Elimination diets

Some of the girls I talk with about fitness (in an attempt to have some solidarity and not bore my non-competing friends too tears) have brought up bloating. Particularly post competition, and how difficult it is to deal with. Some girls were recommending apple cider vinegar (definitely worth a go), some have suggested adding fiber or eliminating dairy or some other trick. For me, I can honestly tell you I rarely get “bloat” and when I do, it’s usually my own damn fault.

I don’t get “bloat” because I know what causes it for me. It’s that little demon called gluten, occasionally it’s from too many nuts which are hard to digest, and sometimes it’s from overindulging in salt (think Indian food). But I only know these things because I have been able to isolate the causes. If you don’t isolate the cause you might never know what is causing the issue!

This is where an elimination diet comes in. Precision Nutrition writes about the benefits of these here. In my opinion they are probably the simplest solutions to a nagging issue. Here is how it works.

1 – Identify possible allergens in your diet. Some common ones are:

    • Gluten
    • Non-glutenous grains
    • Dairy
    • Nuts
    • Citrus fruits
    • Beans and legumes
    • PUFAs (heat processed or “vegetable” oils)
    • Nitrates or nitrites
    • Other chemical additives

2 – Find a stretch of 1 or 2 weeks (1 week if these are small elements of your diet, 2 weeks if you eat these regularly) where you will be able to be completely faithful to your diet and completely eliminate these items from your diet. This is super important. You must not cheat on this because this isn’t about weight loss, this is about finding out how your body reacts to foods and if you don’t clean them out of your system, you might not react accurately.

3 – After the 1-2 week elimination period, choose 1 servings of eat of the suspected allergens and “test” them. For example, on day 1 after the elimination period you can test gluten. Take 1 slice of bread and eat it at some point during the day. Over the following hours and even the next day, monitor how you feel. Do not test more than one food per day and do not accumulate test food. So on the 2nd day, eliminate gluten again and test something else until you are through the list.

4 – Monitor your reactions and results. Make sure you write it down. Common reactions are stomach ache, bloating, acne, mental fogginess, headache, bowel issues, heart burn, nausea and fatigue. If you experience these symptoms it means you are probably sensitive to that food.

5 – Determine your next steps. If you reacted to certain allergens, decide if you can completely eliminate it from your diet, or if it will just be a once in a while thing. You can also decide what things you want to add back full-time. You may discover that something you thought was a problem is not after all.

When I have done this I found I reacted to gluten the strongest, non-glutenous grains to a small extent, dairy gives me skin issues and nuts and beans in large quantities give me stomach ache. So I have completely eliminated gluten and reduced my dairy, grain and nut intake. I don’t eat beans at all anymore.

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Secret Friends

Cover of "The Eat-Clean Diet: Fast Fat-Lo...

Cover via Amazon

Tosca Reno (AKA most amazing source of fitness motivation ever!) once posted a chart comparing various diet strategies.While I was looking at it I realized that I love the Eat Clean Diet, but Paleo is kind of awesome too.

Unfortunately (or fortunately maybe?) there are a lot of different varieties of paleo and the one Tosca used to compare is the original and quite extreme version that I would not recommend.

Because I am gluten intolerant, I started looking up recipes that were naturally gluten free instead of substituting low nutrient value foods to replicate glutenous foods. This led me to paleo blogs, recipes and cook books. I have followed an eat clean diet approach for a lot time. It’s my “go-to” method for shedding weight and is how I eat day-to-day. So when I started learning about Paleo I felt a little like a traitor.

But guess what? I think that they are secret friends!!!

There are some fundamental differences between them , but the core is the same. Both diets are designed to have you eat the way you were designed to… they just differ on how that actually works.

In my mind the main differences are:

  • Grains – paleo say absolutely no grains, where as the ECD encourages whole grains IF you can tolerate them
  • Dairy – most paleo diets say no, but primal says full fat dairy from healthy animals is ok IF you can handle it, where as the ECD encourages low fat dairy products
  • Saturated fats – paleo encourages animal fat consumptions ONLY from good sources (i.e. grass fed cows), where as the ECD says no or limited saturated fats, and encourages unsaturated fats instead
  • Meal Timing – paleo discourages snacking, ECD encourages eating every 2-3 hours.

Those may seem like big differences, but here is why I think they really get along quite nicely: JUST EAT REAL FOOD!

