In Pursuit of GI Balance – An Adventure in Radical Elimination Diets (Don’t Try this at Home!)
I started this blog following a decline in my vitality, after having surgery. I had my gall bladder removed, which was great. However, then I got everything: GI thrush, Influenza, every cold in my daughter’s school. I was tired, stressed, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Maybe eat and sleep.
So I started by adding more herbs to my diet. Our family started eating more vegetables. Eventually we removed most carbs. We adopted a Mostly Reduced Lectin Diet, primarily as a means to eat more veggies. It certainly reduced our lectins (protective plant proteins) which are found in potatoes, legumes/beans, peanuts/cashews, and peppers.
I also have fought cravings for, well forever. Sometime in there, I gained 10 lbs, chalking it up to age. I accepted that, but then I started having GI issues. I have always been a person whose stress shows in their guts. I thought that now, post-Gall Bladder, post Career Change, I was supposed to be on the upswing!
I went hiking and drank untreated water, unintentionally. I got ongoing diarrhea. Wait, maybe I’d had this on and off – but never like this! I thought I had cryptosporidia. It’s a diarrheal disease from livestock – yup – that’s who shared our water sources. In 4 – 6 weeks I should be better.
6 weeks later – I wasn’t any better.. I got treated for traveler’s diarrhea, and for giardia. I didn’t get better, but I did get GI thrush. Again.
I stopped eating Sugar and Flour. This was tremendously helpful in managing my cravings. My tongue turned pink again. This was a first. Pink is the color our tongues is supposed to be! Mine had not been that color longer than I can remember. However, my GI system was not better. My doctor ordered a fecal culture and testing – no cryptosporidia, nor any other pathogens. She told me to stop eating dairy and eggs. Add in fiber and probiotics.
I shifted my diet again: no sugar, no flour, no dairy, no eggs, added fiber and probiotics. It did not change my GI system. Maybe it was the nuts. I eliminated nuts, making my daily Walking Oatmeal with seeds and my sugarless flour-free chocolate cake with seed butter.
No better. Things might even be worse. I emailed Doc for help, to ask about a plan or an elimination diet. I was told I could come in and talk with her……In a month.
I sat down and cried. I felt betrayed. I couldn’t go another month. What was I supposed to eat! I wanted to not wake up at 3 am every morning with GI pain or worse. I wanted to go to sleep with out my belly hurting, or to spend a day without it torment me all day. I wanted not to be filled with gas at times every day. And hot damn – I wanted to stop shitting 6 times a day.
My handsome husband stepped in. He’s a nurse. I am/was a doctor of animals. We know what to do. We were going off track – without a doctor. We were going to do an elimination diet!
His plan was radical. I mean radical radical. Nothing I could find on the net was so radicle. But it matched what he would do to a human, and what I would do to a pet. I choose 1 meat, 1 vegetable, 1 starch and 1 fruit, then add food back one at a time. I chose chicken, rice, carrots, and papaya. We added honey, olive oil, salt, pepper and black tea, just to make it do-able.
As a nurse….or a veterinarian feeding an animal…this likely makes sense. We can do that to the creatures under our care. You just – do it.
Well, it’s not so simple, when one is the creature!
On day 1, all my GI signs went away. Day 2 was great, husband made me ‘pizza’ with a crust out of white rice, and topped with carrots and chicken. For dessert I got caramelized carrots with honey.
On day 3, I had to eat my dinner in the living room, away from all the other families food. I couldn’t stop Watching Them Eat! By then I had already started cheating, a little. Adding a spice, or fennel tea, or wild rice instead of white… Little cheats. On day 5, I decided to add new foods. I was going crazy! I did not mind eating these 4 foods, they were still good and the results were great, but I could hardly stand to not eat other food. I loved the happy pain free belly I now had! It was great! But I couldn’t eat rice and chicken for the rest of my life! So we negotiated adding 2 foods at a time: White fish and sweet potatoes. I also cheated and ate a little brown rice and a bite or two of wild rice as well.
I was back to GI-sick for 2-3 days. Obviously, I went back to chicken and rice.
