Can I Cheat On the AIP?

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Can I cheat on the AIP? This is a very commonly asked question when folks start, or think about starting the AIP, so let me give you some quick information to help dispel any myths and misconceptions.

First of all, as you may know by now, the AIP is not a diet that’s about weight-loss, it’s a healing protocol for those with autoimmune disease and therefore it should be taken far more seriously than dietary guidelines that folks may take part in to lose a few pounds or inches. With traditional weight-loss diets, there’s a thought that being compliant 80% of the time is sufficient and you can have occasional cheat days or treats and you’re still on a good healthy plan. This however, is not the case for the AIP, but lets define what you mean by cheat.

For some on the AIP they would think of an AIP cheat as indulging in AIP treats more frequently, while others might view a cheat as having a big dinner out at a restaurant with wine, a piece of gluten free cake and a cup of coffee to round it out. Then there’s the timing – are you in the elimination stage of the protocol or have you already moved on to reintroductions? Establishing answers to these things is important.

Why Do You Want To Cheat?

Are you asking because you don’t think you have or will have the willpower to keep going? Do you have a special event coming up that you’re worried about keeping to the protocol? Maybe you just feel you need a treat? Maybe you think it’s too hard?

These questions bring up a lot of other topics, and yes the AIP can be hard, but my response is “Choose Your Hard!” Yes, it’s hard to do the AIP and give up foods you love, but it’s also hard living with autoimmune disease, so you have to choose.

When it comes to willpower and the AIP, willpower is not enough. That will work for a short time but not a long time, so you’ll need to consider employing some well thought out strategies to help you through the process (a transitional program or coaching in a group setting or one on one – you can read more about that on my coaching page).

Social situations are another time that folks consider cheating, either because they feel they deserve a break from the restriction or because they don’t want to bother anyone with their dietary needs. For that I’ve got you covered as well – check out my post, “Surviving Social Life on the AIP” for some tips and tricks. 

If it’s simply a matter of feeling deprived of foods you used to love, I highly recommend you join my AIP Recipe Collection Facebook Group, it’s a HUGE data base of AIP Elimination Stage recipes and there are MORE than a few amazing treats you can enjoy without compromising your new AIP lifestyle – check it out here. You can also find lots of amazing premade options on the market these days! Delicious coffee substitutes, AIP baking mixes, premade snacks and meals! We’re actually spoiled for choice and are fortunate to be doing the AIP when we are. Check out some of these resources on my Food Sourcing page – click here – and don’t miss clicking on the Coupons page for lots of great savings!

What Is A Cheat?

So what do you really mean by “cheat”? Are you talking about scheduling days where you’re given carte blanche to eat what ever suits your fancy? If that’s on your radar I suggest you immediately dismiss that from your mind and encourage you to remember your “why”! Why did you decide to go on the AIP in the first place? No doubt you want to feel better, am I right? If that’s the case, cheats like this are completely counterproductive and only make it more difficult to get back on track because you’re likely to induce an autoimmune flare or at least some really miserable symptoms.

If a cheat to you is to indulge in an AIP treat, that on the other hand can be a-okay … so long as you don’t over-do it by it being too regularly (like every day)! Why? Because the focus on the AIP is nutrient density, and overindulgence in AIP treats can be a slippery slope to poor eating habits. Even overdoing it with snacks like dried fruit is a bad idea because it’s high in sugar and can become as addictive as sugar (I encourage you to read my posts on fruit and natural sugars as well).

Overall, it’s always best to keep AIP treats to a minimum, and it’s an especially good idea to be mindful of what we’re choosing as our treat and the timing of it. For instance, making a whole AIP pie or cake is not a good idea if we don’t have someone to share it with, so special occasions are the ideal time to treat yourself to a wonderful AIP indulgence. Otherwise, if we don’t have friends or family to share our treat with, we’ll likely feel compelled to eat the whole thing within a short period of time due to the effort and resources that went into it. 

