Nothing about this picture is AIP (Autoimmune Protocol)
One year ago, a beautiful friend of mine in Jim McDonald's herbal intensive (oh, I miss that group!) introduced me to autoimmune protocol elimination diet guidelines as a means to help lessen inflammation and heal up possible perforated intestines (you’ve heard this as ‘leaky gut’), provide more energy, and clear brain fog. Subsequently I began to research, joined an awesome online forum, checked out books, etc...
Then came the day that I began to wean from coffee (pictured here with a big ol' splash of whole cow milk), changed all my baked goods to non-grain flours (not easy at all), learned the balance for flavor/texture for greens in a smoothie (eventually broke my blender), and found which snacks at the grocery were compliant (very....very few). Eating out became an adventure (not that I did often anyway, but it was summer and I was traveling tons).
First, let's discuss and simplify what AIP elimination diet entails.
AIP is an acronym for Autoimmune Protocol. This is a diet that is aimed at reducing inflammation, pain, and lessening symptoms of autoimmune disorders.
To begin an elimination diet on this level, you have to eliminate foods that are potential triggers. Because what these may be is hard to guess, a person pretty much has to begin from the ground up.
Foods that are included:
Vegetables (excluding nightshades and legumes)
Sweet potatoes (I wanted to clarify that these are not nightshades)
Fruits (lower sugar and at a 1:4 ratio to vegetables)
Meats and fish(organic, pasture raised, local, all natural, you get the point)
Coconut, starches from yucca
Non-caffeinated herbal teas *see below for a couple exclusions)
Foods that are excluded:
Nuts and seeds (including milks, flours, and oils)
Legumes (beans, peanuts)
Sugar (refined and high sugar fruits)
Processed foods (all)
Caffeine (say goodbye, coffee and tea **most herbal tea is ok)
Grains (flours, oats, etc)
Before I go on, I want to point out that I have not ben diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and I hope that I am not stepping on toes here. This article is to point out more about herbalism than autoimmune disorder information. I did the AIP diet because I wanted a ground level start to figuring out why I was so inflamed (even though I didn't know that I was really) and foggy.
I did this 30 day elimination phase (many people do it for 90 days) and began adding back in foods one at a time, then more than one, and of course, lost track. Then, holidays happened and though I wasn’t a completely non-compliant (oof, I hate that concept: compliant), I did end up becoming inflamed and foggy again. So I started all over at New Years. I felt awesome. I was working out regularly, going outdoors a lot, writing classes (herbalism for adults this time as opposed to kids’ science and art), doing presentations for big trade shows, and generally getting my groove on and following the path I’d wanted to for so long (I did love teaching kids though, and I miss those kids).
Anyway, I started 2020 strong. I finished Anatomy & Physiology, An Herbalist's Guide, in February, was scheduled to teach several classes in town and at herb fairs, had associations signing me up for speaking engagements and presentations, and was generally feeling amazing physically.
Forward to March 2020.
The gym closed.
My daily walks with my neighbor dwindled.
I had to navigate online learning for my two kids in two separate schools. Nightmare.
The online yoga classes with my fabulous Ashtanga teacher were great till I injured myself and sat out a few weeks...injuring another thing then a few weeks more...
Throughout it all, the stress eating flourished, the kids became more anxious and bored and lonely and annoyed (oh, did I say me too?).
My presentations were postponed and eventually cancelled.
Does this sound somewhat familiar? I bet.
Still with me? Here's a picture of a mandala in an old Catskills mountain resort to keep you enticed:
In the beginning, I was strong: still working hard to keep my physique. Studying harder and taking online webinars on the novel virus from herbalists, doctors, clinical practitioners. Creating blends for the community for immune and respiratory care. Making videos and social media posts to share with the online community...
Then the crash and subsequent changes. I will never say failures. I've heard a lot of people claim 'failure' especially around April, May, when, parents (read mothers) especially, were feeling like they'd failed their kids, their family, their jobs... We have not failed. No one has failed. But we've been thrown a massive curve ball. As a former ball player I can say that curve balls can and have been hit out of the park. We will hit this one too. But it will take time and practice. Like anything.
WHAT THE HECK DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ELIMINATION DIETS?! And why are herbs even relevant?
Well, HERBS ARE FOOD. There. I said it. And wouldn't you know, it's true! During the elimination phase of AIP I had to make sure I was not imbibing herbs in the nightshade or legume families. So sad to put the ashwagandha and red clover on the shelf. It's okay. There are a ton of other herb friends to help out.
Elimination diets are the easiest way (did I just say EASY?! Let's be honest, they are quite challenging) to help your body. Eliminating possible inflammatory foods is a HUGE step to realizing your body's potential triggers and benefits. When you return to a base level of green foods and organic, humanely-raised meats (if you eat meat) for a period of time, not only will you notice a change in your physique (swollen ankles and wrists), you'll notice internal changes as well. After my body adjusted to the diet after a couple weeks, my brain fog lifted and my energy levels rose. My whole body was inflamed, inside and out, and I didn't even know how badly until I did this protocol.
