Elimination Diets can be hell – or they can be an amazing opportunity. Not just for identifying which types of foods affect your body (and mind!) but also, if you prepare, for trying out a ton of new recipes you may not have imagined you’d ever try!
Having done three different elimination diets in the past, these past few months where my body is going through so much really made (I’m deep in the throes of perimenopause, inflammation from an old herniated disc injury back in ’16 after my miscarriage, and something hurting in the ball of my foot that could either be diagnosed as metatarsalgia or capsulitis), it’s really all come to a head and so, after discussing it with my trusted providers (acupuncturist and naturopath…I’ve found MDs just throw drugs at the problem which have always masked rather than focus on root cause), I’m off and running!
Never tried one or not familiar with one? Healthline summarizes it perfectly: “Elimination diets are the gold standard for identifying food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies through diet. They remove certain foods known to cause uncomfortable symptoms and reintroduce them at a later time while testing for symptoms.”
My experiences with elimination diets go as follows:
- A little over 7 years ago, I went to my very first naturopath to see if there were ways we could reduce my hypothyroidism without levothyroxine (aka Synthroid) that I’d been on since my late 20’s when it was first diagnosed (note: hypothyroidism isn’t always obvious, I only got tested because it runs in our family and my mother had suggested I check it out). My ND ‘prescribed’ a 12 week regimen of living gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free, and all I can say is – thank goodness I was living in my hometown of Portland at the time, where they literally have bakeries like Back to Eden near where I lived that are 100% G/D/E-free (and always vegan, with soy- and sugar- free options to boot), so it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Most of it was mental. Anyhow, when I started to reintroduce, I found that gluten made me tired, oh so tired, and dairy made my belly go insane. I got SO sick after 3 months without dairy! Eggs didn’t have any huge effects, although I clearly remember that the skin surrounding my cuticles, which have peeled since I was a young girl (I remember my mother accusing me of peeling them myself, wtf…), cleared right up. Ultimately, I ended up going Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free for almost 3 years, and while it never lowered my TSH for my thyroid, it definitely helped my gut. In 2015, however, we were planning a trip to France and this body knew that it was not going to be able to survive 2 weeks in Europe without eating croissants and cheese…so I slowly trained my body to accept cheese again. Takeaways: I still don’t drink cow’s milk (I converted to almond milk when I went DF as I hate the taste of soy milk, and now it’s primarily homemade oat milk as it’s more environmentally-friendly than the almond industry, which it turns out is decimating bee populations) except in the occasional ice cream, and this recipe is the only GF pancake one should ever use.
- Five years ago, I was put on standard antibiotics in preparation for our first (fresh) failed round of DE-IVF, and it DESTROYED my gut. Literally had my first yeast infection, and one that none of the prescribed meds the doc gave me could get rid of. He was utterly useless in helping me, and ironically so was my ND (a different one than I’d had in the past, unfortunately) who just wanted to give me OTC probiotics (which did not help…and were very, very expensive!). So I went online, and found an extremely rigorous 30 day elimination diet (similar to the Candida Diet) that had me go back to DF/GF but more importantly, removed ALL sugars – not just white sugar but things like fructose. So apples and oranges and even beautiful tomatoes were out for me. It was by far the hardest one I’d gone on…but it worked. Takeaways: It cleared the infection up like a charm, and I’ve been super cognizant of sugar in the things you never thought were full of it and adapted accordingly (i.e., no longer buying store-bought yogurt except for the Bulgarian stuff that comes in glass jars).
- Two years ago, my therapist of all people suggested a detoxification cleanse to give my body a kick start after three solid years of hell in the form of 6 failed rounds of DE-IVF, a devastating miscarriage at 9 weeks from our only pregnancy, our first of what would be 3 failed adoptions, a herniated disc in my lower back, a skin cancer removal, and an emergency vitrectomy when my retina spontaneously detached. After trying the detox tea she recommended and my body completely rebelling in discomfort, I remembered reading about Dr Oz’s 2 week diet, which was actually intended for ‘rapid weight loss’ (something I don’t believe in) BUT also acts as a great elimination diet, increasing the focus on veggies, eliminating all sweeteners (including honey and maple syrup), processed foods and high-fructose produce, and cleansing the body in a non (emotionally) painful way. It was a tremendous thing to do and really made me quickly notice how much sweetness we get used to in our diets. For weeks after, just a tiny bit of honey in my chai made it seem like I’d poured a half-cup of sugar in it. Takeaways: I still frequently enjoy the recommended cup of hot water with lemon and ginger each morning to start my day, no longer buy white sugar, and halved the amount of sugar any recipe asks for.
So here I am, at the end of the first week of my fourth elimination diet, following the list I put at the top of this blog post that is on our refrigerator. My current ND, who I’ve not decided on if is a fit for me or not yet (not a lot of choices here on the North Coast), suggested I try Whole30, but when I looked at it? It’s horrible! Y’all, it’s not an elimination diet if you are encouraged to eat red meat and animal fat, while told you can’t eat any type of bean or legume! I can see taking out peanuts, but most legumes and beans are not known for inflammation (and only make you gassy if you don’t rinse them well enough before preparing, haha…) This is the first one where I’ve removed ALL grains, minus rice and buckwheat. I’ve been gluten-free before but adding the other grains like quinoa and corn and oats? Dang! Eggs, however, were optional to remove and considering our chickens aren’t going to take a vacation, I left them on the list.
