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How to do the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)

aip step by step

Ok, folks. Here is where the lines of parenting blog/food blog/whole-life wellness blog really start getting blurred. You may know that I started out focused on slings and baby-led weaning, and over the years my focus has shifted to other things. Well, a big part of those other things is eating an Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP). This post isn’t so much about parenting, except in the way that anything can be about parenting when you are making choices that affect your kids. But it’s been a key part of my life for the past year or so, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when doing the AIP. I’d love to share that with my readers and anyone else who could benefit from a whole-life approach to wellness, so here’s a very non-parenting post for The Parent Vortex.

What is the Autoimmune Paleo Approach?

The Autoimmune Paleo Approach (also called the Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP) is a multifaceted strategy for managing autoimmune illness. This includes a very specific diet that focuses on eating the most nutrient-dense meals possible while excluding specific foods that trigger an immune response. Other aspects include stress reduction, increasing sleep quality, getting good social connection and healthy levels of exercise.

My daughter and I started doing the AIP even though we didn’t have diagnosable autoimmune diseases because we were experiencing ever-increasing food sensitivities, as well as other symptoms that I learned were autoimmune related, such as restless legs and joint pain, difficulty concentrating and poor memory. My intention was to heal our guts to the point where we would be able to reintroduce many of the foods that were causing sensitivities for us.

What Makes the AIP work?

The AIP works by healing the person as a whole. Each component of the AIP approach contributes to reducing inflammation and immune-mediated responses, and has research to back it up. If you want to understand the scientific nuts and bolts behind the AIP, the best resource for you is Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s book The Paleo Approach. It is basically the textbook on how to do the AIP and why it works. Even if you don’t want to understand the science behind it to that degree (it is a very detailed book!), it’s important to know the high-level theory at least, because the AIP won’t be effective if you are missing key components, and it’s a heck of a lot of work to do the AIP and not have it be effective!

Here are the key components of the AIP approach, and the reason why each component is a key piece in the whole puzzle.

Food – The AIP removes all foods that trigger inflammation or immune responses, and replaces them with nutrient dense foods that facilitate gut healing. The elimination part is where we often focus our energy at first, and it is important to make sure you’re really 100% when doing eliminations because the inflammation and immune responses won’t fully calm down until you remove all food triggers. But adding in nutrient dense foods like bone broth and liver is also really, really important because your body needs the specific nutrients found in those foods to fuel the healing process. This AIP food pyramid is a good visual aid.

Eliminate: grains, legumes, nuts, seeds (including seed oils like canola oil), dairy, eggs, nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplants), coffee and alcohol

Include: a wide variety of vegetables, fruit in moderation, seafood, meat, poultry (pastured, grassfed and free-range if you can manage it), bone broth, organ meats, fermented foods and coconut

Stress Reduction – Stress alone can trigger an inflammation response, so managing stress is an important part of the AIP. I have found in my own experience that emotional stress is particularly likely to trigger my autoimmune symptoms, especially the emotions of anger and despair, even when I’ve been 100% compliant with food. What can you do to manage emotions like these? Everybody has different strategies that work for them, but things like talking to a trusted friend, counsellor or empathy buddy can help manage emotional stress in a healthy way. Other options include things like meditation, yoga, heartmath, emotional freedom technique (EFT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Eileen at Phoenix Helix likes colouring in fancy colouring books as a stress management strategy. You may also find that you need to make different choices around work or relationships in order to reduce your stress. A really key part of healing an autoimmune illness is learning to have warmth and positive regard for yourself, and learning to have compassion and understanding for that voice of harsh self-criticism that many of us have. When the body is attacking itself physically, there is often attacking and self-hate going on emotionally as well. Resolving stress and difficult emotions in a healthy way is a key step to healing both physical and emotional self-attacking.

