Couch Potato Cook

I Did The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet For Food Sensitivities — Here’s How The Elimination Phase Went

A few years ago, I wrote a not-very-funny TV comedy pilot in which the main antagonist is a food blogger who is secretly on a diet due to high cholesterol. Fast-forward to March 2019: I’m doing the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet not-so-secretly for that reason — and to find what has been causing a lot of my recent health issues.

During my first annual physical in too long, my doctor told me that my bloodwork showed I have chronic inflammation, high cholesterol (the bad one), and signs of too much stress. Admittedly, it’s the result of heredity, as well as 4 years of food blogging, chasing trends, being lazy about cooking, not being very picky about what went into my body, and being in my mid-30s. I’m being transparent here, because everyone loves to talk about amazing food photos, but no one really talks about the toll some of these indulgences can take on the body. Health and food have always been intertwined and I believe talking about stuff like this also has a place in food blogging.

So my doctor’s first suggestion was for me to cut out refined sugar for a month and I reluctantly did. A week later in a follow-up appointment, my doctor was so impressed that I took so much initiative that she suggested I do the AIP diet to find out if I have any food sensitivities causing a lot of my recent health issues (stomach pain, heartburn, edema, eczema, exteme fatigue — you name it). And so here we are.

So I dove in head first and cut all the fun stuff from my diet for one whole month:

  • No gluten
  • No soy
  • No refined sugars
  • No corn
  • No citrus
  • No peanuts
  • No dairy
  • No caffeine (coffee AND tea)
  • No alcohol
  • No fun (just kidding!)

So how did it go? I kept the following “journal” of sorts. Read on…

Phase I: Elimination

Week 1

I’m not going to lie to you and say this week was easy. It was [expletive] hard. I had a headache on the first day, which I think was from giving up coffee — that was likely my first coffee-free day in a long, long time. I went to a movie premiere for work and there was a really cool table of chicken wings, charcuterie, hummus — you name it. I only took some celery and carrots. A TV network sent me an actual whole cake, which was a true test — and I didn’t touch it. I gave it to my neighbor.

I passed by all the Easter candy at the supermarket — and if you know me, you know I love Easter candy, gimme those Cadbury eggs — and all I could do was look longingly at the shelves saying to myself, “It’s only for one month.” And then I filled my basket with AIP Elimination Diet friendly foods: almond butter (all natural kind), rice cakes, salmon, avocado, fruits, etc. This was also harder than it sounds, because literally everything in the supermarket has some kind of hidden sugar or corn — even the so-called “all-natural” stuff. I learned all the different ways we list sugar on ingredient lists (evaporated cane juice?!). Even Stevia packets contain dextrose, a sugar…and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Sevia? (This isn’t a criticism of how food is produced, just me making some realizations and learning here.)

Corn, lemon juice, and lime juice is everywhere on ingredient lists, too. So is casein (milk protein) and diary — I went to Whole Foods to get some diary-free, vegan nut cheeses, but most of the nut cheeses had casein. Most of the ready-made all-natural vegan dishes had lemon or lime juice or xantham gum (made from fermented sugar).

I went to Kreation Kafe in Brentwood and, luckily, they don’t use added sugars (but their desserts do include honey or maple syrup or citrus) and they do have vegan breads without sugar. I got the avocado toast on gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free bread, the rosemary potatoes, and a few juices. I went to MOOYAH Burgers to try out their new Lifestyle Burgers (the Whole 30 and Keto ones), which were delicious and easily modified to my current diet; but sadly, I couldn’t try any of their shakes this time. The new burgers are a really great permanent addition to their menu.

On the bright side, I did feel a bit more productive (I started this blog entry, after all).

Week 2

Let me start with the sad news first: I think I might have a beef intolerance. Or maybe I cooked bad beef. I’m not sure, but I cooked up some ground beef and got indigestion, which isn’t supposed to happen on this diet. (But I felt fine after the burgers?) So I decided to stay away from beef, just to be safe.

The good news: I started to fully settle into the elimination phase and I’ve found things I like, as well as things I don’t like.

Likes: Almond butter, rice crackers/cakes, avocado toast on rice cakes, Almond butter on rice cakes with flax seeds and fruit, Cashew butter, Cashew butter on fruit, potato chips made with only olive oil and sea salt.

Dislikes: Plain tahini (it really needs to be diluted and seasonings added), sunflower butter (it’s very meh), Cashew butter costs like $8 a jar.

I started to crave milk, sugar, and salt — oh boy, did I crave salt. But I guess it makes sense, since dairy, sugar/carbs, and salt were huge parts of my diet and the preserved foods I was guilty of eating all the time.

For the salt cravings, I’ve added sea salt to my food. I tried to find some replacement milks (cashew, almond, rice), but most of the ones in the supermarket have ingredients that I don’t recognize and I got scared that they were sugar. I wound up getting pure coconut milk and almond milk from Juice Crafters — and it wasn’t cheap!

