Elimination Diets: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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!Β  Time sure flies when you’re eating salad. Heh. πŸ˜‰

Somewhere over the rainbow chard

Somewhere over the rainbow chard

Maybe I’m a bit of a masochist, or maybe I thrive on control over nitpicky details, but I’ve been loving this experience.Β Absolutely loving it.Β (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:Β 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!)

Brussels sprouts get such a bad rap

Brussels sprouts get such a bad rap

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.

Broccoli-- one of my favourite vegetables, behind kale (obviously)

Broccoli– one of my favourite vegetables, behind kale (obviously) and asparagus

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.)

Getting a salad prepped

Getting a salad prepped

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 stillΒ tonsΒ 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: Β  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.

More rainbow chard. Just because.

More rainbow chard. Just because.

Β 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,Β or during the two days that follow that,Β 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.

Thank you, Jesus, for letting me pass lemons

Thank you, Jesus, for letting me pass lemons

What’s next?

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.

Bonus bald eagle shot for sticking through this entire post!

Bonus bald eagle shot for sticking through this entire post!

32 responses

  1. Lucky Marty for passing gluten! But onions and garlic – that’s tricky. I remember talking to someone once who had that allergy and they said you wouldn’t believe how many things those two ingredients are in – ketchup was the most surprising. But you guys aren’t big processed food consumers so I hope this won’t affect you?
    It must be super satisfying to figure out individual foods are actually making you feel like crap – sometimes I wish my elimination diet had gone that way!

    • Yeah, gluten is something I’m going to retest for myself, because I can’t believe that I failed effin’ barley flakes! (I didn’t even go hardcore by testing wheat. I just had barley flakes for breakfast and rye crackers for a snack.) We’ll see if I pass it the next go-round.

      Onions and garlic are killing me. It’s not the processed food that gets me (because we’re not eating any processed food right now), but it’s hard to avoid any sort of ‘ethnic’ recipe. Mexican food, Indian food, Middle Eastern food, Mediterranean food, etc– all of them have onions, garlic, or both in them. I’m going to retest both of those ingredients (read: I’m in denial), but at least I can make yummy knockoff ethnic dishes when I’m at home. I’ve been all over the garlic-free guac and hummus lately, but I’ve even had to make our own curry powder because most store-bought versions have onions and garlic. Bah.

      The elimination diet has been a mixed blessing and curse. It’s really great being able to pinpoint what is causing a lot of my GI discomfort, but sometimes, I don’t think I can handle the truth. (Said in Jack Nicholson voice.) It’s not so bad when I’m making my own meals, but try taking me anywhere…

        • oh and the potato! I know why I can’t have them, I have a severe latex allergy and I react to lots and lots of the foods with matching cross proteins. Potato, banana, melons, pitted fruits, avocado and on. I use rutabaga(the one with the wax)and turnip–the one with the purple and white. Turnip can make more watery or bitter ‘mashed potatoes’, but the rutabaga has a creamy yellow buttery texture and color so is good for replacement. I saw someone with a millet and or cauliflower version of them.

          • oh, and i am using the FODMAPS and have found many of the foods that I actually have allergy to, hives breathing ect. are also on that list, I noticed that a lot of what you stated is on the list, which sounds like it might help with food choices, also sometimes overloaded on one group of them will cause a zinger but not the ‘safe’ areas of reintroduction for testing, let me know I have some links.

            • I have found FODMAPS info to be extremely helpful, Elisa. I read Elise Cobb’s blogs (Hungry Hungry Hippie and her FODMAPS-specific site), and definitely need to pay closer attention to the categories that my ‘sensitive’ foods fall into. I haven’t checked it out very scientifically or rigorously just yet, but it could be the case that I’m just overloading in a day and don’t actually need to cut certain foods or food groups out entirely. (Does everything come back to moderation? Seems like it!)

          • Those are great ideas, Elisa. I’m fine with latex and avocado, but the other foods you mentioned seem to give me issues. Perhaps we are sensitive food-allergen soulmates? I’ll have to give mashed rutabaga a try. I confess I’ve never purchased a rutabaga before, though I know what they are and what they look like. πŸ™‚

  2. What a “effin” LOT of work! I admire your stamina and all the effort and planning this must take…I just can’t imagine! I’ve actually just pre-ordered a book that will be out in January, with a similar system…I think it’s called The Plan, but it could be The Program. Foods – based on their “reactive quotient” are eliminated, then reintroduced…I’m hoping in a much more haphazard, devil-may-care manner, to accommodate MY lifestyle. Good luck, and thanks for the run-down!

