I’m on an elimination diet

While I start writing this it is 2.57 AM and I’m wide awake sitting in my single bed in my tiny bedroom in Groningen. And to make it even more fun: I have to be in class in seven hours. Needless to say, I’m not going to make it to university today. The reason for this midnight activity is that my brain finally is tying up all the loose ends of my thoughts gathered over the past three weeks on the subject of this story. And when my brain is in this mode it won’t turn off until the story is out. Over the past years I have written many blogposts, papers, essays, and sermons on this untimely hour. So there is really only one thing I can do: put pen to paper.

Three weeks ago I had my first appointment with an orthomolecular dietitian. Until recently I had never heard of this, so don’t worry if you have to read that word about five times before you get it. For years I have been struggling with my health, more specific: my gut health. And in addition to that: my hormones are out of whack. I’ve been in and out of doctor’s offices for over twelve years: irregular periods, hirsutism, fatigue, overweight, and food intolerances. Unfortunately to no avail. I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was seventeen, only to have it recalled when I was twenty. I couldn’t get medicine for my enthusiastic facial hair for it could cause high blood pressure, something I’m genetically at risk for. Last year my new family doctor, whom I consulted for the first time, said to my face that my diet was too rigid for bloodwork showed I don’t have allergies. And that I should clean up my diet, based on assumptions about my lifestyle. And then there were the dietitians who were supposed to be specialised in my health issues. Only to lead to abdominal pain because I had to eat according to a diet that my gut didn’t agree with, and a total permanent weight loss of one kilogram.

Ever since I had an infection in my intestines, my food intolerances became more severe. Especially when my overall health declined. But mostly, they were manageable. Until last spring. I spent the better part of five months on my couch, either with a migraine or with pains in my intestines. I could tolerate less and less food. But according to research done in a hospital, nothing was wrong. During this period I discovered YouTube. The last time I was on there it was 2003. So I had no idea what happened in the meantime. Especially in the vlog area. The first time I watched a vlog, I was astonished that over 10.000 people would watch a quite uninteresting self-filmed diary that lasted thirty minutes. But it was not like I could do much else, so I started a little investigation into what it was what made all these people watch every week. And soon I started to notice that in a strange way you get attached to these people whom you have never met before. Fascinating. But long story short: one of these women I started to follow mentioned that she had been dealing with hormonal imbalance, and went to see an orthomolecular dietitian. So I did some research, and when I was still dealing with migraines and intestinal discomfort in October, I made an appointment.

So, on 6 November we had our first appointment. I was quite nervous due to my previous experiences with dietitians. But this one is completely different. For the first time I felt like someone took my health issues seriously. She took the time to discuss all my symptoms, and we went over a list with all food items I prefer not to eat by looking at how my body responds to them. After 75 minutes – the longest period of time someone ever spent talking with me about my health – she suggested that I’d start an elimination diet. For the next couple of months I would avoid gluten, dairy, sugar, and fructans (one of the sugars targeted in low-fodmap diets) as much as possible. In addition to that I have a daily fibre, protein, and vegetable target.

By now, I’m three weeks in and I have had some ups and downs. In the first week I mainly struggled with protein sources. Due to my sensitivities I can’t eat legumes. So the only way to reach my protein target is to eat meat, fish or poultry with two out of three meals a day. For some this may sound like heaven. But for me not so much. Not too long ago I was considering to go plant-based. Not 100% of the time, more like 70%. I already noticed during my experimental phase that I won’t tolerate too many legumes. Moreover, it is strongly advised to avoid unfermented soy products when you deal with hormonal imbalance, making it quite difficult to live a completely plant-based lifestyle. But now I’m doing the exact opposite, eating more meat than I ever have. Physically it’s not a problem at all. My body has been so much better. I’ve only had one migraine, and two stints of intestinal pains – caused by my stubbornness (not eating pizza appears to be incredibly difficult). But mentally I find eating this much meat a problem. Mainly for environmental reasons. So next week I need to discuss this with my dietitian. The second week everything was quite alright. I looked for new staple recipes and made sure I had the basic ingredients in both places I live. And I started to notice the difference my new diet makes for my body. The third week was a bit different. Not that big of a surprise for the third week is always hardest when you are changing a habit. I was craving chocolate so bad. But no sugar means no chocolate. So I mixed a tablespoon of cacao with my breakfast each morning, and when things got to serious I made a chocolate green smoothie. But it’s not the same. Over time this will get better I guess. Also I tried gluten free pizza. And I did cave and had some chocolate. But now it’s the fourth week, and I’m getting the hang of things. I meal prepped, wrote out all my lunches and dinners for the week, and am determined to not fall of the wagon. But I also sense that I’m ready for this second appointment. I’m tired of tracking my food with an app, and I miss certain foods that I had to eliminate but to which I do not respond. Hopefully I may reintroduce them from next week.

So now you know what has been going on. And why I haven’t been creating new recipes for a while now. When you’re in constant pain caused by food, it’s not that fun – or really even possible – to come up with exciting new things to eat. But since I’m on this elimination diet I’m beginning to enjoy food again. The things eating broccoli, potatoes, and some sort of meat three times a week can do for you. I’m not yet back on my old level of creativity, but I will get there. And when I’m there, I will share my new creations in this tiny corner of the world wide web.

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