Lost, suddenly.

I have a dependable, possibly annoying habit of picking up other peoples’ isms. I’ve started saying “oh, gosh,” the way my friend Tami does, and “I do not,” instead of “I don’t,” because that’s what my (now very) two-year-old says when he disagrees with me. These days, I’m saying “craaaazy” like Hannah does, and “not so much,” which came from someone . . . I have a favorite ism, of course. When offered coffee, my friend Dan says “always,” instead of “yes, please,” or maybe “I’d love some.” It’s just a little word, that “always,” but having the opportunity to copy him makes my day. It tells people my stomach is always open. They always smile.

But today, someone told me I’d have to stop with the always thing. I went to see an ayurvedic doctor, about lupus and shingles and balancing life’s little pleasures with life’s big problems, and she said what I’d know she’d say–that for 8 weeks, I should try an elimination diet, a sort of spring cleaning for the body, albeit in midsummer. She said I should eat for nutrition, not for pleasure. (What???) She was good at phrasing it as a positive, exploratory time. She talked about kale chips and nut and seed butters and about cooking with coconut oil, which I’ve never done. She tried to convince me, right then and there, that I need to be working on a cookbook for autoimmune disorders.

I told her, quite bluntly, that altering the way I eat every day is completely at odds with what I do—it clashes with my career, with my mindset, with my lifestyle. By nature, I am not an eliminator. I am an overindulger. I tend to add nutrition to my diet, but I rarely take things out. (Evidence here.) But now this: a list of NOs, when I’m so used to saying YES. No eggs, beef, pork, dairy, sugar, nightshade vegetables, corn, gluten, spices, alcohol, caffeine, soy, chocolate, fruit, or high glycemic index veggies. That’s a list. (I’ve always said I never met a list I didn’t like, but this one is the exception to the rule.)

I nodded seriously at the doctor. Then I explained to her that there are just certain things I need to eat, because I’m testing recipes. She recommended I have other people taste for me. Perhaps my husband could be my taster? Like hell, I thought. Tito is an excellent eater, but he himself claims to have the palate of a rock. And how could I possibly create a recipe for a broad audience without tasting it myself? Nonsense. It can’t happen. But this doctor also said I could get many of the benefits of the diet by following it as much as I can—i.e. if I eat per the guidelines 75% of the time, I’ll see 75% of the benefit. At the end of our hour together, she congratulated me on not crying. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me to cry, but hearing it made me realize what a big jump she was asking me to make.

After the appointment, I went to a Whole Foods to explore the rice and almond milk aisle, and to digest the concept of “dieting,” and to purchase a weird herbal tea she said tastes remarkably like coffee, for the mornings, when I will supposedly be going off the bean. I’m sure I looked like a newly rescued disaster victim, wandering the aisles with an empty stare and a basketful of esoteric ingredients. I felt sort of homeless, frankly. No fruit? In August? I got into my car, opened a can of coconut water and a bag of salted pumpkin seeds, and tried to feel healthier.

But I don’t know if I can do this, people. I want more than anything to find a way off the lupus roller coaster—it’s no accident I got shingles at 32, it’s a product of my crazy immune system—but the purification process is so deeply conflicted with what I do for a living that I’m not sure how the two can possibly coexist. I’m not afraid of the 8 weeks. I’m afraid of the 8 weeks’ being successful.

Yesterday, working on my next cookbook, Dishing Up Washington, I made a gorgeous summer pasta with cauliflower and capers and lemon and goat cheese. I planned to eat it for lunch today, and to tell you about it-about how the poor cauliflower, so sweet and tender and lovely when browned, is completely overshadowed at farmers’ markets by flashier summer vegetables, by tomatoes and corn and peppers and eggplant and goodness, have you seen the carrots these days? Now I’m supposed to avoid all of them, and the pasta, too—for a while, at least. The leftovers are sitting in the fridge, begging for escape, and I can’t help them.

So for 8 weeks, I’m supposed to test just the recipes that comply with the diet’s restrictions. It’s very doable, on the recipe front, based on the list I have for Dishing Up Washington. I can do it. There are so many foods I can eat. But I’m not sure I want it to be doable.

What I want to do is lie on the ground and pound my fists into the floor. My two-year-old has recently been schooling us on the best methods of throwing tantrums, and I think I could do him proud.

Have you done this-not the tantrums, but an elimination diet? Did it make a difference? How did you get through?



Filed under Et cetera, lupus

27 responses to “Lost, suddenly.

  1. Corny Kaeler

    That’s kind of a weird list to avoid. I’ve experienced this with corn. Which, by the by is in EVERYTHING. I can avoid corn and feel better and BE better. Or I can succumb to my wants, and get sick and feel like crap. I know it wil happen, but I do it anyway. It took 2 years to finally give up and just not do it.

