My Elimination Diet
Some of us have heard of this, some of us have done it, and some have no idea about it. I did an elimination diet about ten years ago when I just couldn’t get my colitis symptoms well enough under control with prescriptions alone. My GI was supportive of me trying the elimination diet, but also dubious that changing my diet would help my symptoms of diarrhea, severe cramps, stool marked with blood and mucous, and extreme fatigue and weight loss. I was at a stage where I was so weak and so thin and without energy that I could barely function. I was just desperate enough to try anything and one of those things was an Elimination diet.
I had picked-up a copy of Elaine Gottschall’s book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, which outlines what she calls the ‘specific carbohydrate diet,’ and how to conduct the diet. When I began the diet I had no idea whether this ‘diet’ would become a permanent new way of eating for me or just an experiment but I was willing to try it and see where it led me.
Let me first start by saying that doing an elimination diet is not easy - it takes personal commitment and time. Getting into all the fine details of what you can and cannot eat is simply too detailed for a blog. But I can give you the broad strokes of how it works. You begin by ‘eliminating’ all dairy products, sugar, wheat, gluten, and certain carbohydrates, veggies, fruits, nuts, and legumes - Gottschall’s book outlines in detail what you can and what you can’t eat.
After being on the strict ‘elimination diet’ for one month evaluate your symptoms and how you are feeling. If, by this time, your symptoms have not improved at all then continuing with the diet probably won’t work for you. But if you do notice a difference then you should continue. After having been on the elimination diet for about two months you can begin to add-back one food item at a time. Say you decide to add-back cow’s milk - drink one serving at breakfast then note - in a food journal - how you feel after you drink it. If you have no adverse effects then drink another serving at lunch, again note how you feel, and then have one more serving at dinner. If you have no adverse effects from any of the additions you can most likely count that food on your ‘safe’ list. If you do have symptoms then write them down in your journal and note how you feel.
It will take time to add-back the foods that you eliminated but it is well worth it, at least it was for me. By the end of my elimination diet I had identified a number of foods and beverages that were on my ‘don’t eat’ list among them were preservatives of any kind - this means that all prepared foods were now on my ‘don’t’ eat’ list, high fructose corn syrup, red food coloring, beef, crab, lobster, yellow corn (white is okay, though), lettuce (actually, anything leafy and green), melons, apples, citrus fruits, milk, popcorn, most legumes, and alcohol and caffeine, among other things.
I found that sticking to my ‘good food’ list helped me to feel better, to gain more energy as well as to put some pounds back onto what had become a skeletal frame. I looked healthier, I felt healthier, and even though I wasn’t ‘cured’ I knew I was onto something. So, I decided that even though it was hard to stick to my good food list I found that when I ate something from my ‘don’t eat’ list I simply felt bad and many of my IBD symptoms returned. It just wasn’t worth eating those foods if they were going to make me feel so awful. Some people I run into tell me they could never do this diet or eat like I do and I tell them that if and when they feel terrible enough they, too, will find that they can do it too.
Trying an elimination diet won’t hurt and it just might help - it only takes a month to see if this type of diet might help you. Maybe you should try it.
Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.