My Experience with the Elimination Diet
Another sleepless night spawns another cruel morning as I lie awake, restless in pain. My hands throb, swollen like red ballooned gloves my mother would blow up in the doctor’s office to make me smile. They feel lifeless, detached from the rest of my body.
“Visualize the pain…” I hear the voice of my Health Psychology professor echo from deep within my subconscious. Flashbulb memories flicker in the darkness and project on the screens of my closed eyelids. “Describe your pain, personify it, characterize it by its color, shape, face, temperature.” I remember her soothing, wispy voice that facilitated my imaginary processing during a class demonstration. “Close your eyes and imagine your pain.”
A red square, about four-inches tall and two-inches wide pops into my mind. He has a spiky head of rectangular hair. A devilish creature, whose piercing jet-black eyes furrow beneath two dark slanted eyebrows resting above his crooked grin. He holds a flaming torch in one hand, a spiked pitchfork in the other. He runs around my body on his skinny chicken legs, poking and prodding me with his iron daggers and setting fire to my joints. He loves to reside in my left hand, torturing it until I can no longer endure and rendering me exhausted and hopeless. Other times he migrates to my head, stabbing the flesh behind my left eye socket and into my brain. There are nights when he teases me, keeping my awake until the early morning with his crackling, high-pitched laugh that sounds like nails across a chalk board as he scrapes away at my ligaments.
“Now imagine your pain transforming into a less painful color, a less painful shape,” I remember the next instructions to the pain management technique.
Red turns to orange, then yellow, and finally pink. His jagged edges become rounder, softer, less painful to manage. His torch begins to dwindle until all that is left is a match and his pitchfork morphs into a spoon. I breathe a small sigh of relief and try to sooth my mind with the less painful thoughts. I roll over onto my left side to prepare myself for sleep… but within minutes, the match ignites back into a torch, the spoon grows fangs and begins to stab. He becomes angrier the longer I lay on my left side, until he is back his full, agonizing power, and I start to cry.
Like everything else I have tried, this visualization technique only distracts my mind, but does not end the pain. I have seen specialists of all kinds who have tried to get rid of him, but he is like a cockroach, infesting my body, resistant to fumigation. Each fight with this pain devil is exhausting, draining me from any sense of productivity in the days following his attacks. He has been with me for the past three and a half years no, leaving me to beg the question “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!”
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!
This is a question I ask far too often. I am a personal trainer. I workout everyday and live an active lifestyle outside of the gym. I eat healthy, especially for a college student, and you would think I feel amazing and energized everyday—but I don’t. If you peel back my youthful exterior you would find Betty White or another a 80-year-old woman stuck in a 21-year-old’s body.
My room is filled with evidence of my elderly status—orthopedic shoes, arthritic cream, reading glasses, and braces for carpal tunnel. My joints ache burn and tingle, and my hand swells to painful red puffs of stiffness. I have issues balancing my energy– I am either go-go-go at lightening speeds or hibernate for a day or two at a time. I catch colds easier than an infant and my immune system is clearly not up to par. I have had a series of infections over the past three years, including one case of deadly MRSA, an antibiotic resistant staph infection that created a boil on my nose so large that the hospital staff nicknamed me Bozo and Rudolf (a joke that was not so funny at the time). Add in eczema, recurrent bronchitis, cold sores, asthma, UTIs and kidney infections and you can see my medical record is a disaster.
Along with my physical ailments, I also have psychological baggage that negatively affects my health. I suffer from periods of anxiety, depression, extreme stress and insomnia, which is relatively common among 60 million other American students according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I also have relatively severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which leaves me unfocused and in a mental fog. In addition, all my symptoms seem to be increasing, rather than decreasing, as I age. Dark bags hang under my eyes. I feel spacey, lethargic, and ill.
I am frustrated to say the least. I have spent an unlimited amount of money as an insured patient just on co pays alone and have wasted hours of my time visiting rheumatologists, neurologists, orthopedists, psychiatrists, and general practitioners. The conventional medical approach has left me empty, and swollen handed. My test results, my descriptive characteristics of my pain, and my psychological symptoms all point to a psychosomatic disorder—meaning that my pain is all in my head. I refuse to believe this. I know that there is something physiologically wrong and disturbing to my health, so I took one last chance to figure out what and began searching for alternative relief.
A SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVE RELIEF
I began my search on Google for unexplained illness and found out that I was not alone in my suffering and frustration. There have even been books published about unexplained illnesses, supporting my belief that I am not psychosomatically crazy. I learned from my research that:
- There are between 30 to 50 million people in the United States who suffer from chronic pain, lasting for at least 6 months, but are generally regarded as “normal” or “part of everyday life”– ailments such as headaches, eczema, fertility issues, decreased immunity, irritable bowel syndrome, poor memory, muscle and bone issues, and respiratory problems.
