For some time now, I’ve suspected that there’s something in my diet that doesn’t quite work for my body because of a variety of low-key symptoms that I’d been experiencing.
And, for that same amount of time, I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying an elimination and reintroduction diet protocol to figure it out. What stopped me so many times was that each of the individual symptoms—seemingly unrelated—was infrequent and/or low-key enough that it was easy to dismiss them as mild annoyances and go about my life.
There were two things that contributed to me finally taking action.
Getting started with an elimination diet
The main symptom I was wondering if diet could influence was my perpetual ‘dry skin’ issue. A dermatologist told me that it’s seborrheic dermatitis. So, since the issue is with the oil-secreting glands in my skin, technically my ‘dry’ skin isn’t really ‘dry’. Anyway, about a year ago I saw a FB post from a coach whose work has had a big influence on my own professional trajectory and education (Dr. John Berardi, for those who are curious).
In his post, he outlined his early experiences with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) as part of his treatment of an autoimmune disease (plaque and scalp psoriasis). Over the course of multiple posts, he described his experiences, which included a reduction in symptom intensity and frequency, along with some other outcomes that were generally positive. In particular, he described how great his joints felt (presumably as the level of inflammation in his system went down). That one really appealed to me, mainly because of my badly arthritic shoulder joint.
Overcoming Inertia, part two
In the time since reading that post, I’ve hemmed and hawed about trying an elimination diet (in this case, specifically using the AIP). I even gave it a half-hearted go once.
Since we opened the gym, I’ve discovered that my body might not be friends with gluten anymore. That journey introduced a whole new level of awareness and sensitivity to the ingredients that go into whatever I eat.
And then—about two months ago, as I was in the midst of a week-long flare up of skin symptoms and feeling quite frustrated by it—Dr. Berardi posted again about his ongoing experiences with managing his autoimmune disease through nutrition.
In that post, he wrote about a recent experiment he’d conducted for himself to figure out whether tomatoes work well for his body.
The idea that figuring out what my body is sensitive or allergic to…or what tends to cause more inflammation in my system—and then eliminating it from my diet—might mean that I get fewer flare ups of itchy, flaky skin sounded well worth the effort.
The idea that other parts of my body might feel better as a result was also appealing.
So, there you go: sometimes social media posts can be helpful.
And so it was, at long last—about two months ago—that I decided to go for it.
Phase One: Elimination
The standard guidance for the elimination phase is 30 to 90 days. I’m about 60 days in, so the following is a summary of what I’ve learned thus far.
First, here is a high-level overview of the Autoimmune Protocol. The main idea is to eliminate the foods that are most likely to cause some degree of inflammatory response within the body. As elimination diets go (because there are multiple protocols out there), it tends to be the pickiest about what stays and what goes.
On the AIP, you can’t eat:
- Dairy products
- Nightshades (including tomatoes and potatoes)
- Nuts and seeds
- Trans fats
- Chemical additives, artificial colors and/or flavors
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Refined sugars and/or sugar substitutes
- Refined vegetable oils
The AIP encourages you to eat the most nutrient-dense foods possible:
- Organ meats and other quality meats
- Fish and shellfish
- All kinds of vegetables (except those listed in the ‘do not eat’ category):
- Leafy greens,
- Colorful vegetables and fruit
- Cruciferous veggies
- Roots, tubers and winter squash
- Probiotic/fermented foods
Note that neither of the above lists should be considered exhaustive. (There’s a good introduction to AIP here).
- It’s important to note that what I’m talking about here is an experiment where n=1. (For those not familiar, n usually refers to the number of subjects in a scientific experiment or study. For the results of a study to be generalizable to the larger population, you usually need an n that is much higher than one. So that means your mileage may vary.)
- While I have seen—over and over—how powerful nutrition can be in terms of the impact that changing how and what you eat can have on health, I am not suggesting here that you can make your autoimmune disease go away if you just eat this way or that way. I am, however, putting this out there for your consideration. Maybe—if you’re feeling so inclined and have the means to give it a go—an elimination and reintroduction diet could result in some positive changes for you. Or not.
- I should also note that if what I’m experiencing is seborrheic dermatitis, I recognize that it may not be something that goes away or gets minimized through nutritional tweaking. However, I am also aware that it is unlikely that my dermatologist would recommend this kind of thing because of a number of reasons, each of which deserves a blog post unto themselves: nutrition is something that most medical practitioners don’t touch during a 15-minute office visit; and the research on the impact of an anti-inflammatory diet on autoimmune disorders is lacking…the research linking diet to something like seborrheic dermatitis is minimal at best. And yet, the research that has been done is really quite promising.
What I’ve Learned Thus Far
Most of the places where I’ve read about the automimmune protocol or other elimination diets have stressed the importance of fully committing to the diet.
My start to this experiment was not exactly ideal and there have been multiple instances along the way where I’ve eaten what we could call ‘non-compliant’ foods. Nevertheless, I’ve gathered some very useful data.
By and large, my skin has had noticeably fewer flare-ups and I don’t need to clear my throat nearly as often. My joints have been feeling pretty good. Everything seems to move a bit better…but I’m not sure just how much of that to attribute to nutrition since I’ve been doing different things with my workout as well.
Things that don’t seem to work include:
- That first week, eggs were still in the fridge, so I made my breakfasts for the week with eggs…but without cheese. No cheese, no phlegm and consequently, no throat-clearing.
- Orgain protein powder.
- In the second week, I ran out of collagen powder (the recommended substitute for most protein powders) and used our regular protein powder. I was already experiencing a few things that suggested I was on the right track and there are a lot of things on the ingredients list of our protein powder that are also on the ‘do not eat’ list, so it’s not surprising that there was a noticeable resurgence in symptoms.
- Chia, as in chia seeds.
- I’ve been making these really tasty coconut/date/collagen bars and one time, I thought I’d add to the nutritional punch by mixing in chia. It did not go well (from a GI perspective). In discussing it with Theresa, they pointed out that chia is a seed…which totally did not occur to me at the time. D’oh.
- Natural flavors
- One week, I thought I’d give turkey bacon a go. I did so without thoroughly reading the ingredients list until after I’d eaten some. It was definitely not good. There’s no reason to suspect the turkey component, but the ‘natural flavors’ in there certainly corresponded with some GI upset.
- I’ve been trying coconut milk (in a carton—so it might be better called coconut milk beverage) for my daily protein shake (which is now a collagen shake). There are (different) “natural flavors” in there and I’m beginning to notice a correlation between when I drink the coconut and when the phlegm returns to my throat.
- A result of some earlier detective work, I know that if I eat some form of pepper, I will have skin issues the next day.
- Medium-dark chocolate.
- Both throat-clearing and next-day skin flare-ups.
I’m planning to go for about one more month before I begin phase two: the reintroduction phase.
I really miss eggs. They’re going to be the first thing I try reintroducing and I really hope it goes well.
I also miss toast. And pizza.
But, interestingly, I am also really loving eating this way.
My breakfast of late, for example, has been a mix of ground turkey, ground chicken, veggies (broccoli and spinach, mainly), sweet potatoes and a couple of slices of bacon.
I love bacon. I really love sweet potato and want to eat it with every meal.
In my next post, I plan to update you on two things:
How the reintroductions are going and my thoughts on how my diet will change for the longer term, based on the information I’ve gathered thus far.
I hope you’ve found this interesting at the very least, and perhaps informative. While I don’t claim to be an expert here and I’m certainly not qualified to give anyone nutritional guidance for managing any medical condition, I am happy to chat if you have questions.