After years of unresolved stomach issues, I finally decided enough was enough. I was gaining weight, bloated, and had an intimate relationship with the bathroom even though I thought I had already eliminated the foods that bothered me and was doing all I could to feel better. Unfortunately, what I was doing wasn’t enough. Dr. Zeitlin and I decided that an elimination diet was necessary because I was tired of not feeling well every day and pretending that everything was ok. I decided I needed to give this elimination diet 100% because it was my last shot at feeling better. I knew going in it wouldn’t be easy. There were times I wanted to quit but I thought about the progress I was making and didn’t want all my hard work to be for nothing. If I didn’t give the elimination diet my all, it wouldn’t be worth trying. The only way I would know if the diet worked was to give it my all and to not cheat.
It was not easy. The first 2 weeks I was miserable, but as I slowly got the hang of cooking what I could eat and feeling better I had the drive to keep going. In the beginning, I was hungry and needed to figure out what I could make with the ingredients I was allowed. Pinterest was very helpful. I searched specific ingredients and modified recipes to only include what I could eat. Following a Paleo diet and looking for recipes classified as ‘Paleo’ helped me find new ideas so I wasn’t eating the same food in the same way all the time. I found that having the foods I could eat out in the open (on the kitchen table or on a separate shelf in the freezer) and the things I couldn’t eat away in the cabinet eliminated temptation. I wasn’t looking in the cabinet to find something to eat and get distracted by the “bad” foods. This made sticking to the elimination diet easier for me.
It was difficult for me to find snacks I would enjoy because I’m not a fruit & vegetable lover. My snacks were always carbohydrate based. I had no choice but to figure it out because meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables were the main foods I was allowed on the elimination diet. So, I made smoothies with frozen berries and coconut water, bought unsweetened applesauce and added some cinnamon, made “muffins” with bananas, cocoa powder, and eggs, and pancakes with bananas, coconut flour, eggs, and walnuts. I’m not a raw vegetable eater which also limited my snack options. I learned to add more vegetables to my main meals and eat slightly larger portions to help me feel fuller longer. I have figured out how to make eating fruits and vegetables work for me even though I’m still not a huge fan of either.
It was very difficult going to the grocery store in the beginning. Reading labels was a lot of work. I didn’t realize all the hidden ingredients that are in foods when you are looking to purchase the purest form of something. I wanted canned, crushed tomatoes to make sauce with and finding a brand without a lot of extra ingredients was time-consuming. I think I read the label of every brand before I found one that would work for me. It’s expensive to eat clean and you mainly shop the perimeter of the store. Buying plain, whole foods and cooking them from scratch can take time to get used to. I usually cook most of my food for the week on a Sunday so I don’t have to think about it during the week, but it takes a lot of time to plan meals, go shopping, and cook for the week.
Besides only eating what was on the list of foods I didn’t react to, I also had to eliminate alcohol and sugar. I made it about 3 weeks without any sugar and was ready to quit the diet because I desperately needed something sweet. I bought Stevia (I re-read the paperwork Dr. Zeitlin had given me and it was on the list of ok foods in moderation). I added it to my oatmeal in the morning and a few other things. It was just what I needed to get me over the hump.
Going out with friends was difficult in the beginning because my food options were very limited and I couldn’t drink alcohol. I explained to them why my eating and drinking habits changed and they understood. I have gotten used to ordering water (the bill is a lot cheaper) and I have managed to find something to order no matter where we go. It takes some planning on my part, looking at the menu prior to going out and asking for substitutions to make the dish fit into my elimination diet but it’s doable.
During the elimination diet process food is always on your mind. What can I eat? What can’t I eat? What can I eat if I go out to dinner? What am I going to cook this week? Do I have the ingredients I need in my house? Do I need to go to the grocery store? And it keeps going. After the initial phase of getting used to the elimination diet (once you are eating clean and finally get the hang of what you can eat) things become easier. Then you start adding foods back into your diet and food becomes a prominent thought once again. What should I try first? What do I need to buy at the grocery store? What if I react to the food and I’m not near a bathroom? I found that writing down my experiences during the elimination diet and while adding foods back into my diet helped me remember what happened when I ate specific foods and made things not feel as overwhelming. I could take it day-by-day instead of focusing on the big picture.
The elimination diet was not easy, but worth it. I’ve lost some weight, am not bloated anymore and don’t have to worry about where the nearest bathroom is wherever I go. I feel healthy and don’t have a desire to go back to the way I was eating and living before. I now have proven knowledge of what foods bother my system and what happens to me if I eat them. It is my choice to avoid these foods or not, but knowing what the consequences are makes the choice much easier. I am not tempted by sweets, bread, and other baked goods like I once was because not feeling well after eating them is not worth the miniscule satisfaction I may get from eating these foods. They never seem to taste as good as you want them too and the negative effects outweigh the positive for me.
My advice to anyone thinking about the elimination diet is to give it an honest try for a couple months and see what happens. I’m happy with the results so far even though some of the foods I reacted to I really loved and am disappointed I need to avoid them. But I’ve figured out how to substitute other foods for the foods I react to and that is what doing the elimination diet is for.