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

 

The Tummy Troubles Tribe

You’re about to learn way more about my internal organs than you’d probably care to, and I apologize in advance for that, but I’ll try to “de-gross” it as much as possible. For the past few months I’ve been dealing with digestive trouble that has deeply affected my day-to-day life. I am no stranger to stomach issues. I was your typical problem-picky-eater child, which likely contributed to the constant stomachaches I had throughout grade school. I also found myself exceptionally prone to food poisoning, and motion sickness in cars, but not amusement park rides. Go figure. Once, in middle school, my stomach pains were so excruciating that I was sent to the nurse’s office. She correctly identified my lack of fiber and dehydration; I gulped down a few bananas and chugged water and felt welcome relief as I emptied myself in the school bathroom after.

Some time later, my tummy troubles evolved with enough severity to grant me my first trip to the ER. I couldn’t have been older than 14. A doctor probed my young, previously un-invaded anus with a gloved finger, to which I could not properly respond to his questions and prompts on whether the pain was exacerbated because there was a finger up my butt and I was 14, dammit. So he sent me to radiology for an ultrasound which showed…a whirlwind of gas? They explained that too much air was in my stomach; a combination of carbonated beverages, fried foods, and swallowing air while eating, most likely from talking at the same time. As a result, my bowels had become inflamed. Lesson learned. Even today, I find I still hold my breath sometimes while eating, in a subconscious act to ward off accidental air gulps.

HomerSimpsonStomach

For awhile after, it seemed to do better, and was well-behaved throughout high school and college. It seemed I was finally outgrowing my membership with the Tummy Troubles Tribe. I tried to reward its good behavior in turn. The more I ascended into adulthood, the more I realized I should take more accountability for my picky eating if I wanted to be somewhat MILF-like and still be a ninja at age 60 (shout-out to Aunt Sandra). I had started incorporating gym sessions into my lifestyle, and learned that fitness and eating better were two-fold, so I’d have to step up my nutrition game as well. At the ripe age of 27, I cautiously waded into the world of vegetables, beginning with sweet potatoes and asparagus (shout-out to NerdFitness for the gateway veggie suggestion), eventually added kale, spinach, brussel sprouts (shout-out to Jo-Jo for that introduction) and got reacquainted with beans and lentils. I severely diminished the amount of processed fast foods I ate, bade farewell to quick meals from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, etc… (although Sonic and Dairy Queen still get a pass once in awhile) cooked more basic meals at home, stopped buying 2L soda bottles for the house just because they were cheaper, and drank more water. Candy bars in the front of bodegas and drug stores became invisible to me. Junk cravings decreased. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my cookies and cakes and I still indulge when the craving hits, but cleaner eating pulls me now.

Imagine my surprise when, after over a decade of smooth sailing and self-implemented gut improvements, my tummy troubles returned with a vengeance and landed me in the ER for the second time in my life. A debilitating cramp seized the lower right hand portion of my stomach after returning from a trip to Antigua. When it didn’t subside for 3 days, my ex-boyfriend pushed me to go to Urgent Care. After some gentle prodding and mounting concern that it might be appendicitis, Urgent Care referred me to the ER, a place I swear to never return to unless my limbs are dismembered or my intestines are spilling out. After 9 hours of unsympathetic nurses who hooked an IV to my hand because they couldn’t find the veins in my arms, inept doctors who couldn’t make a proper diagnosis, an ultrasound, CT scan, and physical examination by a surgeon later, I was told I had fibroids. While one of the earlier moron doctors had said that wouldn’t be the source of my pain, the surgeon confirmed that, yes, fibroids can absolutely hurt. And a quick Google search confirmed this, especially when they undergo degeneration. Millions of women suffer from fibroids and just as many of them experience symptoms as the ones who don’t even realize they’re there.

At that point, the ER felt like prison: they had not allowed me to eat all day, the hospital-grade pain meds through the IV hadn’t done shit so I had long since ordered them to disconnect it, and I wanted my real clothes again. I was relieved when they released me to go home with the diagnosis: fibroids + take ibuprofen. I was ready to suffer in the comfort of my own apartment. I medicated with Motrin and marijuana for the rest of the week until the symptoms drifted away. And all was well until a year later.

I first felt the crampy twinges in the same spot the brutal pains had occurred a year before, but on a much lesser scale. Instead, it was now accompanied by discomforting bloating and fullness. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going to the bathroom as much anymore. Maybe once every 4-5 days and when I did, it was tiny pieces. My body wanted to release, but my booty wouldn’t. Google told me this was a constipation indicator. I tried all the recommended remedies. More apples, bananas and pears. More veggies. A spoonful of olive oil in the morning on an empty stomach along with jumping jacks. Coconut oil. Apple cider vinegar ingestion daily. I already log numerous Pokemon Go hours of walking and 2.5 gym sessions a week, so it couldn’t have been a lack of exercise.

