What I Learned From A 21-Day Elimination Diet

(Not that much)

In my efforts to get closer to the solution of the chronic idiopathic constipation that’s been plaguing me for the past year, I’ve done a lot of shit (unfortunately only figuratively >.<). I’ve loaded up on fiber, (both supplemental and in fresh whole fruit and veggie smoothie form) which only exacerbated the condition. I’ve experimented with 8 glasses of water a day, undergone laxative clean-outs, visited separate gastroenterologists and collectively undergone an ultrasound, MRI and colonoscopy. I’ve chugged salt water/baking soda solutions, cupped warm tea with lemon in the mornings, and fasted. I’ve added every Top 20 “Foods That Make You Poop” on the Google searches to my diet. I’ve also tried eliminating certain known “trigger” categories for a week or so. Gluten, dairy, sugar, etc…But never at the same time. And I was asked the question, “Well, what if you didn’t remove them for long enough?” My thought-process (and what I’ve read from most Internet accounts) is once you get rid of the thing hindering your digestive process, you start to see results pretty quickly. Not like you’re-better-in-a-day quickly, but you DO see a noticeable change.

Only time I noticed a significant digestive change was when I started a Manuka honey, black seed oil, mastic gum combo to fight what I THOUGHT might be H. Pylori, although I was later tested and confirmed to NOT have it. After the colonoscopy, which came back A-OK, and while waiting for the test results from my naturopath (doctors GALORE was my strategy) I thought, what next? My bestie had recently raved about the magical healing powers of celery juice, and urged me to give that a shot. Like for a month. And I’m like, where tf am I going to get celery juice every day for a month? Do I like…MAKE it? Do I have to buy a juicer?? The Internet (no connection to the band) told me you could simply blend the stuff and strain it through a nut-milk bag. Okay cool. Time to try this new thing to add to my exhaustive list of tried things. Especially since all these bloggers swore celery juice sent them stampeding to the bathroom with its diuretic effect. I needed that.

But then, since I can’t half-ass anything, I decided, what if I did something ELSE during this period to make it more effective? Since I’d tried eliminating one food one week, another food another week, in the past, why not do ’em ALL AT THE SAME TIME and  TORTURE MYSELF EVEN MORE?

Because true healing is rough, right? And most nutritionists will say everything you eat nowadays is bad if it’s not vegetables. Everything will cause cancer. White bread? Cancer. Meat? AWFUL. Whole grains? They’re bad now. Non-organic fruits and vegetables? How dare you. Sugar? The holy grail of unhealthiness. Hell they’re even suggesting that we limit fruit now. Foods not immediately shipped to you from the local farmer McGregor’s pastures can cause brain fog and people are really seeking out these functional medicine docs and paying the $800-initial-visit and $300-follow-up-visits (that aren’t covered by health insurance) because with the brain fog, they “just don’t feel quite right.”

This is what we’re going to the doctor for now. Brain fog. Headaches. Dizziness. Although if you have all 3 of those on a regular basis, I’d be concerned if you didn’t get a CAT scan first for tumors before assuming it’s the pesticides on your apples from Key Food.

Negative bacteria is running rampant disrupting our gut microbiomes and we need to starve them out by abandoning anything delicious that we hold dear, and our bodies weren’t meant to process all the foods we eat now because Darwinian adaptation doesn’t really exist, and if you take antibiotics or eat one false thing you absolutely destroy your gut flora and all you’ve worked up to achieving it and set yourself back 1,000 steps. So no ice cream cones with your kiddies, slice of pizza with your sister, or a box of shared fries with your date. Even if it’s once in awhile.

Well then, let’s have it and see if it fixes me?

I cut out gluten, dairy and sugar for 21 days. Supposedly the 3 biggest inflammatory offenders. I had already been tested for Celiac’s, but had heard you could have a negative test and still be intolerant. Since I tend to be active (yeah, this ain’t no couch-potato constipation we’re talking about), I couldn’t COMPLETELY give up starch so I allowed for the two naturally non-gluten ones: rice and potatoes (which I’ve recently learned is actually a veggie!). Excluding rice, I gave up grains, because apparently there’s some belief going around that whole grains are now the devil. I gave up eggs because they’re kinda dairy, kinda not, and some people have problems with them. Some sites advocated giving up nightshades (which includes potatoes) but I don’t eat nightshades on the regular enough to have a need to eliminate them. No caffeine or alcohol (which induces a pretty good colon cleanout from my experience with liquor, but okay), but that was a non-issue. No processed foods or junk of any kind, which I don’t normally eat like that anyway. I skated the questionable line between beans/legumes vs no beans/legumes because they’re not part of my regular diet. I initially cut out nuts and seeds for the first week and a half or so as well, because the Internet says it’s good to, before remembering the last time I had nuts or seeds was years ago, so those definitely weren’t causing my issue. Also I was starving and needed something else to snack on besides fruit.