Sleep – Our bodies need sleep in order to heal, so learning how to get a good night’s sleep is important for the healing process. When you first start the AIP, you may find that you need much more sleep than usual while your body starts doing lots of intense healing. Good sleep hygiene increases the chances of getting a solid sleep, including avoiding electronic screens in the hour or two before bed, having a winding-down ritual and removing any artificial lights from your bedroom.

Social Connection – Positive social connections are protective for our health in so many ways. If you struggle with this piece of the AIP, look for one small way that you can get involved with others doing something meaningful. I love singing with others but didn’t have an outlet, so I joined a local song circle. No performances, just happy singing and connection with other people. It feeds my soul every week. Your meaningful connection might be different – maybe dance, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or helping your neighbour walk their dog? I have also found my local Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community to be a good source of positive social connection.

Exercise – Exercise on the AIP is all about being just like Goldilocks – you want it to be just right. Exercising too intensely can also trigger inflammation and an immune response, so it’s best to avoid really high intensity workouts in favour of less intense, whole body movement. Some AIP folks love CrossFit, others prefer walking, yoga, swimming or other low-impact forms of exercise. I’ve been loving the online yoga classes at YogaGlo lately – affordable, convenient and there are so many classes that I can find lots that are just the right fit for me.

What doesn’t work on the AIP?

The AIP works when you stick to the guidelines 100% until you notice an improvement in your symptoms, then start doing food reintroductions slowly and methodically. This way your body has a chance to calm down the immune response, reduce the inflammation, and get started on gut healing before you reintroduce any foods that could potentially cause a reaction. It won’t work to take an 80/20 approach to the AIP, or to only eliminate a few of the food groups and continue eating others. Likewise with the various components – if you’ve got the food dialled in 100% but you are under a tremendous amount of stress, never exercise and rarely get enough sleep, your body won’t have a chance to actually heal.

The aim is to have a body and mind that is in “rest and digest” mode instead of “fight or flight” mode most of the time. All of the components of the AIP work together to help you get to and stay in rest and digest as much as possible.

Holy crap, that sounds like a lot of work. How can I make it easier?

The practical side of the AIP is that it involves a LOT of cooking from scratch, and a LOT of focus on self-care. For many people, this is totally new. We live in a culture that glorifies busy and assumes that we can be independent and should be looking after other people’s needs instead of our own. But the reality of the AIP is that it takes a good bit of slowing down to cook well and take care of yourself every day.

There are ways to reduce the workload and time spent in the kitchen, such as batch cooking, which can be a lifesaver when it comes to busy weeknights. You will most likely work out your own ways to make food prep more efficient over time and as you get to know the foods that work best for you. But the reality is that no matter which way you look at it, you will be trading in convenience foods for whole foods prepared by hand, and that will simply take an investment of time each week. Try to think of it as an investment of self-love every time you carefully prepare something that is delicious and nourishing for your body and soul.

Overall the AIP has been a life-changing experience for me. Not only have I identified the specific foods that don’t agree with me and healed to the point where I have reintroduced some foods that used to cause reactions and now don’t, I’ve learned that it’s OK to prioritise my own health and wellbeing. It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to not eat out at restaurants or order pizza in, and it’s OK to choose only those things that really nourish me. It certainly wasn’t easy, especially in those first few weeks, and especially in a mixed-diet household, but it has definitely been worthwhile.


Having an “I’m a failure” day? You’re not alone, no matter what it may look like on facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. In a bizarrely ironic twist, parenting in the Internet Age gives us more information at our fingertips than ever before, and more impossibly beautiful and perfect images of other parents to compare ourselves to than any other generation of parents would have been exposed to. This combination simultaneously empowers us to parent in a more informed, intentional way, and hands us an enormous stick to flog ourselves with when we don’t measure up.


Take a deep breath. Grab a tissue. You are OK.

Put on a video for the kids (It will be OK), or find five minutes for yourself some other way. Here are a few things that might help you come back to center.