    • I could never maintain such a strict schedule during Harbour season, Cindy. It’s fortunate that we have an off-season so I can experiment with elimination programs like this, but hopefully the book you ordered offers suggestions on how to make everything a little more flexible.

      If I wasn’t also dealing with candida issues right now, the elimination program would be SUPER EASY (by comparison). There would also be a lot more leeway with the foods that could be eaten. Curse those yeasty bastards!!

    • They’ll be coming, Emily! The short answer is that I eat sauerkraut on every single (non-breakfast) meal. I don’t even care if it “goes” with the foods or not. I simply love it!

  3. You’re doing so great! Very happy for you. I’ve become allergic to garlic and sensitive to the rest of the allium family. If you need any advice on adapting let me know. I look forward to your recipies – and yes, that garlic is sneaked in everywhere!

    • A secret: Marty was supposed to take out caffeine/coffee as part of the elimination program, too, but there was no way I was going to force that upon him during an extremely busy/stressful time for him. We all have our limits, and coffee is out-of-bounds when it comes to elimination. πŸ™‚

  4. Impressive that you passed on corn…it is so prolific in our diets… well done on the elimination diet. I have considered eliminating some of the heavy hitters in the past, but have failed. Guess it helps that you are in it together! Well done.

    • Corn didn’t show up on my sensitivity tests to begin with, so I’m not surprised that I passed it. (Granted, I don’t eat many pre-packaged foods, so I avoid most of the GMO corn and ubiquitous corn-based additives.) Only organic, non-GMO corn in this house!

      Yes, it helps A TON that Marty and I are in this together. I sort of wrangled him into it without giving him much of a choice, but now that we’re in the same boat, it’s way easier for both of us. πŸ˜‰

  5. Dana, I read this when you first published it but am just now loping over here to respond. Lay abed last night just before sleep and thought about this elimination diet and how foods may be triggering some of my issues, too. 😦 Thank you for sharing this. May come back and read a couple more times, if you don’t mind. Admiring you greatly for doing this.

    • I don’t mind at all, Kathy. This process has helped me appreciate how truly unique and particular we all are. I’ve enjoyed the investigative aspect of testing foods and then monitoring my reactions– I’m like my own mini science experiment!

      What has surprised me the most is the degree to which “healthy” foods are triggering my sensitivities. I never expected superfoods like onions and garlic to make my body so upset, but overall, I feel so thankful to have the opportunity to see what works best for me. I hope that you can uncover some of the same information about yourself if you ever try something like this.

  6. Love that bonus shot at the end. πŸ™‚ I admire you and Marty for sticking with it. I’ve been considering an elimination diet, too, and look forward to reading more about it (especially your recipes!).

    • Thanks, Robin! We just finished navigating a tricky 10 days on the road and at the in-laws’ place. It can be tricky to stick to any sort of eating program over the holidays, but I’m proud to say we succeeded!

      Hopefully I can find some time soon to post some of the recipes I’ve been relying on lately. Why is everything so busy? πŸ˜‰

  7. Like Kathy I read this when you first posted it and now I’m back to gather thoughts and comments.

    First, rainbow chard looks almost exactly like the Christmas candy my grandmother used to put in her candy dishes all over her house. At first glance, that’s what I thought it was. It’s beautiful and festive!

    Second, I’m intrigued by the sauerkraut every time you post about it. I haven’t built up the courage to follow your recipe and try this myself.

    Third, gosh this diet process of yours is a lot of work. It sounds time-intensive and mentally consuming! (Or at least it would be if I attempted it).

    Fourth, I’m looking forward to recipes!

    Hope all is well. I’m so glad you and yours survived the end of the world. πŸ™‚

    • 1. Rainbow chard is totally gorgeous! It reminds me of candy, too, and I fell in love with my grandma when I learned that chard was her favourite veggie. (This, after only ever seeing her eat potatoes or frozen peas to fulfill the vegetable RDI from the 1980s through 2012.)

