Have you ever heard of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP)? It’s one of the strictest diets out there, but a lifesaver for many people diagnosed with autoimmune disease. One of the toughest things about AIP is eating out, so I wrote this post in order to help those on the AIP diet stick to the rigorous guidelines, while still participating in the social and entertainment aspects of dining out. Yes, you can stick to the diet and enjoy eating out—you just need a few tips and tricks! Here’s what I picked up from dining at a Mediterranean mezze restaurant while on AIP.
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The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) is tough! No nightshades, nuts, seeds, eggs, grains, legumes, gluten, sugar, alcohol, or dairy? Yikes! Phase 1 AIP requires a superhuman-like discipline. Superhero name: AIP Girl. Superpower: the ability to heal the body through food. Seriously though. Anyone who follows AIP deserves superhero status. I followed the AIP diet for exactly one month (for a brief period of time, I thought I might have an autoimmune disease, so I tried the diet until my test results confirmed that I didn’t have one) and it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. If you follow the AIP diet, you have both my admiration and sympathy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it in the end!
Oftentimes, on very strict diets, people are afraid to dine out because they’re worried there won’t be anything for them to eat. They turn down invitations from friends to go out to dinner or stop visiting their favorite restaurants. This can lead to feelings of deprivation and depression, which certainly aren’t healthy emotions.
While I was on the AIP diet, I searched the internet for tips on how to dine out on AIP and I didn’t really find much. So, I decided to experiment on my own and share my findings with you! While you shouldn’t make a habit out of eating out on AIP (the most nutrient dense foods are still going to be the ones you cook yourself), you should definitely be able to eat out on occasion without worrying that you’ll hurt your progress. Enjoying a meal out every once in a while is part of living a happy, healthy, and balanced life.
This post is about my experience with eating out on AIP at a Mediterranean mezze restaurant in my neighborhood. Although the example below is from a Mediterranean restaurant, you can use the same general principles, questions, and tips to enjoy AIP food at any restaurant. This is a very long and meaty post, but I really wanted to share all my knowledge and experience with eating out on AIP so you can have enjoyable dining experiences too! Enjoy!
Here are the general guidelines for eating out on AIP, so you can refer back to them:
- Look at the menu ahead of time and determine a few dishes that could be prepared according to AIP diet restrictions. You can even call the restaurant ahead of time and explain the restrictions to see if they’re willing to accomodate.
- When you get to the restaurant, clearly describe your dietary restrictions to the waiter or manager. Tell him/her that these restrictions are ALLERGIES, so they’ll take them seriously. Don’t be embarassed or afraid to speak up. This is about your health and it’s not worth risking your recovery. Be assertive and explicit with your requests (but politely and with a smile of course! 😃)
- Make sure the waiter or manager checks with the kitchen to make sure the food can be prepared to your specifications. The kitchen is preparing your food so it’s pertinent and they understand your restrictions. Be on the lookout for “hidden” non-AIP compliant ingredients such as seed oils (particularly canola oil), soybean oil, nightshade spices (paprika, cayenne, etc), and seed spices (carraway, cumin, etc.)
- Double check when the food arrives at your table to make sure it was prepared correctly.
- After this, let go and enjoy the meal. You did everything you could to make sure it was safe and AIP compliant. No use spending the whole meal second guessing, right?
- Remember to thank the waitstaff, manager, and kitchen for accommodating you. It’s a nice thing to do and encourages them to continue to accomodate you and others on special diets in the future.
Eating out AIP: Mediterranean Mezze Restaurant
Prior to the AIP diet, my best friend Allie and I often went to a Mediterranean Mezze restaurant in the area for delicious food, wine, and celebration. Not wanting to give up our Friday night best friend outing at our favorite restaurant, I decided to put eating out on the AIP diet to the test! While the details below pertain to this specific experience, I’ve found that the strategies outlined here work at most restaurants for successfully eating out on the AIP diet.
In general, Mediterranean food is a great choice for healthy eating out on any diet, especially AIP. Even on my less strict current diet, where I mainly avoid gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar, I still seek out Mediterranean food when I eat out. Why?
- Mediterranean food is healthy in general, even if you’re not on a special diet. They use a lot of olive oil, herbs, and citrus in their cooking, which are all clean and healthy flavors. They also use a lot of fish and seafood, which are heart healthy and full of Omega-3s.
- A lot of Mediterranean food is naturally gluten-free (except for the pita bread). I go to a few Greek restaurants that claim no gluten is used in their kitchen except for the pita bread, which is kept is a separate area. There’s even one Greek restaurant I love that has gluten-free pita bread! Note: Individual restaurants vary. Always check with the manager.
- Many Mediterranean restaurants serve mezze plates (small plates similar to tapas or dim sum), which contain smaller portions and allow for more variety.
While wine is obviously not allowed during the elimination phase of AIP, we still had an extremely delicious and memorable meal. We actually both agreed that the food was actually better this time with AIP compliant ingredients than it was a year ago when I wasn’t on the diet. What AIP superpowers did I use to accomplish this amazing feat?
