Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why I'm Doing an Elimination Diet During the Holidays

If I hadn't typed up the words of that post title myself, I might have had a hard time believing that it was me putting the words "diet" and "holidays" together in the same sentence (unless, of course, we were talking about the usual plans to go on a diet AFTER the holidays).

This year has been so strange for me--as if pregnancy and new motherhood weren't enough of a new thing to get used to, I've also been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which I've become much more familiar with than I'd like. While I've been determined ever since the diagnosis not to let the disease define who I am or limit my dreams, the fact has been that it impacts my daily life, whether I like it or not.

At first, the diagnosis came as a bit of a relief--I had been experiencing so much pain and soreness from my muscles and so much rashiness and itching from my skin that I was relieved to know that there were medications I could take that would immediately ease my symptoms and help me to return to my normal activities.

And while I have very mixed feelings about the medications I've been prescribed, I am indeed grateful that they at least allowed me to return as much to "normal activity" as is possible while I'm still recovering from the initial flare-up of the disease.

BUT, although I have now been lucky enough to be beyond the worst of the symptoms of the disease itself, I am now in the lovely stage where my treatments and their side effects have become worse than the dermatomyositis. I am also at the stage where I can't go off the medications quite yet because all of my symptoms are not fully in remission. Therefore, I appear to be in the middle of some sort of waiting game that is probably meant to teach me patience but which is instead just making me feel a bit desperate.

So I've started doing research.

Turns out, although there are myriad autoimmune diseases which manifest themselves with hundreds of different symptoms, many of those symptoms--regardless of the specific AI disease--seem to be eliminated or greatly reduced when the person's diet is changed. And although my doctor has assured me multiple times that there is nothing I personally can do to speed my recovery up, I have been inspired by the number of people I know personally with various AI diseases who said that their symptoms improved drastically upon fixing their diet (often through the elimination of gluten and processed carbs). Additionally, I've also been reading a book (The Immune System Recovery Plan) that has presented an impressive amount of research backing the idea that diet might be key to helping the millions of people who suffer from AI diseases, and one glance checking out the reviews of it on Amazon is enough to make almost anyone game to try the plan.

The problem is, the first several weeks of the plan are HARD---the book recommends eliminating gluten, corn, soy, and dairy completely from your diet for 21 days and then gradually adding them back in one by one to see if you have a sensitivity to any of them (which most people with AI diseases do). Since most foods make me sick anyway (because of the medication I'm on and, probably, because of my disease), and since I've been trying to diligently watch what I eat so I don't gain weight while on steroids, I figured that now is as good of a time as any to start the diet.

In fact, now might be the best time I could start the diet, seeing as I have 2 weeks before my next doctor's appointment (where he'll determine if I need to start giving myself injections instead of taking the methotrexate in pill form), and I'll have quite a bit more time than normal to cook and plan out meals in about a week when I go on Christmas break.

It's now or never, I guess. (Besides, I found that I couldn't continue to read the book without feeling massive amounts of guilt that I might be steadily worsening my condition and causing more inflammation without even knowing it.)

And so, here I am, on day two of my elimination diet.

First of all, can I say how ridiculously hard it is to even determine what I can eat? Basically, there's either gluten, corn, soy, or dairy in almost every single food product you find at a store, with the exception of fruits and vegetables and certain kinds of meat. Even something as innocent as oats proved to be impossible to find at my local grocer---sure, I found some that were marked gluten-free, but I couldn't find any that were totally free of gluten, soy, AND corn (because they were often processed in the same plant that processes those other products).

This was my diet the first day:

Breakfast: hard boiled egg, banana
Lunch: pre-cooked pork chop, grapes, carrots, mini sweet peppers
Snack: orange juice, hard boiled egg
Dinner: sweet potato w/ avocado, salsa, black beans, and cilantro

And then for today, the same breakfast with a salad of spinach, arugula, mini sweet peppers, hard boiled egg, and walnuts for lunch (w/ a vinaigrette I happened to have on hand that miraculously didn't break any of the rules) and another pork chop, with an almond milk/mango/banana/raspberry smoothie for a snack.

You guys, I'm SO HUNGRY!!

I know this is partly my own fault, as I haven't taken the time to cook any real meals for the past couple of nights, but it seems like none of my usual recipes will work, and many of the recipes that are recommended require ingredients that I couldn't find or that are so expensive that I can't bring myself to spend the money. It will be a miracle if I don't lose ten pounds in the next 3 weeks (not that I would mind, of course).