  1. What is going on in your body? Name it. This might sound something like, “I am noticing a lot of tightness in my forehead and around my eyes, I have a heaviness in my chest, it feels like I have a rock in the pit of my stomach, my left hip is aching, and I can feel tears around my eyes.” If there are large areas of your body that you can’t really feel, name that too. “My hands and feet are cold, and my torso feels numb.” How will this help? Our body communicates our emotional state to our brain from our internal organs (heart, gut, throat and face especially), and learning to access this information can help us understand what we are feeling.
  2. If there is one body sensation that stands out more than the rest, feel into that. Ask yourself, “If this body sensation had a emotional quality, what would it be?” Say whatever word pops into your head. It can be surprisingly accurate.
  3. Invite yourself to think of someone you have a good relationship with, someone with whom you feel warmth and safety. This can be a person from your past like a grandmother or a kind neighbour, someone from your present, a companion animal, even a place in the world where you feel safe and cared for, like your home or a particular bit of forest. Imagine this person sitting beside you, or you going to your safe place.
  4. If this person/place were to guess what you were feeling, what would they guess? Try this list if you are stuck for words.
  5. If this person/place were to guess what you need right now, what would they guess? Try to guess needs that are not linked to specific people doing specific things. Instead of, “I need my child to listen to me,” try this instead, “I need to be seen and heard, to know that I matter to others.” Here’s a list of needs words that might be helpful.
  6. Sometimes, once feelings and needs are named, there is a flash of recognition. Like, “Wow, of course I got so upset. No wonder!” Sometimes long-buried memories of other times in the past when these needs were not met will also come up. Be gentle with yourself here.
  7. Take a few deep breaths. Have your body sensations changed? Try scanning through and naming them again. Sometimes there is a shift in your body when specific feelings and needs words are named.
  8. When you feel ready, (or when the video is done!), go back to your kids. If you need to make an apology, and you are feeling noticeably calmer, now is a good time. Try to use words that make it clear that you are taking responsibility for what you did/said, that you wish you hadn’t done things that way, and that you are ready to hear how they feel about what happened. If you are still very upset, or can’t think of how to apologize without blaming or explaining, wait until you can get more support from someone else or go through the process above again.

For me, giving myself gentleness, warmth and care when I have “screwed up” was (and still is!) a pretty radical thing to do. It takes practice, because we are so used to directing our warmth and care to others instead of towards ourselves. But when we are able to access that warmth and forgiveness for ourselves, we open up to the possibility of being both imperfect and loved at the same time.

If warmth and gentleness towards yourself is not available right now, or if you would like help or accompaniment through the process, I am available for empathy sessions over the phone or skype. I will listen and gently guide you through the process above, helping to make guesses about what you might be feeling or needing. If you’re interested, send me an email and we can work through the details together.

With gratitude to Sarah Peyton and Eric Bowers, who taught me this process and showed me how to practice it.


Charting the Inner Journey

What does it mean to do your inner work?

What does “personal development” mean, other than going back to school or getting a gym membership?

We are all pretty familiar with the course of child development, but what does it look like for an adult to change and mature?

child development

Our culture does not have much to say about these things. Not on the surface, anyway. If you start looking you might find a yoga class that talks about something like deepening into your experience, and there are a bewildering array of books in the self-help section, but it’s chaotic and messy. There are many conflicting voices, and if you have a strong critical voice that lives inside your own head, it is not easy to discern what is real growth and development and what just looks like it.

And besides that – what the heck does inner work and personal development have to do with parenting? Isn’t this a parenting blog? Maybe some of you are thinking, “Stop the train, this isn’t where I want to go.”

I’m here to tell you that doing your inner work and attending to your own development is an important part of parenting.

inner work

I first realized this when I read Naomi Aldort’s book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, and tried putting her advice into practice. She says, “When you feel the urge to do or say something that you may regret later, stop! Watch the words you were about to say as if you were reading them on a computer screen. If these words or actions are not what you want, don’t say them.” I wholeheartedly agreed (and even blogged about it), but the truth is that I couldn’t really get past the part about noticing the urge and stopping.