- Chronic pain costs $100 billion annually in disability and lost productivity.
- Pharmaceutical companies are profiting from pain management and earned $29 billion in 2007.
- Eighty percent of chronic pain patients do not receive sufficient or correct medications to manage their symptoms.
Another reassuring publication from the Journal of Patient Education and Counseling analyzed the narratives of patients suffering from unexplained illnesses and found three commonalities in their stories that are also present in my own story (1) a chaotic symptomatic structure (2) worrying that their pain is “all in their mind” and (3) the feelings of being a medical orphan without a house of treatment for care.
The fifth hyperlink in my Google search said “Maybe you have a food allergy” and as I began to navigate the site, I found Rebekah Fedrowitz, a certified nutritionist, food psychologist and the own of Tailor Made Health and Wellness. I decided to attend her Wednesday Wellness Breakfast seminar about Food Allergies and Intolerance to learn how to attack my pain with food and diet.
FOOD ALLERGIES AND INTOLERANCE
“Today’s discussion is about food allergies and intolerance,” Fedrowitz begins. “Unexplained symptoms are a commonly experienced by many Americans. We all complain of headaches and stomach problems and generally people think these symptoms are ‘normal’ so they don’t seek care. But, many of these symptoms have been linked to food allergies and intolerance often overlooked in conventional care.”
Food allergies and intolerances have been around since Hippocrates, but they have become an increasing problem over the past few decades because of mass-production in the food industry, Fedrowitz explains.
“Our bodies are bombarded with ingredients like soy, corn, and fillers in our food that our bodies becoming overly sensitized. The repeated exposure is much like using the same deodorant for too long– it stops working and the body odor tells you that you need a new one,” Fedrowitz says.
In just the past 10 years, food allergies have increased by 20 percent and intolerance effect 10 to 25 percent of the population, Fedrowitz says. For some, allergies and intolerances are easy to detect, but others can go years, even decades, without notable symptoms until they reach a serious health concern.
One thing to keep in mind is that it is not that food that gives you the allergy, it is your bodies response to the food that causes your reaction. Food Allergies involve an immediate immune response to the problem food and usually can be discovered by a prick test or a blood test. Food intolerances, however, involve the body’s inability to properly digest the food after it has entered the digestive system. This takes a while, and therefore, intolerances cannot be discovered by the traditional prick test or allergy test.
“To have an allergy is like watching a scary horror film, and at the climax of the scary scene someone taps you on the shoulder– you jump back and scream,” Ana Mohony, a licensed nutritionist and energy healer explains. “But if you don’t have an allergy, it’s like you are reading a book, someone taps you on the shoulder and you turn around and say ‘what’s up?’ No big deal.”
There are 160 foods that can cause food allergies but only eight are labeled and recognized by the FDA, including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. Symptoms of food allergies are typically those that put you in the hospital because it induces a histamine response leading to hives, a closed throat, or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis from food accounts for 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths per year, according to the FDA. The FDA’s website also includes a side note that mild intolerance may become more severe, which is why it is especially important to detect any problematic foods at early onset.
Food intolerance can come from any part of the food, like its protein, additives, preservatives, sugar or sulfites, and do not have as severe symptoms as an allergic reaction. The problem originates in the digestive system’s insufficient production of a digestive enzyme needed to break down a particular food.
“So it’s like trying to fit a pumpkin through your intestines which are the size of a butternut squash,” Fedrowitz says, demonstrating the incompatible sizes with the table’s centerpieces. “If it is not digestible, the body basically attacks it and attacks itself, because the protein from that intolerant food is being used to build up muscle and soft tissue in your body. For example, gluten has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis because the gluten is used to build soft tissue between joints and the body signals an immune system attack against those joints it is building.”
Both allergies and intolerance lead to discomfort and cause a lot of problems in your body. Some common symptoms are hives, difficulty breathing, gas, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, IBS, insomnia, migraines, chronic fatigue, cognitive or learning difficulties, vision problems, and thyroid problems.
“It is a serious problem,” Fedrowitz concludes. “If you think you may have an allergy or intolerance, do not wait. Contact a holistic practitioner or nutritionist immediately.”
That night, I scheduled an appointment with Fedrowitz to begin a holistic nutrition program.
MY VISIT TO THE NUTRITIONIST
I knock on the door of Tailor Made Health and Wellness and Fedrowitz welcomes me. I enter a bright studio. Its feng shui design immediately calms and focuses my energy. We sit on comfortable couches in a room with a cool breeze hue. I describe my symptoms and recurrent pain devil. Fedrowitz demeanor and tone of voice made it clear to me that she strongly suspects I have an allergy or intolerance.
“There are definitely many food with additives, preservatives, and sugars that have been found to increase ADHD symptoms,” Fedrowitz acknowledges. “And other foods like peppers, eggplants, and potatoes that are linked to inflammation. Gluten is also a huge factor that may be aggravating your arthritic conditions, like in your hand.”