I wish I could report some grand success in these first 48 hours--some obvious sign that I was doing the smart thing, like a renewed sense of energy or a lack of brain fog or a happier gut. But the truth is, I feel pretty terrible---my energy levels are worse than ever (I need to find more filling fare, and stat!), and I've been experiencing other symptoms that have only rarely come up in my autoimmune journey so far, like hot flashes, dizziness, and a severe inability to focus. I'm hoping that the problem will go away once I find more things I can eat, but I was about ready to throw in the towel today at about 10 A.M, when I was sure I was going to throw up all over my second hour class and then pass out from the effort.

The book says that the first 4-5 days will be the hardest.

We'll just have to see.

Anyone else tried an elimination diet? WHAT CAN I EAT?!


  1. Oh man! I know the "joys" of elimination dieting! It's super frustrating! But stick with it and you eventually will see results! Eating much differently is actually what kept my lupus dormant for a lot of years after I was diagnosed. I wasn't on medication and had minimal symptoms. I have my reasons for why I had a relapse (more stress-induced than anything) but going back to the basics and changing my diet really has helped with symptom management again. So it sucks but it doesn't. And when you start to figure out which foods affect you, it's awesome -- you can begin to see a real change in your life!

    Also: I don't get why doctors always say that diet doesn't matter. Why wouldn't what we put into our bodies matter? And I can't speak for anyone else, but I saw and continue to see differences depending on what I consume!

  2. I totally understand but I changed my diet my symptoms went away. Please don't go hungry, your body needs food more than ever There is a plan called Whole 30 (paleo) http://whole30.com/ or http://whole30.com/category/recipes/that is really close to what you need and there is also an Autoinmmune Paleo. With a crockpot that you leave your food overnight or a pressure cooker (InstantPot) that you will have meals in a flash. Get a good butcher and have fun. Here are some links for recipes for whole 30 that may adapt to your needs if needed

    1. Thanks for the resources! You're not the first to recommend Whole 30, so I'm definitely going to have to check it out since this hunger thing is definitely not working for me :)

  3. My dad has RA and he's been off of wheat for about 2 months and has seen GREAT results!

  4. Hey Torrie, so this is actually very akin to my life for the last ten years. Remember the weird diets I'm always on? For reasons like these.

    First off, substitutes are your absolute best friend. My favorites are vanilla unsweetened almond milk, it works in place of milk in anything. I just have it with plain rice cereal (takes some getting used to the lack of sweet, but you'll find you'll enjoy things like 'crunch' when you're not so focused on it) or with flax seed oatmeal, you can get the pouch kinds at most stores, I eat it with chopped fruit for alertness and it will keep you full and satisfied for a looong time.
    Apples and pears with almond butter is a great filling snack. Veggies and hummus, also amazing. Try out different kinds of hummus. They have different flavors and you'll probably find a fav that you'll stick to.
    I like to use lettuce wraps for sandwiches, tacos, tortillas things like that. Ringtone for taco, butter for sandwiches or wraps I think.
    You'll find spices make everything better.
    I substitute spaghetti squash and julienned zucchini for pasta (you can get a spiralizer on Amazon that makes it so easy).
    I substitute ground turkey for most ground beef.

    To feel full, add benefiber to your water when you're dying, it really works in a punch and always. Speaking of, drink TONS! It flushes out toxins from die off since you're not adding to it anymore.

    And as far as inflammation, try going with alkaline foods. It's tricky, and the food industry likes to sneak things in all the time, but the good news is that unless you have a huge sensitivity to it, it's okay if it has small amounts, just look where its placed on the ingredients list (should be near the bottom under the 3% or less section ideally), and trace is not a problem unless it's allergy for me.

    Also, you said brain fog which makes me think you may have issues with Candida (the bane of my existence) if that is possible, I can give you so many more tips.

    I know how hard this is at first, I fall off the wagon constantly and regret it, but your doctor is right, it gets easier and you may feel worse before you feel better, especially in regards to sugar.

    Good luck! And seriously, if you need any other tips or help, don't be afraid to text or call me. You have my number, I think. ;)

    1. Lots of great ideas! I hadn't even heard of some of those other things (like alkaline and Candida), so now I've got a bit more research to do...thanks, friend!

  5. If you are trying to eliminate gluten, then rice and couscous and all those other grainy sides are a good way to cover that portion of a meal. Veggie stir fry with rice, I love grilling vegetables and chicken marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and putting it on couscous. I bet you could find a gluten and dairy free way to do Hawaiian haystacks, too. I hope your elimination approach helps with your symptoms and you find some recipes that let you eat happy!

    1. A stir fry is a good idea...I'll probably do that tonight :) Thanks for the suggestions!


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