      2. Wait for me to post a new kraut recipe before trying to make it yourself! I haven’t actually used Kimberly Snyder’s recipe (with miso paste and ginger) for at least a year now. The new recipes involve fewer ingredients and fewer opportunities to mess up. I’ll be posting a recipe for what I call “Royal Kraut” really soon, I promise!

      3. Yes, the elimination diet was a lot of work, but mostly when we started it. Now that we are fully into the rhythm of elimination and know which foods are off our personal radars, the eating and food prep parts are easy to maintain.

      4. Recipes to come! I just took photos of a vegetable marinara sauce I made tonight for gluten free pasta, and other recipes are waiting in the wings, too. Stay tuned! πŸ™‚

      (Oh, the end of the world. So anticlimactic!)

  8. It’s fascinating to read exactly how an elimination diet and yours, in particular, works, Dana. Being vegan I completely understand what it’s like to get questions like “Well, what can you eat?” But being vegan has also made me realize that my pre-vegan diet consisted of far less variety than what I eat now. It has made me realize just how many different grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables there are in the world and I eat a fuller more varied diet than most meat-eaters I know. I say this because while my gut reaction to the foods you’ve had to eliminate was “oh, wow, that would be hard!” I’m sure there are plenty of other new foods that you are finding work as replacements for some of the old foods you loved.

    • It’s so true, Christina. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the no garlic/onions thing especially, but like you say, it’s really no different than a person transitioning to a veg diet and having to find some (delicious!) alternatives to animal products. Once you get used to it, it’s really not so bad at all. I’m even finding the garlic-less hummus and guacs more tasty than the garlic ones now, but maybe my tastebuds have just adapted out of necessity. πŸ™‚

      We have been re-testing some ingredients since the start of the new year, and it seems that some things might be okay in strict moderation (including garlic). Everything else seems to be as it was when we first tested it, but after 10 weeks on this program so far, I’m completely comfortable cooking with the ingredients that do my body well.

  9. Tori pointed me here after I posted about starting the Elimination Diet this weekend. I’ve just read this post so far, but I’m looking forward to scanning back and seeing how your first week or two went. I do feel better overall, but (a) I am hungry all the time so far, and (b) I started this a few months later than I ought have, so I’m probably going to fall on the later end of the spectrum for when I can start reintroducing foods.

    • Welcome to the blog, Deborah! You happened to stumble here in the midst of my most sporadic posting schedule EVER, so you might have more questions about the elimination diet than I’ve been able to answer online so far. If this is the case, just e-mail me and ask. I’m always happy to help!

      My husband did nothing but eat for the first 2 weeks of our program. He’s very athletic and found he was craving high-density foods like eggs but couldn’t have them during the elimination phase. Hence, he snacked ALL THE TIME on foods he could eat– non-stop grazing. I did better with the restrictions, but I credit that to being a) female, b) relatively inactive (compared to him), c) mostly vegan already. It made quite a difference not being allergic to nuts, because whenever I was hungry in the first part, I’d just snack on some walnuts or raw veg sticks with almond butter.

      I think the biggest piece of advice I could offer would be to focus on a ‘yes’ mentality. It can really feel like you’re being robbed of all your favourite foods during the elimination phase, but if you keep your eyes on everything you *can* eat (which is a lot!), it helps to ease the sting and the poor-me feelings. Do you already have an idea which foods are causing you grief? Some of my foods were obvious, but others really surprised me. Good luck with the endeavour, and like I say, don’t hesitate to ask me any questions! πŸ™‚

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  11. I am so curious about the candida part of your diet. I am working on this elimination diet and there is SO much information out there about it. I just put up a post about my original reason for trying this however, candida is also a concern I have had and I thought that things like potatoes and corn were big no nos. How did you land on a list of foods you each could have? – This is a fantastic post and Im SO glad I found it!

    • Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. πŸ™‚ I’m on a road trip right now, so my response will be brief, but the way we came across our list of foods was by having individual sensitivity testing done beforehand. For each of us, certain foods tested great and others tested horribly. We kept all the ‘yes’
      foods in and eliminated all the sketchy ones right away, to be introduced one at a time later on. I hope this helps!

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