Excited, yet skeptical of this newfound hope, I ask Fedrowitz why the other seven doctors I had seen didn’t suggest an allergy or intolerance.
“One reason is that allergies, and especially intolerances, go undetected is because the standard method for testing is the allergy prick test or a blood test, and as I explained on Wednesday, these don’t work because the intolerance doesn’t fire an immediate response,” Fedrowitz repeats. “If the intolerance is in the digestive system the allergen must first go through the digestive system, so it will not show up on these tests.”
“These undetected intolerances can really cause great dysfunction,” Fedrowitz continues. “I had one college-aged guy come see me with a terrible case of chronic fatigue, like he had to take multiple naps every day. He was chronically tired, failing out of school, couldn’t manage. And like you, he saw so many specialists, I mean like nationally renowned doctors, and not one of them suggested an allergy. HELLO! HUGE sign of a gluten allergy!”
“Nutrition is SO important. Don’t wait until you are in the hospital getting CAT scans and being put on medicines. It’s your responsibility to your health to take preventative measures, because although you can improve your symptoms, its hard to undue damage that’s already been done,” the inflection in her voice tone changes to seriousness.
Based on my initial report of symptoms, Fedrowitz strongly recommends that I try an elimination diet to determine what foods may be causing my discomfort.
“Elimination diets are not a quick fix and take time and effort,” Fedrowitz warns me. “You must eliminate common allergy foods for ten days, sometimes longer, and then once you are feeling better, we vary adding in foods one at a time and track your signs and symptoms. If you show signs of an allergy to one food, it makes you five times more likely to be allergic to other foods. It is better to be proactive and find out now rather than waiting and wasting thousands of dollars on later tests and medicines.”
Fedrowitz also warns me that these elimination diets are difficult because they are very restrictive by nature. But they are also very important if I want really know what is making you feel the way I do.
MY PRE-ELIMINATION RESULTS
The first step to my nutritional makeover is to monitor the foods I normally eat on a daily basis with a four-day food diary. I also have to fill out a lengthy survey to identify and quantify my health symptoms and possible deficiencies. My food diary reveals that I have a severe overdose on dairy and carbohydrates, eating between 6 to 8 servings of each per day, when the recommended daily serving is half that amount.
Fedrowitz reassures me that eating too many carbohydrates and dairy is common among the general population, especially people who deal with high levels of stress. Dairy acts as an antidepressant to the brain, she explains, and carbohydrates provide energy for the tired—but they also lead to energy crashes.
Similarly, Debbie Farley, a nationally certified nutritionist and acupuncturist, tells me that a lot of food choices relate to your emotional state. When she treats people for weight loss, for example, she asks about food cravings and what emotions are associated with those cravings.
“What emotions are being triggered, the type of lifestyle you live, and the culture you surround yourself with definitely impact your food choices,” Farley says. “It’s why it’s so important to find the balance in life between your career, family, exercise, spirituality, and how you eat. There is absolutely a correlation between lifestyle and how you eat. A lot of American culture revolves around food, and not healthy food, but highly refined, processed, chemically and genetically altered food. Add in hormones and preservatives—not a healthy food source. Most people eat one a salad a day, and think they are being good, but the recommended vegetable serving is between 7-9 servings.
“I read in a report from the National Cancer Institute that 65 percent of all cancers are diet related, imagine how much higher they are now,” Farley speculates. “Most conditions come from the digestive system being out of balance, if you can regain that balance you can help your symptoms and prevent future discomfort.”
Even more telling is the results from my nutritional symptom survey, with some deficiency numbers literally scoring off the chart with 120 points out of a scale of 100. My survey reveals a severe deficiency in vitamin B complex, commonly found in animal proteins, which help with the will power to resist cravings, handle stress and anxiety, focus, balance energy, and support immune function. I also had severe deficiencies in tryptophan, which helps regulate the feel good hormones like serotonin, leptin, ghrelin, which are used to stabilize moods and sleep patterns. It was interesting to learn how these micro nutrients affected my life on such a macro level.
Taking in all of this information and warning sign caused me to dive head first into the elimination process. My mother, a pro-conventional medicine fanatic, my friends, my boyfriend all disapprove and devalue my decision to try the elimination diet. They call me crazy. They say it would be torturous and not guarantee results. Nevertheless, I thought of my the importance of my own health, the responsibility I have to myself, finding a cure, and instilling hope in the millions of others who suffer silently from unexplainable symptoms.
For the next 14 days I plan to document my experiences of participating in the elimination diet. Here are my general rules:
- No additives, preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings.
- All organic
- Poultry free of hormones and antibiotics
- No dairy! (except live-culture plain unsweetened yogurt)
- No gluten – wheat, rye, spelt, Kamet, barley
- No soy, corn, baker’s brewer’s yeast
- No caffeine or chocolate
- No red meats, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant, chili pepper, paprika
- No sugar except fruit
- 2 tablets vitamin B
- 2 tablets fish oil
- 4 multi-vitamin (two at a time)
- More protein in every meal
- Biggest meal at lunch
- Set an alarm for one glass of water every hour
- No alcohol
PRE-ELIMINATION BINGE, PREPARATION, AND ANXIETY
It is the night before I start my elimination diet. I am a personal trainer, who consciously practices self-control and enjoys healthy food. This shouldn’t be too difficult for me… but it is. It is so hard to psychologically part with foods. I sit here in front of a blank TV screen with all of my favorite foods cluttering my TV dinner table. I stuff my face with macaroni and cheese, bagels, ice cream, chocolate, wine, and two beers. I want to fill up on all of my favorite foods before saying goodbye for the next two weeks—or possibly forever.
An hour later, I feel overly stuffed with my pregnant bloated belly, which my boyfriend and I have nicknamed “Jumby” after the scary movie about an evil unborn twin. I head to the kitchen to complete step one of elimination program—emptying the kitchen of all bad foods, restocking the refrigerator will healthy foods, and planning out my meals. With each piece of cheese, bag of chips, bagel and bread that I toss into the trash, I wish more and more that I had the hamster ability to stuff my favorite foods in my cheeks to store for later. No such luck. My garbage bag fills and my refrigerator becomes bare.
Next, I go to the grocery store and shop the outer shelves containing the fresh produce and meats. I buy organic foods like spinach, collard greens, plums, nectarines, avocados and asparagus. I choose dairy substitutes like almond and coconut milk, and exchange sugar for Stevia and Agrave Nectar. I buy protein powder, sunflower oil, flaxseed oil. I feel proud of my selections when the grocer comments about my healthful eating. But this pride drains quickly as I hand over my American Express to pay $300 to restock my pantry.
“Buying 100 percent organic is expensive, but so is your health,” I remember Debbie Farley, a licensed nutritionist and acupuncturist, explain to me during an interview. “It’s making the decision to pay more money for preventative care or more money later on. When you develop health conditions, it causes your medical insurance premium to go up and you spend a fortune on health bills and medications. Either pay upfront for good health or pay in the back for when your health is impaired.”
My post-decision doubts subside and I move onto meal planning. Some example breakfasts include omelets with hearty vegetables, eggs topped with spinach and garlic, sweet potato home-fries, protein shakes, and fruit salads. Lunch examples, chicken salad, salads with lots of proteins, and dinner leftovers. For dinner, I can have things like roasted chicken, rice pasta dishes, and turkey. I plan snacks like fruit, vegetables and nuts. I plan out a week’s worth of food and enjoy seeing my chart fill.
Prepared and organized, I am ready to eliminate.
DIARY OF A CHEESE ADDICT
11:00 p.m.—It is still the night before Elimination Day. I cannot sleep. I don’t know if it is because I am anxious, excited, or if it is my monthly hormones keeping me awake, but all I can think about is cheese.
I feel painfully hungry, but have already emptied the pantry and refrigerator from all of my fast go-to foods. It’s my last night before what I expect to be a form of primitive starvation. I want to eat all of my favorite foods to get them out of my system. There is no way in hell that I am going to eat broccoli as my last bedtime snack.
12:30 a.m.—I have gotten out of bed three times already to obsessively stare into my empty cheese drawer. I wish I hadn’t thrown out that cheese so soon! Just one more savory bite, please?! Hmm… wow, talk about crazy cheese lady obsession. Cheese is like the crack that feeds my addiction. I imagine attending a Food Addicts Anonymous session: “Hi, my name is Emily Koval and I am addicted to cheese.”
Food is a powerful drug and you don’t realize how much it controls your mind and body until it is gone. No cheese. No cheese. NO CHEESE! I feel anxious and annoyed that the cheese fails to magically appear from the strong intensity of my stare into the clear refrigerator drawer. My diary quickly fills with two more pages of writing about cheese.
2:30 a.m.—I don’t know whether to call it nighttime or the morning, but I am still awake, lying dreamless in bed. My stomach still growls, and I still crave cheese. Elimination limbo: a torturous place of transitioning and facing change.
I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found an old bag of Texas Toast cheese and garlic croutons in the back corner of the cupboard. I sure do love cheese. My smile grows bigger and bigger with each crunch and crumb I devour. I joke with my mom that whenever I am nervous or anxious I always crave something ‘carbed and cheesed on’but I didn’t realize how severe my cravings were until I had to face the word NO!
I finish the croutons and lick the last bits of flavoring stuck to the sides of the bag with my fingers. I am happy and satisfied. My belly’s roar subsides. The food completely changes my mood, calms my angst and anxiety. I have given into my craving and I feel like I can breath again. If these foods are supposed to be what I am intolerant to, why do they have such positive effects on my mood? I wonder, as I finally doze off to sleep.
I share my diary entry about my obsessive cheese craving with Fedrowitz and Farley. Fedrowitz says my cheese craving is not surprising because the body often craves food allergens because of the response they trigger.
“When you have an allergy, the body sends out an adrenaline response similar to the feelings of spike in your blood sugar or running from a lion, you know, modern, everyday fight or flight response,” Fedrowtiz explains. “The immune system says ‘oh know’ and begins to attack, releasing everything you need to make you feel okay.
In the meantime, you get a high, not a high like after a glass of wine or smoking pot, but a high that we go by day to day. It’s that burst of energy that makes you feel great and then… you crash. And crash hard. You get tired, lethargic, and your body will crave whatever is giving you that high again.”
Fedrowitz explains that you need to ask yourself “what are you craving?” And not just thinking about chocolate or ice cream treats, but what foods do you crave on a daily basis?
“And if it is cheese, can you go a couple days without cheese? What would that feel like?” she asks rhetorically. “You probably have an allergy to diary.”
Farley’s response to my diary leads to more questions about the nature of cheese and my addiction.
“What is it about the cheese you were craving? The saltiness, the texture, the comfort?” Farley asks.
I couldn’t put it into words.
Farley says she normally asks her patients 90 or more questions to figure out what it is about the food item that causes the craving, but my free consultation and interview did not cover this extensive exam.
She tells me that my cravings for cheese may also indicate a nutrient deficiency. She explains that fermented aged cheese is salty and helps kidney energy (I had a history of kidney infections) and the creaminess and texture helps with digestive energy and spleen functioning (I have a weak spleen from mono and also have poor digestion).
Food cravings can also be strongly linked to certain emotional states which regulate what foods you want to eat. PMS is a perfect example, Farley explained. Women are emotionally unstable and crave foods that bring them emotional comfort.
SWING AND A MISS
I imagine I am Babe Ruth, “the Great Bambino” “the Sultan of Swat,” stepping up to the plate in the 1932 World Series game at Wrigley Field. I am the Yankees best player, top home run hitter in my game of elimination. The crowd is filled with Chicago Cubs rivals— a sea of booing peers, family members, doctors, and conventional medicines. But I can still make out the faint whispering cheers of my Yankee fan support from nutritionists and alternative practitioners, who boost my confidence and remind me of my talent.
Charlie Root, the cubs’ pitcher, throws a curve ball of tempting food; I swing for an elimination home run hit, and miss. STRIKE! My inner umpire screams. Root throws a second fastball of martinis and fried bar food, I swing, and miss. STRIKE 2! Screams my umpire. My nerves send tingles up my spine and flush my face with heat.
My first attempt at the elimination diet failed miserably. I had started the diet and strictly followed the rules for four days before visiting my hometown, but when my family and friends welcomed me with all of my favorite Northern-food comfort delights, I naturally came off the elimination rules without much thought.
“There is absolutely a correlation between social influence, lifestyle, and how you eat,” explained Farely. “A lot goes on socially in America around food, every activity centers around it. And not the healthy food, but highly refined, processed, chemically modified food.”
Much to my dismay, my sudden reintroduction of hypoallergenic foods gave me a major wake up call “I need to stick to this diet!” For a week after, I felt itchy everywhere, my hair hurt and fell out in clumps. I got pimples when I rarely have acne, and my face started drying up and scaling. I learned the hard way that you cannot throw everything back into your body at once, and that maybe food and nutrition really do have a strong link to physiological symptoms.
“It is as if your watching a scary movie at the height of its suspense, and someone taps you on the shoulder, and you jump and scream” Ana Mohoney, NAET nutritionist explain referring to the body’s reaction to the reintroduction on the foods. “Your jumping reaction is like your immune system, always on alert because it is so stressed.”
I have one strike left, one last chance for elimination success. I dig my back foot into the earth, wind up my bat of defense 3 times, and point deep into centerfield—“I will swing my bat and hit an elimination diet home run in the direction of a centered digestive system, a centered life.”
DAYS 1-4: DETOX DIFFICULTIES
After the first full day of the elimination diet, I was ready to check myself into rehab for food addiction. Detox is a living hell and I gained a new perspective on willpower, as I experienced waves of withdrawal symptoms similar to those of a heroin or alcohol addict.
Detoxification is the process where you allow the body to free itself of a certain drug, for me it was freeing my body from multiple food drugs such as caffeine, sugars, dairy, additives, and refined carbohydrates. The point is to clear the toxins from the body so it can heal itself and adjust after being dependent on a substance. Quitting cold turkey results in multiple withdrawal symptoms that range in severity, based on how dependent you are on the substance. Because the brain is no longer receiving the same substances that once fueled a pleasure response to mask the damage of allergic foods. This change in the brain’s pleasure system results in feelings of depression and negative withdrawal feelings until it builds a new pleasure system that responds to healthy choices.
The first four days I felt lethargic and unmotivated. All I want to do is sleep and watch TV. I need to exercise, but I literally cannot move. I really miss caffeine, my daily dose of Red Bull or 5-hour energy.
I have never felt so sick, tired, and gross. My cheeks are flushed and itchy when I sweat. I feel dizzy every time I stand up, as spots of red yellow and black cloud my vision and my heart races a mile a minute. My head feels too heavy to hold erect on my neck. I have really bad aching pains in the back of my left eye. I feel restless, twitching throughout my limbs, but every movement feels like a huge effort. It’s really difficult to pull myself together to cook good food. Eating healthy is a huge effort and you have to be physically and mentally prepared to do so. I enter the kitchen; turn on the light that sends a shooting pain to every inch of my brain. I lie down again to recover, irritable, grumpy, and frustrated.
Two hours later I sidetrack from my elimination diet and succumb to my roommate’s stack of easy mac. Strike two for the Great Bambino. But as I was eating it, I realized I didn’t really want it as much as I thought I had. I felt deep regret and guilt, but heavily leaned on my excuse that I had no one to cook for me and I literally hurt all over. Thirty-minutes after I finish the mac and cheese, my hands begin to swell, and tears flood down my cheeks collecting in pools at the base of my neck and collarbones.
Cheaters Never Prosper
My best childhood friend, Jessie, and I used to have a strong sense of justice and fairness when we played board games or car games with our peers. We were like the cheating police—when a fellow player set off our cheat-o-meter, our sirens would ring as we chased down the culprit, chanting “cheaters never prosper, cheaters never prosper!” over and over again until they stopped cheating. Fifteen years later, I am still chanting the same mantra ‘Cheaters Never Prosper.’
After cheating with easy mac last night, I realized that unhealthy foods, like macaroni and cheese, don’t have a positive effect on my body. Easy Mac did not ease my pain or make my body feels better. Instead, it made my poops loose and my belly puff out to a 1st trimester of Jumby the next morning. That’s about it.
I explained my frustrations to Fedrowitz at our next meeting.
“A lot of people have a really hard time eliminating thing from their diet,” Fedrowitz reassures me. “What you don’t realize, is that if you take a piece of gluten or diary, cut it and flatten it to the diameter and width the size of a dime, and ingest it, it will set you off and take 10 days for your digestive enzymes to recover.
“While your still adjusting, try to eat the problem food once every five days at most. Eventually it will get to the point where the foods make you feel so bad you will stop wanting it all together,” Fedrowitz advised.
I reflected on my night and what Fedrowitz had told me and decided to take last night as a lesson learned. Resiliency against such set backs is what will get me that home run. Resiliency.
I hopped right back on the elimination bandwagon the next morning. Mistakes happen, cravings happen, but just because I have one (or two) strikes, doesn’t mean a strike out. I am still taking huge steps towards eliminating and restricting so many foods everyone eats for granted daily. Maybe it’s from my years of horseback riding that helped me to literally learn “the best thing to do if you fall of the horse is to get right back on.” Wherever this training came from, resiliency is one of my strengths and I will fight until I achieve what I set out to do. Each failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, as I gain more insight to elimination process with each mistake. Yesterday does not equal tomorrow. Forget the past and keep moving towards your goals.
If not for you, than who?=
It’s day four and I am still detoxing. I went all day without food again and have a little bit of a headache from low blood sugar. I know that every time I do put forth the effort to cook a delicious meal, and take the time away from work to enjoy it, I feel energized like never before. One of my biggest personal obstacles is not being psychologically in the mood for eating and cooking healthy meals.
I have always loved to cook because of the joy I get sharing my delicious meals with others. I love the effort when it is rewarded or acknowledged, but cooking for myself doesn’t get the same social satisfaction. I also have issues eating alone. I am more likely to cook a delicious meal, sit down at the table, and take my time to finish my plate when in the company of others. When I am alone, I feel like I am too busy with too much to do to put time into a meal—which is why, in the past, I relied so heavily on quick fix foods. I also feel lonely when I eat at an empty dining room table.
Today is a great example. I have been busy cleaning the entire house and after finishing some homework, I know that I definitely haven’t eaten enough. My head aches and when I take a second to pause from my work, my body suddenly realizes how exhausted it is. I grab a bowl of black berries and get into bed for a quick nap and time to myself for a to relax. So busy, and it’s a Friday night for gosh sakes! Stop cleaning! …
I lay in my bed for 15 minutes, daydreaming, and listening to my stomach grumble but couldn’t fall asleep. In an instant, I strip myself from under the covers and haul my big lonely butt to the kitchen to cook.