Yes. I was hungry. Sure there’s all these WONDERFUL VEGGIES TO INDULGE IN to replace the awful, terrible, no-good foods that you miss, but let’s get real. I ate and ate the safe foods, couldn’t tell if I was full or hungry or what for the first week. I determined that this was only because my body was craving the things I loved but couldn’t have. It cried out for more “yummies” even though it was full already. My cookies and snacks were stashed in a high cabinet where I couldn’t see them. My whey protein shakes went on hiatus. I eliminated fruit juice, and dutifully chopped up my celery stalks every morning. I added teaspoons of acacia fiber to ensure I was still getting soluble fiber.

“Breakfast” didn’t exist anymore, it became leftover-safe-foods-from-last-night. The entire first week I focused on foods not commonly in my rotation like lamb, ground turkey, sweet potatoes, applesauce, spinach. Weekends I stayed close to home because I couldn’t even eat at someone else’s house and I wouldn’t be able to grab something “quick” from outside. At one point my stove broke and needed to be replaced, so thank god for emergency Chipotle (burrito bowl without the burrito, rice, beans, chicken, COMPLIANT). I berated my boyfriend for attempting to surprise me with Japanese restaurant reservations during this period, because eating out was impossible, unless we were going to JustSalads, minus any dressing or toppings. And I hate salads.

Midway through the diet, results from my naturopath came in. No dysbiosis. No helicobactor pylori or other sinister bacteria. No candida overgrowth. No parasites. No heavy metals in my blood. Nothing to indicate that I had a leaky gut or disrupted microbiome or that my diet beforehand had contributed in any sense to my condition. Nothing to confirm these fancy new diagnoses that warrant giving up pleasurable eating. But I had started this elimination diet, so I was committed to finishing it.

Two weeks in I did notice my bloating was beginning to subside. I also decided to switch back off of Miralax to magnesium supplementation instead because I hate the concept of having to stay on Miralax indefinitely. Was it the diet? Or was it the incorporation of resistant starch, the celery juicing, or finally caving and using ab machines at the gym; something I’d avoided for all my years of gymming on the basis that if I did full body workouts, I didn’t need to isolate abs.

Once I got off the Miralax, shit did get harder again (every pun intended here).

My cravings did subside…all up until maybe 5 days before the impending diet’s end. Then they came back full force, as if they could tell I’d be able to indulge soon enough. Additionally, my stools returned to little rabbit balls, even WORSE than before I’d begun the diet. :/ Eliminating grains and relying strictly on increased veggies was not healing me.

For a colonoscopy, you’re required to have a clear liquid-only diet for the entire day before the procedure. Then the night before, you take a powerful laxative to clear out all the nothing you’ve been eating (drinking?), so you can waltz in zombified the next day, lay down on the cot, have the IV inserted, and….oh shit it’s over and the nurse is giving you popcorn and apple juice in the recovery room (god damn I miss popcorn and apple juice right now). I went home that day and ordered two large pasta dishes from Seamless. Because that is what restriction can do to you.

As I write this, I crave pizza, burgers, and bullshit bodega snacks I usually don’t even notice. Shit I never even give a passing THOUGHT on a normal basis because my diet doesn’t usually consist of these things. Bagels. Wendy’s Frostys and Checker’s shakes. Lays chips and a Coke like I used to have as an after-school snack in high school (cause characters in older YA novels always had that damn snack). An ice cream with sprinkles off the truck whose jingle New Yorkers are pretty much immune to at this point. I missed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and buttered toast. This diet prompted cravings in shit I’d eat once every few months if that. Chocolate bars that I can never finish in one sitting, and usually only encounter around Halloween. My dreams involved deli cold-cut sandwiches, tortilla chips, and waffles drenched in syrup.

