Guest Post: How I am Healing My Rheumatoid Arthritis with the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol from Phoenix Helix

Guest Post: How I am Healing My Rheumatoid Arthritis with the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol from Phoenix Helix post image

First Impressions

When I developed rheumatoid arthritis, I knew I didn’t want to take the lifetime of medications normally prescribed for my condition. So, I searched the internet for alternatives and found information on the GAPS Diet, the Paleo Diet, and the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).

All the information was overwhelming, but none so much as the AIP. Here are the differences in a nutshell:

  • GAPS: No refined oils, refined sugars, dense starches, grains, or soy. Most legumes are restricted as well. Some raw dairy is allowed if tolerated. However, GAPS is designed to be a temporary healing diet, with the promise that the majority of people heal within 3 years and can expand their diet again.
  • Paleo: No refined oils, refined sugars, grains, soy or any legumes. Strict paleo eliminates all dairy. Primal (a more flexible paleo) allows raw dairy if tolerated. This is a lifetime diet, rather than temporary.
  • Paleo Autoimmune Protocol: Eliminates all the restrictions of paleo with these additional restrictions –no eggs, nightshades, nuts or seeds. When I read that, I looked like that cat in the photo above. I was furious and thought: “Who do these people think they are?! Let’s make life even harder for people with autoimmune disease! What on earth have they left us to eat?!”

See that cat? That was me when I first read about the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol.

A Second Look

Not surprisingly, I chose GAPS. It was temporary, allowed me the widest variety of foods, and promised the same success as the AIP. Results? It did take me out of crisis. My pain went from excruciating to manageable, but then I plateaued and all improvement stopped. I still flared occasionally, and I still had daily pain after 6 months on the GAPS Diet. I was tired of hurting, so I decided to take a second look at the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol.

I quickly realized I missed a big piece of information in my earlier research. While the Paleo Diet is designed to be a lifetime choice, the AIP is a temporary protocol, designed to identify food intolerances. It’s hard, but it’s not forever, and literally thousands of people with autoimmune disease are using it to heal.

How Does It Work?

It’s an elimination/provocation diet. You remove certain foods from your diet for 30 days and then reintroduce them one at a time, to test for food intolerance. No reaction means you can happily reintegrate that food back into your diet. A negative reaction means you are intolerant to that food and need to avoid it long-term. My reaction was always joint pain, but your reaction might be a skin rash, digestive discomfort, insomnia, moodiness, blurry vision; it varies from person to person. The only thing for sure is that it will be a strong reaction outside of your normal range of experience.

I found the AIP to be an incredibly effective way to communicate with my body and learn what food nourishes me and what food hurts me. When it comes to food intolerance, we’re all different. Some people will react to eggs, others will react to dairy. This information allows you to dramatically reduce the inflammation in your body, calm your overactive immune system, and make major progress in healing.

What About GAPS Intro?

The GAPS Diet has an Introduction Diet that claims to cure food intolerances. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. You’ll find many people on the internet express that they are “stuck” at the early stages of the Introduction Diet, unable to progress forward. Ironically, when this happens, you end up with a diet far more limited than the AIP. That’s because the GAPS Introduction Diet introduces common food intolerances very quickly, without a clearly marked elimination period, and it also reintroduces multiple foods simultaneously.

Although GAPS does work for some people with autoimmune disease, the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol seems to work for more people. Lauren, from the popular food blog Empowered Sustenance, recently wrote a post about the AIP, and we communicated in the comment section about our similar experiences. This is what she said:

Looking back, I should have started with the AIP because it really boosted my healing (from Ulcerative Colitis) more than the GAPS Diet. I’m not discrediting the GAPS Diet in anyway, and it offers many beneficial points that the AIP doesn’t, such as the lifestyle changes. But if I had known better, I would have sucked it up and done the AIP first.

My Experience

I won’t lie to you. The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol was a challenging and emotional experience for me, but it was also a key to transforming my health, and now that I’m on the other side, I’m so grateful. Here’s a summary of my experience:

  • Rheumatoid Onset: I had excruciatingly painful joint flares every day, extremely stiff mornings where I felt 90 years old, storm fronts made my pain worse, pain kept me awake very night, I was exhausted, unable to exercise, disabled in many ways, and on high doses of painkillers daily.
  • After 6 months on GAPS: I had moderately painful joint flares a few times per month, mild pain every day, semi-stiff mornings, storm fronts still made my pain worse, I could sleep 6 hours before getting sore, my energy levels were a little better, I could exercise 15 minutes before tiring, I took a maintenance dose of painkillers daily and higher doses on flare days, and my healing progress had plateaued.
  • After 9 months on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol: Flares are 100% gone, I no longer have daily pain, I’m barely stiff in the morning, sleep deeply, have high energy, can hike and strength train, am down to one Aleve tablet morning and evening with never a need for more, and I believe I will soon need none. The best part is that I keep improving every month that passes without eating intolerant foods; there is no healing plateau. I feel like I’ve reclaimed my health and my life.

When I first heard of the AIP, I saw it as a threat. Now, I see it as a blessing. If you want to try it yourself, there’s a whole series of articles on my blog to guide you through the process. And here’s a list of other bloggers who have also reversed their autoimmune diseases through the AIP. They have celiac, hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune skin conditions. The AIP community is expanding exponentially, for one simple reason: The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol works. It may be hard to do, but it’s not nearly as hard as living with autoimmune disease. For a comprehensive book about the AIP, I highly recommend the The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.

For more Paleo goodness you might want to check out the free daily sessions at the Paleo Con!

Photo of Eileen (author of this article and the blog Phoenix Helix) Eileen Laird is using the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol to heal rheumatoid arthritis, with great success. She has reduced her symptoms by 95%, without the use of biologic, steroid or immunosuppressant medication. She started her blog, Phoenix Helix, to connect with other autoimmune travelers on similar journeys. Her blog’s name has a special meaning: the phoenix represents rising from the ashes; the helix represents the magic of epigenetics – our ability to change the expression of our genes and therefore our health. She hosts a weekly AIP Recipe Roundtable, where bloggers share AIP-friendly recipes. You can also find her on Facebook.

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Leave a Comment

  • Laura Villanti January 29, 2014, 9:20 am

    Jill – thanks for sharing the great post. I love stories of recovery. I also love to be re-affirmed and reminded at how relative everyone’s healing journey is.

    As a GAPS Practitioner, I definitely see clients that need to modify the Intro diet… and do find that nuts and eggs are challenging for many. I have autoimmune clients that have made great progress with GAPS, even RA clients. However, we all know that the healing journey is very relative…. it is different for each person, even if they have the same disease diagnosis.

    It is great to see another classification of foods and a dietary model that works for those who are still sensitive to some of the foods that are available on various stages of the Intro protocol. There are many who would not discern this food sensitivity on their own or perhaps may not have a GAPS Practitioner to help them. So, the further refinement is always a good thing………and then being so mindful and careful with re-introduction of new foods.

    The Paleo AIP It is another great step toward helping all of us understand the power of food, how sensitive one can be, and that our bodies are amazing at healing when given the right inputs. I see it as great supportive material for those that question……..”how can I be that I can’t properly digest/handle some core GAPS Intro foods.”

    Thanks again for sharing. The power of food and nutrition is life changing for so many.

    🙂 Laura Villanti

    • Jill January 29, 2014, 10:54 am

      Hi Laura,
      I so agree with everything you have said and as a practitioner, I too, have found some people cannot tolerate some of the GAPS intro foods. AIT Paleo is a great alternative for these folks.

  • Leesie February 1, 2014, 8:53 pm

    Super informative article with lots of helpful links. The link to a list of other bloggers goes to Paleo Magazine and a blank page.

  • Eileen @ Phoenix Helix February 1, 2014, 9:52 pm

    Jill, thanks again for allowing me to guest post. You’re such a wonderful role model in the real food community, and a beautiful support of newer bloggers like myself. I appreciate you!

    • Jill February 1, 2014, 10:37 pm

      Hi Eileen,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. And I appreciate your work in sharing all that you have gone through and all that you know.

  • Great story. Thanks to Eileen for posting this at Healing With Food Friday. And thanks to Jill for posting this story. I pinned it to my Pinterest board – GAPS and Other Healing Diet Stories. I especially appreciated you detailing how AIP helped you in ways that GAPS did not. I wonder sometimes about people who spend a year or more on a 1st or 2nd stage of the gAPS diet. This explains a few things on that.

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