Often by the time I noticed the urge, I was already doing or saying those things. It felt like they happened automatically, and I had almost no ability to stop and reflect on them in the moment. When I noticed afterwards, I was filled with guilt, shame and self-hate. Those feelings were so horrible I tried to ignore them, which pushed me further away from awareness of my bodily sensation of emotion. In those moments, the idea of a magic wand that would help me be in control of my child was incredibly attractive – since I couldn’t control my own emotional state, I wanted to be able to control those around me so that I could avoid getting into situations where I would feel guilt, shame and self-hate.



I wanted desperately to be able to change this pattern. Something had to change. And so I began with a question – how can I change so that I can actually behave in a way that is in integrity with my values?

This is Inner Work.

It might take different forms. It might be forming new habits, trying something outside your comfort zone or learning to meditate. It might be learning self-acceptance, or how to prioritize self-care. It could look like getting help with an addiction, or going to counselling. It might be about awakening a sense of connection with the body, and learning to use body sensations to become aware of our emotional experience. It might not be about changing anything at all, and working instead to stay aware when things are difficult, instead of mentally “checking out”.


Any time we work to change ourselves instead of changing others, that’s inner work.

But wait, you say. Isn’t parenting about changing others? Aren’t we trying to shape our kids so they can have the best future possible?

I don’t really think parenting is about changing our kids. I think it’s about guiding, teaching, mentoring, inspiring, helping and loving our kids, without trying to change who they are. It’s about trying to understand what their needs are and working to meet those needs in a way that works for the family. Poor behaviour often comes from unmet needs – meet the needs and you don’t need to change the child.

So instead of changing my kids, I’ve been working hard to change myself. And just recently, I’ve realized that the next step is actually giving myself a little more space and gentleness. Less pressure to change, more loving acceptance. Seeing what is, and allowing that to be. Simply being aware of how I feel or how things are for someone else, without rushing in to fix anything.

This is not as easy as it sounds.


Somehow my parenting journey started with debating the pros and cons of woven wraps and structured carriers and has evolved into a very personal journey of self-discovery and spiritual awareness. I don’t know if there are any readers still here who have been reading all along over the years, from the carrier stage to the inner work stage. I know the words have not been coming as frequently as I’ve been focusing inward more and more. This journey is mostly invisible and quiet. But it feels like waking up to myself, waking up to the world.


Awesome, Girl-Friendly Early Chapter Books

Book List Time! Here’s a list of books for the kid who is making the transition from early readers (few words on each page, lots of engaging pictures) to early chapter books (more words on each page, fewer pictures). These are books that my girls especially liked, and many have girl heroines or central characters. They are also more rad and less insipid, in case you may still be reading part or all of them aloud to your kids, or you would like to plant a few choice books in amongst the piles of Rainbow Fairies and Magical Unicorns on your independent reader’s bookshelf.

rapunzel's revenge

Rapunzel’s Revenge

A super kick-ass graphic novel that retells the Rapunzel fairy tale. It may be a little over the reading level of a kid just transitioning out of early readers like Elephant and Piggie, but both of my girls spent many hours poring over the pictures, reading bubbles that they were able to read independently, and listening to it read aloud, all at varying stages in their reading journey. It is so enticing that it may prompt kids to stretch their skills and try to read more than they would have attempted in another book. Rapunzel’s Revenge

mercy watson

Mercy Watson

Hilarious stories about the antics of a suburban pig, her family and her neighbours. These the perfect books to follow on from Elephant and Piggie, reading level and style wise. Just as with Mo Willems, there is so much hilarious action that the kids forget they are practising their reading. One risk though: you may suddenly have uncontrollable cravings for hot buttered toast. Mercy Watson to the Rescue



