Elimination Challenge

OK, you know how I mentioned in my New Year’s Resolutions post that I would be taking on a major health improvement project for January but I’d cover it in another post? Well, here’s the post.

But to really put this in context for you I need to travel back in time a year, to late last January, when I came down with the first of a series of colds that didn’t completely resolve until April. I’d get better, then I’d get worse. Repeat.

In February, I called my MD and the receptionist wouldn’t even take a message for the doctor let alone make an appointment for me. She said: The common cold can last for 6 months. Tough it out. Buy some over the counter cold medication. Ok? Click.

I was pretty frustrated but I did just tough it out. In May, during a routine visit to the doctor for health insurance-required blood work, I explained what happened to my doctor, who I like. She said that the offending receptionist had been fired and if anything like that ever happened again, I should leave a message that I want the doctor to call me back.

On November 7, I started coughing and woke up with a bad cold the next day. I had been going to acupuncture and yoga regularly and I had been drinking much less booze since July–I thought I was healthier than last winter and that I would shake off the cold in a quick, normal fashion. Over Thanksgiving, while traveling in LA to see family, my mother-in-law said she thought it was very concerning that I was still coughing and that I should call my doctor immediately upon our return.

I did, and this time I tried to simply leave a message that I wanted the doctor to call me back. The receptionist said she couldn’t take a message that wasn’t detailed–so I tried to explain to her what was wrong. Hastily, she put me on the phone with the nurse practitioner who tried to prescribe me antibiotics, steroids, and allergy meds. But she wasn’t listening to me–I wanted to make an appointment to find out why this keeps happening to me and how to prevent it going forward. Suspecting a sinus infection, I let her call a prescription for a Z pack into my pharmacy.

I’m reluctant to take antibiotics, especially given that I hadn’t even been seen by the doctor. I took to google to try to find a nautropathic doctor, an ND. Licensed NDs can serve as your primary care physician in 16 states, but PA isn’t one of them, so I knew it wouldn’t be covered by my insurance. But I also knew another MD, if I could even find one, wasn’t going to care as much about getting to the root of my problems as an ND. So I made an appointment and after an hour and half long consultation with her, I decided to take the antibiotics to clear the infection and return in two weeks to talk health strategies for 2014.

The antibiotic really ended the infection–and restored me to a level of energy I had not experienced in a long time. I felt actually well for the first time in ages. I almost canceled my follow up appointment with the ND and then I remembered how important it is to me to not fall into a similar cycle this winter.

The follow up meeting was … intimidating. She prescribed me an “elimination diet” for the whole month of January that would abolish the following from my diet:

  • Sugar, and all sweeteners including honey
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Legumes

On the plus side, I would be free to enjoy a serving of gluten-free grains up to two times a week. I had been planning to do an alcohol-free January anyway, but all the rest of it too? No coffee? It seemed too hard. But it does seem very likely my immune system is not robust, and this program just might help. Taking these steps would build my immunity and rest those tired adrenal glands. I would learn a lot about how what I eat affects me, the ND promised.

So here I am, on January 7 with a week of eating this way under my belt. I can tell you it is not as bad as it sounds. I am lucky in that I like to eat practically everything so even when you eliminate a lot of ingredients, there’s still a ton of things I can eat that I love. I have been eating tons of food, three meals a day and snacks, and have not felt at all hungry.

The coffee withdraw was a bit tough for a day or two but now I’m convinced I’m doing better without it. Someone like me who is very high strung and prone to insomnia probably shouldn’t have caffeine. Going without booze has been no big deal so far–as I said, I have been gearing up to be alcohol-free this month for a while. I haven’t had felt compelled to eat at a restaurant, something it seems wise to avoid this month because you never really know everything they are putting into your food. I know I will miss going out to eat with Dan before the month is over.

I feel good. Not extra amazing good, but generally good. My energy is high, I’m sleeping well, I feel perhaps calmer than usual. Or is that in my head? I am not really sure. I am not undertaking this as a weight loss project (in fact I’m calling it “elimination challenge” not “elimination diet” because I am so sick of diets and have vowed not to go on diets ever again), but I feel the opposite of bloated in my stomach. That’s a wonderful change of pace.

