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Cheat Days and the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)

Cheat Days and the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)

So you’ve started the autoimmune protocol (AIP).

Filled with determination, you found your why.

You are filled with grit and plan on sticking to the autoimmune protocol to improve your health.

You realize eating according to the autoimmune protocol has nothing to do with the number on the scale, and everything to do with living your best life.

Feeling your best.

Being the best you.

You can’t wait to feel well, think clearly, be emotionally strong, and spiritually grounded.

There’s just one thing.

What about “cheat days?”  You know, those days you’ve always allowed yourself to splurge on your favorite foods.  Those days when all bets are off.  Anything goes.

So, what about cheat days and the autoimmune protocol (AIP)?

Customizing the Autoimmune Protocol

The autoimmune protocol is not designed to be a one size fits all kind of template. 

Meaning, it is up to you to use it as a guideline, and find a way to make it work in your life. 

While there is science behind why eating according to the autoimmune protocol typically improves autoimmune symptoms, it is important to listen to your body as you make the transition.

On the other hand, if you are listening to your body, and your body is telling you to drink Diet Coke and eat sugary desserts, do not trust it.

Give it a couple of weeks to adjust to clean eating, and allow your taste buds to change.

Unfortunately, there is usually a learning curve when learning to live according to the autoimmune protocol, and it just takes time to figure out the ins and outs.

Me and Cheat Days Go Way Back

I’ve been following the autoimmune protocol template for over a year now.  I was on the elimination phase for 10 months, and am now in the reintroduction phase.

Prior to starting the autoimmune protocol, I was in the habit of weekly cheat days. 

On those days, I ate whatever I wanted.  On cheat day, my husband and I ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  I would inevitably eat myself sick.

When I started the autoimmune protocol, I was at my rock bottom and willing to do anything and eat anything to feel better.  I followed the autoimmune protocol to a “T” for a number of weeks.

As difficult as it was at first, I vanquished all cheat days for a period of time.  My reward?  A newfound wellness.

I felt like a new woman as I began to find relief from my autoimmune symptoms through the autoimmune protocol.

Do I Have Cheat Days Now?

Yes and no.

Yes, meaning I allow myself AIP treats usually once a week. 

No, meaning I do not consider it cheating since it is still AIP compliant.  My favorite AIP treats?  Slim mint cookies from Paleo On the Go and Cassava chips.

The trick, for me, is to not let the occasional treat become a daily treat.  Even AIP treats can lead to a slippery slope.

My one AIP treat this week turned into multiple.  So now, I am trying to check myself and break my new habit of reaching for an AIP treat with lunch.

Do I Feel Deprived?

Very rarely.  I cannot remember the last time I felt deprived.

I love the nutrient dense, flavorful foods on the autoimmune protocol.  Also, my taste buds have changed, and I no longer crave my old favorite cheat day foods.

I can literally sit at a family get together and watch everyone around me eat junk food, and be 100% happy as I eat whatever AIP food I packed.  If you knew how I used to be, you would know that is incredible.

Cheat Days and Unspoken Agreements

The hardest part of giving up cheat days, for me, were the unspoken agreements my husband and I had for years.

What do I mean “unspoken agreements?”

Habits, like…

We stopped and picked up Big Gulps on the way out to go anywhere.

We ordered our favorite pizza once a week on crazy busy nights.

We went on date night to unwind at the same Mexican food restaurant every Friday night.  We drowned the stress of the week in bottomless Cherry Cokes and carne asada taquitos with extra cheese and guacamole.

We ate our favorite homemade cookies and ice cream most Sundays.

We barbecued cheddar bratwurst while cheering for our favorite sports team together on tv.

Our vacations were filled with fruity tropical drinks, and poolside nachos. 

Those are just some of the unspoken agreements surrounding cheat days my husband and I had in our marriage.  We had more.

Breaking Agreements

My husband and I had seventeen years of cheat days before I lost my health, and realized I needed to overhaul my nutrition and lifestyle. 

Those cheat day traditions were entrenched in our marriage, and helped us feel more connected. 

