Honestly, I could talk about dietary theory until I was blue in the face. I could give you evidence from study after study about how sugar is bad, sleep is good, and meditation can change how you digest and incorporate nutrients. But until you are ready to hear and process that information I will be talking to myself.
People will not change until they are ready to. I could be dying to help you, but if you are not ready for that help I will be nothing more than an irritant in your life. So people like me sit back and watch you chip away at your health one can of Coke and piece of pizza at a time knowing full well the ailments you complain about can be alleviated, or even eliminated, by a few simple changes in your lifestyle.
When I ask my daughter (who is five) what she is going to learn in school today she says, “I don’t know, mom. You don’t know it until you know it.” That same phrase came up for me yesterday while listening to a lecture about food sensitivities and elimination diets. The lecturer (Tom Malterre, MS, CN) said something along the lines of, “People are amazed how good they feel once they eliminate the foods that have been causing them distress. Of course, I had been telling them this, but you don’t know it until you know it.”
My theory is that this is why people tell stories. Honestly, a personal story resonates with me better than a dry scientific paper even though the scientific paper (probably) has more accountability. In that spirit, let me tell you my story, which is in progress.
I have digestive problems that have been ongoing for several years now. I honestly can’t tell you when they started. That isn’t the reason I became a nutrition nerd — not consciously anyway, although I do believe our gut microbes are more intelligent and have better communication skills than we realize — but it may have been solved because I’m a nutrition nerd. Either way, being educated in holistic nutrition led me to become aware of my digestive issues.
I had several symptoms ranging from ever-present gas (a family trait laughed about at intimate gatherings), bloating, frequent diarrhea, cramping, being generally uncomfortable in my abdomen, fatigue, and several other seemingly unrelated issues that I’ll revisit in a moment. These symptoms finally became bad enough that I visited my doctor. Who had me tested for several things, but told me nothing. So it seems there really was nothing wrong, but why was I not thriving when my diet and exercise were far superior to any of my friends’ and they seemed to be doing fine? Is this just how I should expect to feel at almost 40?
Then I hired a health coach because I was not taking, “Well, hon, you are nearly 40” as an adequate diagnosis. She suggested an elimination diet, which I had thus far avoided because I expected it to be difficult. It was difficult. In fact, I was feeling much worse. Was I detoxing? Surely not. I wasn’t eating that much differently. I only had a few things to take out and I was only occasionally eating those in my regular diet, to begin with. What was the deal?
So I visited another doctor. He was about ready to plant the IBD diagnosis on me — which he explained was basically a catch-all diagnosis that basically meant they didn’t know what was wrong after they had ruled everything else out — then he offhandedly suggested a food sensitivity test may be beneficial.
At the time I didn’t know the difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy. Basically, a food allergy is acute, which means that it is evident right away and it is usually severe (rash, swelling throat, vomiting, anaphylaxis, etc.). A food sensitivity can show up days later and may not be obvious until it builds on itself. Sensitivities can be very difficult to pinpoint and, since there is no immediate reaction, they can be hard to avoid due to compliance. When you get sick 2 or 3 days later, it is very hard to think back and guess what it was that caused your problems.
I was sensitive to 25 foods to varying degrees. The reason why I was getting so sick on the elimination diet I was on is that I was sensitive to very few things the diet eliminated and quite a few things the diet used as substitutes. For example, elimination diets do not allow grains of any kind because many people are sensitive to grains. I am not (technically) sensitive to grains, but I am sensitive to cauliflower and almond. The diet I was on encouraged cauliflower “rice” and pizza crust and substituted almond flour for wheat flour. I was also eating a protein bar most mornings that was heavy in almonds and making a granola out of nuts. I am also sensitive to peppermint and ginger, two things commonly used to treat digestive upset. And legumes. I cannot look at a bean without getting all of my symptoms back.
So, by eliminating these foods for a period, healing my gut (which I don’t have time to get into today, but would be glad to talk about with you anytime you like), and experimenting on adding some foods back in (and leaving others out). I am now a fairly healthy person. The inevitable gas that accompanied family meals is gone along with the bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. The fatigue remained.
So then I eliminated all grains, refined sugar, and most dairy. At this point, symptoms that I had not realized could be affected by diet started to ease. Some of these had been chronic conditions I had had my whole life. Some I wasn’t even aware of until they weren’t there anymore. My depression eased. My social anxiety lessened. My creativity increased and I started writing again which I haven’t really done since high school. It turns out there have been studies on the effect of grains on mental health. The reference that comes to mind is Dr. William Davis’s book Wheat Belly.
Also, my rosacea, which I didn’t even realize was a dietary problem, is much improved. Several skin issues have their roots in the gut as it turns out. The fact that my hot, red cheeks come back if I indulge in anything containing grains is proof enough for me that this dietary theory is working.
The benefits continued. Every female member on my mother’s side of the family has had their gallbladder out. Interestingly, none of them are clear as to why. My mom said her’s didn’t have stones but wasn’t emptying properly. Apparently, that’s a solid enough reason to remove a body part. I had become worried that my symptoms were going to head down that road. There is significant evidence that avoiding lectins, which are proteins found in several different types of grains (not just wheat), significantly reduces the rate of gallbladder dysfunction leading to the surgical removal of the gallbladder. According to Dr. William Davis, Lectin blocks cholecystokinin, or CCK, which is “responsible for stimulating the gallbladder to release bile and the pancreas to release pancreatic enzymes. This results in bile stasis and gallstones…” Read the whole article here. The results of this for me remains to be seen. However, I am fairly confident that my family’s overconsumption of baked goods may have been their downfall.
An important improvement is that my highly symptomatic periods are no longer a source of misery. I was surprised at how much my diet had affected both my cycle and my symptoms. I no longer have major mood shifts or terrible fatigue, and I have not had bad enough pain to use anti-inflammatories since committing to this diet change. It’s all because the diet itself is anti-inflammatory.
A happy side effect of all this is that I have lost 15 pounds! These are pounds that needed to be lost, most of which were hanging around my middle. I had been at my highest weight ever. I tried exercise, low fat, low carb, vegetarian, more intense exercise, and ended up nowhere. Once I cut out all refined sugar (and most unrefined), all grains, and all legumes and started adding a ton of healthy fats…Bam! The weight practically melted off.
I didn’t intend for this post to be as long as it is. I was just going to tap out a few lines about how you can know before you know to save you some of the headache (literally) that I went through. If you suffer from digestive upset, skin issues, fatigue, female problems, joint swelling, or inflammation anywhere, get a sensitivity test and educate yourself.
It helps to get a coach who knows about elimination diets and the steps to take to help you along. There are pitfalls that will set you back if you aren’t careful and a coach with experience in food sensitivities will be able to help you avoid frustration. I am taking new clients now! Drop me a line if you want to know what you don’t know! Is what worked for me going to be exactly what works for you. No. You are an individual and you will have to figure out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Having a coach to support you and guide you to the right path will be vital to success. You will be amazed at how good you feel. You really don’t know what you are missing out on before you start joining in!
If you found this post helpful, please hit the follow button. For more motivation delivered straight to your inbox subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram by clicking the appropriate links above. If you know a friend who could use this information, please share it right away while you are thinking of it. If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friend will, too. Thanks for reading!