That is the main message in both. Neither diet says “hey, go buy my special brand of nutrition shake and eat that for 2 of your meals instead of food”. They aren’t trying to sell a product… they are trying to teach you a LIFESTYLE!

So true to form in my family, I have picked both over and taken what I like from both and here is where I come down on each:

 

ECD

Paleo

Grains

Winner!

Dairy

Keep the fat though!

Sat. Fat

Yummy!

Meal Timing

Definitely!

I think the goal is to find out what YOUR body does well with. If you are allergic to tomatoes, it doesn’t matter how healthy they are… don’t eat them. Some foods cause inflammatory reactions in almost all people and these should be avoided across the board (like refined sugar), but otherwise it’s about finding what is healthiest for you personally.

Is it the Gluten?

My Mom is awesome, a little crazy, but awesome. She does more research on health matters than anyone I know… including myself. So last night when I got a text message asking if I had white spots on my nails, I sort of knew where it was going.

I should give you a little background to this situation.

I have an 11 year old brother who has Type 1 Diabetes and a 21 year old sister who has just had half her thyroid removed and is going through trying to find a happy balance for her hormones. My brother was diagnosed at 2 and this was really the start of my Mom’s trip to research-ville. I have never ever seen someone read so many books on nutrition, hormones, exercise and mental health, EVER.

Recently she started with a nutritionist who has a book about hormone health. She started reading a few more books about hormones and how diet affects them, and that is when she texted me about my nails.

So the question: Do you have white spots on your nails?white-spot-on-fingernail

My nails are painted right now so I couldn’t look, but now that I was thinking about it, no, right now I don’t have any white spots. Come to think of it, I used to have those all the time. I would probably have 2-3 white spots on my nails at all times and I never thought anything of it. I haven’t had them in about a year though… weird.

Before she could expand further on this I did a quick google search. Go ahead, google “white spots on nails”. I’ll wait.

Back? I bet you came up with a bunch of articles telling you that it’s because the nail bed was damaged. That’s a possibility. But buried amongst those articles of lazy doctors saying “it’s nothing” are articles that say it’s caused by Zinc Deficiency. Interesting…

My Mom texted back a bit later about the zinc deficiency, but added something that was definitely not among the top articles on google. The fact that zinc deficiency is a common sign of gluten intolerance because it cannot be absorbed by the damaged intestine. If you look up zinc deficiency you will find some fun side effects, but the worst one is thyroid damage. I managed to avoid this completely by accident by going gluten-free because I generally feel better on a gluten-free diet.

After that little tidbit I started scrounging around the internet for more weird symptoms of gluten intolerance. If it affects one hormone, there are bound to be other things that it is affecting. At the same time I started doing an inventory of the things that used to be issues but aren’t anymore. This is the list of things I came up with.  I’m not saying ALL of these are a direct cause of giving up gluten, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority are.

  • Fatigue – I still get tired a lot, but I used to be tired all the time. Surprisingly, over Christmas while I was eating small amounts of gluten, all of a sudden I wanted to sleep 18 hours a day. I haven’t done that in a long time. 3 days gluten-free and I am getting my energy back… interesting.
  • General pain – this is a weird one. I think some people might call this fibromyalgia, but all I know is that when I eat gluten the places on my body that carry fat, they hurt. Not like an ache or injury, the skin and muscle are just sensitive. This is particularly noticeable on the side of my thighs because I brush against things and it hurts… not bump, nothing that should hurt, just pressure and I’m in pain. Start cleaning up my diet and the pain subsides. Right now I still have some sensitivity, but I’m guessing in a week or two it will go away.
  • Stomach pains – this is not an upset stomach. This feels like sharp, stabby pains. This is definitely gluten because it always happens within an hour or 2 of eating a little more gluten than I should.
  • White spots on nails – like I said, they are completely gone now. I haven’t had them in over a year.
  • Healthy hair – there is a definite line between where my hair is healthy and where it is dry. This might be from dying it, or exposure to the environment… or it might be about a year and a half worth of growth while I have been limiting gluten.
  • Illness – I used to get sick a lot. If someone was sick around me, I was done. Now I rarely get sick, and if I do it is mild.

Yes these could have different reasons (other than the stomach pains), but I am slowly accepting that gluten might have been a bigger problem than I thought it was. For a long time I have been brushing it off as no big deal… but maybe it is.

I know the whole gluten thing seems a bit like a fad, but if you have some generalized health issues and you don’t know the cause, try doing some research on it… you never know.