First, I took a good look at the menu online before I arrived at the restaurant, so I knew what I was working with. I chose 6 items that I thought could possibly be made with only AIP ingredients. This included several salads, a shrimp dish, a few fish dishes, and a chicken dish. When I got the restaurant, I explained my dietary restrictions to the waiter. I told him that they were allergies to ensure that my requests would be taken seriously. The conversation went a little something like this:
Me: “Hi! I have a few allergies I’d like to make the kitchen aware of. I’m gluten-free and dairy-free. I also can’t have any nuts or seeds, including seed oils, such as canola. So, basically if you could cook all my dishes in olive oil that would be great! I also can’t have any nightshades, such as tomatoes and peppers, including nightshade spices like cayenne and paprika.”
Waiter: “Whoa, slow down. Let me write this all down!”
(I really appreciated that the waiter took the time to write down my requests. Since it’s a lot of information, it’s definitely best if someone writes it down. I had to repeat myself a few times, but he finally got it all down.)
Me: So there’s a few dishes, I wanted to check with you on. Is the salmon cooked in olive oil only? Is there any way I can substitute a veggie for the lentils that usually come with it?
Waiter: Why don’t you tell me what you’re interested in and I can check with the kitchen!
Me: Thank you so much! I really appreciate your help and patience. Basically anything that you can cook with just olive oil, salt, and fresh herbs with some steamed or raw veggies on the side would work well!
The waiter checked with the kitchen and helped Allie and I choose four dishes that they could make AIP compliant. Many of the dishes that seemed like they would work based on the menu descriptions had hidden non-AIP ingredients in it. For example, the Chicken Kabob was described as “grilled chicken breast, onions, olive oil, lemon, herbs”. Sounds innocent enough right? The waiter told me that the chicken breast was actually pre-marinated in canola oil (a seed-derived oil) and not just olive oil. This is why you should ALWAYS make sure the waiter checks with the kitchen or manager—never assume anything! When the food gets the table, double check and make sure it was prepared to your specifications.
Here are the dishes we ended up with:
Beet and orange salad with no nuts or goat cheese with a drizzle of olive oil instead of the dressing
Grilled salmon with sliced cucumber instead of the usual accompaniments
Grilled sea bass with cucumber instead of the usual accompaniments
Watermelon salad with no feta and drizzle of olive oil instead of the balsamic dressing
Once I double checked with the waiter to make sure the food was prepared correctly, I let go and enjoyed the meal. This is super important– you can only take so many precautions and if you obsess and worry during the meal, you defy the point of eating out. Enjoy your experience!
I was also sure to profusely thank the waitstaff, the manager, and the kitchen for accomodating me. They went out of their way to make sure I had a safe and enjoyable experience, despite my long list of instructions. It’s important to acknowledge the restaurant’s efforts for several reasons: 1) It’s a nice thing to do 2) It will make them more likely to accomodate you or others on a special diet in the future if they feel appreciated.
The final verdict: Believe it or not, Allie and I actually enjoyed our meal more with the AIP guidelines than we had at the same restaurant a year earlier. We determined that the reason for this was that when we went previously, they used a lot of bold sauces, heavy spices, feta cheese, and salt. These non-AIP flavors actually masked the naturally delicious flavors of the fresh fish and produce. Since we were at an upscale restaurant with high-quality ingredients, their use of simple AIP compliant ingredients like olive oil, sea salt, and fresh herbs actually allowed the food to shine all on its own, rather than hiding them under overly heavy and too salty sauces. Since authentic Mediterranean food is mainly about clean, fresh flavors, it’s a good choice for eating out on AIP. Their frequent use of olive oil makes it easier to avoid nut oils—just make sure you request that they ONLY use olive oil on your food.
Again, I used my experience at a Mediterranean mezze restaurant as an example, but the strategies I used can be easily adapted to any kind of restaurant. For example, you could go to an Italian restaurant and ask a lot of the same questions (what oil is this cooked in, can I substitute pasta for vegetables, etc.) Or you could go to a steakhouse and apply the same principles of explaining the diet, emphasizing that you have an allergy, asking how the food is cooked, etc. Here’s a quick list of possible AIP compliant dishes at other types of restaurants:
- Chinese: Steamed veggies with chicken, beef, etc.
- Italian: Grilled steak or chicken cooked in olive oil with just salt, side of steamed veggies, salad with protein and olive oil for dressing
- Steakhouse: Grilled steak or chicken, pan-fried fish
- Mexican: Fajitas with no rice, beans, tortillas, etc.
So, anyone here on the AIP diet? Any tips or tricks you want to share for eating out? Join the conversation in the comments section below!
Looking for more about the AIP Diet? Visit The Best AIP Snacks for a complete list of my favorite AIP foods on-the-go! To learn more about why I followed the AIP Diet for a month, visit My Health Fairytale!