Wild caught salmon with roasted peppers, mushrooms, and onions. Asparagus seasoned in sunflower oil, garlic, and toasted almond slices. Quinoa cooked to perfection. I realize that it is getting easier to be motivated to cook because food is a positive reward to my body. Not eating and eating bad food has become a negative punishment, so naturally, I am more inclined to practice these healthy behaviors according to the foundations of behavioral psychology.
As my body is beginning to feel positively towards the food, it is helping me get over my mental barriers to change my behavior. The social reward may not be there, but the personal reward is so much more fulfilling. I am doing this program for myself, and no one else, which means I need to feed ME and only me. If you are not cooking for you, then who? No one. In this journey of personal health and discovery, I am alone and I am all that matters.
DAYS 5-14: OVER THE HUMP AND FEELING GREAT
Every day is filled with positive progressions. It’s getting easier to wake up every morning and make eggs or some type of gourmet omelet. I am feeling more energized and motivated, without the help of blood sugar spikes, caffeine, carbs, and cheese. Healthy food begins to taste so delicious, as I savor each naturally flavored bite. Chocolate is now too sweet for my taste buds to handle. Cheese is unnecessary. Every meal inspires me, tempts me to quit school, become a culinary expert and chef of my own healthy restaurant—do something with my talent and new-found love for cooking great food. I have been creating delicious substitutes like “Green Eggs and Yams,” mayonnaise free chicken salad, and ice cream sundae parfaits. I look forward to my time to cook each day because it gives me time away from homework, papers, facts, and stats and provides a creative outlet for my energy and mind.
Day five was better than day four, marking my ascent of the detox hump. I felt energized, excited to cook, prepared for the day ahead. But what began as motivation and energy ended in excess energy, as I lay awake until 3 in the morning. At least this time, I was not in pain. I just needed to calm myself and my mind. Too excited about my progress. One thing I have to make sure of is that tonight’s late night doesn’t affect me for the tomorrow and the rest of the week. I still need energy and structure for tomorrow. Check lists. Check off. One at a time all day. No more ups and downs. I need balance.
It’s day six and I am still feeling great even after my late night slip up. No headaches, hand pains, stomach-aches, or hyperactive disorganization. Overall, I did really well today. I prepare tons of chicken skewers and gluten-free muffins to freeze for later. Its funny how my behavior is changing. I never feel like cooking but once in the kitchen I have a ball. It is so much fun, so delicious, and such a stress relief. It’s quickly turning into a habit, no longer time-consuming or difficult to plan and make food choices. Comes naturally as soon as I open my fridge.
Day seven, I had my first full day of balanced focused energy and I cannot express how rewarding it felt. I woke up, had breakfast, took my vitamins and was off to a day of productivity. I did not waste a minute of my time. I put my ADHD on the wayside and stayed on task until it was finished. I took time for myself to cook and eat. I took time to relax and socialize after working a late shift at work. After my break, I was back on track and banged out a 10-page paper that had been looming over my head for weeks. I finished everything I had to do and it feels great! Happy food, happy life; feelings of restoration and relief lingered for the rest of the week.
I was beginning to wonder whether the elimination diet was really working or if it was just my belief in its power. This skepticism disappeared by day eight, when I experienced my first drastic physical change. A little personal, but I started my period today and was so surprised because it is my first period since I was 9-years-old where I am not PMSing, ripping my hair out in anger, suffering from migraines, or hiding in bed in depression. Nothing. The first time in 12 years I have had relief. I walked into Fedrowitz’, unable to tell her the good news without tearing up and choking on my words of relief and gratitude. Naturally, boyfriend and mother are now fully on board despite their initial reluctance, especially after heading the foods I’ve been feasting on.
I know there are things I still need to work on in the future, like eating more protein and less fruit and having more meals throughout the day. But to tell you the truth, by day eleven, I am feeling reluctant to come off of the diet. I do miss some of my favorites, like peppers, potatoes, cheese, and chips, but the strict restriction help me say “no” and try new things I hadn’t been inclined to try before. I really enjoy and have found a passion in picking out produce at grocery stores and farmers markets, and eating delicious new things. Every change, even for the better, comes with initial frustration and discomfort but from my experience, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
FOOD REUNION GOES AWRY
After 14 days of the elimination diet, it is time to reintroduce foods into my diet progressively, focusing on food groups one-by-one to identify what causes my symptoms to flare. Unlike many eliminators, I am enjoying the process and feel very reluctant to change my diet again.
For the purposes of my elimination experience, Fedrowitz advises me to add in small amounts of one food group we suspect to be the culprit, warning that me a tiny glitch in the system can create overall havoc and dysfunction.
I first tried gluten and ate a bagel for breakfast. I didn’t have an immediate reaction, so I tried bread for my sandwich the next day and regular pasta the day after. By the fourth day, Jumby reappeared in my distended gut and my hand swelled to a fiery red glove of pain.
