So what is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is an eating plan which avoids the common foods and food groups to which people are often allergic or intolerant. It’s used not because it’s “cool” or the “fad” but because it’s a useful diagnostic tool. Many people don’t know they are intolerant or that a certain food they’ve always eaten is actually causing them harm.
Certain foods can also be harmful to gut health. Your gut governs a huge portion of the body’s processes, and it helps your immunity and ability to heal and recover from illness. I suppose it stands to reason that if I’ve had medical issues my whole life–many of which were related to my immune system–that an elimination diet might help me.
Then, what can’t I have? Wheat, corn, beef, shellfish, soy, diary, peanuts, and caffeine are the big ones, but I also can’t have any refined sugar, honey, or maple syrup. That leaves out pretty much any prepared sauces and any chocolate. Alcohol (which I very rarely drink), coffee, shortening, oranges, eggs, rye, barley, cold cuts, and non-dairy creamers round out the list. Compared to other elimination diets, I’m lucky (for now) that I can continue to consume tomatoes and peppers, also called nightshades, as those are a huge portion of my daily diet.
What does that leave? Huge amounts of fruit and vegetables, coconut and nut milks, fish, poultry, wild game, lentils and beans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, nut butters, cold-pressed olive and nut oils, filtered water (no tap!), herbal teas, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, stevia, molasses, vinegar (though not from wheat or corn), and all spices and herbs.
At the request of my doctor I have been having a smoothie in the morning (spinach, frozen berries, avocado or almond milk yogurt, coconut milk, and a plant-based protein powder with probiotics), and I will follow that a few hours later with oatmeal with fresh fruit and cinnamon. On Sundays I pre-cook chicken, sweet potatoes, and brown rice so that I can throw together a quick lunch with some greens to warm up at work. I will usually have a snack in the afternoons like some vegan, gluten-free bread, some fruit, or a gluten-free bar. Dinners have varied somewhat, but for the most part I’ve made salmon or a piece of game with brown rice and a green vegetable. Dessert has been a piece of fruit, or in a pinch some dried fruit without any kind of added sugar or flavor.
My doctor also recommended several gut health supplements: a strong probiotic, a digestive enzyme blend, and fish oil. I’m also taking vitamin D for overall energy and DHEA because my last labs showed my hormones were a little low. I’ve been taking turmeric, glucosamine, and biotin for a long time to address my joint pain and former hair loss (associated with extremely low B12 levels).
It’s boring, it’s a lot of work, and it’s frustrating. I won’t go into how difficult it is to walk by the samples in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or to watch people at work indulging in Reese’s Eggs, homemade brownies, or pizza. Even my husband can’t escape a wrathful look from me on occasion when he makes his eggs in the morning. (Though, to be fair, he’s been extremely supportive and eats what I do in the evenings and for snacks.)
If you have been experiencing fatigue, tiredness, and chronic illness it might be beneficial for you to speak to a doctor about going on this or another elimination diet. I’m only a week an a bit down, but I know it’s already doing me some good. On day three, I discovered that my belly had gone down seemingly overnight. I know that this will help my sugar cravings in the future. I won’t lie: there are some side effects, especially early on. I had intense day-long headaches the first three days, I was more sleepy and fatigued in my body during that time. I do think that my new afternoon headaches are related to the diet, and my stamina on my walks or in my Pilates sessions is definitely lower than it’s ever been.
I’m going to keep going, and I hope that all this work will eventually lead to a decrease in pain and an easier life going forward.