The time is now. I need to tell my WHOLE story.
Because January 1st is pretty much here, and along with that comes all of the new years resolutions. The air is filled with the buzz of getting back “on the wagon”, of kicking “bad” habits, and of course, all of the “new-year-new-you” BS. Dieting might not be so trendy any more. But “lifestyle changes” seem to be more socially acceptable. So do elimination diets. They are sneaky, giving themselves alternative names like “protocol”, “program”, and “detox”, but they are really just diets in disguise.
In the particular one I did, I did not have to count calories. But I did have to count myself self out of eating a whole laundry list of foods. This included things like dairy, grains, legumes, soy, corn, peanuts, alcohol, sugar, and anything resembling dessert (even if it was made from cauliflower, stevia, and almond flour). And whenever I hear of a friend or acquaintance who is considering doing this, I takes every fiber of my being not to shout:
DON’T F*%$#-ING DO IT!!!
If I seem really salty about this, it’s because I am. Two years ago, I was one of those people. I was “recovered enough” from my eating disorders, because it had been a few years since I’d engaged in any symptomatic behaviors. I was eating paleo-ish (yanno 80/20), had stopped counting calories and macros, and had just gotten back from a trip to Europe that involved a lot of bread, wine, and mystery sausages (when in Poland?!). Aside from walking, I hadn’t done much formal exercise either. While I was otherwise healthy, I felt like I needed a “reset”. I was eager to get back to my routine, stop drinking, and eat a vegetable or 10. Plus, I still secretly wanted to lose like 5lbs.
I heard of this one program that was 30 days long, that some of my friends had tried. So I decided I’d give it a whirl, too. I googled it, downloaded their book to my phone, and finished the whole thing on my return trip. Their website literally had an A-Z list of chronic health conditions that people had cured by following their program. I remembered the before/after pictures that friends had posted on their social media when they followed this plan for a whole month, and it was hard not to be sucked in. I could drop a pants size, clear up my skin, and who knows? Maybe cure the IBS and sleep apnea that I didn’t have?
Please note: I am NOT saying that elimination diets have not helped many people solve a variety of health problems. Maybe you are one of them?
What I am saying, is that they are not for everyone.
The stories that don’t often get told are the failure stories. And the boring stories where you spend your entire month in the kitchen making your own “compliant” sugar-free ketchup and clarified butter, and still see no changes. Or worse, wind up having a temper tantrum on your kitchen floor because you’re hangry and Panera forgot to hold the cheese and candied pecans on your salad. It took me awhile to even share my “elimination diet failure” story with my close friends. I was embarrassed. I thought it was my fault that it didn’t work. (So much so, that I tried it again, for a second round.) Or that my body was broken. I think that’s probably the reason that most people don’t share their diet failure stories more often.
Well today, I’m sharing the WHOLE TRUTH. My experience with a popular elimination diet.
If you are considering doing one, read this first. This is the stuff that most people aren’t sharing on the internet.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ME DURING THE DIET:
I spent A lot of money on pointless stuff
I like to invest money in high quality food when I can–sometimes it’s worth it. And yes, I admit, I usually buy organic apples and “happy” meats from a local farm’s CSA. But this thing had me going crazy reading nutrition labels at the grocery store and paying considerably more money for bacon that was “approved” because it had 0 grams of sugar instead of 1. Looking back, it was SO not worth it.
I spent hours and hours a week in the kitchen
I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but this took it to a whole new level. Most convenience foods, even ones that are created with the intention of being “healthy” contained some trace amount of “forbidden” substances. That meant I wasn’t just cooking dinner, but also making my own condiments from scratch. And I was waking up extra early to cook eggs every morning, because even smoothies were frowned upon, and quickie breakfasts like a banana and coffee didn’t fit into the ideal “meal template”. Yup.
My social life was gone
I know that real friends don’t care what you eat or whether or not you drink when you go out. But it is no fun to be the only sober one sipping homemade kombucha when everyone else is having margarita night. And unless you live in an excessively health conscious or foodie city, you can forget about eating most things at a restaurant. Excuse me sir, what kind of oil do you use to cook your fish? Ok guess I’ll just take a side salad with a lemon wedge. . . again. 🙁 In the end, I found myself postponing plans with friends until I could fully participate. Or staying home so I could figure out how to make “nacho cheese” from sweet potatoes.
I often got hangry when I didn’t plan ahead for food
One of the main selling points of this particular elimination diet, was that I didn’t have to count calories. But because the food choices were so limited, I had to do a really good job of planning ahead. When I had a long work day, that often meant packing multiple meals and/or snacks. And if I underestimated how hungry I’d be, I couldn’t just swing by Starbucks and pick up a quick snack. It was either yet another package of purse almonds, or go hungry. By the time I got home at the end of the night, I’d be hangry and mean.
