When my doctor first recommended that I look into the Autoimmune Protocol to help ease my joint pain, I had no idea what she was talking about. To be honest, I barely even knew what Paleo meant…that’s the Caveman Diet, right? I knew a couple of people who followed Paleo, but the Autoimmune Protocol? Not a soul.
After a bit of googling to find out the basics of AIP and a few surprisingly yummy looking recipes, I felt like I had everything under control. I’m a smart person, I thought. I can figure this all out on my own, right? In those early days, it just felt easier to stay home and cook something that I knew was AIP-compliant rather than go out and be afraid of what I was eating, or even worse, not have anything available to eat at all. But as the weeks went by, I felt the loneliness start to creep in. I was avoiding parties, lunch dates, and even an invitation to a friend’s 40th birthday celebration at the best restaurant in town. As what I thought would just be a few weeks turned into more than four months, I knew that I had to get out there and live my life and find my tribe.
Here are the top things that I am now doing (and wish that I had done from the beginning!) to build support among my loved ones and a community focused on the Autoimmune Protocol:
- Know your WHY. Why are you so committed to the AIP Lifestyle and eating the way that you do? When your reasons run deep and hold a lot of meaning for you, you will not only face less temptation but also gain more support from others. For me, it is the fact that my joint pain had gotten intolerable. I’m not yet 40 but felt like I was 80 years old. I could barely walk in the mornings and had to ice my ankles and wrists each night. I am much too young to feel that darn old. Since beginning AIP I have found relief from many of my symptoms, which keeps me committed to what would otherwise be a very tough lifestyle to follow.
Now when I start a conversation about AIP with my “Why,” I have found that my friends are more supportive and that it is easier to eat what I know will make me feel healthy. On the occasions that I get questions or I start to question myself, I can stand firm on knowing why I am giving up all the “good stuff;” because no food tastes delicious enough to deal with the pain that I was suffering. What is the mantra that will keep you strong when you’re faced with temptation?
- Be honest and put it out to the world. Originally, when I thought that I was going to be eating AIP for a few weeks, I didn’t really bother telling that many people and I tended to stay home to avoid awkward conversations. But when my chiropractor recommended strict AIP for an additional 2-3 months, I realized that I couldn’t live my life in isolation. That’s when I started reaching out. By that point, I was much more comfortable with AIP and how positively it had affected my life, so it made it easier to share.
After LOTS of thought, I decided to make it “Facebook Official.” I was definitely nervous—it felt like I was exposing a deep, dark secret about myself, and I wasn’t sure about the response I would get. But it had become exhausting to explain why I wasn’t drinking wine (no, I’m not pregnant!) or eating pizza at social events anymore.
I opened up my Facebook post with, “So I’m finally ready to share my current situation on Facebook…it’s a long post but ends on a positive note.” I wanted my friends to know that the post was something important about me that they should read, but also that it wasn’t a sob story about poor me. I wanted to keep the tone informational and positive—that I was taking control of my own health, and that although my journey to healing was not over, I was making positive changes in the direction towards wellness.
When I finally finished writing my longest post ever, my finger hovered above the Post button for quite a while. I was wary of exposing myself to basically everyone I had ever met, and worried about what consequences could come from it. If I had only known the reaction that I received I never would have hesitated a moment. The outpouring of love and support that was shown on that post was humbling. I had tears in my eyes as I read the uplifting comments. I was also moved by the stories of women in my life who had had similar experiences of joint pain and autoimmune issues and had suffered in silence.
- Don’t be a party pooper. I know firsthand how much easier it can be to stay home and cook for yourself. But it can be exhausting. Not only physically to spend that much time in the kitchen, but also emotionally as you slowly turn yourself into a hermit.
If you’re invited to a party and the only reason that you’re turning it down is because of fear, just GO! My favorite tactic is to bring AIP-friendly food to share with everyone. I brought Mickey Trescott’s AIP Bacon Guac Recipe (https://autoimmunewellness.com/loaded-baked-sweet-potato-bacon-guac-lime-coconut-cream/) with plantain chips to a birthday party and it was devoured in 10 minutes. It is definitely a crowd pleaser and how I managed to survive the holiday party season. Even if it’s not a potluck, nobody turns down Bacon Guac!
When you’re invited to eat out with friends, ask if you can choose the restaurant. Check out the menu online and know what you can eat and when you may have to ask for substitutions. It may even be worth a call to the restaurant beforehand. I’ve found that steakhouses are often the best option, since you can order plain steak (and often chicken, hamburger, or even seafood), and they usually have good sides like roasted veggies, asparagus, or sweet potato. Almost every restaurant has a burger on the menu—I like to order mine with bacon and onions and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, no bun, of course!
- Invite friends into your new AIP world. I love to invite friends and family to my house for social events. Being the hostess puts me in control of the menu and the flow of the conversation. I like to impress the guests by making an AIP meal that is delicious (there are lots out there!) and vaguely familiar, so I get comments like, “Hey, this stuff is actually pretty good!” I will also add something non-AIP like bread or a side of beans to make everyone feel a bit more comfortable.
- Think like a Girl Scout. Always be prepared. I try to always have my bag packed with some AIP-friendly snacks like cassava strips or dried fruit. That way, if I’m invited to a last-minute outing with friends, I know that I don’t have to stress about the food situation. Also, if I’m in a situation where there is unexpected food, I don’t have to worry about the temptations that are surrounding me.
- Meet AIP friends in real life. It was exciting that I was learning to build support among my friends for my new AIP journey. However, it was also frustrating that no one truly understood what I was experiencing, either. One night I happened to be surfing a popular AIP website when I found a section dedicated to Meet Up Groups. I was surprised to see that there were dozens of groups that covered the entire U.S., plus international groups, too. I clicked on my region and it took me right to a Facebook group for my region. All of a sudden, I was exposed to recommendations for doctors in my area and local restaurants that are the most AIP-friendly. I was thrilled when one of the members suggested a meet up that was right in my town. I actually got to hang out and drink tea with other women just like me! It’s hard to describe what a relief it was to talk about everything health and food related to other people that actually get it. There is a strong bond that is created when no explanations are necessary, just a true understanding from the beginning.
- Join an AIP Facebook Group. I can’t believe that it took me so long to do this! These groups have been invaluable to me. I’ve learned everything from what the buttons on my new Instant Pot mean (and that I even needed an Instant Pot) to great tips on reintroduction for when the time comes. The most helpful part, though, is the knowledge that there are other women out there who are experiencing the same challenges and fears I am, and that so many are having tremendous success with the AIP lifestyle! If you are looking for a group of supportive women sharing tips on how to keep AIP simple while life is chaotic, I personally invite you to join my AIP Facebook Group, Simply AIP (https://www.facebook.com/groups/294743447720378/).
It can be lonely to feel like the only one who is doing something. But it is even more isolating when what you are doing is so restrictive. Life isn’t worth living without the people that are important to us, so make sure that you are focusing on relationships just as much as your health. What are some ways that you have found to build support and friendships during AIP?
Click here https://www.facebook.com/groups/294743447720378/ to join the discussion at the Simply AIP Facebook group!