Another important note to add here is that some cheats or even foods can be considered “gateway foods.” Gateway foods are those that make us feel we can’t have one without the other or that cause us to slip into old habits. For instance, if you love fish and chips, you can totally make an AIP batter and have battered fish with a side of sweet potato fries, but if you’re not happy having the fish without regular white potato fries or it all reminds you too much of your Scottish homeland where beer goes with fish and chips, you might want to avoid the AIP option all together because of the temptation to indulge in having a beer. For some, it’s not enough just to have one cookie, so it might be necessary to avoid AIP cookies all together if the temptation to overindulgence (in too many or too often) is simply too much.

When Do You Want To Cheat?

By when I don’t mean what day or date, but rather at what stage of the AIP are you currently in? 

Elimination Stage – If you’re in the elimination stage this is not the ideal time to be thinking about cheats. Yes, this is likely the hardest time that you’ll go through on your AIP journey, but it’s going to be worth it! Keep reminding yourself “WHY” you started in the first place and try to remember that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. Cliché? Maybe a little, but it’s so very true.

The purpose of the elimination stage of the AIP is to remove all of the scientifically proven, commonly know problematic foods from your diet so your body can rest and begin the healing process. It’s impossible to know which foods are our triggers without first calming the body and its inflammatory response, sot his is a completely necessary step. 

Did You Know that reactions after a cheat can last several days, or even longer when it comes to gluten? So if you think you’re “only” cheating on the weekend, you’re only cheating yourself!
 – Reference: How Long Does It Take For The Gut To Repair After Gluten Exposure

What if you don’t feel like you react to certain foods or a food sensitivity test doesn’t show it’s a problem for you?

  1. First of all science simply has not come far enough with food sensitivity testing to be 100% accurate and the gold standard for identifying food triggers is STILL an elimination diet. What’s worse is that those foods that you love the most and may be commonly eating before your food sensitivity test are the ones most likely to show up on your testing as something you’re sensitive to — even though you may not really be! It’s unfortunately a shortfall of the testing methods currently available. So, when I say skip the food sensitivity testing as your only means to identify your triggers, you should be thanking me … because you don’t want to have to eliminate something you love! (Read more about food test here – Can Blood Tests Detect Food Sensitivity?)
  2. As for thinking or feeling you don’t react to a food, it’s actually not possible to have a good sense of food reactions unless you’ve first calmed the inflammatory response, so without having removed all potential triggers first, your body is not in a state to be sending you accurate signals. Unfortunately this takes time – 30-90 days in the elimination stage of the AIP is necessary to give your body time to quiet and heal. You should really be seeing marked improvement in symptoms before you start the reintroduction process (NOTE: This does not mean that you will stay in the elimination stage indefinitely if you don’t start feeling better, it simply means you need to start troubleshooting to find out if you have other underlying causes to your disease and discomfort – I write more about that in my posts on troubleshooting and finding your root cause. WHAT EVER YOU DO – do not stay in the elimination stage forever, this is not healthy and can lead to more problems. Please seek medical help as mentioned in my root cause post.)

As hard as it may be, try  to look at the elimination stage as short-term pain for long-term (free of pain) gain – the AIP diet is the fastest way for autoimmune sufferers to see improvement. Cheating early on in the game usually only causes delays in healing, and of course delays you in getting to the next stage of the process where you can start enjoying more of your old favorites. 

Reintroduction Stage – If you’ve already moved on to the reintroduction stage of the AIP and you’re considering having a wee cheat, I encourage you to remember the effort that you’ve put in so far. Don’t throw it all away and get too willy-nilly with a cheat here and there, don’t stop tracking, don’t stop being diligent about nutrient density, you’re just getting to the exciting bit!

At this point you’re starting to systematically reintroduce foods that you’ve possibly been longing for, like nuts and seeds, chocolate and coffee! Am I right? In this stage a lot more options are going to start opening up to you, so “cheats” may not be cheats at all!

The beauty of this stage of the AIP is that your body is starting to give you cues and tell your own personal what’s in and what’s out for your personalized AIP journey. Things that may be “compliant” may simply not be for you … and that’s what this journey is all about! When you react to something, don’t despair, celebrate it! You’ve just discovered an important piece to your puzzle (a food that’s a hard no for you), and you’re armed with more information!

