The Autoimmune Protocol for Hard Times


Carole Chambers 1944-2014

In my experience, two things are important during hard times:

  1. Prevention &
  2. Harm Reduction.

This has been consistently validated during my 20+ year career working with vulnerable & resilient people, and it seems to apply to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), too.

My mum died on August 1st.

Not entirely unexpectedly.

We had just found out she had terminal throat cancer. Or, we had just found out the throat cancer she’d been battling for a year was still advancing aggressively. We thought she had about 3 months to live & she definitely wanted to be at home. She wanted to write one more book of poetry & was furiously working on completing poems in between the radiation treatments that were supposed to have bought her the time to complete it.

Gibson GirlI’d just finished setting up her house for end-of-life care & had spent the day trying to make the hospital bed in her living room look as much like an elegant, literary Gibson Girl’s day bed as possible. Because she was not going to go gently into that good night.

My sister and my dad were concerned that she’d be wroth to have a hospital bed the house, even though she clearly needed one. But all those tricky palliative considerations turned out to be unnecessary, because she died in the car on the way home from the hospital.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a close family member knows that you are immediately presented with contradictory tasks: disabling grief & the need to make myriad practical arrangements.

I decided to use prevention & harm reduction to assist me with both.


  1. I decided to simplify my eating & (mostly) joined Matthew on his low-FODMAP version of the AIP. I say mostly because I ate avocados, which are high FODMAP  (they contain sorbitol).  Though I’d been in ketosis on the Wahls Paleo Plus for 3½ months and was loving it, I knew it would be too difficult to keep up two versions of the AIP, in addition to the SAD proclivities of our teenagers.

    33.3% of our teenagers are vegetarian

    100% of our teenagers eat SAD-food. 33.3% are vegetarian.

  2. I also knew that bone broth was going to be my #1 preventative ally & I made sure the freezer was well-stocked with bones & the stock pot was actively turning those bones into broth.
  3. We got really simple about food & ate greens cooked in bone broth with steak for most meals for the first week or so. I added avocado & Matthew added green banana (for resistant starch) or blueberries (for fun).
  4. I decided to utilize all the dietary & non-dietary hacks that contribute to high performance workdays including: ample sleep, lots of water, daily exercise (walking counts!), spending time in the sun, daily skin care & oil pulling. I noticed I was forgetting to hydrate so I started making big pots of licorice tea that would just hang out steeping on the counter. When cool, I poured it into mason jars & I’d remember to drink it.

Harm Reduction

Mmmm, short-ribs...

Mmmm, short-ribs…

After prevention, harm reduction was my next consideration.

Anything to do with my mum is particularly triggering for me in terms of food. She was an alcoholic for most of my life, and as many adult children of alcoholics do, I have longstanding issues that I need to be particularly attentive to in times of stress.

Previous to going paleo, I had a carbohydrate addiction that was very problematic. One of the ways it was problematic was that it worked. Not well. And not really. But carbohydrates enabled me to manage my emotions in the moment, while exacerbating and compounding all my problems in the long term.

It’s the lure of the short-term effectiveness of self-medicating with carbohydrates that I still need to be wary of in times of stress.

Harm reduction isn’t about denying your needs. It’s about limiting the harm you do to yourself while attempting to meet them.

  1. First off, I paid close attention to what I was craving, and surprisingly, once I was off the higher-fat ketogenic diet, I craved fat, not carbohydrates. I’d find myself fantasizing about that gorgeous layer of grass-fed fat you find in short ribs. So, my #1 harm reduction strategy was indulging this craving with SPCA-certified short ribs. Rather frequently. (SPCA-certified short ribs do no harm nutritionally, just a little bit financially).
  2. But I wasn’t adverse to some carbohydrate indulgences either. It happened to be peach season. And peaches are my favorite fruit. There is almost nothing more divine that a bowl full of sliced peaches with blueberries topped with coconut cream. It’s in the realm of AIP, but it’s more sugar than I usually consume. But the coconut cream, in addition to being heavenly, helps mitigate the sugar from the fruit.
  3. I also included turnips, rutabaga & green plantains. I was eating a little bit of turnip now & then while in ketosis, but for harm reduction purposes, I gave myself to permission to eat these foods if and when I wanted them. They were comforting. And way less harmful than falling face-first into a bag of tortilla chips. Speaking of which, that’s what I mostly made from the green plantains: nachos.

