I’ve been a coach for 8 years, and in that time I have tried A LOT of different ways of eating; vegetarian, strict paleo, keto, zone, high-carb, low-carb… just to name a few. The problem I always found with these strict and restrictive diet plans was always the same: I could commit to something for maybe 3-6 months, and then I would rebound, HARD. I almost made it a full year on Paleo the first time I tried it, and then boom, the next thing I knew I was swallowing pieces of cake whole and gargling with gummy bears. The problem was that as soon as I went back to eating whatever-the-heck-I-wanted, I would feel like absolute garbage. I would fall deep into a shame spiral about it and it was hard to get out.
I rode that rollercoaster for a LONG TIME. Committing hard to something for a while and then binging on anything and everything I could find. Not only was this working against my weight management goals, the bigger issue is that it was working against my baseline health goals.
See, ever since I was a little kid I have suffered from a chronic cough. The kind of death-rattle cough that made it hard to talk, laugh, and sleep. I would go weeks at a time sleeping 2 hours or less a night as I gasped for air and sobbed in my bed. I’ve taken every single over the counter expectorant, mucus thinner, cold relief, as well as every possible prescription for steroids, inhalers, nasal sprays, and anything else you can think of. The only method of management that I had was codeine cough syrup, which essentially put me into “corpse mode” for 9-10 hour stretches so I could get some rest. I have seen so many specialists who looked at all areas of my body, my lungs, heart, nasal passages, throat, and they all came back with the same diagnosis: for some reason my body overreacts to the common cold. Called Vasomotor Rhinitis, or basically “your nose is all stuffed up for no good reason”. OK COOL.
About a year ago, during a particularly bad month-long coughing spell, my mom and I got to talking. She basically said “let’s kill this thing before it gets any worse, whatever it takes”. I felt like I had taken every other route available to me, so I decided to see a Naturopath for the first time. Now, I don’t personally ascribe to homeopathy, but meeting with the Naturopath was a breath of fresh air for a lot of reasons. She didn’t rush me out of the office, she didn’t act like she knew all the answers and she didn’t scoff at all of my theories. After spending 90 minutes with me listening to everything I was thinking and feeling, she gave me her thoughts. She said, have you ever tried an elimination diet?
My response? OF COURSE I HAVE. I have been on every type of diet in the world, what the hell was she talking about?She told me a proper elimination diet is when you remove all known food allergens and high-inflammatory foods from your system for a specific period of time, and then slowly reintroduce them one at a time. OK fine, she caught me. My pattern was restrict, binge, restrict, binge. I had never taken the time to properly reintroduce foods.
The next stay I started on what ended up being a 3-month elimination diet. I used the Essential You protocol, with a few extra restrictions; no rice, eggs, pork, nightshades, nuts and garlic (which showed up specifically on my food allergy panel). Initially the goal was to do this for 21 days, but after that time I was still showing some inflammation systems (bad skin and stuffy nose specifically), so I kept it going. I ended up following the elimination plan for 3 full months. I felt AWESOME afterward, totally clear of all the symptoms I was used to walking around with. I had to check myself, at this point is when I would usually be like “SCREW IT” and go wild on some chocolate cake. The naturopath helped walk me back from the ledge, guiding me through a 4-day testing process for all new foods. Essentially, I would try a large amount of a food several times in a day, then give it 4 full days to take note of symptoms. I started with the things I missed the most; eggs, almonds, garlic. They all showed up with little to no reaction in my system, no rash, tummy problems or stuffy nose. Slowly I reintroduced one food at a time over the course of several months, until I figured out the set of foods I could tolerate and which things were a definite no.
I found out some VERY interesting things; the first being that I have an intense reaction to brewers yeast (yes, pretty much all alcohol), and a slight reaction bakers yeast (aka risen foods). I also found out I have intense body reactions to peanuts and cow dairy; plus mild reactions to coffee, almonds, chocolate, garlic and egg whites. What a revelation! After my testing period was done, I was able to reintroduce all of the foods that my body liked, while either limiting or completely eliminating the highly-reactive foods. I completely got rid of alcohol, dairy, peanuts and coffee, and limit my quantity of the other mildly reacting foods.
Since this major change in my diet, I have been sick twice, and both times I either didn’t get the chronic cough at all, or it lasted only 1-2 days. That’s it!! It’s been completely life changing for me. Now, whether I am on any sort of restriction diet or if I am binging on sweets, I know that I can avoid these certain foods and keep my health pretty well in check.
I wanted to share this story with you because I truly feel like an elimination diet with a slow reintroduction of foods can completely change your relationship with food. Now I feel like I am not scared of food, and that I have control over how I make my body feel. I can freely enjoy things that I like and avoid the things that make me feel like total crap without feeling restricted. I feel so thankful that I had someone to help keep me in check and push me along in this process because it was not easy, but it was worth it.
How can you start this process? There are a lot of ways. You can certainly do it on your own, but I recommend finding someone to hold you accountable. The easiest way to start is by working with Emma Vasseur in our Essential You program. The next session starts February 25th, and you can sign up by e-mailing email@example.com. If you want to work with a Naturopath, I recommend Be Well Natural Medicine in St. Paul. If you can’t afford to work with someone directly, there are lots of online resources and places to go.
If you feel like crap or are just wondering what your body needs, I highly recommend trying an elimination diet with a period of reintroduction. Though challenging, It’s an incredible experience, and can change how you experience your body.