A month later, with no improvement, I shakily told my current boyfriend, who proved to be incredibly supportive of my situation. It was time to up the ante. First, I pulled out the big guns and tried a laxative just to make sure, you know, it worked. It worked all right. Then we began a regimen of fruit and veggie smoothies blended each day with chia seeds. I began adding things I never ate. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, carrots. I started drinking kombucha. Tried bone broth. Upped my probiotic count. Abdominal massages. Eight glasses of bottled water a day and I abandoned tap. I kept a food journal for a month and referred to the Bristol Stool Chart more than I’d ever had in life. Someone with a normal digestive system would have been glued to the toilet. I tried removing certain foods for testing purposes. One week I did away with dairy. Another week, seafood. Tried removing gluten for a week before realizing if you want to have a gluten test done to see if you have Celiac’s, you have to actually be ingesting it. Lame. But now it had been two months and I was still not consistently improving, so I scheduled an appointment with a gastroentologist to have my butthole probed again for the second time in my life. They did a bevy of bloodwork testing for food allergies, thyroid issues, diseases and imbalances. All negative. We scheduled an ultrasound to take a look at what was happening in there and make sure the fibroids discovered the previous year hadn’t become an issue. Unlike the last time I’d gotten an ultrasound in my childhood, this one didn’t produce much, except a growth on my liver that needed to be checked out via MRI. One MRI later, they said it was Focal Nodular Hyperplasia, a fancy term for a small, benign mass that doesn’t affect the function of its host. Along with the fibroids and the non-threatening lump discovered in my breast years ago, I’m accumulating quite the collection of benevolent tumors inside my body.

“So what’s wrong with me then?”

My gastro diagnosed me with chronic idiopathic constipation, which basically means, cause unknown. Over $1000 in doctor’s visit’s later (yeah, that’s WITH health coverage) and I get a diagnosis that says “We dunno why.” Her solution: go on Miralax long term. “It’s very gentle, you won’t get explosive diarrhea, and I even have babies on it.”

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True Life Feels

It will soon be 5 months since this new ailment has afflicted me and I am slowly learning to accept it. Something like chronic constipation may not seem like a big deal until it’s your body that’s not working the way it should, and until you need to rely on supplements and additives to be “normal,” you won’t know what it’s like to fear what will happen if their effectiveness fails. I am ridiculously thankful that I don’t have the pain or distention of severe sufferers; my liver is working fine, I don’t have the sort of fibroids that make me look 7 months pregnant, nor do they bleed when I work out. I’ve forgotten they’re there since my last ER trip. I’m blessed to be able to still live a relatively normal lifestyle, just one more centered around the bathroom. But at times I do feel like the universe has a very backwards way of rewarding me for attempting to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

Currently I’m operating well enough on a daily dose of Miralax, magnesium supplement at night (shout-out to Amazon for the Natural Calm), an almost-daily home-blended fruit/veggie shake and a double dose of probiotics. When I vacayed in Mexico, I saw TSA workers examining the powders in my vitamin containers, questioning my potential to be a drug runner. Some days are better than others. Staying active helps take my mind off the feeling of internal fullness that varies on a regular basis.

It’s slightly annoying when those close to me downplay the situation, even when I know they are trying to help. When my mom off-handedly comments “You and your bestie love to create problems with yourselves that aren’t there,” I answer back, “Yes, because I shelled out hundreds of dollars in doctor’s visits and endured multiple needles because something isn’t REALLY wrong with my body.”

Or if someone says, “Oh, just drink coffee! That always helps me go!” I would think if it would have been that easy, the doctors would have suggested it. But I doubt the COFFEE will solve what the fruit, berries, spinach, kale, chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, olive oil, coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, and various fibrous additions cumulatively have not done, as well as hydration that makes my pee so clear, I could probably boil tea with it.

Google (as well as the doc) tells me CIC may vanish just as randomly as it crept in. But there is no way to know. Until then, I keep my stomach prepped for the day it might, by remaining active, increasingly choosing organic, maintaining increased fiber intake, continuing to drink probiotic drinks and include fresh garlic and ginger in my meals, as well as spices like turmeric and cayenne pepper. I practice stretches, abdominal massages, and even kegels, in the hopes that I can rebalance my body and guide my digestive motility back into submission at some point. Stressing about it multiplies the stress, so I try not to let it affect my day-to-day too much, pray over it and adapt to it, though it times it can get depressing.

I’m sharing my story because I’m not the only sufferer, and we need to talk about it. The docs don’t have a cure nor a reason for this condition, so it appears we are stuck in this tribe. If you know someone with similar symptoms, or if you have tips on how to manage CIC that have worked for you or another, please let me know, because the Internet is flooded with hopeless anecdotes on this condition. 😦 It is affecting more of us than you think.

~Tael