My Experience with the Elimination Diet
Six weeks ago, I’d finally had enough. Over the past 3 years, I’ve experienced a variety of annoying and fairly new physical symptoms (i.e. acid reflux, constant stomach aches, bloating, low energy, weight gain, etc), and have not felt nearly as good or healthy as I have wanted to. Then, after finding out my thyroid was slightly enlarged last fall (nothing is wrong, but more on that later), I realized that merely chalking it up to getting older wasn’t empowering or benefiting me in any way. So I decided to put my health and wellbeing at the top of my priority list.
Even though I’m an exercise physiologist and a wellness coach who spends her days teaching clients all about how important it is to prioritize our health and take care of ourselves, I still found myself letting everything else take priority over my health. And although it started subtly by me saying yes to other important things first, it wasn’t long until I realized I was taking the most valuable asset I have for granted.
Pain is often our body’s way of communicating to us that something is off. Whether it’s stress, lack of sleep, how often we move, or what we eat, it’s amazing how much of an impact our lifestyle choices can have on every single function in our body. I found that by not feeling my best, I wasn’t living the way I really wanted to live. If my stomach was upset, I didn’t want to be active. If I had low energy, I wouldn’t be as productive.
So instead of just covering up the annoying pain with medications, I wanted to dive a little deeper into why these physical symptoms were present in the first place.
I didn’t just want acid reflux medicine, I wanted to figure out why I was having it in the first place. I didn’t want to constantly take ibuprofen every time my stomach would hurt, I wanted to understand what was causing it to hurt. I wanted to be proactive, rather than reactive, so I could get to the bottom of these issues before they turned into something more serious.
I didn’t want to merely get through my day and “survive.” I wanted to feel my absolute best and THRIVE.
My first step was seeking out a functional medical doctor. While I could have made some educated guesses as to what things I could do to help improve my symptoms and overall health, I really wanted someone to look at EVERYTHING, so I could get a comprehensive and accurate baseline of where I was starting and what was going on.
Since beginning this process, many people have asked me, “what is a functional medical doctor?” I actually am going to cover this topic along with my experience working with one in a full post, so stay tuned for that. But to give you a reference, here’s a great description from Dr. Mark Hyman:
“FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE is the future of conventional medicine–available now. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms.”
While I didn’t have a disease, I wanted a doctor who had western medicine education and experience, along with education and experience in preventative methodology. It was also encouraging to know they partner WITH you to provide holistic solutions. Being a coach, I know how valuable that kind of a relationship is, and I was ready for a major change.
The first thing my doctor had me do was start the IFM Elimination Diet. The Elimination Diet is designed to give your immune system time to build up and your gut time to heal. The primary goal is to help you understand how certain foods affect your body and determine what’s causing negative symptoms. For four weeks, I cut out a variety of inflammatory foods: gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, red meat, pork, nightshades, peanuts, processed foods, and then some. While that sounds daunting, my doctor thankfully didn’t present it to me in that light because she’s v smart.
Instead, she handed me a list of all the things I COULD eat, which was quite extensive and included some of my favorite foods (give me alllllll the sweet potatoes). What a relief! I also found a few really helpful resources that included elimination diet friendly recipes that were incredibly delicious and easy to make.
While I was definitely eliminating things I ate every day, it wasn’t a far cry from my typical diet. I like vegetables, I make an effort to eat healthy foods, and I love learning new recipes. Plus, I was so tired of feeling how I felt, and I didn’t want my enlarged thyroid to turn into something serious, so I was determined to do whatever it took to support my health and feel my best.
So here are a few takeaways from my experience:
After a week and a half on the diet, 95% of my symptoms were gone. No acid reflux, no bloating, my energy was steady, I no longer needed that 3pm cup of coffee, and I was 7lbs down, (which was ALL inflammation). I felt better than I had in years. And the best part was, it wasn’t as hard as I had anticipated. I almost couldn’t believe how doable it was and how quickly I noticed a difference.
It was more freeing than I expected. I am not a fan of diets, especially for the purpose of weight loss. They fail 95% of the time in that capacity, and usually do more harm than good physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve dieted before, and I’ll admit it was not out of love for myself or my body. It wrecked my metabolism and my mentality. And once I got tired of restricting, I’d fall off the wagon and binge (the most common response to dieting). Neither extreme was me “listening to my body”. Neither extreme made me feel healthy, confident, and happy. So when I started the elimination diet, I knew I had to carefully approach it.
This process was not about weight loss for me. This was about me tuning in, listening to my body, and taking care of it by giving it what it needs. I didn’t count calories or macros. I didn’t police my portion sizes. And I most certainly did not starve. This experience taught me how to tune into my body, and how it responded to the foods I was eating. If I felt hungry, I ate. If I was full, I didn’t. I felt empowered and I now have so much appreciation for my body and all it does for me on a daily basis.
I started to enjoy cooking. I won’t say I despised cooking before, but I often viewed it as an annoying chore that had to be done. Before this year, we probably opted for takeout 60% of the week, because I always thought, “there are so many other important things I could be doing right now instead of cooking.” I was completely disconnected to the food I was eating, and didn’t realize what I was missing.
Now that I’m focused on feeling as healthy as possible, I view cooking and preparing meals as a form of self-care, and have actually started to look forward to that part of my day. Eric and I have also really enjoyed that uninterrupted time together as we simultaneously prepare dinner and catch up about our day. I can feel a difference with the foods I’m eating, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
It helped us save money. Finances are a big part of our overall wellbeing. I’m no financial expert, but one of our big goals for this year is saving money. After doing an audit of everything we spend, it was shocking how much money we spent going out to eat. While our grocery bill definitely increased, we didn’t spend nearly the amount we had been on food. Now we’re more intentional when we go out to eat, only going to restaurants we really love, and treating that as a fun experience instead of our first option for meals. It was definitely a nice bonus that not only was I feeling much better, but our bank account was looking better too.
This experience has changed the way I feel in so many ways, and inspired me so much that I decided to enroll in The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I’m so excited about how I feel and how much food can impact our lives. My goal is to learn more so I can help others in this area to the best of my ability! Classes already started and I can’t wait to begin sharing more information about how you can improve your life with the foods you eat, as well as sharing some of my favorite recipes as of late. So stay tuned and let me know if you have any specific requests!
Our health is our most valuable asset. When we feel energetic, confident, and well, we live our lives more boldly. When we don’t feel like crap, we’re better able to focus on pursuing our bigger purpose in life. That’s what I want for myself and for you.
So I want to encourage you to check in with yourself and how you feel on a day-to-day basis. And if you find that you don’t feel incredibly healthy and vital, don’t wait to take a step towards making healthier decisions and caring for yourself. It’s possible for you to feel amazing!
And if you’re stuck on how to begin, let me know here and I’ll be happy to help you move forward!
Below are a few things I found incredibly helpful during this process: