What I Learned From Doing an Elimination Diet

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You might remember (if you’ve been reading for awhile) that I did an elimination diet over the holidays (~like a total crazy pants~). You might remember that 10 days in, I’d lost a few pounds, felt my gut acting quite a bit happier, and had noticed a subtle improvement in my autoimmune disease symptoms. Then you might remember that I basically didn’t post anything else about it, with the exception of a small mention in this post of how figuring out what I was sensitive to wasn’t as easy and clear-cut as I thought it’d be.

Since I’ve had a surprising number of people follow up with me about the diet (thanks for being such a great support system, readers!), I decided it’s high time I did a REAL follow-up post on it.

So here goes – a list (surprise, surprise! another list!) of what I learned from doing an elimination diet.

(Note: For my elimination diet, I took out all corn, gluten, soy, and dairy in any form for 21 days, then gradually added them all back in one thing at a time over a period of about another 10 days.)

What I Learned:

1 – I’m about 95% sure I have a gluten sensitivity (and, let’s be honest, the other 5% is just me wishfully thinking that maybe it will “go away” eventually). Gluten was the last thing I added back into my diet after I’d gone off everything, and it was because deep down, I kind of knew that that would probably be the one.

2 – Even though I think I finally nailed down that I do, in fact, have a gluten sensitivity, the process wasn’t as clear as I thought it’d be. I thought that I would be able to tell a huge difference when I started adding all the foods back in, but I didn’t–many of the symptoms remained unclear, and I wasn’t totally symptom-free even during the diet, so it was difficult to tell what I was actually sensitive to (and what was due to just my eating better in general). However, after adding stuff back in and taking it back out and adding it back in, I’m pretty sure I’ve got my sensitivities figured out now.

3 – Even though it kind of stinks to go gluten-free, I’m actually SO GLAD that it wasn’t one of the other three because there is a LOT of great gluten-free options out there right now, and being able to eat dairy, corn, and soy again made it possible for me to indulge my beloved chocolate addiction (which I’d sorely missed). So in other words, even though I thought a year or two that I wouldn’t be able to bear going gluten-free, I’m actually glad that it ended up being that one (if I had to have a sensitivity to something).

4 – I actually do also have a slight sensitivity to dairy (just ever so slight, in my digestion), but it’s not causing enough pain and discomfort for me to go off dairy completely. For me, the pain of being OFF dairy is greater than the pain of being ON it, so I have continued to eat dairy because it seems to affect just my gut and not my AI disease symptoms.

5 – If I had to do the whole thing again, I would plan it out MUCH better and much more in advance than I did. I basically decided on a whim that I was just going to try the diet so I could hopefully see some improvement before my next doctor appointment about my condition, and because I didn’t have any days to waste between the time I started and the appointment itself, I just jumped right in. I wouldn’t recommend that strategy to anyone. I basically felt like I was in a state of semi-starvation for the first four or five days, and I was so cranky/tired/miserable that all I could focus on for that first week was just food and how bad I felt. Had I thought it out better, I could have stocked my kitchen with foods I could actually have, recipes I could actually make, and a better idea of what was all clear and off limits so that I wouldn’t have to go through that brutal state of self-deprivation again.

6 – Taking part in such an extreme diet both made me eat better and worse once  it was over— better because I now eat WAY more fruits and vegetables than before and WAY fewer carbs (and even dairy) in general, but worse because I felt so deprived while on it that I managed to get myself right back into drinking Diet Dr. Pepper again (which I’d been off for over two years and hadn’t touched a drop). Diet DP was miraculously free of the four forbidden foods, so I allowed it in order to give myself the boost I needed to actually stick with the diet instead of just give up. However, I’m still having Diet Dr. Pepper regularly now (daily, usually), and I’m also feeding my chocolate addiction at a furious pace because my body seems to think that I’m going to force it to go into deprivation mode again. When the stress of grading all these papers for this final stretch of second trimester is over with, I plan on “doing something” about the whole Diet DP/chocolate frenzy I’m on, but I don’t even have the mental space to devote to it right now, so it will be a couple weeks before I get around to it.

7 – I currently eat gluten-free about 90% of the time, and by doing so, I have seen drastic improvement in my skin, which was the last (and most resistant) symptom of my AI disease. In fact, the rash had almost all but disappeared until a few weeks ago, when a small spot of it came back with a vengeance. Since I have about a month to go before my next doctor’s appointment (where I find out if I can go off my second medication – methotrexate), and I’ll probably try and be even more vigilant about not eating gluten until then to see if it clears it up entirely.

8 – Even though doing an elimination diet is absolutely no fun at all (especially if you dream about what to cook for dinner next, like me), I recommend that anyone with an autoimmune disease for sure try one out. I was told repeatedly by my doctor that there was nothing I could do to help my symptoms, but I noticed some pretty drastic results in less than a month after I changed my diet. (And don’t assume that just because a celiac test came back negative–like it did for me–that  you’re automatically in the clear to eat gluten).

9 – Fair warning though to anyone thinking of trying one though—it will probably permanently change how you feel about some foods (or even food, in general). I used to love looking through cookbooks and planning out recipes that I wanted to try and baking all sorts of muffins and breads and cookies in my spare time, but since my diet, food has lost much of its allure for me. I’m hoping to get that pleasure back sometime, but I guess the loss of allure does have some upsides–it has definitely made it easier to keep up my weight loss.

So there you have it! Hopefully that answers most of the questions that I’ve gotten over the past several weeks, but if you have any more, please feel free to send them my way!

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman for her monthly “What I Learned” round-up!

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