A New Kind of Curveball
Sunday, April 12, 2015
The past few months, I've been suffering from intermittent stomach problems, especially after meals and especially after breakfast. I initially chalked it up to stress, as I've experienced a lot of change in my life recently. But, when things came to a head last week as I experienced some intense pain after three relaxing days, I knew it was time to seek some professional advice.
Based on the fact that my symptoms flare up after I eat and that they were especially bad after a weekend where I was more liberal with my choices and portions than I normally am, my doctor suspects that a food allergy or sensitivity is behind it all. As a result, she recommended that I do an elimination diet. This means that for a period of three weeks, I have to take out all potential triggers--gluten, milk, yogurt, cheese and anything else made with dairy, eggs, legumes, shellfish, most nuts, citrus fruit, nightshade vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplant) and soy. I should also try to minimize added sugar and caffeine and stay away from artificial sweeteners and alcohol. At the end of the three weeks, I'll need to reintroduce each potential trigger one at a time and see if I react to it.
My initial reaction to having to do this was not the greatest--I'm a "balance and moderation" girl and I bristled at the idea of having to do anything that involved the word "elimination". But having experienced some of the most intense pain in my life last week, I am willing to try anything that will make me feel better and, taking a calmer view of things, it's only for three weeks. I once did boot camp for six, so I can do this!
After throwing myself a little pity party over all of the things I couldn't have, I started to dig in and investigate what I COULD have and how I could make those things as delicious and palatable as possible. Basically, I'm left with meat and fish (apart from deli meat and shellfish), almost all fruits and vegetables, some nuts, seeds, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, oats and a few other non-gluten whole grains, sweet potatoes, olive and coconut oil (and basically all things coconut, including coconut milk and the unsweetened shredded stuff--never in my life have I felt more thankful for the existence of coconut, it's seriously been a sanity saver as I adjust), rice milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, agave syrup, stevia, herbal tea and small amounts of coffee and basically all herbs and spices.
There are different variations of elimination diets that are more or less restrictive, but based on what I had been eating most and what I had been eating prior to my most intense symptoms, these are my lists. The first few days of following this were a bit rough. I'm used to a "no-food-is-off-limits" policy when it comes to my diet and having to stay away from so many different things has been been an unexpected challenge, as has shopping. It's amazing how many things have ingredients you wouldn't expect--even chewing gum has soy in it and it took me several tries to find oats that didn't contain gluten. And although lots of products say that they MAY contain traces of different potential triggers, I thought it best to stay away from them as diligently as possible because I want to get this right. After all, the only thing that will get cheated if I don't adhere to this is my own wellbeing and I really just want to feel good again and not be filled with a sense of impending doom after each meal.
At first it seemed a bit daunting to keep my food choices so limited, but after looking up some recipes, a little experimentation in my kitchen and figuring out how to get my chocolate fix in, I'm finding I can actually still eat pretty well and enjoyably. Eating out will be a bit of a challenge, and I'm going to have to tackle that this evening, but I figure it will be good practice for me in the event that I do eventually have to avoid a certain kind of food permanently and will help me develop the assertiveness that might become necessary when eating outside of my strictly controlled comfort zone.
Another thing I've been wrestling with is the psychological component of all this. After several years working to get my portions under control, counting calories and focusing on things like getting enough protein, my doctor has advised me not to worry about those things and just make eating what I should and staying away from what I shouldn't my top priority these next few weeks. This is enough work in and of itself and trying to pile on other things on top of that are just unnecessary complications that could lead me to veer off plan. Given my past history of somtimes biting off more than I can chew, I'd have to agree with that, so I'm doing my very best to try to keep things as simple as possible and try not to stress out if I gain a few pounds in the process.
The other issue I'm grappling with is the possibility that my reactions have been psychosomatic. After all, I grew up listening to my grandfather saying that most illnesses were "mind over matter" and that if we really believed we were healthy, we would be. So, is it possible that one or two adverse reactions to what I ate caused me to develop a fear that resulted in phantom symptoms that merely mimicked my real ones? Sounds kind of creepy and supernatural and I'd prefer to think that what I've been experiencing is real, but it is, nonetheless, one of many thoughts that have been swirling around in my head.
However, the bottom line for me is that if doing an elimination diet makes me feel better and if, in the end, that means I do better to avoid a certain food group, this all will have been worth it. And if nothing changes, at least my doctor and I will know that we'll need to look for other culprits. In any case, I'm ready to start feeling better again and hope that this at least provides some answers and helps point me in the right direction!