Over the past 5 months I've found myself extremely sick with lots of stomach issues. As a fairly healthy person who eats well and exercises regularly, this has come as a big shock to me and has put me in quite the rut. I've made countless trips to the doctor, missed out on events, and pushed back on some projects of mine because I didn't feel well. To top it off, the symptoms still remain a mystery! Was it something I picked up from Peru? Something that happened from all my running? Needless to say, life's been a little shitty (no pun intended).
Since my symptoms haven't slowed down , I decided a food allergy could be my problem and I should give the Elimination Diet a whirl. If you haven't heard of it, it's where you cut out almost everything from your diet except basic/bland foods for three weeks. You then slowly add items back in to see what may be causing any issues. I'm doing a vigorous version of the diet, so I am cutting out all starches (except rice), tomatoes, potatoes, legumes, nuts, all meat and eggs–except fish or organic chicken/turkey, dairy, fats–except for olive oil, alcohol, caffeine, condiments, and artificial sweeteners. Whew, that's a long list!
While I was initially really embarrassed about all that was going on, the more I told people about my diet plans, the more I realized a lot of people have done it! And despite starting to feel like this is a very common thing, aside from posts that outline what you cannot eat, there are not a lot of resources for recipes and things you CAN eat. So, I've decided to push all embarrassment aside and write out my experiences from this diet in the hopes that it will help someone else. Here's what I've learned in week 1:
Don't start cold turkey
I actually tried to start this diet a few weeks ago and give up everything cold turkey. As someone who frequently eats out and drinks 2-4 times a week, my body was in complete shock. I was hangry, and when I didn't see my symptoms immediately go away (it actually takes the full three weeks for your symptoms to clear up), I gave up on day 3.
When I tried it out for the second time, I eased into it. This made things a little better. I slowly gave up soy, gluten, and my all-time favorite: dairy (I die a little inside everytime I pass the milk/yogurt section of the grocery store now). If I had more time to plan this diet out, I would also say to stock up on lots and lots of snacks beforehand so you're not running to the grocery store everyday.
I sadly had to cut out soy, beans, and nuts with this diet. Since I'm trying to still be fairly active and workout a couple times a week, there was just no way for me to keep enough protein in my diet without adding in chicken. I will admit, eating GF chicken strips has been a big highlight of this diet. Will I continue to eat them after this diet? I'm not sure. I definitely would like to cut back on the amount of soy I am taking in even if I don't think I'm allergic to it. If anyone has some allergy-friendly vegan meal ideas I'd love to hear em'!
Sometimes you gotta cheat...
No alcohol has been one of my biggest hurdles in this diet. I frequent the bars downtown with my friends, love making mixed drinks, and one of Eric and I's favorite things to do is head to the bottle shop down the street and find a new hard cider to try. It's been difficult just from a social standpoint. Cheating is not allowed on this diet as it can completely mess up the process of healing. However, as long as I was feeling ok, I have given myself three cheat days for a little drinking for pre-planned events: 1. My roommate's engagement cocktail party (I was hosting it and had already bought all the alcohol prior to the event, plus it was only day 2 of my diet) 2. A wedding I'm attending this upcoming weekend (because it's walking distance from my apartment, how could I not), 3. My friend's bachelorette party in LA at the end of this month (this is actually at the end of my diet, but I'm counting as cheating as I'll probably be introducing multiple foods at this time rather than slowly adding things back in).
It's also come to my attention that if I don't have any sugar, I will kill someone. My body literally goes into meltdown mode. My boyfriend and close friends have all agreed that I should have cane sugar (hopefully not as bad as processed sugar) for my sanity and their safety.
Wholefoods, Earthfare, or your local markets are your new best friends
These places make the diet oh-so-much easier. I'm very thankful to live by a whole foods and work by a local market that almost always have roasted organic chicken and rice at the hot bar. These places also carry a wide variety of normal foods for special diet needs unlike your average grocery store. Some of my favorite finds have been Whole Food's 365 brand Veggie Puffs, Live for Life GF bread, and Liz Lovely ginger cookies.
Vegan Ice Cream is amazing
I've never had coconut milk ice cream before this diet and I may never go back. It's got a great texture and taste. Special bonus: most of these ice creams are sweetened naturally with things like agave so they are a cheat-free desert item!
Thank goodness for the raw trend
There is a new trend in dieting to go raw (no cooked food). The diet is not for me, but thankfully most of the food companies are making to cash in on the trend also adhere to my diet! Go Raw has a lot of great snack items available. I'm a big fan of their banana bread flax seed bars and sprouted seeds!
Chicken and rice can be found almost anywhere
Thankfully, you can get a grilled chicken salad or grilled chicken and rice just about anywhere, so you don't have to worry about cutting out restaurants from this diet if that's a habit of yours. Just make sure they don't cook it with a slab of butter!
I need to cut back on some things...
One thing I've definitely realized is that I'm not as healthy of an eater as I thought I was. Looking at ingredient labels this past week has made me realize just how much processed food I consume. Oh, and the soy! I had no idea how much food contained soy–everything from salad dressing to chocolate bars. I've always been weary of soy because of the rumored effects that it causes increased estrogen production. Post diet, I'm definitely going to try and decrease the number of processed foods I'm intaking, particularly those containing soy.
Week one of this diet has been tough, I've been HANGRY a majority of the week. I'm averaging a low blood sugar meltdown every other day (Eric is counting down the days until I'm done with this). That said, my symptoms have drastically reduced in the last seven days (even with a few food missteps), so I'm excited to see if they will completely disappear in the next week or so. This week I plan on trying a little more cooking than eating at restaurants, so stay tuned to see what I find out!