Dark and beautiful, the Ottoline stories are about a rich girl who goes away to a magical school where she can practice esoteric skills and have adventures. The illustrations are gorgeous and the stories are interesting and wacky. More advanced reading level than Mercy Watson, but easy enough for a highly motivated early reader. These books feel a little like a hybrid between a novel and a graphic novel. Ottoline Goes to School

worst witch

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch series is reminiscent of the early Harry Potter books, except is set at an all-girls school, and lacks the dark, violent aspects of the later Harry Potter books. These are firmly in the “novel” category, even though there are still some pictures. The Worst Witch

smuggler's cave

Smuggler’s Cave

A west-coast adventure story about some kids who take a rowboat and go exploring on their own, running into some trouble as they go. Early chapter book style, more words on each page but printed in large text and not too phonetically challenging. Smuggler’s Cave

tintin destination moon


Potentially controversial, but highly motivating and compelling for many kids. Like with Rapunzel’s Revenge, my girls would pore over these books for hours when their reading skills were emerging. They would read the speech bubbles they were able to read, and gloss over the ones they couldn’t read by examining the detailed drawings. There are some good reasons why many parents choose not to expose their kids to TinTin, but in our family Bea learned to read by taking TinTin comics to bed with a flashlight each night for a whole winter. Tintin Destination Moon



Girl space pirate! Wacky superheroes and evil villains! Each Sardine book is broken down into several shorter stories, all told in graphic novel style. The reading level is easier than Rapunzel’s Revenge but harder than Mercy Watson. Not just for girls, but definitely in the kick-ass girl category. Sardine in Outer Space


Which books have your kids loved in this tentative, in-between stage of reading?  This time between early readers and children’s literature proper feels so much like hanging on the cusp of something so much more amazing, yet there are some fantastic choices for kids reading early chapter books too.

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Are you willing?

this is an adventureWould you mind picking up your socks?

Would you like to help me wash the dishes?

Please fix the chicken house today.

Are you willing to unload the dishwasher when you’re finished reading your chapter?

Word choice matters. Sometimes it feels like the specific words we use are more about style or attitude than actual meaning, but every word we choose carries a slightly different meaning, and is received in a slightly different way.

I remember when my kids were toddlers I became aware of the critical importance of deciding whether I really wanted to ask a question or whether it was more appropriate to use a statement. “Are you ready to go now?” vs. “It’s time to go now.” One is not necessarily better than the other. There are certainly times when it’s OK and important to find out whether a toddler is ready to go. But if you are not open to going later, don’t ask if your child is ready to go now. Choose a statement instead of a question.

Now I am becoming aware of the need to fine tune statements and requests even further. Sometimes I will ask my kids to do things that they don’t really want to do. Heck, sometimes I need to ask myself to do something I don’t really want to do. I may not want to do something, yet I’m willing to do it even though I don’t want to, because it’s important for my health, or it’s important to someone else. I am willing to get up off the couch in the evening and close the chicken coop and water the garden even though I don’t always want to because I value the health of the plants and animals in my care. Word choice can either acknowledge that, “I don’t want to, but I’m willing,” or ignore it.

In my NVC/Empathy workshops, our wonderful facilitator, Sarah Peyton, always begins guided meditations with a request to gently ask your awareness if it is willing to go to your breath. For a while I thought this was kind of unnecessarily gentle – I didn’t really understand why there was all this hesitation. If meditation involves going to your breath, then just do it! And then I read the draft copy of her new, soon to be released book, and realized that asking if we are willing leaves space to acknowledge that for some people it’s painful and distressing to spend time quietly paying attention to their bodies. Asking if someone is willing (and being OK with a no) creates a space in which you can simultaneously acknowledge that they may not want to do something and yet may also be willing to try.

It’s not a quick fix. There are still plenty of times when I ask if someone is willing to do xyz and I get “No” in return. But it opens a space to say, “Ok. What are you willing to do to contribute to cleaning up?” And most of the time my kids come up with something they are perfectly happy to do that I would never have thought to ask them. Like re-organzing the jars in the fridge door and labelling all the different compartments. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I’m willing to receive that!

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