For many people with ankylosing spondylitis, the Starch Free Diet (also known as the London AS Diet or the Low / No Starch Diet) can be a powerful way to manage their symptoms.
The guiding principle behind the diet is that eliminating starches helps to minimise inflammation and pain.
You can find more information on how the diet works here.
Many advocates (including the author of this website) have had great success following this diet.
But if you’re new to this diet it can feel daunting or overwhelming at first.
You might worry…
“Am I going to feel hungry all the time?”
“How will I be able to manage a diet like this day to day?”
“Is it prohibitively expensive?”
In this article, we’ll explore the challenges of following the London AS Diet. Then we’ll look at some practical strategies to help you stick with it.
But first let’s have a quick refresher:
What the London AS (Low Starch Diet) involves
The central tenet is this:
Avoid ALL starchy foods such as grains, starchy fruit and certain (usually root) vegetables.
This includes: bread, pasta, rice, and cereals, starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn, legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas.
It also includes all processed foods and sugary drinks and snacks.
You can see a more detailed list of foods to avoid here.
The focus instead is on protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables.
Safe foods tend to include: meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower.
Non starchy fruits, such as berries (in moderation) and healthy oils such as avocado and olive oil are usually tolerated as well.
You can see a more detailed list of suggested safe foods here.
Challenge #1: The ‘safe food’ list can feel restrictive at first (especially if you are used to a Western diet)
The diet eliminates many foods which we traditionally see as ‘staple’ foods in the Western Diet.
Bread, pasta, rice and potatoes often make up a significant portion of our meals.
No more sandwiches… no more chips… no more packaged snacks.
This can make meal planning and preparation a challenge at first.
We are used to supermarkets that are stocked with shelves full of packaged, ready made products contain ingredients that are now off the menu.
Your new list of ‘safe foods’ could probably fit in one small corner of the shop.
So it might feel, at first, as if your choices are being restricted. There might be a feeling of deprivation.
✔️ Solution #1: Discover all the amazing NEW things you can eat
It’s human nature to focus on what we’ve perceive to have lost.
“Help! I can’t have this” or “I can’t have that”... “What am I going to eat?!”
But it’s helpful to reframe the situation.
Everything on this diet is designed to give you more energy, more clarity of thought, more mobility and most importantly less pain.
This is going to lead to positive outcomes.
You wouldn’t walk barefoot through a bush once you knew it was full of stinging nettles and it’s like that with the diet.
Once you discover exactly which foods cause you pain and trigger AS flares it won’t feel like a loss or depravation, it will feel like a relief.
You’ll want to eat the foods that make you feel good and you won’t want to eat these foods which can cause you pain.
Challenge #2: Inconvenience: what can I actually eat?
The modern world has brought us many technical marvels but it’s skewed the food and pharma industry,
Food brands are primarily geared around maximising profits.
That means making their products more addictive, longer lasting and cheaper to produce.
Ready meals and snacks are packed full of sugar, additives and preservatives.
They’re designed to stimulate our desire for sweet things (an evolutionary trigger for a resource far less abundant in nature) while staying ‘fresh’ an unnaturally long time.
‘Real’ foods, such as responsibly sourced animal products, just don’t have the same profit margins.
So that’s why most of the marketing, and shelf space, goes to the unhealthy products with the long shelf life and the bigger bottom line.
Sadly it’s trained human behaviour. As food scientists have tapped into our neurological predilection for sweet things and turned our daily diet into one of addictive, low nutrition convenience foods, our bodies have suffered the consequences.
✔️ Solution #2: You can eat almost anything that’s ‘real’ (and ticks these 3 boxes)
This was a big realisation for me.
I would spend ages looking at the backs of packets.
What ingredient is this? Is it safe? Is it starchy?
And then it hit me.
Most of what we find in packets or ready meals is contrived. It isn’t real food, but more of a science experiment. Frankenstein’s monster.
The reality is that if there’s something listed on a packet you don’t recognise it’s probably going to contain a preservative, additive, massive sugar hit or something that you should be putting in your body. Especially if you have AS and an extremely active immune system.
Look for the following 3 things:
✅ Is it real? Would you recognise it in nature. A stick of broccoli or a fillet of fish, yes. A doughnut, not so much
✅ Do you recognise all the ingredients? (And are they ‘safe’?) Aqua, yes. Salt, yes. Some chemical ingredient you can’t pronounce, no. Refined sugar, no
✅ Is it a single ingredient? Again, a standalone piece of meat or a vegetable (as long as it’s not starchy) is probably going to be safe
All of the above might sound blindingly obvious but once I realised this it made things much easier.
Suddenly you go shopping with different eyes.
Instead of panicking over packets and spending all your time on your phone Googling things, you just immediately hone in on real food. The loose veg section… the punnets of berries… the fish mongers or the butchers.
Challenge #3: Can I still socialise and eat out in restaurants?
This was a challenge for me at first.
And in fact at the start I would get really stressed.
I didn’t really understand the diet myself…
I wasn’t familiar with what contained starch and what didn’t….
I was embarrassed about telling waiting staff or having to explain the diet (which sounds bonkers to the uninitiated!)
And then suddenly everything clicked into place.
I stopped caring what people thought (the lightbulb moment being the realisation that actually people are way to focused on their own lives to worry about it).
I also developed a set of shortcuts:
✔️ Solution #3: Look up the menu in advance and don’t be scared to swap out items
You can absolutely do this.
If you know what to expect and you know what you can tolerate you can just plan ahead.
There are also a bunch of tricks I figured out here which I hope will save you time:
Try to be patient and flexible. You will get there!
Adapting to a new way of eating takes time, and of course there are challenges along the way.
Just be patient with yourself as you learn to navigate the diet and this new way of life, and remember that it’s okay to make mistakes.
I’ve found it extremely hopeful to monitor my symptoms and progress.
If that’s something you’re interested in doing, take a look here:
By keeping a journal to track your food intake, AS symptoms, and overall well-being you can identify patterns and make adjustments as needed.
From my own experience this has been the single most effective strategy I have adopted.