I then tried dairy and had a lovely reunion with my old friend cheese—but like many childhood friendships, it didn’t last and we had grown too far apart. I put cheese on my gluten free lasagna and within hours Jumby appeared and my pain devil prodded the back of my eyes, giving me a headache and familiar pain as before.
Sugar and caffeine followed. I drank maybe a quarter of my first red bull in two weeks and couldn’t sleep for 3 days. Sugar made me jittery and aggravated my hyperactivity and anxiety. I also crashed about every 3 hours, needing a nap and another sugary snack to reenergize because of what Farley described to me as over activity in my adrenal glands that fuel the stress response.
Last, I tried junk food. Cheetos and Doritos please! Both of these have chemically created dairy, preservatives, additives and sulfites—and rendered the worst effects on my body. My belly immediately blew up like a balloon after one or two handfuls, and I fell asleep in the middle of studying (something I have never done before honestly). At 5 o’clock in the morning I was woken up by burning sensation in my stomach like nothing I had every experienced. I felt like a chain had been attached connecting my forehead to my belly button forcing me into a fetal position, unable to stand up straight. To put it lightly, I spent the rest of the morning cramped over on the toilet, swearing that I will never have a piece of junk food for as long as I live.
My reunion with foods was torturous. It was painful. It reminded me where I came from and how I have progressed. It also motivated me to live a healthful future. No gluten, no dairy, no caffeine, no sugar, no additives, no preservatives. To some this sounds like torture, to me it sounds like hope for a better future.
NOT A DIET, A WAY OF LIFE
I started the elimination process as a skeptic, desperate to find an answer or some type of relief from my hopeless states of chronic pain and illness. I ended as an enthusiast and cannot fully articulate how much this diet has drastically changed my life.
One of my favorite philosophers, Rene Descartes, once said “We never fully understand a thing so well, and make it our own, as when we have discovered it for ourselves.” This saying has never held so much truth. I feel empowered and enlightened, like I am the controller of my own health destiny. I may be taking it a little too far, but the feeling of relief after years of consulting specialists and doctors, each time with increasing alarm and confusion is the single most transformative experience I have had. I am the Great Bambino and I have hit my line-drive homer to centerfield to win the World Series and change the history of my league of health.
I have reflected on my past eating, sleeping, and working behaviors and experienced the value and reward in taking the time and personal responsibility for your health. I have heard this message be preached by many of my personal training and psychology classes, but having to actually force myself to do so created a whole new meaning.
The elimination diet by no means is a complete cure, but rather a wake up call and information bank. It cannot rid you of your allergies and intolerances, but it can illuminate the powerful hold food has on your health. Food is the building block of life. It is the energy source for physical, emotional, and psychological functioning. Every cell in our body, from our digestive track, circulatory and immune system, to our brain functioning, productivity, and social life, revolves around food.
Living with a food allergy or intolerance comes with heavy economic and social baggage. The food, for one, costs more with a bag of five gluten free bagels amounting to $6 and pretzels or snack foods free of gluten, dairy, additives and preservatives costing between four-to-six dollars per bag. Compare this to regular food. One man’s food is another man’s poison, meaning that it is not the food that causes the allergy but the individuals’ unique reactions in their body. Many people devalue my intolerance because of the lack of public knowledge. They say that I am just being picky or I am making it up because they cannot see the body’s reaction. I feel alienated, subjugated, and almost embarrassed to hold such strong beliefs in an alternative remedy, but I can physically feel a difference, which is all that matters.
I also feel like it is a pain in the butt for people to have to accommodate to my intolerances, especially because there is more than one food group of which to be aware. Fedrowitz told me the best way to deal with eating at restaurants or at a friend’s house is to; one, be prepared, bring your own snacks and munch on them privately, or two, politely ask for small requests like leaving the cheese off half of the lasagna or ask if you can help shop and prepare the food so you can be aware of what is going in it. She reminded me to always remember my responsibility is to my health first and foremost. My relief from symptoms will only come with continued discipline, assertiveness, and commitment.
The only place that still hurts is the faint devil that resides in my hand. It only flares up from overuse, rather than daily like before, giving me some relief but not a definitive cure. I also am still struggling to manage my ADHD, but with the support of grounding foods, I am starting to slowly transform my weakness into areas of personal strength.
Like anything else in life, health is a never-ending journey filled with ups and downs. There are alternative ways to cure the allergies completely through acupuncture and energy healing, but I am not yet ready to spend the money on an alternative approach just yet. And maybe a complete cure is not my aim—the struggle and self-discipline needed to recover is almost as rewarding as the relief from the pain. I have become the change I wish to see in the world. I have found confidence and value in my own health and have laid my path for the future me. I hope that other people who are living hopelessly struggling to find relief can learn from my experience and are inspired to try this new remedy.