Since February 2016, I have (more or less) followed a paleo diet, or rather the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet. I also often talk about the Wahls Protocol, as I credit Dr Wahls for my health improvements over the past 18 months.
A paleo diet takes inspiration from hunter-gatherers, before the advent of agriculture. Here are the quick headlines of the diet:
- Grain free: all grains/cereals are excluded. All grains are difficult to digest, even the non-gluten containing. Also grains contain a lot of “anti-nutrients” that flush out our system of all the goodness our body needs to function properly (like iron, zinc, magnesium, etc)
- Dairy free: dairy is highly inflammatory and very few people can actually digest it (giving up milk was easy, giving up cheese was more tricky!)
- Focus on healthy fats:
- Olive oil, coconut oil for the vegetarians oils. But all other vegetable oils are out, as they are made from grains or seeds and are high in Omega 6 fats, which are inflammatory
- Goose fat, tallow (beef dripping), lard (pork) for the animal fats;
- Omega 3 rich food: fatty fish (such as sardines, salmon, mackerel), avocados and nuts/seeds
- Vegetables & fruits: we beed to eat them in abundance (min 8 portions a day, up to 12) and ideally should be organic to avoid pesticides. A big focus should be on green leafy vegetables (salads, spinach, chard, kale, etc) as they are generally lacking in our western diets
- Animal protein sources: we need to prioritise high quality meat, such as grass fed meat (for beef/lamb) and pasture raised / organic (for pork, poultry, etc), to ensure the meat as a higher concentration of Omega 3 fats and avoid antibiotics; fish should be wild (not farmed and if farmed, organic)
- Other exclusions include all processed foods, refined sugar, legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
AIP is slightly more restrictive diet.
It is an elimination diet, with several weeks focussing on eating only meat, fish, vegetables & fruits. On top of the list above, you also eliminate eggs and nuts & seeds & seed based spices (coriander, cumin, fennel, etc.), as well as nightshades vegetables and spices (tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies, paprika, etc.). Once a good level of health is achieved (it will take anything from 4 weeks to 6 months), we start a structured re-introduction phase, which will ensure that all problematic ingredients remain off the menu. This helps ensure our diet is richer and more varied and thereby easier to follow long term.
AIP is not just a “food diet”, it’s also a “lifestyle diet”. We focus on introducing a lot of self-care activities:
- Stress management: such as meditation & mindfulness; stress is chronic nowadays. Whilst stress can be positive and support our performance (a bit of adrenalin will go a long way!), when chronic, it can be one of the root causes of many ailments, cancer, autoimmune disease, cardio-vascular diseases, you name it. If you are chronically stressed, you’re seating on a time bomb! And being stressed isn’t just about being under great pressure at work, it can be an alarm waking you every morning or seating in traffic every day.
- Sleep: we celebrate sleep nowhere near enough in our society, as a matter of fact, it’s often the opposite. Sleeping 6 hours or less a night is glorified. If the whole nation slept 7 hours a day or more, rates of chronic illnesses would drop.
- Exercise: it is a natural anti-inflammatory and stress reducer and will also give you loads of happy hormones. It is essential for your health to maintain healthy bones and muscles, especially as we age.
- Social connections: being socially connected to others is crucial important to your health and happiness. If we take the I out of illness and replace it with WE, we get wellness. It is a cliché, but there are numerous studies now proving that solitude in a cause of chronic illness and early death.
All these are really crucial to a healthy life. You cannot achieve health through food, unless you are effectively managing your stress, sleep 7+ hours every night, regularly moving and have strong social connections.
What are the differences between the Wahls protocol and AIP?
Actually, both protocols are very similar and Dr Wahls and Dr Ballantyne, who formalised the AIP protocol, alongside the ladies from Autoimmune Wellness, are peers and often quote each other. There are some differences, but they are subtle. For example, Dr Wahls also excludes eggs, but she doesn’t exclude Nightshades (though it’s now been mentioned that in an updated issue, she does suggest it as a “trouble-shooting” tactic if not enough progress is made).
Dr Wahls also provides a very specific framework for the amount and the nature of the vegetables that need to be eaten. This structure has proven really useful to me to ensure I had a wide enough variety of vegetables.
Is this a hard protocol to follow?
I am going to be honest with you, when I first read the Wahls protocol, I was quite overwhelmed. The changes seemed so big, it seemed a near impossible feat. Yet, here we are, 3+ years on from my first Wahls protocol / AIP meal and I wouldn’t contemplate any other way of eating, as it has given me my life back.
How can you achieve this? By focusing on all the great stuff you CAN eat. By cooking nice tasty foods (forget chicken and boiled broccoli!). By remembering that it is going to heal your body.
Working with a coach can help… I will give you some short cuts, provide you with some food inspiration, help you navigate the shopping options and answer any questions that may pop up along the way.
If you’d like to know more, please book a free 30 min discovery call to find out what it’s like to work with me.