A couple months ago, I shared about my lovely condition knows as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. (If you care to read or re-read it, here’s a short cut… https://mshattuckruns.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/up-close-and-personal-ibs/ ) I won’t go into as much detail here since I got all personal with it before, but one thing I do spend some time on that post is talking about diet.
We all know our diet plays a huge huge part of our over-all health. Sometimes we don’t realize just how important it is until we change it up. If you usually eat well and then go on vacation and eat fast food all the time, you’re going to notice a difference. The opposite is also true: if you normally eat crap food but then start eating healthy, you’re going to feel different!
There is no known one single cause for IBS, but diet is believed to play a big part. There are a few foods that I know cause certain reactions, so I avoid them as much as possible. The weird thing is that most of these foods are healthy foods! When this happens I just feel like yelling “Body! I’m trying to take care of you! Stop throwing a fit!” Sometimes it feels like I actually do better living off of crap food, but I do feel sluggish and gross so it’s not really a great trade-off.
I do know a few specific foods, but even avoiding these foods, I still have bowel issues now and then. Most of the time, I don’t know what has set me off. This is incredibly frustrating. IBS isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is a chronic condition, so learning how to manage it is pretty important to me. Since there is no one thing that can trigger a flare up, most doctors can only say things like “Change up your diet, here’s these pills for pain, take this if you’re constipated.” Not very helpful.
When I was first “diagnosed” with IBS, my doctor predictably suggested I try to figure out what foods are triggers for me. The easiest way to do this is an elimination diet. This didn’t surprise me. I had done my research so I’ve already looked into doing an elimination diet.
An elimination diet is a temporary diet change to help a person discover trigger foods. This can help people with IBS, IBD, food intolerances, food allergies, etc. If you have some other chronic condition that isn’t directly related to food, you may find an elimination diet helps you find a trigger to some of your symptoms.
Disclaimer: I’m NOT a doctor, dietician, nutritionist, etc. Always consult someone who has the know- how before doing something like this.
The basic idea behind an elimination diet is that most of the time we don’t know how certain foods affect us because we’re so used to eating it that we’ve become used to the symptoms. When you go without a food for a little while, your body gets a chance to re-set itself. Then, when you start adding foods in, if you have some sort of issue with a certain foods, you should notice a reaction.
I’ve seen several variations of an elimination diet. Some eliminate all types of common trigger foods from the get-go, while others do it in phases. I did one of these, and I did one that has phases:
I chose this one because it wasn’t so overwhelming at first. It was hard enough getting used to cutting out gluten, dairy, and soy without cutting out everything else. The first phase contains the foods that most people have troubles with. They’re the most common irritants.
How did it go?
Well, to be honest, it sucked. I only went through the first phase. I went for a week or so without eggs but went ahead and added them in. I really didn’t think I had a problem with eggs, and I really just needed something else to eat.
You see, unless you’re cutting this stuff out, you may not realize just how much of this stuff is in our food. I didn’t think soy would be that hard to cut out, but it is in EVERYTHING! Mostly as soy lecithin. That meant no chocolate, until I finally found a type that was soy free. I was so fed up that I looked up what soy lecithin is. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier, which means it allows oils and water to mix. Imagine how a lot of food would look and taste if the oil and water didn’t mix. Not too appealing, right? Dr. Axe explains more here: https://draxe.com/what-is-soy-lecithin/
The thing with an elimination diet is that I had to plan out all my meals and all my snacks ahead of time to make sure all my ingredients were DGS free. I get a headache just trying to plan out a week of dinner for my family. Three meals a day, plus snacks, for almost a month?! Gah! I also had to constantly check the food labels. There were so many times when I almost cried right there in the store because I couldn’t find a “clean” version of what I was looking for. The problem? I was still looking at all the processed food, because that’s what I was used to buying!
It took almost the whole first 21 days before I started getting the hang of everything. It was hard. I hated it. I had a major breakdown one night because the peanut butter I just opened had soybean oil in it. I felt great though. My skin looked better. I felt more energized. Once I realized there was still some candy I could eat, life got much easier. As much as I was looking forward to eating “normal” food, there was that small tiny part of me that was going to miss this. Thanksgiving came and I got over that. Have you ever had a baked potato with no butter or cheese? Let me tell you, that is one sad potato.
Would I recommend this diet? Well, I’m not a qualified professional, so this is all my personal opinion… if you suffer from a chronic condition, I would give it a try. Again, consult with your doctor or someone that knows your medical history.
WHAT DID I EAT?
