Why I’m Doing an Elimination Diet During the Holidays

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If I hadn’t typed up the words of that post title myself, I might have had a hard time believing that it was me putting the words “diet” and “holidays” together in the same sentence (unless, of course, we were talking about the usual plans to go on a diet AFTER the holidays).

This year has been so strange for me–as if pregnancy and new motherhood weren’t enough of a new thing to get used to, I’ve also been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which I’ve become much more familiar with than I’d like. While I’ve been determined ever since the diagnosis not to let the disease define who I am or limit my dreams, the fact has been that it impacts my daily life, whether I like it or not.

At first, the diagnosis came as a bit of a relief–I had been experiencing so much pain and soreness from my muscles and so much rashiness and itching from my skin that I was relieved to know that there were medications I could take that would immediately ease my symptoms and help me to return to my normal activities.

And while I have very mixed feelings about the medications I’ve been prescribed, I am indeed grateful that they at least allowed me to return as much to “normal activity” as is possible while I’m still recovering from the initial flare-up of the disease.

BUT, although I have now been lucky enough to be beyond the worst of the symptoms of the disease itself, I am now in the lovely stage where my treatments and their side effects have become worse than the dermatomyositis. I am also at the stage where I can’t go off the medications quite yet because all of my symptoms are not fully in remission. Therefore, I appear to be in the middle of some sort of waiting game that is probably meant to teach me patience but which is instead just making me feel a bit desperate.

So I’ve started doing research.

Turns out, although there are myriad autoimmune diseases which manifest themselves with hundreds of different symptoms, many of those symptoms–regardless of the specific AI disease–seem to be eliminated or greatly reduced when the person’s diet is changed. And although my doctor has assured me multiple times that there is nothing I personally can do to speed my recovery up, I have been inspired by the number of people I know personally with various AI diseases who said that their symptoms improved drastically upon fixing their diet (often through the elimination of gluten and processed carbs). Additionally, I’ve also been reading a book (The Immune System Recovery Plan) that has presented an impressive amount of research backing the idea that diet might be key to helping the millions of people who suffer from AI diseases, and one glance checking out the reviews of it on Amazon is enough to make almost anyone game to try the plan.

The problem is, the first several weeks of the plan are HARD—the book recommends eliminating gluten, corn, soy, and dairy completely from your diet for 21 days and then gradually adding them back in one by one to see if you have a sensitivity to any of them (which most people with AI diseases do). Since most foods make me sick anyway (because of the medication I’m on and, probably, because of my disease), and since I’ve been trying to diligently watch what I eat so I don’t gain weight while on steroids, I figured that now is as good of a time as any to start the diet.

In fact, now might be the best time I could start the diet, seeing as I have 2 weeks before my next doctor’s appointment (where he’ll determine if I need to start giving myself injections instead of taking the methotrexate in pill form), and I’ll have quite a bit more time than normal to cook and plan out meals in about a week when I go on Christmas break.

It’s now or never, I guess. (Besides, I found that I couldn’t continue to read the book without feeling massive amounts of guilt that I might be steadily worsening my condition and causing more inflammation without even knowing it.)

And so, here I am, on day two of my elimination diet.

First of all, can I say how ridiculously hard it is to even determine what I can eat? Basically, there’s either gluten, corn, soy, or dairy in almost every single food product you find at a store, with the exception of fruits and vegetables and certain kinds of meat. Even something as innocent as oats proved to be impossible to find at my local grocer—sure, I found some that were marked gluten-free, but I couldn’t find any that were totally free of gluten, soy, AND corn (because they were often processed in the same plant that processes those other products).

This was my diet the first day:

Breakfast: hard boiled egg, banana
Lunch: pre-cooked pork chop, grapes, carrots, mini sweet peppers
Snack: orange juice, hard boiled egg
Dinner: sweet potato w/ avocado, salsa, black beans, and cilantro

And then for today, the same breakfast with a salad of spinach, arugula, mini sweet peppers, hard boiled egg, and walnuts for lunch (w/ a vinaigrette I happened to have on hand that miraculously didn’t break any of the rules) and another pork chop, with an almond milk/mango/banana/raspberry smoothie for a snack.

You guys, I’m SO HUNGRY!!

I know this is partly my own fault, as I haven’t taken the time to cook any real meals for the past couple of nights, but it seems like none of my usual recipes will work, and many of the recipes that are recommended require ingredients that I couldn’t find or that are so expensive that I can’t bring myself to spend the money. It will be a miracle if I don’t lose ten pounds in the next 3 weeks (not that I would mind, of course).

I wish I could report some grand success in these first 48 hours–some obvious sign that I was doing the smart thing, like a renewed sense of energy or a lack of brain fog or a happier gut. But the truth is, I feel pretty terrible—my energy levels are worse than ever (I need to find more filling fare, and stat!), and I’ve been experiencing other symptoms that have only rarely come up in my autoimmune journey so far, like hot flashes, dizziness, and a severe inability to focus. I’m hoping that the problem will go away once I find more things I can eat, but I was about ready to throw in the towel today at about 10 A.M, when I was sure I was going to throw up all over my second hour class and then pass out from the effort.

The book says that the first 4-5 days will be the hardest.

We’ll just have to see.

Anyone else tried an elimination diet? WHAT CAN I EAT?!

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