They say when you do an elimination diet, it’s supposed to teach you about your relationship with food. I’ve learned nothing from it besides the reinforcement that my soul is much better suited to moderation than restriction. I like snacks. I get sugar cravings. But sometimes I can go days without cookies because I DON’T always crave them. I drink 100% juice but when I pour myself a cup I pour about 8 ounces maybe, and struggle to finish it. My cousins have always made fun of me for making a 16 oz bottle of soda last for 2 days. If I get an ice cream cup, it’s always a SMALL because I know what I can finish and what I can’t.

I also lost a good 7 pounds on this diet, an unfortunate side-effect that many would cheer for, but a lamentation for someone who has always had trouble putting on weight and whose main goal of gymming is gains. They say elimination diets are not meant to be long term (Thank GOD, but jeebus look at some of the lengths on SCD and GAPs), and there’s some interweb arguments against them. That it’s not good to just eat the same ish all the time since before the advent of Whole Foods, humans didn’t have access to fresh kale and asparagus year round and our diets rotated around what crops were in season, and what resources were available. That continuously eating the same foods can lead to food intolerances (even though that’s EXACTLY what you’re doing on an elimination diet, doubling down on the shit you CAN eat, which you’re not supposed to do, so Catch-22?), or that avoiding foods can LEAD to building intolerances based on its avoidance! That nutritional deficiencies can come into play if you’re not properly replacing things you’re giving up like grains with different sources of the same nutrients.

And then there’s the pyschological aspect, that plants (haha) the notion that you’ve messed up by eating a “bad food” like a Pavlovian response. It creates an unnecessary stress factor when really, food should be inviting and one of our basic human indulgences. Hell my chiropractor was even against oatmeal because he believes all carbs are awful.

By the completion of the diet, my constipation wasn’t cured, my life wasn’t changed and I didn’t feel full of energy and superpowered like my chiro said I would be. My skin didn’t get clearer (although I had no real acne to begin with), I hadn’t been experiencing BRAIN FOG, or stomach pains, or headaches or dizziness or anything besides a slower gut before this to feel improvement for. My stomach did feel lighter, sure, but between Days 12-17, I felt bouts of lethargy which made me wonder if I was lacking in some nutrient I’d inadvertently cut out. By Day 18 I was so sick of potatoes and rice as a side that I started forgoing it, still bored with the meat and veggie options, but simply eating out of necessity just because my body needed it, and not out of any sense of satisfaction.

Food no longer made me happy.

My belief is that food needs some kind of balance. Being unable to eat at your mom’s house because the beans were cooked in butter or travel to far from your home-prepared safe food sources (guys, I didn’t even leave the borough of Manhattan) is a very militant and unhealthy relationship for myself to have with something that once gave me pleasure. And constant worrying over whether you’re consuming enough water if you’re not thirsty, to counterbalance your increased fiber definitely spiked my anxiety (I’m FULL but am I getting ENOUGH ahhhh!). I longed for the days where I didn’t have to THINK, but I also longed for a clear sign of improvement that I never got on this diet.

My reintroduction period has begun and it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. I haven’t binged through all the foods I’ve missed because you have to reintroduce just that eliminated group in its isolated form. So no pizza, because there’s gluten AND dairy, and same goes for other favorite delectables, like garlic bread, ice cream, cheeseburgers, cake, etc…For sugar i’ve reintroduced honey and juice, and dairy, milk, butter and cheese, to eliminate any possible reactions to these subsets before moving to gluten where I can have a bowl of cereal again, or a peanut butter sandwich….and COOKIES. When I reach dairy, since I had already done sugar, I was at least able to bring back Ensures (got a lotta weight recoup to work on), gluten free protein bars, ice cream, and chocolate milk. So the home stretch is even longer than one would think, but necessary to make sure you have no reactions to any “triggers” added back in from each group, which I fully expect to NOT have, as this diet has not revealed food intolerances. I ponder to at least take something away from this experience; some nuggets of acquired wisdom:

  1. I WILL continue to celery juice since I still think this can be beneficial.
  2. Resistant starch did seem to help out so i’ll continue to incorporate that one for awhile as well.
  3. I shouldn’t be afraid to eat more (chronic constipation can definitely subconsciously plant an avoidance to food, and less food is not the answer here).
  4. The Internet, with all its abundance of holistic/anecdotal/underground knowledge, can still get it wrong, and is rife with contradiction. Just like doctors.

I survived, and I’m glad I got this shit out the way before the delicious summertime scents take over. I proceed to move forward, this time with the exact opposite diet: low fiber, high calorie. I plan to compare how both make me feel.

Wonder which one will come out on top?

~Tael

 

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