I will update you again at least once before I’m done and I will of course share my thoughts on the experience when it’s over. This is the most ambitious monthly project I have ever tackled, so it should be interesting.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever gone on a similar elimination challenge and how it went for you.

12 Responses to Elimination Challenge

  1. Maggie January 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    It’s interesting that she recommended cutting all of these at once and not one at a time. I hope it makes you feel better and better! In my own experience, even just cutting caffeine was truly eye-opening to me, a total shift in how I felt…though I caved and am back to my morning coffee.

    • joymanning January 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      I think she did went that far because she knew I was up to the challenge. I said I was highly motivated to make changes to feel better, and I am. I too feel really surprised about the coffee. I was only drinking one mug in the morning, so I never thought it was a big deal, but I feel substantially calmer.

  2. lisad January 8, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    sounds very close to what I did in april. I too had quick improvement of sleep,energy level and just feeling better in general….trying to get back on the band wagon mainly to just start feeling better….good luck to you .

    • joymanning January 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      If I remember correctly, you were also not eating fruit and starchy vegetables. I think what you were doing is even harder! It is pretty amazing how closely what we eat is connected to how we feel.

  3. Nadine January 8, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    Before going to Chile I gave up (more or less) wheat and dairy for a few months (also no alcohol during the week). I lost weight and kept it off especially in the mid-section. It didn’t help with inflammation as I had hoped though it may have impacted my migraines a bit and acid reflux definitely was better. Once I get back from Switzerland next week I am going back to no wheat and dairy at least as much as I can. I will never be 100% free of either but probably 80%. For me that is as good as it gets. My accupuncturist recommends giving up 2 things at a time which is more reasonable for me.Let me know if you can do it all. Good luck!!!

    • joymanning January 9, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Do you see Lauren at South Philly Community Acupuncture? I see her, and I think she thought this plan was a little over ambitious!

  4. Tenaya January 8, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    Interesting post. I tried this same thing (except for the legumes part) 2 years ago when I couldn’t get over a sinus infection. I have to say, I felt like I had a wild energy boost during that time. I also got turned onto drinking a couple teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in hot water (or in sparkling water) each day as a digestion booster and sinus infection preventative. That little tip was the most helpful thing I tried. I still drink it almost daily, and sometimes several times a day if I feel like I’m coming down with a cold. I’ll be curious to read about your observations later in the month. I bet you’ll feel amazing.

    • joymanning January 9, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      I would think the no dairy thing would be especially challenging for you! I’ve used some apple cider vinegar tonics in the past but never really noticed the benefits. Maybe I was never consistent enough. Thanks for reminding me about that!

  5. --susan January 9, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    I had a chronic sinus infection that took *four* rounds of a pretty heavy-duty antibiotic plus prednisone to actually totally kill dead. I been so accustomed to crushing fatigue and headache that I didn’t even register that my head hurt and that my exhaustion was illogical. (Because I couldn’t think clearly enough to get there.)

    For ongoing management of sinus inflammation, I have never done any elimination challenges per se, but I do know that beer will tip me over from borderline to inflamed, and drinking anything to excess will make me stuffy, so I restrict/allow appropriately.

    • joymanning January 9, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      Those sinus infections are surprising evil, I’ve learned. I hope you are feeling all good this winter!

  6. carosail January 12, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Best of luck. I’m been thinking about doing something similar for a while but it seems incredibly daunting. What are some typical meals/snacks you’re eating?

    • joymanning January 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi, Carosail,

      I’m been eating eggs for breakfast (sometimes with roasted sweet potatoes, somethings with sautéed veggies.) For lunch I often have leftovers from the night before or an apple with almond butter and some macadamia nuts or flaxseed crackers. And dinner is relatively easy–just some kind of meat or fish and either a salad or roasted vegetables. One night I did a kind of free form homemade sausage with ground pork mixed with fennel and hot pepper. I cooked them up like patties and served them with broccoli rabe and tomato salad. My sister recently taught me how to make kale chips coated in a pureed mixture of cashew, nutritional yeast and red bell pepper and those make a great snack too. I may post my food journal at some point down the road. It sounds more daunting than it is, I think.

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