The Elimination Diet
by Tessa Tapscott
The thought of never having pizza again made my throat close up. “Just concentrate on the things you can eat, it’s really not that limiting” my doctor tried to tell me. I couldn’t help but look at him as if he were insane. No caffeine? Eggs? Yogurt? Are you freaking serious? Do you know how much stuff has soy in it?
While I had noticed some mild on-going health problems it was not until the summer after my first year at college that I realized something was definitely wrong with my body. I had never really had terrible acne through high school and my skin was actually quite clear at the end of that first year, but then all of a sudden my face turned into a war zone. I went to a dermatologist (who, by the way told me what you eat has nothing to do with your skin). I tried a number of topical medications to little avail and the idea of what antibiotics would do to my system left me in a serious bind. My mother was adamant I didn’t take antibiotics and deep down I didn’t think it was a good idea but I was getting desperate. Something was obviously up with my hormones, but I continued on like the acne was the biggest problem.
I had always had noticeable psychological symptoms to go along with my period, but the depression and mood swings worsened, my poor mother bearing the brunt of those monthly breakdowns. By January my period disappeared. While I must admit it has been kind of nice being period free, I know someone my age should be worried by this. Finally, I went to a functional medical clinic , HealthNow Medical Center that looks at your whole body instead of just symptoms. I filled out several lengthy health-related questionnaires and these made me realize that I might have had more issues than I had thought. From sweating and acne to indigestion and mood swings, oh and losing my period, I really was a mess. I started with a physical with an MD. I gave quite a bit of blood, saliva and even sent a frozen stool sample to a lab (I know, gross!) The director recommended I start on a Modified Elimination Diet (M.E.D.) immediately. How could all this be caused by a food allergy or intolerance? I must admit I was skeptical, but at that point I had run out of non-antibiotic options.
Here’s how the elimination diet works:
In the beginning you must eliminate anything you might likely have a reaction to:
Dried fruit containing sulfur preservatives
Vinegar (all types)
Dairy (all dairy not just lactose-free)
Gluten (wheat, barley and rye)
Sugar/sweets (except those sweetened with fruit, honey or Stevia)
This left me with:
Most fruit and vegetables
Beans (except soy)
Fish (except shellfish)
Nuts and seeds
Rice, quinoa and other gluten-free grains
Coconut, almond and other dairy/soy free milks and their cultured products
Spices (although it is important to check labels)
For two weeks you are limited to the foods in the last list. It really is not as daunting as it appears, especially if you like Indian food (which conveniently I LOVE). Be careful though as Indian cuisine often uses butter in the form of “ghee” or clarified butter. According to my some, clarifying the butter removes the casein (many people, like my Mom, who are gluten intolerant can’t have casein either). Neither of us has tried this.
After two weeks you get to introduce something, however gluten and dairy are saved for the end because they are big allergens. The first thing I re-introduced was alcohol. Hey, I’m in college. Alcohol might be tough because it can have such harsh effects on the body even if you are not allergic to it. This seemed to go all right.
After three more days I proceeded with soy (did not go so well), then every three days I would add something new: eggs, strawberries, vinegar, citrus and corn (another fail). When you add a food and it does not cause any ill effects you can add it back to your regular diet.
After finishing the elimination diet I decided to continue to stay off added sugar, caffeine, and dairy that I never reintroduced (although I have had some brushes with cheese and cream in things and nothing has come of it).
As expected (given my genes) I am indeed gluten intolerant. This was proven though a blood test done by Cyrex labs that my doctor at HealthNow ordered for me. Apparently you can order your own test from True Health Labs but my Mom would tell me (or you) to work with a medical practitioner to help interpret and act upon results. Through the elimination diet alone I discovered I am intolerant to soy and corn.
When I look back, I noticed many of my issues arose when I switched to a pescatarian (vegetarian + fish) diet and began eating more soy in place of meat. When I reintroduced soy I had a pretty obvious reaction: bloating, sharp stomach pains, even headaches. However when I reintroduced corn I initially thought everything went okay. I began eating corn tortillas, corn cereals, popcorn, corn on the cob, any corn I could get my hands on really. For two weeks I was fine then I started feeling really bad: bloating, stomach pain, acne breakouts, etc. I was confused, so I took corn out again, it didn’t take more than three days for me to notice an obvious difference. It was such a relief I didn’t even feel bad about losing corn.
“How sad!” people say to me, but really I wonder how many people have unknown food allergies that they are just living with. To me that is really sad. Sure I don’t eat a lot of things, but my skin cleared, I lost weight and I feel so clean and healthy all the time, not to mention I did not get sick once this entire year! Looking back now, I cannot imagine eating the things I used to. Until the M.E.D., I had thought getting indigestion and bloating after meals was a normal thing that most people had to deal with, as it turns out that is not the case. The Modified Elimination Diet is one of the best and most accurate tests to determine what one is intolerant to and while it may seem extreme, if you stick to it, it can be life changing.