Sunday, February 10, 2013

Elimination - Trying to Walk the Walk

On Tuesday, I jumped in the deep end of the pool and started an elimination diet.  This means I am currently abstaining from all foods/beverages that contain the following:  alcohol, white/brown sugar, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners/flavorings, preservatives, wheat/gluten, cow products, peanuts, yeast, tomatoes, mushrooms and pork.  So far it's been quite an interesting and challenging experience, with ups and downs, cravings and thought of calling it quits. And I'm only on Day 3!!

Let me back up here for  a moment and explain how it is that I arrived at the point where I am willing to give up the foods I love the most ALL at the same time.  It started, of course, with a book. A very convincing book by Dr. John Matsen, called Eating Alive. Dr. Matsen is a practicing ND in Vancouver and has written several books focusing on the role of nutrition in disease/health.  This book is actually part of the curriculum for the nutrition program I am currently taking and is, thusfar, my favorite 'required reading'.   In his book, Dr. Matsen delves into the role and importance of our gut health in relation to disease.  The basic premise is that the foods most of us in the Western world eat and the combinations of foods that we eat at any given meal are destructive to our gut health which, in turn, is destructive to our overall health.  If our gut is not healthy,  it will affect the rest of our health.

There are several ways poor gut health can impact our overall health. For example, if we don't produce enough digestive juices (contrary to popular belief this is a MUCH more common scenario than overproduction of stomach juices) the lack of stomach juices will result in poor absorption of minerals.  Mineral deficiencies can lead to chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and kidney disease (amongst many).   Undersecretion of digestive juices can also hamper the breakdown of proteins, and then partially digested amino acids can be absorbed by the intestinal tract and cause all sorts of issues within the body, including chronic inflammation (truly the beginning of most disease). Finally, the stomach acid is meant to act as a natural antibiotic, if you aren't producing enough then bad microorganisms in the food you've eaten could get absorbed into the body and cause havoc.

The aforementioned list of foods that I am abstaining from have been identified as the foods we are most commonly sensitive to, and thus the ones that aggravate our digestive system the most and cause problems such as underproduction of digestive juices and absorption of partially digested amino acids that then cause inflammation int the body.   There are many additional foods that sometimes turn up as problems for people such as beef, carrots, eggs, pineapple, potatoes, strawberries, etc., but that list is very long and Dr. Matsen only advises eliminating this list of foods if you have a major disease.

Aside from eliminating the 'culprit' foods, there are several other elements to Dr. Matsen's diet. For the purposes of this blog post, I'll only mention one of these other factors, which is food combining. Food combining theorizes that our digestion is positively or negatively impacted by the food combinations we choose to eat at any given time, as some foods require different digestive enzymes to be broken down and if both are present they can neutralize each other. Some foods are also digested quicker, while others need more time to digest. Since the key is to have the most efficient and effective digestion possible, certain food combinations are discouraged. The biggest no-no in food combining is to pair protein with a starchy carbohydrate (think steak and potatoes).  Fruit should always be eaten alone and on an empty stomach (say as a wake-up, light meal). Protein and non-starchy vegetables are fine together (e.g. steak and a green salad), high starch with vegetables (e.g. lentil salad) as  are healthy oils paired with vegetables. Acceptable combination are high starch foods with healthy oils.

The gist of the elimination diet is to give the stomach a break from all the foods that might be aggravating it, and then after it has had time to return to good health and is functioning properly, the foods can be reintroduced one at a time.  The stomach, being in good condition, will be more sensitive to any foods that cause it aggravation and will signal you when it doesn't like a particular food.  As it stands, when most of us are constantly eating aggravating foods (and many of them in any given day), our stomach can't function properly, let alone be in the position to signal to us that it is having problems with a certain food.

So how am I doing so far? Well, as alluded to earlier in this post, it hasn't all be roses so far, but I have certainly noticed some differences in my physical and mental state.  Here's a summary of my experiences so far, including what I have done 'right' and what I've done 'wrong', as well as my physical and mental states at particular points.

