I have a love / hate relationship with diets. On the one hand, I really enjoy manipulating my meal plans to achieve better bodily efficiency and overall improved health. On the other hand, even the word diet brings up terrible memories from high school when I, like many young women, start equating diet with starvation.
Over the years, I’ve tried lots of tweaks to by my nutritional plans. I’ve gone paleo, I’ve been gluten-free, I’ve been a raw food vegan (which, I’m sorry, is a starvation diet and you can’t tell me otherwise). I’ve done these diets for a variety of reasons but to be completely honest, I was always aiming to lose weight and look capital H “hawt.” But something occurred over the last few weeks that’s put a popular diet on my radar.
So what had happened was….
A few weeks ago, I sat down to order my groceries from Whole Foods via Instacart because it’s the winter in NYC and I don’t believe in carrying shopping bags across town. Whole Foods was out of Ripple Milk, which has been my go-to milk for a few months. It’s made with pea protein and it’s pretty decent for a dairy free milk. I told my shopper to get some Almond / Cashew Milk combo (with extra Protein) and Whole Foods was out of that too. So I requested just some straight up Almond Milk, which I almost never drink but I figured was a good dairy alternative (and only cost $2.99 for a half gallon #winning).
All seemed good. My groceries came. I made a smoothie. Had some cereal. Woke up the next day, had some granola with Almond Milk. Put it in my tea. Pretty much replaced it every where I had used the Ripple.
And then came the tummy problems. Then came the sneezing. Then came the itchy feelings, the sore throat, the runny nose, and a whole bunch of IBS like symptoms I don’t want to go into.
My inclination was to blame the almond milk which makes sense. But as I started reviewing what I had eaten over the last few weeks, I realized that I had consumed so many potential irritants, their could be dozens of culprits. I thought a little deeper and realized, I’ve been kind of under the weather since well before the Holidays. I’ve been battling a cold every 2 weeks since October. I’ve been frequently grumpy. I’ve been getting headaches. I’d gone to the doctor and she said, “honestly, you seem fine, but you definitely need to take better care of yourself. I think you’re running yourself into the ground.”
That was odd to hear. I’d been working out pretty consistently for the last year. I had tried the whole “Vegan Before 6” thing recommended by Marc Bittman. I was meditating daily! What more could my body possibly want from me goddammit?
A thought crossed my mind – what if I have a host of food allergies (or intolerances) that I’m just not aware of? I had never really seriously explored my relationship with food. I did once test for a gluten intolerance (which I chose to ignore because, cupcakes) and dairy has never really sat well with me (which is hard because Milkshakes are my religion). But I do believe that a lot of healing can start when we reconsider what we put in our bodies, maybe it’s time I practice what I preach.
So last night, while I was curled into a ball trying to massage my tummy, I came across an article for The Elimination Diet and I hatched a plan to explore my relationship with food in a new way.
What is The Elimination Diet?
Elimination Diet’s are generally administered by a medical professional (I’m not gonna do that) and lasting two to eight weeks (I’m gonna do 23 days), and it entails removing any potential food triggers from your diet. That’s part 1. Then through a slow, careful, and reflective process, you reintroduce different foods and think deeply on how each new food being introduced makes you feel. Basically – you turn yourself into a guinea pig for a set period of time and treat your body like a science experiment, which I’m pretty game for.
Why 23 days? Well, according to most yogis (of which I am not, but certainly aspire), 23 days is about how long it takes to form a new habit. Also, it takes about 3 weeks for allergens and toxins to flush from your system. By getting to this 23 day marker, your essentially emptying your system and making it a clean slate again. This way, when the reintroduction period begins, you have a baseline to measure the newly introduced foods against.
Here are the commonly removed foods (adapted from the Official Whole 30 Program Rules).
- No Added Sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc.
- No Alcohol. Not in any form, even for cooking (this is gonna be the hardest for me)
- No Grains. Remove all wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. Read your labels because you may be surprised to learn what grains show up in your favorite foods in the forms of bran, germ, and starch.
- No legumes. Forget beans (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter. No soy, in any form, like soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and lecithin.
- No Nuts. None, nada, zip.
- No Dairy. That means no cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.
- Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites.
- Do not consume baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients.
Why Do The Elimination Diet?
According to Dr. Robin Berzin in article on MindBodyGreen, even routine allergy tests may leave out much to be desired for a comprehensive understanding of how potential allergens are affecting the body. “Testing can be illuminating, but the “gold standard,” meaning the last word, in figuring out if foods are causing inflammation (contributing to everything from autoimmune arthritis, to irritable bowel, to acne), is to cut out the culprit foods for about a month and see how you feel when you reintroduce them. I actually recommend that everyone—yes everyone—do an elimination diet at least once.”
The immune system is a weird thing. I once saw an acupuncturist who described the immune system as a cup of water. He said that there are tons of pollutants and irritants around us all the time, especially living fast paced, high stress, modern lives in NYC. When your body is full of irritants, the immune system’s cup of water reaches maximum capacity. All of a sudden, little things can start to become triggers and tip that cup of water over the edge till it spilleth over.