That’s another thing I started to realize about this diet: It’s very expensive. I have to buy all organic veggies, fruits, and meats. I can’t really buy anything already prepared, because most of those foods include ingredients I wasn’t able to have. And because everything I buy is fresh, I have to go shopping more often. Trust me, that has become very expensive at the grocery store.

I tried to fight off the sugar cravings by eating fruit for dessert, but it wasn’t enough. So I sought out some refined-sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free desserts. The two places I found: Saints and Sinners in Venice (they have vegan, gluten-free, and paleo friendly desserts, as well as regular desserts, plus super friendly owners) and, one of my favorite places, Frozen Fruit Co. (they make plant-based “ice cream” that is vegan and have no added sugars). I got desserts from both at the end of Week 2 to tide me over for Week 3.

But again, I’ve noticed I’m more productive, I’m less forgetful, and I’m finally catching up on Game Of Thrones. I don’t nap as often and I did my taxes.

Week 3

Good news: I’m officially caught up on Game Of Thrones *and* I’m not allergic to beef! I made beef stew with another cut of beef and didn’t get the same reaction, so that ground beef may have been a fluke. I’ve been mostly cooking at home, because it’s become really hard to find things I can eat, even at vegan and healthy places. At one of my favorite vegan places, SunCafe Organics, there was only 1 dish on the menu that I could eat while in Phase 1 (most of their dishes have citrus!).

Likes: Jicama fries, homemade potato chips, non-mushy rice macaroni from Whole Foods, vegan mac and cheese, kale chips, steamed kale

Dislikes: Mushy rice noodles, raw kale


I’ve made kale chips and I even bought a steamer, so I also steamed the kale. I made Detoxonista’s Vegan Mac and “Cheese” with rice macaroni, and it was pretty good. I spent a lot of money on some cold-pressed juices, though it’s hard to find ones that don’t include citrus for flavor. But the flavor I’ve been craving the most though is salt. I guess that speaks to how much salt I was eating before

One thing I didn’t expect was how this diet would become a conversation topic at my gym. A lot of my gym acquaintances have been inquisitive about this diet and I guess it makes sense, since like I said above, the body’s health and food are closely intertwined. On a more disappointing note, despite the diet and the extra work I’ve been putting in at the gym, I haven’t lost any weight, but my trainers did say they noticed a difference in my body.

Weeks 4 & 5

I meant to write up Week 4 separately, but they blended together as I got super excited for this phase of the diet to finally end. I realized I was not reacting well to the fish oil tablets I was prescribed, so I stopped taking them until I see my doctor next. They seemed to give me this painful, lingering heartburn and stomach cramps. Yikes.

I went on Postmates and GrubHub a lot, trying to find something I can eat…and usually close the apps, saddened. And then I would go to the supermarket — usually Whole Foods or my nearby Sprouts. I’m not crazy about my local Trader Joe’s meat and seafood selection. I stopped craving refined sugar and sweets. I still miss cheese.

The worst discovery: SOME SUSHI RICE IS MADE WITH HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. That’s all in caps because I nearly hurled when I found that out. Other sushi rice is made with white vinegar, which I currently can’t have due to its sugar content. This isn’t a judgment of sushi, just my shock that appearances can really be deceiving and even though something like sushi looks like it’s just fish and rice, it very well have other ingredients you might not see or know about.

My energy levels have increased a ton — I used to nap a lot and I stopped (unless it’s on my day off). I feel way more productive, which feels like some kind of miracle.

Conclusions

  • I learned more than I ever bargained for about the food we eat. We put so many different additives in our food. So many unexpected items have tons of sugar. Most “healthy” items are loaded with sugar and ingredients that are clearly chemicals. Does this mean I’m going to start being one of those “clean eating” people and stay on this diet forever? No, that’s actually not recommended. But I think I will be more likely to check out the ingredient lists on the food I eat.
  • I’ve relayed this story many times, but it really sums up what I learned on this diet: When I was in France with my family, I helped my mom translate ingredient lists from French to English so she could see what items had wheat (blé), because she can’t have gluten. Translating those ingredient lists from French to English was way easier than translating a lot of the ingredients on American labels in English, because there were so many additives — and a lot of them I didn’t even know what they were! I’m a native English speaker and a journalist with a master’s degree. So yeah, that was illuminating.
  • Eating “clean” and organic is hella expensive and time-consuming, as I mentioned before. (This isn’t a complaint, just an observation of how this diet has been different.) Because of this, I just want to say that I understand that this diet isn’t feasible for everyone. If you had asked me to do this diet while I was a freelancer, I would have laughed and then cried, because I would have gone broke immediately.
  • I realized that I had been using food as a means to cure boredom (which I wrote about when I did the Dr. Oz smoothie cleanse). I didn’t just eat when I was bored, though. I also used going out and trying a new place with friends to eat as a means of something to do and an adventure to go on. But when I eliminated eating in restaurants all the time, I started going on hikes again. I even started working on scripts and my own writing again.
  • And if you want the update from my doctor: I’ve graduated to the next phase of reintroducing foods! Stay tuned.

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