When I realized I needed to change my diet and lifestyle, I felt scared because of the toll it might take on my marriage.  As silly as it may sound, I did not know if my husband could accept this new version of me.

Overhauling how I ate, changing my relationship with food, consciously choosing to let go of old eating traditions, and walking away from the unspoken food agreements in my marriage were not only some of the hardest things I’ve ever done, they were also some of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

Not Just About Me

I was not the only one feeling the difficulty or the fear.

My husband felt it too. 

He loved me the way I was.  He loved life the way it was.  He felt happy with the traditions we shared.  He felt comfortable with the years of unspoken agreements. He looked forward to sharing Big Gulps after a long, hard day.

He made it through the hectic week so he could take me on a date, and eat our favorite Mexican food with me lakeside and connect with me over our shared love of chips and salsa.

He thought it was amazing I would sit and eat BBQ cheddar bratwurst with him, and watch sports. 

He felt loved when I baked him his favorite cookies, and gave him the beater to lick instead of the kids.

He loved all of those things.  They were part of our marriage.

He did not want them to change.  I had to remember that.  I had to remember his feelings.

Digging Deeper

Here the secret I discovered:  it has nothing to do with the food. 

Really, if I dig deeper, it is not about the food. 

It is about spending time together, unwinding together, escaping together, and supporting each other.  Simply put, it is about a man and a woman in love. 

You are changing, or maybe you already have.  Or maybe you know you need to clean up your nutrition, but you are worried about putting a wedge between you and your husband.  As you change, be mindful of your husband.

Remember that as you change, as you eat cleanly, chances are you will feel better than ever and look better than ever, and will eventually not want the Big Gulps, or the Mexican food, or the bratwurst, or the sugary cookies.  I promise.  Taste buds change.  It can take a couple of weeks, but taste buds will change.

Easing the Transition

What helped me strengthen my marriage as I broke unspoken agreements?

  • Giving him space – It was important for me to remember that just because I changed, did not mean my husband had to.  Changing my own nutrition and lifestyle was hard enough, I could not imagine trying to change another person as well.  With that said, I made healthy dinners for our family, and he was supportive.  He never tried to derail my efforts or pressure me to eat anything that would hurt my health.

  • Communicating – having an open dialogue with my husband and family members was key for my success. I explained my health situation, and that I choose to eat this way because I feel better when I do.

  • Educating – a game changer for my husband supporting me is when he understood autoimmune disease, and why the autoimmune protocol works. This can be as simple as sitting down and explaining to your husband an overview of autoimmune disease and the autoimmune protocol. For us, it looked like watching the AIP Lecture Series together for a couple of weeks.  It was worth every penny.

  • Finding New Traditions – finding new date night traditions that did not revolve around unhealthy food was also key. Finding new favorite restaurants with healthy AIP options was difficult, but worth it.  We also enjoy going to the movies, going on hikes, and other activity focused date nights.

  • Coming to New Agreements – making some formal agreements also strengthened my marriage. While none of the agreements were food centered, they strengthened our bond.  Some of our agreements include weekly date night, quarterly weekend getaways, and annual week-long getaway.

A Word of Warning

If you use cheat days as a coping mechanism, please be mindful when giving them up. 

Meaning, if cheat days help relieve stress, find another stress relieving activity to replace it with, or practice stress management through meditation or yoga.

Stress levels usually directly impact autoimmune symptoms. If cutting out cheat days increases stress, I encourage you to consider a gradual transition to the autoimmune protocol.

Thinking Outside the Box

Rather than giving up cheat days, you can overhaul the way you think about them.

For example, enjoy a “cheat day” that includes an AIP compliant burger with sweet potato fries.  Add a smoothie, or an AIP treat, for dessert.

I am a big believer in bio-individuality. Meaning, what works for my body may not work for your body and vice versa. My body is still very sensitive to non AIP foods. Perhaps your body is not as sensitive, and you have more leeway.

Remember, the autoimmune protocol is not meant to be a strict, one size fits all, “this is how you eat until you die” kind of thing.

