After seeing the food intolerance specialist, a friend put me onto a doctor who advocates an elimination diet as a diagnostic tool to see which foods cause your symptoms. I can let you know how to contact him if you want to see him yourself. The idea behind elimination diets is to cut back to the real basics of diet, with a totally natural approach to food to allow your stomach to ‘clean out’ everything else and almost reset itself. Your stomach then becomes hyper sensitive to help you discover your intolerances (as you reintroduce foods in the next phase).
During the elimination diet, you need to avoid smoking, over the counter medicines, tap water and any other things that you usually put into your body but that might have subtle things in them that can affect your symptoms. It is really severe but, if you’re going to do it, you need to do it properly. You also need to be aware that in the first 4 or 5 days, you may get withdrawal symptoms from sugars, carbohydrates, caffeine etc. The initial exclusion must last for 14 days.
Let’s start with the depressing bit. The things you must avoid in these 14 days:
All processed foods – things with additives etc. Even processed meat is not allowed and nor are sauces, gravies out of a packet/pot etc.
Diary – milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, goat’s milk etc.
Grains and cereals like oats, corn, rice, wheat.
Soya and vegetable oil
Chicken, beef, pork
Nightshade vegetables, beetroot, sweetcorn
So what can you eat?!?!
Lamb or turkey
Duck eggs (Tescos sell them)
Fresh or frozen plain fish (I’d never eaten anything but cod and how my eyes were opened! Hake is wonderful!)
Fresh fruit – but try not to have too much because the sugar can feed the bad stuff in your stomach if you’ve got that as a problem (which you’re unlikely to know so best to play it safe). I stuck to blueberry, blackberry, passionfruit, papaya and sharon fruit because they have low sugar content.
Fresh vegetables – sweet potatoes and parsnips are filling
Beans and lentils – also very filling and go with everything
Pure sunflower spread or olive oil spread (check the label)
Salt and herbs
Seeds and nuts if you don’t suspect them already
Sunflower, rapeseed and olive oils for cooking
Mineral water. Tap water boiled for teas.
Herb or fruit teas
Homemade fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices
Quinoa – grains or flour
Amaranth – grains ideal for cooking up for breakfast with fruit
Buckwheat, gram and coconut flours – recipes to follow
Coconut milk or hemp milk
THE IMPORTANT BIT – If any of these foods that are permitted already feature regularly in your normal diet, that is more than twice a week, you must avoid them altogether for the initial 14 days. So for example, I ate peas with most evening meals and had to give these up for the 14 days. I replaced them with sugar snaps, kale, asparagus, runner beans and other vegetables that I had never eaten before.
THE OTHER IMPORTANT BIT – The whole thing I’ve learnt about diet and autoimmunity is that it is over-familiarity with a food that leads to intolerance. During the 14 days, you must follow the rule that ‘If I had quinoa on Monday, I can’t have it again until Wednesday’. However, make the most of it on Monday and Wednesday and have it for lunch and dinner!
So what are the options for your meals?
Breakfast: fruit, buckwheat pancakes, quinoa, amaranth, cooked up buckwheat groats. I even made turkey burgers out of turkey mince to have with mushrooms, ducks’ eggs and haricot beans – my version of a full English!
Lunch: Homemade soup with buckwheat pancakes to dip; sweet potato with tinned tuna (in spring water) and side salad; gram flour wraps with mashed avocado, turkey and spinach; roasted stuff butternut squash; vegetables with quinoa.
Dinner: Generally I ate meat and vegetables or fish and vegetables. Roasted butternut squash and courgettes go well together. Tinned beans are filling and quick. You can make a nice shepherd’s pie with lamb mince, fennel, mushrooms and lentils, topped with mashed sweet potato and sprinkled with almonds.
Snacks: This is harder. A handful of nuts if you’re allowed them. Carrot and cucumber sticks in a mashed avocado dip. Use up some left over mix for a gram flour wrap or buckwheat pancake. Left over roasted veg. To be honest, I got addicted to butter beans!
During the 14 days of elimination, keep a detailed diary of your food and symptoms. This will be good to look back on and reflect on, and it gets you in the habit of doing it and of being more aware of your body and what you’re eating, which you’ll need properly in the reintroduction phase. Also be aware that your symptoms may get worse at first because your body is going through a big change and you are having withdrawal problems. Remember too to monitor your weight. I lost a lot during this whole process and ended up going to the doctor about it after 3 months and it was really good to have accurate facts about the rate of losing it. (It wasn’t a major issue but I’ll do a post on it at some point.)
The hope is that after the 14 days, your body has had a really good clean out of all the problem foods and toxins and your symptoms will be noticeably improved. My doctor said they should be gone entirely but they weren’t, so bad was the condition of my body. It took months for me to realise the diet approach really was working. However, it had improved enough to go on to the reintroduction phase, which is where we’ll go in Step 5.