And, yes, herbs are a part of this. Again, they are foods too. Throughout all of this, I have been relying on the herbs to keep my household level. Nervines, nervines, nervines! Tulsi, scullcap, linden, chamomile, kava kava, etc. Also, nourishing nettles, alfalfa, oatstraw, dandelion, and burdock. But also, herbal treats, and sweet 'magic' potions because part of the joy of life is ENJOYING life in all the ways. In moderation.
So herbal wellness is more than just herbs! Vitalist herbalism encompasses the entire being (mind, body, soul). That means, feeding and challenging your brain is really important. Nutrition, movement and exercise are vital (no pun intended). And feeding your inner passions and making space for reflection must not be left out. I won't go on and on about this but I will leave you with some examples.
"If you don't use it, you lose it." You've heard that before. It's true. Keeping your mind sharp is key to staying healthy. Have you ever taken a long break from reading, puzzles, writing, or general mental enrichment? Endlessly scrolling, looking for joy and finding mostly crap (truly, either not a lot of substance or too much and overwhelmingly so)? Imagine that feeling becoming stronger until you pretty much become foggy minded and can't recall things. As my mother, an exceptionally wise elder, tells me often, "I do a crossword every day to stay sharp". Plus, she reads incessantly. Fiction books for fun. Workout your brain! And let your brain PLAY! But also rest your brain. Mindful practices have been researched to show they are beneficial and enriching to brain function, immune system, cardiovascular system, and circadian rhythm. There are many ways to try this and a quick search will bring up endless pages. I recommend you contact a local practitioner who may make the process of finding one you resonate with easier and faster.
This is probably the most familiar. Eat well, exercise, right? Yes! I know some people are put off by the thought of 'diet' and 'exercise' so I prefer to use the more accurate terms 'nourishment' and 'movement' because that is exactly what your body wants and needs. Nourish yourself with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, beneficial carbs, and flavor (yes, flavor!) in your foods. And get that body moving! Yoga, jogging, cycling, walking, weight lifting, whatever. Stretches that encompass all the muscle groups not only benefit the musculoskeletal system but also your internal organs. This is safest done with yoga practice but can be done on your own with no yoga knowledge (just don't push it and listen to your body). Massage is body care. Your lymph system isn't going to move itself! Really, it has no pump. You can massage yourself, have a partner do it or pay a professional. 'Move it or lose it'. And rest it! You can't go go go all the time. The body does its digesting and healing when it's resting.
You don't have to follow a religion. You don't have to subscribe to a spiritual modality. Many do. It feeds their soul. What about those who don't? Everyone has the capacity to fill their soul, even without an organization or a group. Hugs fill souls. Snuggles. Kindness from and for strangers. Love. Smiles. Dancing. Creating art or music. Floating on water. Sitting by water. Watching a fire flame. One activity that I insist on for filling my soul (and you should too) is being outside in as much nature as I can every day. As well, any activity that sparks passion is a must for soul care. As an ambivert (extroverted introvert or vice versa depending), I enjoy a lot of quiet, screen-free alone time but LOVE to socialize in my chosen communities. Recovery time can be several days after large events like the International Herb Symposium. Figuring out your balance in this area is also soul work.
Listen, right now is one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging times in our entire lives. A global pandemic is out of control, our political system is in shambles, our interpersonal relationships have gone virtual (there really is nothing like being with someone physically), and we've lost loved ones in one form or another. And I'm not here to tell you that a healthy eating and movement routine, meditation and herbal tea is going to fix it all. It won't. But, you'll be a whole lot better off with these things than without. I'm only saying this anecdotally from my own personal experiences and countless others who I know, have helped, and don't know and just read about. There IS something to it all.
Oh, and as for those magical melt in your mouth chocolate lavender squirrel and hedgehog cookies, you can find the recipe here. Make sure to try them with a nice hot mug of coffee with whole milk or tea and almond milk, or whatever your favorite warm beverage of choice may be. And, if you're feeling inflamed, fatigued, swollen, foggy, and depressed, look into the AIP elimination diet (oof, I said the 'D' word). It worked wonders for me! And I'm about to start on it again.
I am NOT a licensed dietitian or nutritionist. I am an herbalist. While I will tell you about my journeys, and how herbs can possibly be beneficial to you on your journey, I am not here to give medical advice.
And remember, there is no magic pill or remedy. Change takes work on your part.
Cheers and wild herbs,
Sarah is a community herbalist, raising children, teaching children and adults the ways of herbalism and nature, and handcrafting herbal products for the community.