Oh and another thing… apparently if you go gluten-free they cannot test you for gluten intolerance. You have to continue eating gluten to get tested. So I can’t find out for sure because I’m not willing to do that to my body, but if you are currently still eating gluten, don’t stop just yet. Talk to your doctor and get tested. Or do what I did and just cut it from your diet and see if you suddenly feel way better.

 

Things I should learn to remember about myself

1 – I don’t do well when I give myself to green light to have a large quantity of something (unless it’s greens)

2 – Gluten is really quite horrible for me

3 – I do best with wishy washy diet ideas but a solid goal

Why do these things matter? Well they matter because I’m not doing so well on the 21DSD and I know exactly why.

When I was in competition mode I would treat myself occasionally, but my portions were under control. I had a solid goal that could not be compromised. I knew what I needed to do. On this 21DSD there is no goal. Well there is, but it’s a wishy washy goal of improving your health. To accompany this wishy washy goal you have very strict diet guidelines. Wait a sec… see #3 above? I do well with the opposite. So what has happened?

Well on the 21DSD they assume that you will listen to your body when it gets full. That’s great! I would if I could, but I have never had this feeling of “full” that most people get. No no, I have 3 feelings related to hunger 1) hungry  2) not necessarily hungry but food is tasty and 3) bloating and hurting because I ate so much that my stomach is expanding past its normal capacity.

I’m serious. And no this isn’t something I “did” to destroy my full reflex. I have been this way forever. Let’s take a look back at my childhood. I was a really fit kid. Like weird kiddy six-pack happening. I had no excess fat on my at all, but I could eat as much as my father (who also doesn’t seem to have a full feeling). My mom used to jokingly say I had a hollow leg because she couldn’t understand where all the food went! Having said that, I was eating really good food. My Mom and Dad are both awesome cooks and make great healthful meals like roasted chicken and veggies, steak and salad. I was eating green beans (and enjoying them) at 8 and salad probably started around 10. But at puberty I did gain a little weight as I talked about in The Whole Story. Not much, but enough to start a struggle with body image.

So we’ve established that I have always been able to pack away the food like nobodies business. Great. So dieting should be super hard for me right? Well no, not really. I just portion everything I eat before hand and don’t go back for more. I have to rely on visual, measured or weighed portion control and not my own body. I’m not broken, that’s just the way I am. And like I said… I have a “not really hungry” stage, so I’m not always looking to eat. The problem is when I am eating, I don’t want to stop.

Ok, 21DSD comes along…

Internal Dialogue

Pre 21DSD – Hey, this looks like a great way to stop my sugar habit I’m developing! Oh look… you can have as much of these food in the “yes” column as you want. They don’t want you to measure things, you should listen to your body, other wishy washy thing… sounds great! I should totally do this!

Week 1 – This is going really well! I’m cutting back a lot on sweets and eating bacon… mmmmmm bacon! I should probably cut back on the whole stuffing my face with nuts thing though… oh well.

Week 2 – Hmmm, muscles aren’t recovering very well, let’s add back protein powder.. hey that might help with the nut issue!

Today – Ok so we seem fine during the day when our access to food is limited but at night? We (royal we) become a crazy nut and cheese eating machine! This is not good… we need to stop 😦

So I’m ending my 21DSD journey. BUT I did learn some great things like my body feels way better sans grains/gluten, I picked up some great new recipes, and I actually achieved my #1 goal in taking this sugar detox on. I am no longer going for the high sugar content items! Yay!

I’m going to set some real measurable (SMART) goals for myself today and I’ll post about them tomorrow. Then I will use portion control and the diet principles I know work for me with maybe fewer grains in the mix to achieve those.

Please do not let me discourage you from trying this though. My boyfriend, even though he probably doesn’t realize it has had fabulous results and has made his body much more sensitive to sugar which HOPEFULLY he will maintain.

Post birthday effects

Well my birthday weekend was amazing! It was fun-filled and not very healthy. I believe in moderation and treating yourself reasonably… but when it’s your birthday it’s hard to apply even a little bit of moderation. This was my weekend:

Bailey’s was my favourite until I discovered Coureur des Bois, it’s maple flavoured Irish cream liqueur!

