Can you believe that Marty and I have been on our new eating regime since November 4th? We’ve now achieved six weeks of cleanliness/godliness, at least when it comes to the food that we’re putting into our bodies. Six weeks already! Time sure flies when you’re eating salad. Heh.
Maybe I’m a bit of a masochist, or maybe I thrive on control over nitpicky details, but I’ve been loving this experience. Absolutely loving it. (It could also be that I’ve gone six weeks now without uncomfortable GI issues, whereas before I’d be lucky to go six hours. Amazing what a healthy gut can do for a girl’s spirit.)
Anyway. I’ve been getting secretive e-mails and furtive messages asking not only how things are going, but also why we started this newfangled way of eating in the first place and how we put the program into motion. I’m not sure why some people seem to be so hush-hush when it comes to talking about bodies and eating, but rest assured: I have no qualms dishing the dirt on my digestion. Be warned, colon– none of your secrets are safe with me anymore. (What did you expect, though? I used to get paid to talk about ovulation and menstruation all day long. (<–Best. Job. Ever, by the way.) Nothing is sacred!)
First up: What the eff is an elimination diet?
It sounds complicated, but really, it’s not so bad. Elimination diets involve taking known or suspected food allergens out of the diet for a period of 2 to 12 weeks. Once the initial ‘elimination’ phase is complete, the foods that were removed are re-introduced into the diet one at a time to see if they cause any adverse effects. If negative side effects are experienced after a particular food is re-introduced, odds are good that the offending food should not be a regular part of the diet. However, if no symptoms are experienced after re-introduction, that particular food can be incorporated into the diet more regularly as the program moves forward.
How was our elimination diet structured?
Neither Marty nor I have true food allergies (i.e. anaphylactic reactions), and most of our food sensitivities fall in the mild to moderate range. Hence, we were able to stick to a 2-week window for the elimination phase of the program. People whose sensitivities are more severe or widespread usually have to eliminate all suspected allergens for a longer period of time, especially because some of them (gluten, dairy) seem to linger inside the body for 8-12 weeks after they are last consumed.
Under the guidance of a naturopath, Marty and I resolved to eliminate the main culprits from our diet: alcohol, animal products (including all meats, dairy, eggs, and fish), gluten, corn, processed/refined sugar, peanuts, and soy. (Obviously, we already avoided some of those foods as a personal choice, but those are the Big Seven ingredients that get recommended for elimination.)
Because Marty and I are also experiencing the joy and ecstasy known as candida overgrowth, the list of eliminated foods in our program grew to encompass yeasts, vinegars, tropical and citrus fruits (except lemons), and fungi/mushrooms. (Medicinal and wild mushrooms such as shiitakes are fine to consume.) Finally, to add the figurative cherry on top, we decided to eliminate the foods that raised the biggest red flags during our food sensitivity tests. For Marty, this meant taking out onions, garlic, ginger, millet, chickpeas, celery, potatoes, and cayenne pepper. For me, it was oats, lemons, onions, garlic, artichoke, potato, and leeks. If it sounds like a lot of foods to eliminate all at once, it was.
So what the eff could we eat during the elimination phase?
We got that question a lot, whether it was from friends concerned that our bodies would suddenly shrivel up and float away like wisps of smoke, or from, say, Marty’s parents, who wondered what on earth kind of dry goods they could stockpile on our behalf for the impending End of the World. (<– Hypothetical example, obviously.) The truth is, there were still tons of foods to choose from. I never went hungry and actually rose up to the occasion and created some pretty decadent meals, if I do say so myself (recipes to follow in future posts). Some of our staple foods during the elimination phase included:
Marty: oats; small amounts of berries (1/2 cup-ish per day); gluten free grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth); avocado; basically every vegetable under the sun except onions, celery, potato, and corn; sprouts; nuts and seeds; nut butters; rice crackers; GF pastas (brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa); puffed rice or quinoa cereals; cacao powder; black beans; kidney beans; herbal tea; herbs & spices; manuka honey
Me: almost the same as Marty, plus millet and minus manuka honey, oats, and berries. Being the martyr that I am, I have been doing zero fruit and zero sweeteners for these six weeks, because I am crazy sensitive to them and seem to develop yeast infections simply by looking at pineapples or grapes. (Not that you needed to know that, but like I said– I know no shame.)
We’ve also been eating raw sauerkraut. Tons and tons of homemade, fermented kraut– every single day for lunch and usually for dinner, too. I can’t eat enough of it lately, so our pantries are fully stocked with jars of cabbage in various stages of fermentation. Pure class, I know.
How does the re-introduction part work?
After the first two weeks of elimination were complete, we started up a nifty schedule for bringing the Usual Suspect foods back into our diets. Basically, when we’re ‘challenging’ an ingredient, we eat as much of it as we can for a day, then we go back to the elimination foods for two days following that test. If we experience any ill effects on the day an ingredient comes back into rotation, or during the two days that follow that, that ingredient fails. If no adverse reactions are noted (bloating, indigestion, headaches, itchiness, etc.), that ingredient can come back in full swing starting on Day 4 (i.e. the day of the next challenging ingredient.)
In sum: ingredients are tested on Day 1, 4, 7, 10, etc. until all of your suspected allergens have taken a turn. On Days 2-3, 5-6, 8-9, 11-12, etc. the regular allergen-free (elimination) foods are eaten.
And? How did we do?
In short, I am a failure. I only ‘passed’ three out of nine ingredients, which is remarkably unfamiliar territory for this Honors Student. Marty didn’t fare much better, failing five of his nine total ingredients. We are going to be re-testing some of the failed ingredients starting in early 2013, under the auspices that we “didn’t test them right” the first time around. (In reality, though, we’re in denial that foods like garlic and potatoes will be Forbidden to us forever more. Seriously– potatoes??) I managed to pass with lemons, corn, and artichokes, and Marty passed gluten, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper.
Unfortunately, the holidays are smack dab in the middle of this process. Originally, we were going to finish up with the re-introduction phase and then launch right into a candida cleanse (with supplements), but traveling to Calgary via Greyhound bus for Christmas will put a hefty wrench into those plans. (As will the possible end of the world, mind you.) Instead, we’re just going to stick with the elimination diet phase for longer than is really necessary and start tweaking the ingredients/anti-fungal supplements again when we get back to Victoria. Candida diets take anywhere from 3 to 9 months to complete, depending on the severity of yeast overgrowth (and on how much you ‘cheat’ with foods that do nothing but feed the candida and cause it to multiply.) Sounds like great fun, I know.
We’ll see. I’m totally cool eating the way we’re eating now for as long as possible, but I’m also thinking ahead and trying to be realistic. We’ve got Christmas in Calgary, traveling in the new year, and then the Harbour season approaching right after that, so a superhuman candida cleanse might not be possible. That’s okay. If we can gently and gradually move our bodies closer to a state of alkalinity (and maybe coax some of those yeasties out of our guts in the process), I’d say we’re doing a fine job as is.
Need more details?
I know this post is super long already, but in case you were interested in some nitty gritty details, here they are:
- My rosacea is not as bad as it was before, but slight flushing of the cheeks is still there
- Weight is down 10 lbs since 6 weeks ago
- I’m not exercising nearly as much as I’d like to. Brisk walks every other day; gym once a week if I’m lucky
- I can’t smell yeast on my own skin anymore like I used to (gross!), so I take that as a great sign
- Once again, thank god I passed lemons. I make a garlic/onion-free guacamole nearly every 2nd day and smear it on just about everything. Lemons would have been the saddest food to give up forever.