By Megan McGrane
Ah, the inevitable ‘cheat meal’. How much damage can one little meal do, right? When you are following the AIP (autoimmune protocol) the temptation to take a break from your meal plan can be strong. This may be a hard line in the sand, but let me tell you why cheating on the AIP just isn’t worth it.
Whatever your reason for choosing to do the AIP, you felt that it was something you wanted, or needed, to do to be healthier. Can you take a moment and think back to what made you want to improve your health and eating habits? Many times, taking a moment to recall your goals and motivations can help you shake the feeling of wanting a ‘cheat’ meal.
The AIP is meant to help you gain insight about your health; a tool to discover food sensitivities and decrease inflammation. If you feel tempted to enjoy a ‘cheat’ meal, think about how long you’ve wanted to try the AIP. Two weeks? One month? If you haven’t set a start date and end date, this may steer you away from the AIP. When the end is indefinite, you may feel like you will never again eat a white potato or have almond butter. It’s simply human to want the exact thing that you have been told you can’t have, especially when you fear it will never come around again. Remember begging for candy as a child when an adult said no? It’s the same about food cravings and when you have food restrictions. It’s like telling you not to form a mental image of a pink flamingo. Well, now you are thinking about a pink flamingo aren’t you?
If you’ve been following the AIP for any length of time, you have invariably put in a lot of hard work and dedication. By having a cheat meal or cheat food you are telling yourself that the food or craving is more important than the work you are putting.
When a desire to have a cheat meal creeps in, think of how far you’ve come. By starting the process of removing inflammatory agents like gluten, grain, alcohol, nuts, dairy, and legumes from your diet you’ve already helped your body start the repair process. You’ve removed the offending agents and allowed your body to stop reacting or over-reacting to foods, which is the case in autoimmunity. If you re-introduce many of those food triggers—having a cheat meal—you may undermine the quality of the results you’re able to see during your AIP period. Are you sensitive to dairy or gluten? Did the pizza make you feel bloated or was it the beer? If you can stay on course for your set AIP period, your results will be much clearer and you will truly be able to identify trigger foods.
As with any practice there are always a few caveats …
The Unavoidable Predicament
Are you stranded in an airport/plane/boat/island without other food options? Have you traveled far to attend your college roommate’s wedding only to find an Italian feast with pasta—all things breaded—and topped with cheese? When faced with a travel mishap, wedding, work dinner or other commitment where you find yourself without AIP options, here are a few helpful tips to do your best.
- What is the best choice I could make here? Salad, steamed vegetables, a lean protein without sauce? Helpful hint: sometimes the answer is on the appetizer menu.
- Can I ask the server for a simply prepared salad/chicken breast/steamed vegetable that will suffice?
- Am I using this as an excuse to go off the rails? A common response when facing a challenge on the AIP is to scrap all of your hard work and eat all the food … even the things you can reasonably avoid like, a cheese tray, the dessert and of course, alcohol.
Many fall into this trap and believe if you have to make a few cheats to your AIP diet, you might as well forget it all and eat whatever you want. However, you can make some reasonable choices and stay close to the plan so when you’re able to control your circumstances, you’re back on track with your AIP diet.
Anytime you make a decision to try a new way of eating or work on yourself, you’ll be faced with temptation. Find ways to focus on your goals while you’re on the AIP to help you stay on track and and learn trigger foods.
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