Physical State

Going into this diet, I wasn't really suffering from any particularly notable digestive issues, or any major other health problems for that matter. Minor complaints would include my current weight (I want to lose a few pounds!), some moodiness, and some gassiness.

The first three days of the diet I noticed some subtle changes in my physical state. Firstly, I was having intermittent headaches. They weren't terribly bad, but certainly noticeable. I rarely get headaches, on average I'd say once a year,  so I was very cognizant of them.  Additionally I found I wasn't able to concentrate very well.   In terms of my digestive system, I noticed that I wasn't at all gassy, until I made an error and ate fruit shortly after a meal.  Finally, I noted that I was having more (and easier) bowel movements.

Over the past few days, the headaches have disappeared and my concentration is better. The gassiness is still present on occasion, but better than pre-diet, and the bowel movements continue to improve.

A note re: the initial headaches and lack of  concentration - these are classic symptoms of withdrawal from foods that the body is sensitive to. Sounds weird, but it's true! The foods we are most allergic/sensitive to are the ones we tend to be most addicted and whenever we stop eating them, we experience withdrawal symptoms initially (and often we address these by eating more of the addictive and allergy-causing food!).

Mental State

I already touched somewhat on my mental state in the descriptor of my physical state, merely because the two are interrelated and our brains/minds are as sensitive to changes in our diet as other parts of our body.  That being said, I want to share another aspect of my mental state during the past few days and that is with regard to my willpower/motivation.

To be perfectly honest, my motivation has ebbed and flowed. There are many times I've wanted to quit. Especially when I reviewed this list of eliminated foods on my first day and discovered pork and tomatoes amongst the banned foods. How had I missed this before?! Two of my favorite foods and staples in everyone's diet. No tomatoes for my salad, no bacon for an easy lunch salad. Sigh.

It's also hard to find motivation, I think, when one is not suffering from serious health issues at the outset of an elimination diet. If you experience dramatic changes in your health during the first week of an elimination diet, it certainly provides some motivation for continuing. Fortunately, I wasn't in this position of ill-health, but it certainly has made it harder to convince myself that I 'need' to do this and that it's worth the sacrifice.

Thusfar my willpower has stayed quite strong. Despite lapses in motivation, I've done my best to stick to the plan. The only errors I've made were accidental. Oh and that one piece of bacon I couldn't resist eating yesterday.  Ahem.

What I've Done Wrong and Right So Far

I'll start by listing my mistakes, it just makes more sense to me:

  • Didn't do a big shop before starting diet to prepare for changes to my meals
  • Didn't look up recipes that I can use while doing the diet
  • Didn't realize until Day 2 that the almond-coconut milk I was drinking was NOT the unsweetened version
  • Ordered salmon sushi at Mr. Sushi, which turned out to have cream cheese stuffed in it (no description in menu) and then proceeded to eat California sushi roll with soya sauce that contained wheat (lesson learned - no point in eating out during this diet).
  • Didn't consider how I would deal with issues like low motivation, being hungry and offered foods that are no-nos, etc.
  • Forgot to drink water with lemon on the weekend mornings (good for digestion)
  • Ate fruit too soon after/before a meal
  • Did not drink enough water
What I've Done Right So Far
  • Stuck to the diet
  • Told other people that I'm doing this, so they don't offer me foods I can't eat
  • Started looking up recipes and trying new ones (cue lentil burgers and quinoa dishes)

The 'wrong' list is deceivingly longer that the 'right' list, but that's just because it's easier to pinpoint specific errors than it is to list all the times I got it 'right'! 

Anyways, that's where I am right now. Let's see how I get through this week, which brings with it a Valentine's Day potluck and visitor from NB! 


Raeanne said...

You'll do great! It's not as hard as it seems once you get going! I did it for 6+ months!!! :)

Shannon Courtney said...

Hey Rae,

I have to admit, it seems easier this week than it did those first few days. The cravings have dissipated a lot!! Getting through V-day is going to be hard - you know how much I love chocolate! And yes, you are my role model for elimination diets :)