During this stage I suggest using your reintroduction trials as your “cheats” where possible, but make sure to do so in a controlled environment, this is not the time to throw caution to the wind and head for the gluten free bakery or your favorite restaurant to test a reintroduction. Remember the time you’ve put in and be sure to approach reintroductions methodically – it’s worth it! (Be sure to read more on reintroductions in my post – click here.)

Maintenance Stage – At this stage you’re on your own personalized AIP diet! Woohoo – Congratulations! You’ve been through reintroduction stage and used careful tracking to identify your “yes” foods (those that you tolerate well, easily digest and feel good on), your “hard no” foods (those that cause a flare of symptoms, acute or chronic pain or that cause digestive upset) and your “maybe” or “worth it” foods – these are the ones that you’d now be considering as a cheat food (they may cause minor symptoms but are not going to disrupt your quality of life or send you into a major autoimmune flare). 

Your “hard no” foods that you discovered during the reintroduction phase are those that you never want to consider having as a cheat. NOTE: Gluten is something that AIP experts and most Functional Medicine Doctors recommend you NEVER add back to your diet, not even as a cheat. 

Summary – What Are The Repercussions?

Okay, so for argument’s sake let’s say you decide to ignore everything I’ve said – ask yourself, what are the repercussions going to be if I cheat? How are you going to feel physically and mentally? 

This is where the rubber meets the road as they say, and you get to make the decision for yourself!

If you’re in the elimination stage of the AIP and making progress but haven’t given your body 30-90 days to see an improvement in your symptoms yet, ask yourself: Are you willing to throw away the effort you’ve made? Is the cheat you’re considering potentially going to be a slippery slope to throwing in the towel? If you want to “cheat” at this point, I suggest you make sure it’s a small one and that it’s a cheat with a compliant treat that won’t set you back. Ultimately the decision is yours if you decide to indulge in a non-AIP treat, and no, you don’t have to start counting back at “Day 1” of your eliminations, but remember, you could potentially be delaying when you will start feeling better, meaning you’re delaying reintroductions.

Same thing goes for the reintroduction stage, you don’t want to waste all of the time and energy you’ve put in to your journey. Be mindful of what you cheat with and how much. If you’re following the process using the AIP Reintroduction Cookbook, you likely won’t feel the need to cheat at all, as the process is very gentle and helps you reintroduce the foods you love as quickly as possible. Be sure to check out my review of the book and grab your copy – click here.

In the maintenance phase, or when you’re on your personalized AIP, your health has likely improved considerably. At this point you’re highly in-tune with your body and the signals and you’ve added a lot more options back to your diet. At this point you shouldn’t be feeling too deprived and hopefully you’ll not often consider needing a cheat. Either way, you’ll be in a better place to decide if that “cheat” is worth it and you’ll likely choose more wisely.

Gave In To Temptation & Ate Something Non-Compliant?

Don’t freak out! What ever you do, DO NOT stress about it! The effect of stress on the body can be worse than the actual item you ate (unless of course you’re actually allergic to the ingredient). Trust me, everyone slips up from time to time, whether intentionally or by accident. Now is the time to show self-compassion, be kind to yourself and move on. Be sure to drink plenty of water and enjoy a cup of ginger or peppermint tea to help your tummy. Over the next days, be sure to focus on nutrient density and gut healing foods like bone broth and soups that are gentle on digestion. Get plenty of rest and listen to you body. You can read more in this article – “Gluten Explosure – A Healing Guide.”

Looking for tummy taming recipes – click this handy link to the search result for that in my AIP Recipe Collection Facebook Group (you can also search there for “tummy tamer” or “under the weather”).

Additional Resources:

Do I Have To Do The Full AIP – The Paleo Mom
Can You Cheat on the AIP Diet – Paleo On the Go (If you decide to “cheat” and treat yourself to some quality chef made AIP options you can save $15 off your first order with Code: AIPRECIPES)