For some people, it might be gluten that sends their immune system out of wack. For others it might be dairy, or nuts, or eggs. For some, the bodily response might just be an acne breakout or some gas, but for others with more serious cases, it could be an anaphylactic reaction (and potentially life threatening).
Regardless of mild or severe reactions, keeping my immune system in check is a top priority. I want to makes sure that I lower that water level in my cup, so that my immune system can handle more serious things like colds, and flus, and whatever else I can catch while riding the subway on a Tuesday Morning.
Which Elimination Diet Is Right For Me?
So I’m clearly late to the party because everybody and their Momma has an elimination diet out there. Here are the top recommended ones (and the one I’ll be doing!).
Duration: 30 Days
Excluded Foods: gluten, dairy (except clarified butter or ghee), corn, soy, sugar (all natural, refined and artificial sweeteners), all grains, pulses/legumes (except those with edible pods like snap peas), peanuts and additives (MSG, nitrates, etc.)
Created by Melissa Hartwig, The Whole 30 program is the reason why your mom and aunt keep has tagging #Whole30 on their lunch salads. I like this one because it’s Paleo based and as long as meats on the table, I can probably make this type of diet work. It’s also only 30 days, which I think is a great length of time for such a restrictive diet. Here’s some answers to FAQ about the Whole 30 Program.
Duration: 60 Days, which includes a 3 week elimination plan and re-introduction phases
Excluded Foods: gluten, dairy (except clarified butter or ghee), corn, soy, sugar (refined and artificial sweeteners), all grains, eggs, nightshade vegetables, pulses/legumes, tree nuts, peanuts and seeds.`
This is very similar to the Whole 30 Program but runs twice as long because the reintroduction phase is quite the process. There’s a whole lot of eating and reflecting, which I really like (especially if the real purpose of this process is to tighten the relationship between food, mind, and body). I like that organic fish and meat is also included in this plan, as well as some grain-free flours. I don’t like that it costs $19.99 (which I do admit is reasonable, but I’m a student and so free is better for me).
Excluded Foods: gluten, dairy (some cheese are okay), high fructose sweeteners and fruits (honey, agave, corn syrup, apples), pulses/legumes (including pods like snap peas), members of the onion family (garlic, shallot, scallions) and other vegetables high in inulin.
This was once recommended to me by a doctor and I lasted all of 3 days. This is the hardest one on the list to me because it removes almost all of my favorite aromatics. I’m not even sure if you can out at restaurants with this type of diet. I can’t imagine telling a chef to leave out the garlic or onions in a dish. Or going to Chinese food restaurant and requesting my dumplings be made with out scallions. This one is meant to be great for those suffering from IBS like symptoms, but as far as elimination diets go, this one is a hard pass for me.
Which Elimination Diet Am I doing?
Well, I won’t be doing any of the ones listed above. I needed a more customized approach on a timeline that made sense for me. Instead, I’ll be following this guide from The Simple Elimination Diet That Could Change Your Life (the title clearly won me over) posted on Mind Body Green by that brilliant lady I quoted earlier, Dr. Robin Berzin. Her recommended diet is between Whole30, Functional Medicine Elimination, and a good old fashioned paleo diet. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few more restrictions that she recommends, for example, I’m cutting all nightshade veg and all grains.
Duration: 23 Day Elimination Phase, 14 Day Reintroduction Phase
Excluded Foods: Dairy, All Grains, Added Sugars (natural and artificial), Eggs, Soy, Nightshade Vegetables (white potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes), Fast Food, and Alcohol
What Can I Eat:
- DO eat fish. (But watch out for fish on the NRDC’s high mercury list like tuna and swordfish.)
- DO eat organic meat + poultry
- DO eat lots of healthy fats found in olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, walnut oil, and avocados.
- DO eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
- DO eat legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and black beans
My Elimination Diet Rules:
- I will not weigh myself. This diet has NOTHING to do with weight loss. Fuck a scale.
- I will not buy any new clothes. Diets and shopping are a bad mental combo for me. Even walking into a store while I’m restricting my diet will stir up really bad emotions and feels from high school. Fuck that noise. Unless it’s shoes or jewelry, it’s going to have to wait.
- I will not count calories. Again, this not about weight loss, or calorie tracking.
- I will keep a food journal. To you know, jot down how I feel about sweet potatoes.
- I will take the time to enjoy my meals. No more eating on the run. I will try my very best to sit and enjoy each of my meals.
To help make sure I don’t fall of this wagon, here are some of my favorite Paleo Recipe websites that should be helpful when hacking together meals on this restricted meal plan. Keep in mind, not all of these websites are geared towards an elimination diet or whole 30 eating. But they are recipes that have been developed with nutrition and taste in mind, and with a little creativity, the recipes can be altered to suit most dietary needs.
- Nom Nom Paleo
- Oh She Glows
- Love And Lemons
- My New Roots
- Deliciously Ella
- Sprouted Kitchen
- Olives For Dinner
- The Healthy Apple
- The Full Helping
- Everyday Have
Have you done an Elimination Diet? How did it go? Do you have any tips or favorite recipes? I want to know!