I had to make a few adjustments. If I wanted bread, I had to go with a gluten free bread. I didn’t enjoy the store-bought kinds very much. The slices were too small, so I felt like I had to eat twice as much to feel the same effects. Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, so I felt like I didn’t have that full feeling after eating those breads. I found a gluten free flour mix so I made some homemade bread with it and it was much better! Cereal was easier than I thought to substitute. Chex may not be the most exciting cereal, but when it’s one of your only options, you eat it up! I think I ate more rice during this time as well.
For dairy, I used almond milk in my cereal and when possible, I used oil (olive, canola, or coconut) for cooking. You might have to look into it, but some margarine brands might be okay if they’re oil based for these diets. Just check the labels! It wasn’t until this past summer when doing a different type of elimination diet that I discovered (thanks to my husband) that a type of milk we buy now and then is lactose free. You may have seen Fairlife pop up in your milk section. It’s supposed to have more protein and calcium than regular milk, but it’s lactose free. I couldn’t notice a difference in taste between it and regular milk, but now and then my stomach hurts a little after consuming regular milk. I didn’t have that with Fairlife. (No, I’m not paid by them. I just like sharing in case it helps someone!)
With soy, most of my substitutions came from simply choosing a different brand or just going with out. When I discovered my favorite peanut butter brand used soybean oil, I just made my own (after checking the peanut label that they weren’t roasted in soybean oil!) Some processed meats like a sausage we usually bought had soy in it. Chocolate and other yummy treats. It was a nightmare.
Sometimes mealtimes were way more stressful because I had to make an extra meal for me that I could eat. Going out to eat was practically impossible. Sure, I could order a salad, but I couldn’t get the dressing because it had soy. If we did go somewhere, I had to study the menu as much as possible. I really do appreciate those places that list the ingredients online!
I ate a lot more fruits and veggies, which I should be doing anyway. It was just easier to grab and apple for a snack then stare into the pantry and hope something I could eat magically appeared. We shop at Aldi a lot and it was during this time I really came to appreciate their stuff. They had a pretty good selection of things that were gluten, dairy, and soy free. Including these yummy chocolate cookies and granola bars. Aaaaah. Yes! It was reasonably priced. I probably would’ve been able to find a wider selection at other stores like Whole Foods, but I would’ve paid a lot more.
HOW I’M DOING TODAY
Today, well, lets just say I’m glad I’m not doing this any more! I did feel better over-all, but once I started introducing foods back into my diet, I didn’t have any symptoms. It was a frustrating relief. Frustrating because I went through all that for nothing! Or so it seemed. A relief, because I felt like I could have a fairly normal diet with those foods.
Would I do it again. Sigh. Yes. I’ve considered doing it several times, but I just haven’t committed myself to it. It does take a lot of time to plan out all your meals and snacks, and often times I had to do home-made versions of some foods so I could eat it. Our grocery bill went up some during this time because I had to have the substitutes, or buy all the ingredients for some things.
Since doing this elimination diet, I’ve discovered a few specific foods that trigger a reaction. I still have problems though which is no fun. If I’m not in pain or running to the bathroom, I feel fatigued or have brain-fog. I’m still working on cleaning up my diet. Even if these foods I eliminated from my diet aren’t directly causing my problems, I feel like I could feel much better without them. Some days I let it get me down, but because I’m annoyingly optimistic, I don’t let it get to me for too long!
A FEW IDEAS
When I prepared myself for the diet, I found a ton of recipes. I wrote down all the things I wanted to try and my ideas for snacks, substitutions, etc. I used this “master” list to help me plan out my meals! I wish I could find some of these recipes I used to share, but after almost an hour of carefully going through my Pinterest boards, I couldn’t find them! I’m sure if you Google a recipe, you’ll find something. I do have some of these recipes in my book Monday Motivation. (Had to make a plug!) Here is a small sample:
Some other things I tried:
- Steel cut oatmeal (oatmeal itself is gluten free, but it can come in contact with gluten grains. Those with an intolerance to gluten need to be careful!)
- Vanilla chia seed pudding
- Egg baked in an avocado (once I started eating eggs)
- Oatmeal with egg white and peanut butter
- Eggs. All the eggs. So many eggs.
- BBQ (no buns and check labels for sauces and condiments!)
- Salads (check dressing labels!)
- Rice and bean based meals
- Chicken, beef, etc
- Trail mix
- Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc)
- Potato chips (You can still have some fun!)
- Rice cakes with peanut butter
- Ketchup (check labels!)
- Mayonnaise (It took some time to find a brand that didn’t use soy. I wish I could remember what brand I used, but I remember I found it at Target and it used olive oil.)
- Homemade balsamic vinaigrette
- Homemade peanut butter