different amounts, this balance getting out of whack can lead to poor digestion at best, but is also thought to be linked to many of the other immune problems like those previously mentioned. I predict that in future probiotics will be used as part of treatment for many common problems, and not just those affecting the gut such as gut inflammation, fungal infections, bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut, but anything related to compromised immunity that affects other areas of the body.
The aim of the autoimmune protocol is to remove all foods that have the slightest allergenic properties, allowing the gut (and rest of the body) to calm down, receive minimal stress (at least not from potentially allergenic foods), and give it a chance to reduce inflammation and heal, especially important where intestinal permeability (more commonly known as leaky gut) is concerned.
Legumes including soy and peas
Nuts & Seeds
Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergine, white potato, goji berries, paprika)
Alcohol, cocoa, coffee, squash, fruit juice or fizzy drinks
NSAIDS like aspirin or ibuprofen (not a food I know, but not allowed either)
Meat including organ meats
Fish (except shellfish)
Vegetables (other than nightshades)
Fruit (other than citrus, and no more than 20g fructose/day)
Carob, tea in moderation
Olives & olive oil (and other vegetable fats)
Let’s get this straight, this is a temporary diet. It would be extremely difficult to meet all of your macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) and micronutrient (vitamins & minerals) needs on such a restrictive diet. It’s a protocol used during acute flare ups for a month to 6 weeks at any one time before reintroducing non AIP foods gradually. Plus it’s boring.
Breakfast: homemade organic beef burgers (egg and flour free) with onions sauted in beef fat.
Snacks: fruit and cold sliced meats.
Lunch: salad of ‘allowed’ vegetables and salad vegetables, meat or fish, avocado.
Afternoon snack: black tea and homemade coconut flour cookies.
Evening meal: Sweet potato, salmon steak baked with garlic and herbs, broccoli and spinach.
Bedtime drink: carob powder with hot water and coconut milk (as close as I could get to a ‘hot chocolate’)
This sort or holistic approach to dealing with immune problems is often overlooked by conventional medicine. Not nearly as much research is done into alternative treatments, and without enough studies, there is not enough ‘proof’ to warrant government backing. However it’s a system being used with patients by functional medicine practitioners the world over and with great success. My own introduction was though working with Wilde Performance after conventional medicine failed to help with my increasingly bad IBS that meant I was walking around looking 6 months pregnant most of the time, and even spent 24 hours in A+E on morphine and a saline drip (for continually dropping blood pressure) one time only to be sent away the next morning with instructions to get some antispasmodic drugs from my GP. Honestly, I’ve never felt better that when following the protocol and that was even before some infections were cleared up, and though nobody could eat this way indefinitely I know that if I ever found myself struggling with IBS or anything related again I can easily default to the AIP diet temporarily, even if simply to give my body and digestive system a break.
I learnt some lessons along the way when reintroducing foods, too. Like I can have one good quality coffee a day, but a second coffee makes my belly blow up like a balloon. Dairy is ok for me in small amounts (in tea), but more than that and I waste valuable time running to the loo (sorry). I’m not coeliac and the occasional biscuit or bite of leftover kids’ toast is ok, but eating lots of gluten (which I had to do for 6 weeks running up to a coeliac test) makes me feel like an 80 year old woman and act like I hate everyone. Nightshades appear to be an ongoing problem for me and I knew that before seeking treatment. One cherry tomato is all it takes to bring on the ‘are you expecting’ belly and an asthma attack. Not the end of the world, but neither are they the easiest things to avoid when eating out. No two people’s experiences will be the same so I would never assume someone else has these issues just because I do, but it was only through reading blogs like this that I connected the dots and so knew the right place to seek help in the first place.
If there are bacterial or fungal infections, avoiding ‘non AIP’ foods won’t clear them up. If you have genuine food intolerances or allergies, doing this won’t magically enable you to eat your ‘problem foods’. It doesn’t make you lose weight (unless you’re in a calorie deficit, but then it’s the deficit that does that not the AIP), and it doesn’t cure any disease. What is does do is give your body some temporary respite from some foods that may be a problem for you, giving your gut a chance to heal and edge towards functioning properly again.