There are lots of diets out there. I actually had no idea just how many until I started my nutrition studies. It's mind boggling. It was getting sick that prompted me to change my eating habits, but I am not the type to just give any old fad diet a whirl. I ended up learning about and deciding to use Paleo, because it is more than a diet. I think understanding my take on what Paleo and the Autoimmune Protocol are is important for everyone who visits my blog. There are tons of variations out there (precisely because it is not just eating numbers, ala Weight Watchers, etc.), so knowing how I approach it will give my readers a sense of how I would encourage them to get started.
To repeat, Paleo is NOT a diet. It is a TEMPLATE. Diets encourage blindly following rules, templates encourage self-discovery. That's really why I've stuck to Paleo, because it made me think. There is more than just an approach to food involved in the Paleo lifestyle, although usually the initial focus is often on food. As the saying goes, "You can not exercise enough to beat a poor diet." The basic Paleo template calls for removal of all grains, all dairy, and legumes. Again, this is a guide for how to begin. People often start with these eliminations and then make tweaks later that work best for their bodies. For instance, adding white rice back in or finding that grass-fed, raw dairy agrees with their system.
There are also five other areas to consider with a Paleo template: Stress Management, Sleep, Exercise, Outdoor Activity, and Support Networks. Prioritizing these additional areas has a huge impact on short and long-term well-being. The basics here are also obvious, reduce stress in whatever ways work for you, sleep 8-9 hours every night, move your body, get some sun (Vitamin D!), and nurture sustaining relationships.
For some of us, basic Paleo is not enough. If you have a chronic illness, particularly an autoimmune illness, you may want to try a version of Paleo meant to help manage autoimmunity. It is usually referred to as AutoImmune Protocol or AIP. AIP is an elimination diet that focuses on excluding foods that research shows are irritating to the gut. There is mounting evidence that an irritated, permeable (leaking) gut is the underlying trigger in autoimmune disease. (This research is easily found with a simple search of Pub Med.) After a strict elimination period, normally at least 30 days, reintroductions are attempted. The goal is to calm the immune system and heal the gut lining.
The basic AIP template calls for removal of the typical Paleo "avoid" foods (grains, dairy, legumes), plus the removal of the following:
-nuts/seeds (this includes cocoa, coffee, and spices derived from seeds)
-nightshade vegetables (this includes white potato, eggplant, tomato, and hot/sweet peppers, including spices derived from them)
-NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, i.e. Advil)
Health can be boosted with the addition of the following healing foods:
-grass-fed organ meats
-oily, cold water, wild-caught fish
This "avoid" list can seem very daunting for most people, especially when they first undertake the protocol. The "add" list can also seem hard to stomach, as most of those foods are not regular parts of the modern diet. However, if you devote ample healing time to the elimination period, add healing foods, and commit to drastic lifestyle improvements, results are usually dramatic. I believe AIP provides a welcome reduction in severe symptoms for most of us, some people report halting or slowing the progress of their AI disease, and others even claim reversal of their condition. AIP can also be a powerful addition to required medications, often resulting in being able to take a lower dosage, and for some it can mean the end of medication use entirely.
Both Paleo and AIP emphasize high-quality food sources, but quality is not everything. It is important to "just get started" and over time discover the best food sources and adapt your budget. The same goes for the other lifestyle areas. Quality in those arenas also matters, but it is more important to just start. Slowly you can figure out what is the best exercise routine for you or the best stress management techniques, and gradually restructure your schedule in order to meet your needs for getting outdoors, sleeping, and strengthening support networks.
Basically, these two templates provide a fantastic starting point for a much healthier, happier life. If you put in the effort and patiently work to understand what your body needs, you will soon have a lifestyle that is designed for promoting your bio-individual best health.
Very useful resources for more in-depth info can be found here (these are my top three):