I’d Find myself Binging on Strange things like dates
This wasn’t supposed to happen, and might have been part of the reason for my lack of success. But I couldn’t help it! I was supposed to follow the approved meal templates of meat and veggies and more veggies. And if I had a sugar craving, I was supposed to ride it out. Take a walk. Drink a cup of herbal tea. Yeah that didn’t work. Because, remember, all I had for dinner was a side salad. I used up all my will power saying no the cupcakes my dance student brought in for her birthday, and opting out of pizza night. But dried fruit was technically allowed. Who binges on dates? Apparently people who aren’t allowed to eat anything else.
i Had to explain Myself constantly
Yes, I’m a grown woman who shouldn’t have to explain herself to anybody. But when you are at a Super Bowl party carefully picking the beans out of the host’s homemade chili, people start to ask questions. Same thing when you’re scraping the breading and cheese off your mother-in-law’s chicken parm. No, I can’t just have a little! I’ll have to start all over from day one if I have even one bread crumb! This gets old fast.
I had nightmares about accidentally eating cake
Since I was spending all my waking hours obsessing over food, it made sense that it would creep its way into my dreams. I often woke up in the middle of the night in a panic because I had a nightmare that I accidentally had a bite of a cookie or something.
The Variety in my diet became severely limited
As I mentioned in the beginning, the point of an elimination diet is to eliminate a lot of foods that are supposedly “problematic”. I had the best intentions of trying creative new recipes, and sometimes I did. But instead of eating a variety of foods throughout the week, like I used to, my plate because a sad parade of hard boiled eggs, raw almonds, clementines, and zucchini noodles #everydamnday. Sometimes you just don’t have the mental bandwidth for anything else.
SO what happened after the 30 days were over?
Nothing really. I didn’t notice any major changes in my energy, weight, or skin. Well, except during the final week of the program (BEFORE I had reintroduced any of the restricted foods), I started getting this weird itchy rash on my legs and arms. That wasn’t supposed to happen. But I figured it was probably my laundry detergent or body wash or something. I was supposed to slowly reintroduce the different foods I had eliminated one at a time. I’ll admit, I didn’t do that greatest job of that. It was almost Thanksgiving at that point. So I decided to switch up my skincare products and do ANOTHER 30 days on the program after the holiday season was over.
AND AFTER THAT 30 DAYS? HERE IS WHAT WENT DOWN:
I was Itchy AF the entire month while I was on it, and for some time after
I couldn’t pin it on any particular food group, so I was convinced that I had developed some sort of food sensitivity to something really obscure. Maybe I had histamine intolerance from all the kombucha I was drinking? So I gave that up. I even went so far as to visit an allergist, who I was sure would find I was allergic to cashews or lettuce or something. Nope. The minute I got my results back, and it was confirmed that I had no food or chemical allergies, the itching went away and never came back. I know that food sensitivities and allergies are two very different things. In my case, I think it was neither. I hate to admit it, but I think this was just a case of some very bad food anxieties.
I didn’t lose weight. Actually I gained weight.
I’ve mentioned many times before that I don’t own a scale. I firmly believe that weight gain is not inherently bad, and weight loss is not inherently good. A person’s worth is not dictated by their size. But when you spend an entire month not eating bread, sugar, or alcohol, you expect your pants to be a little looser at the end. Not me. Mine were actually a bit tighter. But for a program that boasts that 95% of participants lose weight or improve their body composition, I expected a little something. Nope.
I Developed Hypothyroidism
I am not necessarily blaming the program for this. Thyroid conditions run in my family. This could also be part of the reason I gained weight on the program. BUT, I would like to point out that restrictive eating and going too low carb can sometimes suppress thyroid function in women. This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Or maybe the two were unrelated. I may never know. But this is also a good lesson, that even the most meticulous nutrition can not always help you avoid developing a health problem.
It triggered my Disordered eating tendencies
When I started this elimination diet, I thought that I my eating disorder past was ancient history. The website for the program doesn’t take a hard stance on this. It warns that it might not be a good choice for those with a history of eating disorders, but also claims to have helped many people improve their relationship with food. Not me. Not only did I find a lot of the language on their materials to be very triggering, but it made me bat$hit crazy. Now, I didn’t just have to worry about eating too many calories, or fat, or carbohydrates. But I also had to take into consideration how at least 8 different other types of food could effect my body. If you’ve ever heard of orthorexia, or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, this became me.
I developed issues around certain foods that lasted for months and years later
This stuff is really hard to un-learn. And while I know in my heart that I’ll never go on another diet ever again, I still hear the food police sirens going off in my head from time to time. There was a nagging voice in the back of my head today when I had my lightly sweetened Starbucks chai because I know it contains cane sugar and that their almond milk probably has carrageenan in it. I choose to be a rebel and ignore those voices most of the time now. And while they are getting quieter and quieter every day, I don’t know if I’ll ever look at a corn tortilla or greek yogurt the same again.
It didn’t solve all my problems!
In all reality, I was doing pretty well in the first place. I didn’t have any major health issues or complaints when I started this elimination diet. Again, I won’t deny that programs like this can probably be helpful for certain people in certain situations. I’d certainly choose having a complicated relationship with cheese if it meant freedom from the symptoms of a chronic illness. But that’s not me right now. And elimination diets are NOT for everyone. I definitely do NOT recommend them for anyone who has a history of disordered eating. In fact, if you currently have a decent relationship with food, I don’t recommend you risk ruining it with an elimination diet. Especially if you don’t have any nagging health problems. If you are just looking for a challenge, I say skip it. There are plenty of better ways to channel your energy this year.