Ironically, this cookbook showed up a couple of weeks ago at my husband’s work (he’s a butcher at the local co-op and they have a free library in their store of cookbooks!) so I had a good headstart in coming up with some ideas. Ironically though, I have enough vegetarian and GF/DF recipes from my past stored up in my homemade recipe binder, that it ended up being MORE helpful than this one, considering this cookbook had a whole beautiful section on bread and cheese (making me salivate here just talking about it as we approach week two…). While red meat, shellfish and chicken are banned, wild game, turkey and fish are not, and so I pulled out all the recipes from my binder that worked, or could be modified, such as:
- White Chili: it’s a vegetarian recipe for the most part but recommends a dollop of yogurt (note: the ‘white’ is from the beans, not from the recommended dairy that some recipes have). Sub: avocado…heavenly. Optional: ground bison (my husband’s store bought too much so it was heavily discounted). I also added black beans to make it more interesting. Bonus? Super easy – threw it all in the slow cooker for a couple hours, ran some errands and it was done when I got home.
- Fried Cauliflower Rice: y’all, I’ve had this recipe for eons and it’s believe it or not from the woman who played Valerie on 90210, Tiffani Thiessen. Sub: Tamari instead of soy sauce, as it’s naturally gluten free. Optional: add even more veggies – I literally found this totally filling with zero cravings for meat. Bonus? Insanely fast to make if you have a food processor to ‘rice’ the cauliflower and shred the carrots, etc. I think it took 15 minutes total.
- Baked Salmon with Roasted Grapes & Arugula: One of my favorite recipes that I rarely made because we are such suckers for Asian-influenced recipes (like teriyaki which asks for honey or brown sugar, which are banned). This uses lots of herbs, olive oil, the sweetness of red/purple grapes, crunchy pine nuts, and of course the beautiful Alaskan wild salmon we have from our shares of Iliamna. Sub: Nothing in my recipe to sub, but I recommend sunflower seeds if you can’t get good pine nuts, and blueberries if you don’t have organic grapes (we freeze our blueberries in jars each summer). Bonus? One nice fillet feeds a family of four or a couple with leftovers for the next day!
- Breakfast is still possible – Buckwheat is great for hot cereal, and very similar in taste to steel cut oats, so with lots of fruit mixed in, you’re good to go. Smoothies with non-dairy milk and without yogurt. And my favorite? Eggs with turkey sausage and lots of veg. Oh happy day.
- Keep those snacks around for the initial irrational times where you feel like you’re going to eat the table. The detox is no joke and you’ll be daydreaming about pizza, I swear. You’ll have to be mindful of those little things (husband reminding himself that popcorn is still corn, and my almost popping Smarties from an office downtown’s front desk bowl and having to toss them straight into the garbage), so we’ve got mason jars full of nuts from the bulk aisle and these killer ranch-seasoned dried carrots I’d made this summer that have literally saved me this past week!
My biggest recommendations for doing an elimination diet is to prepare in advance. Prep your fruits and veggies when you buy them, have those all on hand before you start along with multiple recipe ideas, and HIDE THE BOOTY! Seriously, we put the jam in the back of the fridge, hid the coffee and black tea so it wasn’t visible and therefore teasing us to cheat, and made sure we’d used up things like butter, syrup, honey, alcohol, etc. so that you won’t accidentally trip and fall into a vat of any of it. Along with that, Asian foods are your best friend – we just bought this one focusing on Southeast Asian recipes and are going to try our hands at salad rolls this weekend. Yummers.
Oh yeah – and go to bed at a reasonable time – keeps those late night ‘bad decisions’ from occurring…and that whole thing about being good for you as well 🙂
I’m noticing some small changes already. I’ll put it out there, y’all, I am NOT gassy one bit and my overall digestion rocks. Having a tender tummy, this cleanse has made me feel hella better. I’m cooking up a storm and trying out so many new recipes I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to before. And mindfulness has gone sky high. That’s a good thing. When I went to my acupuncturist, I fell asleep on the table I was so relaxed – my mind literally shut off instead of racing to complete lists while there. It’s pretty cool.
So now we’re hoping to see if the inflammation decreases…
Dr Axe notes, “When you struggle with an ongoing, unidentified sensitivity, your body constantly sends out inflammatory responses that can cause harm in multiple ways.” From autoimmune issues to skin conditions to hormonal challenges and much more, we’re not always thinking about how what we put in our body – even when we consider ourselves ‘good’ (yep, even the vegans…as they said about my hometown, Portland is the only town with fat vegans), it seems there’s always some additional mindfulness that can happen when it comes to our health.
So that made me think of the fact that my husband’s been battling eczema his whole life, and so he’s joined me for this 24 day elimination diet (why 24 days, you ask? They recommend 3-4 weeks, and I wanted it to end at the end of February, but AFTER we got back from our weekend in Portland as we wanted to have cocktails while we were there, haha…) and is going to watch his symptoms as well. Everyday Health reports, “According to The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice study, the most common triggers for 183 study participants were milk (57.5 percent), eggs (30.6 percent), and soy (21 percent).”
Any misses or updates at the end of the first week? Of course.
- I put a half-pint of homemade salsa into the vat of chili, forgetting it had tomatoes in it (durrrr).
- I made risotto with chicken stock instead of veggie stock by accident (oy vey!).
Modifications? Just one. My husband and I have like 30 chickens still in our freezer from the fall butchering, and so we decided that we’re going to take chicken off the list. Considering we raised them on pasture, with organic feed, and the cost of an organic turkey at this time of year is around $70+? It just didn’t make as much sense, especially as we could not find any reasoning on why it was on the list compared to everything else.
So with that? Week Two – bring it on !
Have you done an elimination diet? How did it make you feel?