The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, also known as the elimination diet, can reduce inflammation and improve quality of life by removing certain foods that can trigger inflammation and other bothersome symptoms and affect the immune system.
The AIP diet is very similar to the paleo diet and is not intended for weight loss. Instead, the overall goal is to improve the health and well-being of those who suffer from autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
How the AIP Diet Works
There are many autoimmune diseases, and regardless of the condition, the AIP diet is worth trying.
Common examples of autoimmune disorders include:
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Autoimmune vasculitis
- Celiac disease
- Myasthenia gravis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Type 1 diabetes
- Thyroid conditions such as Graves’ disease
Some inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are also considered autoimmune. While these conditions are not consistently recognized as autoimmune diseases, the AIP diet is still proven to help.
As an adjunct therapy, the AIP diet benefits anyone who suffers from autoimmune conditions by reducing inflammation and improving overall well-being. The AIP diet can also help gut health.
While the autoimmune protocol diet may sound strict, plenty of foods are acceptable to eat.
- Refined sugars
- Refined carbohydrates
- Saturated fats
- Foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oil)
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers)
- Seeds (including spices such as nutmeg or other ground seeds)
- Food additives
- Spicy food
Essentially, avoid any foods that trigger inflammation. Although the list does seem long, you might be able to reintroduce some of these eliminated foods later without any problems.
Experts also recommend avoiding over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Avoiding these medications may sound contradictory; however, NSAIDs are linked to gut inflammation.
When deciding which foods to include, opt for foods not on the avoidance list. The aim is to select nutrient-dense foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Foods that can be included are:
- Fresh vegetables
- Vegetables high in fiber
- Fresh fruit in moderation
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut
- Food that contains healthy sources of fats, such as avocado
- Meat with lean protein
- Bone broth
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
You may have noticed on the avoidance list that seeds need to go. However, fruit with tiny seeds, such as berries, is okay.
The Diet Plan
There are three phases to the AIP diet.
- The elimination phase
- The maintenance phase
- The reintroduction phase
One of the best aspects of the AIP diet is that there are no set timeframes when each phase should commence. Therefore, each person is encouraged to monitor their health before progressing to the next stage.
- The elimination phase
During the elimination phase, foods from the avoidance list are slowly eliminated. While some people may find it easy to cut these foods instantly, others may need time to adjust.
For some, the elimination phase could take up to six weeks. Past research that extended the elimination phase over six weeks had good results. How long your elimination phase lasts ultimately depends on how you feel.
- The maintenance phase
All foods that should be avoided remain until significant improvements have been maintained during the maintenance phase. Again, it depends on how you feel, although clinical trials noticed results after five weeks.
For example, some people prefer to extend their maintenance phase because they need more time to recover, or some want to make the most of it.
- The reintroduction phase
In the reintroduction phase, you slowly reintroduce food groups from the avoidance list.
It’s important to only try a small amount of one food group at a time to pinpoint what type of food affects your inflammation.
Some people prefer to follow a diet plan on what foods to reintroduce and when for the reintroduction phase. However, if you suspect some foods might be more tolerable, you could start with those first and leave the worst for last.
During this phase, it’s essential to stick to the maintenance diet as much as possible, except for the food group you have reintroduced in moderation.
Maintaining a healthy diet is one aspect of recovering from inflammation. However, exercise is just as important.
Recent studies have confirmed that light exercise such as walking, jogging, weight lifting, or swimming can reduce inflammation, especially for joint or muscle-related issues.
Another recommendation is practicing good sleep hygiene because inflammation and poor sleep are also related.
Good sleep hygiene includes:
- Going to bed at the same time every night
- Waking up at the same time every day
- Making an effort to relax before bedtime
- Ensuring that your bedroom is relaxing, quiet, and dark
- Staying away from electronic devices before you sleep
- Avoiding large meals before bed
- Getting adequate exercise during the day so you feel tired at night
There are autoimmune protocol diet plans available for those who wish to follow a clear set of instructions. For example, SAD to AIP offers a diet plan that costs $75 per month for community coaching or $125 per month for 1:1 coaching. This diet plan had success in clinical trials.
Another option is to attend regular appointments with a dietitian to help tailor your elimination diet to your body.
However, buying a diet plan is not essential. Many people create their own schedules from free resources on the internet.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Avoid foods from the avoidance list at all times during the maintenance phase
- Slowly reintroduce avoidance foods during the reintroduction phase
- Exercise and practice good sleep hygiene
- Avoid or limit foods that trigger inflammation during the reintroduction phase long-term.
- Eat any foods from the avoidance list during the maintenance phase
- Reintroduce more than one food group at a time
Sample Diet Plan
Coconut yogurt with berries, chopped banana, and sprinkled cinnamon.
Vegetable soup made with pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, and bone broth.
Chicken, bacon, and avocado on salad greens.
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Several studies have assessed the AIP diet for inflammatory bowel conditions. And there is a lot of evidence that confirms the AIP diet can improve gut health and enhance one’s quality of life.
Other studies have also found that the AIP diet can significantly improve the quality of life for other autoimmune conditions and may reduce systemic inflammation.
Some people may find the diet too strict if they eat grains such as bread or rice daily.
Some people may find they have less energy when they start the diet.
People with busy lifestyles may need to prepare some meals in advance.
The Bottom Line: Is the AIP Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The AIP diet is not intended for weight loss but to help those with autoimmune disorders. However, some people find that weight loss is an extra benefit of this diet because it cuts out saturated fats and refined sugar.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.