Learnings & Recommendations from a First Time Elimination Dieter.
I highly recommend an elimination diet for anyone who is interested in learning more about food and their body!
My boyfriend and I wanted to take our health and nutrition seriously and decided to invest in 100 days of cleansing and knowing our bodies. Why? Well, my stomach has been bothering me for about 60 days or so, and I realized it must be something I was eating or digesting. I couldn’t figure out what. In his case, he likes to go along with my crazy antics and be supportive (best partner ever), but also his energy levels were pretty whack. We both realized we had never really really thought about what we were putting in our bodies — in a big way.
Plus, let’s think about it. When do we actually know how our body is doing before we get sick? We go to doctors only after there are symptoms to discuss, but what if we actually went before just to just check out how these bodies were running before the symptoms show up? That was our hope, anyway. We wanted to “explore our relationship with food and what it was doing to our bodies on a deeper level.”
What did this mean?
- What foods did our bodies react poorly to?
- What does a body running at 100% feel like?
- What’s our blood and gut telling us? Do we have vitamin deficiencies? Allergies to foods?
- What’s our relationship to food in general?
This led us to Dr. Auer, a nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to wellness that includes both conventional and alternative approaches to health. What’s that mean? Well, it’s a combination of strategies to determine what is at the “root” of any problems you may have so you can get your body back to 100%. In our case, it was urine and blood samples and an elimination diet.
What’s an Elimination Diet anyway?!
Well, basically you eliminate all the foods that could be causing inflammation or symptoms to your body but that you had no idea might be doing so. Over thirty days you eat super clean foods to set your gut back to normal, and you keep track every day of what you eat and how you felt! Then after 30 days, you add back in new foods every few days and pay attention to how your body reacts. You observe energy level, skin conditions/pimples, bloating/gas, basically anything that feels “different” than it did when you were feeling 100%. Item by item, you start realizing your body is telling you when it doesn’t like something. THEN! You stop eating/drinking the thing. Yeah, sure, this takes, like, three months to figure out but I mean three months out of a lifetime of eating, kind of sounds worth it, no?
What can you eat? Since we couldn’t eat most things, I’m just writing what we could eat…which was basically veggies (except for nightshades, i.e. eggplant), nitrate free/ clean meats and fish. We could do sweet potatoes but not regular potatoes. And we could do coconut (like oil, flakes), honey, fish, fruits and green tea. No coffee (eep!), no sugar, seeds, breads, pasta, gluten, dairy, yogurts, spices. We couldn’t do vinegar but could do olive oil and most natural spices (i.e.: mint, parsley). Soups, salads, smoothies and sautés became our best friends. Whoa. I’ll just call them the 4 S’s! This would be what a traditional menu might look like.
Week 1: First things first. It was HARD as F&*^ for us.
The first few days were so hard. Just imagine, every single day you do the same things over and over until they are habitually engrained in you, and then WHAM! Everything is different. No oatmeal today miss! Your first thought when starting the damn thing is, “What is there to eat? I felt an actual brain fog from no coffee, and I was irritable. Then, I couldn’t pull words out quickly. I also got angry at myself for signing up for such an intense thing. I should say for all who know me that I can be — how can I say? — “dramatic.” So yes, I really played into that for a couple of days.
My partner got super cranky pants. Morose even. We had to hold space for each other’s mood swings and why we were questioning the meaning of life. Luckily, we could encourage one another daily on why we were doing it and realign relatively quickly.
We were also so hungry the first few days. All we could think about was food. It really was the strangest thing.
Week 2: Why isn’t this working yet?
I was angry when it had been 10 days and my gut hadn’t completely recovered or cured itself. Things were going crazy in my belly. I had never ever eaten so much cabbage, or beets, or so many soups. My gut was a little surprised. I have to say nothing really changed for me until about 18 days in, and it only got easy at about 26 days. I suppose I understand why they say it’s important to do the full 30 days.
So, here’s what I learned!
I don’t need to be drinking alcohol. Sparkling water with lime is tasty. I realized I was just reaching for booze as a habit, and it makes my body feel crappy. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good mimosa, but I’ll be making it just a treat and not a reoccurring event.
I don’t need to be yawning every afternoon. I had gotten to a place where my energy was going up and down all day. I have to say this was my biggest takeaway. I would wake up rested, then go and feel energized all day, and then at 11:30pm get tired and fall asleep in two minutes. No yawns in the day, no dips. Just energy. I felt like a well oiled machine. Little did I know I had become used to feeling sleepy in the afternoons.
Most foods have way more ingredients in them than we realize. Even those “prepared foods” at grocery stores. WTF. They just keep throwing stuff in there on top of the yams so they are barely yams anymore. I started appreciating simple combinations of food, and ingredient checking.
You get to know your body on a whole new level. Since you are paying attention to how you feel throughout the day (bloated, tired, etc.), it’s like having a friend whisper to you. It’s kinda cool to know your body in that way — checking in with her every few hours. A whole new relationship forms.
You save money. Since you’re not eating out as much and you’re not boozing those $$ add up. Heck, maybe you can check your bank account after the 30 days and spend that extra money on something nice for YOU for completing the diet. A massage maybe? YUM!
You save the earth. Holy crap, when you eat from the earth you throw away “back” to the earth. Now, this may sound obvious but when you’re mostly eating clean veggies all you’re doing is throwing the scraps into the compost, back into the earth. Instead of throwing heaps of plastic you can throw heaps of carrot ends. Kinda feels “normal, or right,” doesn’t it?
Vegetables are beautiful. Fruit is basically candy. Grapes in the freezer? Yes, please. It’s delicious dessert. Once you stop eating all that other crap sugar, your taste buds assimilate to a new kind of sweet that can be satisfied by a pear or apple. How can sautéed pears taste so good?!