On day 9, I told my husband I was not going to be able to stay on this diet for more than a day or two. I wanted to plan my exit, not be rash. But exit I must – I was about to just off a cliff, maybe with a parachute. I wanted to drink in the morning: Every morning! (I don’t drink much at all!) I wanted to drive race cars, or set the house on fire – just a little fire… Really, I felt crazy. We made a new plan. I continued the 4 ingredient diet for another 2 days, actually traveling cross country, and attending a holiday potluck, without cheating. I knew relief was coming! I wasn’t even tempted to cheat anymore, in the face of the relief, because I knew how badly eating regularly had made me feel. I was not at all tempted by the holiday desserts flooding the counters everywhere. Not one bit! I swear – and it was pretty weird not to be tempted.
At the potluck, I spoke with a physician. She could not believe I was going with out sugar, eggs or dairy. She thought that was the hard and amazing part. I thought to myself, Well, THAT ain’t nothing!” By talking to her, I realized just how hard the thing I had been doing actually was – enormously hard!
I returned home and started a new plan; a modified rotating diet plan. In this plan, you choose to eat from different families of food, and not eat that family again for 4 days. There are a lot of theories as to why this may work, and lots of information as to why it won’t work. In veterinary medicine, food allergy testing is considered of no use, but practically speaking, I have seen it almost always be of some uses. This is because food allergies, which are really intolerances, they shift around. So the science of testing does not work well, but the art of food trials – now that works. We are not talking about allergies here however, we are talking about sensitivities, or intolerances. These things shift around, mostly flaring up against the things we eat the most. My rotating, you avoid that. Using this plan, I could rotate through more foods while ‘eliminating them.” Maybe I wouldn’t go crazy.
I modified it because I was still more interested in an Elimination Diet, rather than rotating through a vast array of foods. I limited myself initially to choosing 4 different food families and eating those for 2 days each. I found I couldn’t manage to eat the same 4 foods for 3 days, but I could for 2 days. Beef, green beans, white potatoes, and bananas. Pork, Quinoa, Squash, and Melon (that was a little tough).
After that it was Christmas. I really wanted to eat candy, drink eggnog, and share that big block of brie I got weeks ago! I choose Chicken, rice, corn , legumes, milk eggs and mangos. That might’ve been more than 4 foods! However, that way I could eat my candy (milk and corn syrup), drink my eggnog, and eat cheese. Guess what – I was great! (I might have felt a little nausea after downing 2 candy bars in 30 minutes, having not eating sugar for 3 months, but I don’t think that counts.)
The next round was Fish again, this time salmon (steaks and Lox’s!), broccoli, amaranth, and apples. OMG! I could not even finish the 2nd day! Wow! At least I know I am on the right path – it is food. I was beginning to wonder. Good feedback and – Ugh!
Since I started this blog, I have used myself as a laboratory. Weight loss has never been my primary goal, but eating healthy has been. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with 5 – 10 lbs off! I tried the Low Lectin Diet, which increased our vegetable intake mild to moderately. I lost no weight. I loved the psychology behind the Brightline eating diet, and am a big believer that sugar, corn syrup and likely flour are not our friends. I tried that diet, cutting sugar and flour. I think it was really helpful in controlling my cravings. Super really. It’s a bit obsessive if you ask me. I did not subscribe, or measure my food. I just cut sugar, flour, ate meals, avoided snacks (for the most part), and I got control over my cravings. I also lost 2-4 lbs, maybe. I don’t know because my scale broke, but I do have a mirror. I eliminated dairy and eggs with no effect. I removed nuts, shifting to seeds. No help.
I tried a radical elimination diet, way more radical than anything out there on the web. I failed to stick to the diet. Yet I feel I succeeded. Now, I am using a rotating diet, to investigate what makes me tick, and what makes me – well, sound more musical, and less comfortable. By the way, I am pretty sure I am in the 5-7 lbs weight loss range. My cravings – still mostly controlled. When I have eaten most of my regular foods, which will take a few rotations, then I will test out the failures in each group. After that, we’ll see. I might consider this rotational diet for the sake of an eating plan. I certainly plan on continuing to eat in ways I have learned controls cravings, avoids GI distress and focuses on balance. Even if I eat sugar sometimes.
It’s all about balance!
by Tama Cathers, an independent food laboratory with feet.