Make the autoimmune protocol your own.  Think outside the box, and enjoy nourishing your body.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

How to Overcome Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Overcoming Sugar Cravings on the Autoimmune Protocol

What I Wish I Knew When I Started the Autoimmune Protocol

Troubleshooting the Autoimmune Protocol

How I Accidentally Lost 15 Pounds with Hashimoto’s

Free Back to Basics Guide to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)

Does the autoimmune protocol feel overwhelming? I’ve got you covered! I have a FREE Back to Basics Guide to the Autoimmune Protocol for you! It will be automatically emailed to you when you sign up for my weekly newsletter!

Comments (4)

I love this article and made so many connections! I’ve been on my AIP journey for 3 months now, and began adding some reintroduction after two months. I’ve found a sporadic glass of red, one coffee a day and nuts and seeds work for me.

But big family events, mean lots of food, and upset mothers if I don’t eat…the tradition you talked about. So I’m still recovering from my Easter “cheat day” which consisted of a gluten free dairy free diet regardless.
The guilt about letting people down is my downfall.

Hi D! I apologize for the delayed response – I was at a workshop weekend out of town when you commented, then moved. Thank you so much for your kind words! Congrats on being on the AIP for 3 months now! SO awesome that you have some successful reintroductions! Exciting!
Yes, traditions and worrying about offending loved ones is a struggle. For me, it really helped me to remember that my family and friends love me and deep down want me to be happy and healthy. Eating the way I eat helps me be happy and healthy, and live the life I want to live. I remind myself it’s okay if they do not understand that, or cannot understand that. I try to lovingly explain it, and treat them with love, and let go of feelings of guilt. I came to a point (after getting really sick after eating non AIP at a family gathering over a year ago…triggered a flare that lasted for weeks even though it was still gluten free food) where I determined that my responsibility to take care of my body so I can live healthily and take care of my kids is more important than hurting the feelings of family members who do not understand the situation. Turns out, in time (over a year later), my extended family is incredibly supportive, and some even make sure I have AIP options to eat!! So, it took time, and me determining I needed to stick to my guns and set/communicate boundaries if needed.
Sending you so much love and support! Praying you are recovered from Easter!

My autoimmune symptoms are currently under control, but I am having some issues with my skin so I am trying really hard to stick to a modified autoimmune diet. My eliminations include permanent elimination of all grains & gluten (except GF buckwheat which is a pseudo grain.), all dairy, nightshades, onions and eggs. I don’t ever eat anything processed or ever eat out of the house. (Other than a banana or organic raw nuts that I pick up from the store).

I have never tried to do the full AIP. It is just too limiting for me for it to be feasible. I think it has been easier for me to eliminate a few things at a time.

The reason I read your article was because I was looking for someone to convince me not to cheat. And by cheating, I mean eggs. This is the hardest thing for me to give up because it was always my go-to for an easy meal when I didn’t have anything else readily available. What further complicates the egg situation for me is that I had a food allergy skin test once and I tested high (3) on both yolks and whites. The doctor told me I wasn’t allergic, but I was having a higher than normal reaction to them. So I know I should add them to my permanent list of eliminations. (I happen to have a dozen in my fridge right now just in case). I am worried that tonight after a hard cardio workout I will eat eggs. Please someone tell me why I shouldn’t. Please talk me off the ledge. Thanks!

Hi Jean!

I am so glad your autoimmune symptoms are under control, that’s great news! That’s great that you know your limits and modify AIP to your circumstances. As far as “cheating”/eating eggs, honestly what helped me was learning the science behind why the autoimmune protocol works. Specifically what is happening in the body with autoimmune disease, and why certain foods trigger symptoms/immune reactions. The best source I’ve found for that is Dr. Sarah Ballantyne/the paleo mom. Her website has a number of free resources, she has a new AIP ebook, and he has an AIP Lecture Series. All are wonderful . The lecture series is 100% worth the investment. Another option would be for you to work with a certified AIP health coach or NTP with experience with the AIP.
Sending you lots of love and support!

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