Friday: Bowling with friends – sounds innocuous, but of course there was drinking. Nothing too bad, a couple Bailey’s and some spiced rum and diet coke (a favourite combination of mine). I was good with eating all through the day and even had a big salad for dinner. But come 11:30 I was starving and wanted nachos… because nachos are the best. These particular ones were smothered in cheese and I ate probably more than my fair share.

Saturday: This was my boyfriend’s day with me to himself. We attempted to make these diet pancakes, but they were sticking to the pan like crazy until with switched to butter instead of coconut oil. That seemed to work better. Then I got surprised with going to see War Horse, which was super sad, followed by dinner at Brassaii. I had Oysters to start, Bison Tenderloin with a wine reduction sauce, fingerling potatoes, broccolini and king oyster mushrooms as my main and a chai pot de cream for dessert. The Dessert was nothing spectacular, but the rest of the meal was to die for! The bison had a bone marrow crust that gave it the perfect amount of saltiness, cooked to perfection and oh so tender! We then went to the Sheepdogs’ concert and met up with my family. Such a wonderful day, and not that unreasonable as far as the diet goes.

Happy Birthday to meat!

I also got the meat that I ordered from Brooker’s delivered Saturday morning… happy birthday to me!

Sunday: This was the kicker. It started out with some gluten-free French Toast made with what is left of the loaf from this post, accompanied with some pasture raised peameal bacon, so that was good. Then we went to Ikea and picked up a wardrobe for our new apartment which was my birthday present/housewarming gift from my wonderful parents. Then out to Bowmanville for apple picking! I love apple picking, it’s such a very fall thing to do, and they had Honey Crisp apples which are my absolute favourite… they are huge and sweeter than most apples. Back to my parents house with my uncle’s family and my Grandma for an absolute feast of guacamole, steak, corn on the cob, roasted sweet potatoes, grilled veggies and some wonderful red wines including Amarone. For dessert, as always, I requested Angel Food cake… this is not gluten-free, but it is my favourite all time dessert, airy and sweet and moist. My Grandma’s been making this since the 1940’s and my Mom uses the same amazing recipe. I think I ate half a cake and lo and behold, I had a major stomach ache because of it. I don’t recommend huge doses of gluten even on your birthday, if you are sensitive to gluten, but it was heavenly (pun intended).

So that brings us to today. I am a little less than 6 weeks out from my competition and have just had a majorly unhealthy weekend which has upped my weight by about 4 pounds (yes, this is mostly water). Should I feel guilty? I don’t think so, it was my birthday, and I indulged more than I ought to, but that’s life. So what should I do about it?

Well for starters, I am getting right back into eating clean. I am lowering my carbs a lot this week as I ate a lot of carbs over the weekend. Today, I am fasting until I feel properly hunger, I woke up still absolutely stuffed from last night, so I just took my vitamins, Bio K (probiotic), and had some water. I am writing this with a coffee in hand and still am not in the least bit hungry at 10 am; considering I usually eat at 7am this is unusual. If you look at my Tips and Tricks you will see I never recommend skipping meals to make up for overindulging. Feeling guilty about eating will make you resentful and you will probably enjoy those indulgences less. But fasting can be useful if it is not tied to guilt.

I have been doing some research on different fasting protocols, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s a lifestyle I want, there are some definite benefits. A major reason I am fasting today is because of the amount of gluten I ingested over the weekend. My organs are actually in pain (not exaggerating) because I was basically giving them poison. Fasting can be very therapeutic and cleansing in a case like this where you have just taxed your digestive system. Giving it a break from processing anything, even good food, allows it to deal with all the crap you just fed it and reset. Then when your next meal is full of nutrients, your body will be ready to handle them and will process it much more effectively.

If you want to learn more about different fasting protocols there are lots of websites out there, but I found the Precision Nutrition summary to be particularly well researched and informative. An important thing to mention if you are going to try intermittent fasting is that nutrient timing around exercise to still very important. Typically, people following a fasting protocol will exercise either fasted, or with a small meal before exercise near the end of the fast, followed by a large meal right after the exercise. This limits muscle wasting and makes the best use of calories in that magical hour after exercise where your body processes food like a machine.

So to summarize:

  • birthdays are for indulging and I did;
  • feeling guilty about food is bad and leads to problems down the road;
  • gluten is evil and makes my stomach hurt when it should be enjoying angel food cake afterglow;
  • fasting can be beneficial for getting rid of evil gluten and helping to get your body back on track if you don’t link it to emotions.

That’s all for today folks!