We were better cooks than we knew! My boyfriend and I found out we are actually pretty good cooks, and you sort of feel like an inventor when you come up with your own recipes! I was making up new dessert recipes like nobody’s business.
A different kind of hungry. SO, somehow I was hungry every two to three hours. It was a different kind of hunger, too. Like, normally I think my appetite is suppressed by coffee or something, but this hunger was demanding. Turns out when you’re eating so clean, the food just flows through and doesn’t just “sit there.” I wasn’t used to the feeling but then I started liking how often me and my gut and I were chatting.
Coffee has a huge impact on me. (This is the hardest for me to admit.) I started drinking again, and so far I’ve felt pain in my gut, nauseous and hazy. Also my rosacea started acting up. GAH. I may have to limit coffee consumption to one half cup a day. Or never drink it. That is still pending. Tea is a delicious substitute for coffee once you get used to it. UGH. I never thought I would say that. My tea-drinking friends used to tell me this and I sort of scoffed at it…but it’s kind of true.
You can lose weight! We both lost between 5–8 pounds. I would imagine this is a healthy and non extreme way to lose those extra pounds if you are trying to shed that extra little bit.
The cleanse may reach outside of your body. Around day 20, the cleanse started reaching into me cleansing everything. One day I rid my apartment of ten bags of stuff. Then I also went through notebooks from my past and started organizing thoughts I couldn’t organize for, like, five years. My brain actually got cleansed. I’m proud to say my apartment has been spotless for two weeks.
CONFESSION: I cheated once.
Once I cheated. Okay, twice. Okay, okay. If a bite is a cheat then maybe it was three times. Whatever. Don’t beat yourself up about it. And my boyfriend didn’t cheat ’cause he’s more disciplined. When I cheated, I basically just had a “sip” or “bite” of a friend’s food, and ya know, I wouldn’t take it back. It was good. I think it was connected to my emotions when I did it. I digress.
On one day in particular (It was raining, and I was feeling blue) I sneakily went to my fave cafe, ordered a decaf coffee, asked the barista to make me feel better for cheating (he did), and then sat to drink it alone. I took one sip and hated it. I couldn’t tell if it was my guilt or the taste. I tried again. NOTHING. I just threw the cup out and vowed that I wouldn’t tell anyone. That is, until I saw my boyfriend a few hours later and blurted, “I COULDN’T HELP IT. I GOT A DECAF AND HATED IT”. He, of course thought it was hilarious, and let’s be honest I cannot hide anything.
About to do an elimination diet? Here are some tips!
Be prepared for food to become your life for 30 days. You will probably tell your friends things like, “I discovered coconut milk is just as tasty as cow milk!” They might care less. You will talk about food a lot, and that’s okay. Your social life may change for the month unless your friends are willing to accommodate your dietary needs. You can just let them know what’s going on.
Menu plan and cook in bulk. We had never done this before, but talk about efficient. We ordered a ton of Tupperware, made a couple big meals, and then froze them or put them in the fridge. Do your cooking on Sunday and Wednesday or something, and then you always have grab-and-go meals. I’d say this is pretty essential.
Clean out your kitchen. Rid yourself and your cabinets of all things not in the food plan. I mean it. You will cheat when you’re hungry.
Get a crockpot and then call it your BESTIE. You can make beef stew, soups, and more. So easy and supplies you for days. Amazing recipes on the ol’ internet, too.
Get a really good cutting knife. Lord knows you’ll be dicin’ a whole lotta veggies.
Pack and prep for parties! It takes more self-control at parties with platters of food if you are starving. Go stuffed with food and even bring your own snacks.
Team Up! Do it with a partner or friend if you can. Especially if this all sounds overwhelming to you, and you have a teensy bit of trouble with discipline (like me).
Plan eating out accordingly or just plan on eating out less. Check the menu before you go. Some restaurant people will be angry at you for all your food substitutes. Be ready to smile at them.
My main takeaway is I don’t want food to continue to rule my life, but the the whole experience was transformational for me. I should say that my partner had completely different experiences to mine, and therefore you may not feel any of the things I did. Part of this is just doing it to see what you learn and feel, and trying not to have any expectations. I, in general, learned that I was running at 70% in my life and now know what 100% feels like. And that feels great. As for what happens over the next few months? We will continue to see!
I am excited I can now make healthy substitutes and not have to actually eliminate anything. For instance, instead of dairy cow milk, I can do coconut milk. Goat cheese is better than cow cheese. There are plenty of gluten-free options to make your favorite dishes. They are pretty much the same but may irritate the body less. Your taste buds can and do change. The possibilities are endless and to think I never even knew about them is kind of wild. My relationship to food and food choices, in general, has changed.
The blood tests:
We got our blood tests back. Turns out I’m hypoglycemic, and my partner has an autoimmune disease attacking his thyroid. That would explain his exhaustion, and thank goodness, we caught it. My energy dips were also explained. The reason I was at a constant energy was because I had to eat every three hours. Before the cleanse, I was eating maybe every six hours. Now it looks like it’s critical to maintain my blood sugar levels by eating every three. Seems like we will be living mostly gluten- and dairy- free, but now at least, we have had these thirty days to understand it is possible.
I think many people think that this is all seems overwhelming to think about, and it takes too much time. That’s what I thought, too. But, if we take 30 days out of our whole life to transform a thing we do every day, I just have to believe it could be worth it?! Really I just felt a huge impact and wanted to throw it out there should you want to try it, too.
Let me know if you have any questions etc. How to get started or even if you need some encouragement.
Here are some recommended links to get started: http://whole30.com/new/, http://www.precisionnutrition.com/elimination-diet, http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12540/the-simple-elimination-diet-that-could-change-your-life-forever.html)