At nearly 30 years old, I can happily say that I’ve never been on a diet. Sure I’ve watched my portions and ramped up the exercise when my muffin sprouted a top or when the junk suddenly landed in my trunk. But I’ve never turned to Atkins or grapefruit for a quick fix.
Needless to say, I was a little suspicious when the acupuncturist I was seeing for leg pain suggested I try an elimination diet. I had mentioned that I often experienced stomach pain and bloating, something I had chalked up to lactose intolerance. She explained that this wasn’t a diet specific to weight loss, but a way to identify food allergies. The diet was simple: remove all possible food allergens and then slowly reintroduce them. This also gave the stomach time to heal, encouraged good bacteria to regenerate, and provided a break from food that was inflammatory to the immune system.
I’m pretty sure all diets are based around elimination on one end or the other. This diet was no different. The first few days I was to phase out gluten, dairy, soy, corn, chocolate, egg yolks, condiments, peanuts, caffeine, alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup.
This would have been much easier had santa not just delivered a heaping bag of my favorite chocolate and peanut butter treats and if one of my hobbies wasn’t brewing beer. I immediately started to crave every food on the list. Never did a tofu stir fry sound so mouth watering. A smoker who was trying to quit once told me she would kill a loved one for a cigarette. These words suddenly rang true, as I would have easily knocked off an uncle or an aunt for a New York style bagel with cream cheese…and coffee.
I know what you’re thinking, why not just stop? Give in. Sieze the bagel! Trust me, I would have gladly been licking globs of cream cheese off my fingers by day three, had I not experienced such a miraculous transformation. After dinner on Wednesday I stopped suddenly and took a deep breath, clenching my abdominals. There was no pain, no bloating, no discomfort. Throughout the course of the week, my stomach began to flatten and I lost three pounds. I couldn’t remember the last time my stomach felt so good, so pain-free.
Every morning, as I munched on a gluten-free waffle or a hearty bowl of Rice and Shine, I planned upcoming meals. Despite feeling so great, I was still fighting off the ravenous lion that roared every time I passed a bakery or waited too long to eat in between meals. The lion snarled even louder one day as I was forced to drive nearly 10 miles behind a truck plastered with photos of giant English muffins. The tab of melted butter on each gluteny pillow glistened like the sun, and I wanted more than anything to crawl inside each nook and cranny and slowly eat my way out.
Sadly, this is what life had boiled down to.
I was instructed to spend two weeks on the full elimination. It seemed with every beet smoothie, kale chip, and wheat-free cookie that I pulled my belt buckle a little tighter. I realized that I was on the same diet as my guinea pig, and we were battling it out for the contents of the veggie drawer. By the middle of the second week, my body finally began to accept the changes. My stomach still felt amazing, and the craving began to subside. Things like a baked apple tasted like a decadent dessert and I found that Udi’s gluten free bread tasted better than many whole wheat breads I’d tried over the years.
The third week was the week of truth. Every 48 hours I was to reintroduce one of the eliminated foods, monitoring how I felt. Gluten and dairy were to be introduced last. With each new food, I braced myself for the impending doom. Corn, soy, peanuts…My stomach was still a happy camper. Then came eggs (still nothing) and chocolate (hurray!). Finally, it was G-day. Time to shovel in a giant dose of gluten bagel form. After a few joyous bites, I nervously waited, praying that my stomach would happily accept its doughy visitor. And it did.
I probably don’t have to tell you how my body reacted to dairy. I was just amazed that I had lived in pain for so long, thinking the discomfort my stomach felt was a normal feeling.
I may not fill my plate with heaps of millet and beans, but this last month has taught me that I possess the power to break the cycle of sugar cravings and a bottomless cup of coffee. I’ve learned to enjoy almond milk, to savor sharp cheeses that have less lactose, and to get adventurous with my smoothies. Life, after all, is about balance.