I kept in mind that eating carbohydrates increases cravings for carbohydrates and tried to tune in to what would be most helpful for me in a given moment on a given day.

Moving Forward

I’ve heard it takes a year.

We need to cycle through each season without our loved one before the grief fades. But already it is less acute.

I’m getting myself back into ketosis, because I prefer living that way.

I plan to gradually remove my harm reduction strategies, but retain most of my prevention strategies for awhile. I’m anticipating I may need to turn up the harm reduction on the weekend of September 6th & 7th, when we spread my mum’s ashes & celebrate her life.

Starting the day I learned she was not going to win her battle with cancer until the day she died, I worked on a blog to share her poetry. I don’t know if I will continue, as I was mostly doing it for her. Perhaps in time. Or maybe my sister will. In those days I posted 5 poems. You can find it here.

Greens, steak & avocado

Keep it simple

14 thoughts on “The Autoimmune Protocol for Hard Times

  1. Petra, I admire your wisdom & tenacity in taking care of yourself in hard times. You are such an inspiration to me — I lost my sister to breast cancer 2 years ago, but I did not take care & fell face first into piles of pastries on the long drives home from the hospital. My feelings were buried under there to fester. Your approach is going to pay huge dividends; my prayers to you & your family.

  2. ❤ You are an inspiration. Also, I am so sorry for your loss. I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a parent, although I've now watch several dear friends go through the process. It's never easy. And I think accepting that it may take a year before the grief really lets up is incredibly healthy and realistic.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I know it’s terrible. I’m glad to hear that you’re taking such good care of yourself and your family. You’re very young to have figured all this out and I admire you for that…I’ll try to remember this approach in my own “old lady” fashion. And give yourself all the time it takes. If it’s less than a year that’s okay. If its many years that’s okay too. I’ll have you in my thoughts.

  4. Your mother wrote lovely poetry!
    Happy to see that you are back!
    And to read you are taking good care of yourself !

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. My mother passed away (many years ago now) from cancer also, and it was the hardest time of my life. It is such a primal relationship. I love your food strategies for taking care of yourself during this time. The fact is, hard times will come in all our lives. If we nurture ourselves in a healthy way instead of giving ourselves license to binge, it has to make it easier to heal in every way, emotionally, physically, even spiritually. Thanks for sharing these ideas with us even as you are going through this incredibly rough time.

  6. Petra – sending you a virtual hug from down here. You have been in my thoughts, my blogging friend. Your strength in staying on track with our wacky eating regimes is impressive.

    ‘For Shelagh’ moved me.


  7. Petra,

    You continue to be an inspiration, even during tough times. I admire your resilience, courage and determination to stay the course despite your incredible loss. As TSL says, you and your family are in our thoughts,

  8. Petra, my heart has been going out to you and you have been in my prayers, since I read of your mother’s death. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know what it’s like to lose a mom to cancer. For me the 1 year cycle actually took 18 months. As I look back on it, I think it’s because we weren’t able to bury her ashes until 6 months after her death. That was the closure for me, so it took a year from that date. If you need support, please feel free to email me.
    Thank you for your AIP for hard times post. In a totally different way I’m going through some very rough times raising my two sons with disabilities, but on top of that dealing with my husband’s severe mental illness and resulting addictions. I have been following AIP fairly well, but your ideas in this post are a great help. Glad to see your back.
    On my blog I posted a recipe for an adaptation of your fudge. It’s Peaches and Cream .

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