    Ask the doc about a staged elimination instead of cutting out everything you know all at once. At least you’ll be only a percent miserable.

  2. Kim

    I have done a detox elimination for twelve weeks, but it was nowhere near that restrictive. The nightshades were the hardest for me to leave behind. I do remember being hyper-sensitive to flavors during that time, too.
    I’m really fascinated at the recipes for D.U.W. that would fit into this clean-eating regimen. Hoping it does you some good and that it’s worth it somehow.

  3. annie


    I agree with Corny. Could you not eliminate the foods in stages instead of one big diet change? It would be easier to handle, and this elimination diet is difficult to do in the summer when all the fresh veggies and fruits abound.

    Having said that, your doctor knows what she is talking about. There is ample proof that nutrition plays a big role in autoimmune illness, even in pain management. I have had to drastically change my food habits. I eat no wheat,dairy,sugar,soy,salt,citrus, nuts etc.I eat bland foods and only use extra virgin olive oil to dress my foods. Am I boring you yet? I had no choice as I had a big crash a few years ago, lost an incredible amount of weight (that was ok) and ended up in hospital numerous times with various ailments that no doctor ever figured out. Thanks to my naturopath who helped me do an elimination diet starting with rice, I am now more stable, but constantly battle gut problems and all the other hidden gems of dealing with autoimmune disease. Good luck and let us know how you’re doing. Tell yourself it’s going to make you feel better.

  4. I just finished a 12 week elimination diet and it was definitely hard. There were tears on more than one occasion and my list wasn’t as restrictive as yours. That said, I feel a whole lot better than I did when I started, and although I’ve been able to reintroduce everything I had to eliminate (and feel okay as long as I don’t overdo it), it definitely was worth at least knowing what my serious triggers are. You can do it! (and sometimes tantrums feel REALLY good, even if they are completely self-indulgent)

  5. s*

    I believe in you.
    I have also done this, with a list at least that restrictive, for three or four months. Believe it or not, I can’t remember the exact duration, but it was *long*. I think the diet, coupled with a handful of other things, actually fixed what was ailing me (being allergic to casein, eggs, coconut, and onion). Though I remember going to bed hungry many a night during that elimination diet. It’s not always pretty, but it can help quite a lot.
    As you know, we’re on a slightly reduced diet over here, and generally faring much better than before we were on it. Life without refined sugar is freaking awesome. Except that I’ve yet to figure out a fantastic quick bread recipe. That will come. And the dairy and wheat aren’t much missed by me very often any more either. I feel better without them and that is an excellent motivator.
    There could be a serious market for cookbooks that follow the guidelines of this elimination diet. I’d be game. I know others who would too. I know it means convincing a publisher that it’s the right thing to do, but I believe in you there, too.
    As Hippocrates said, let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
    Also, I believe in you.

  6. Oh, lady—I have so been there. On all levels. It’s tough, logistically and emotionally, but you can get through it. Let’s talk (when I’m back next week). It is doable, and worth it to find out what’s what (even if you don’t always choose to abide by those rules later:-). Hang in there!

  7. My dear friend tried it for early arthritis and has now been on it for almost a year. I sort of marvel, and bridle, at all the deprivations, wondering how proven each subtraction actually is, and yet she is better. She would have to be to stay on it. I think sometimes that she has perhaps simply deprived her body of ability to inflame- by diet. She does have a cup of coffee in morning and a glass of wine from time to time and will also, thank gawd, diverge from this restrictive path from time to time because life is short.. xx

  8. Lulu

    You are a pioneer. Remember how you took the 20 grains in your cupboard and started cooking with new ingredients people had never heard of? This is just another challenge and I dare say only you can make it come out something positive. OK, it’s pretty damn restrictive but if your body likes it it won’t be so bad. What if you can actually make some delicious foods out of this restricted list and lift life for others? Oh, and what is a nightshade vegetable anyway? Rather than worry about what will happen on the future just focus on today and how you are undermining the wolf today. Keep her at bay today. Then tomorrow. Then we will see.

  9. Oh, people, such beautiful words. Thank you. Tea, I love how you mention it’s logistically difficult–that’s just it. But if I can do what Beth says, deprive my body of the ability to inflame, it may be worth it. And Lulu and S* – thanks, as always.

  10. I went to Sanoviv Health Center in April this year and ate a corn, wheat, caffeine and dairy free diet. (They did use peppers and tomatoes though.) It’s amazing how delicious the food was and how energized I felt. Coconut water was served every night at 8:00PM, lemon, cayenne water in the morning. Here is a recipe for lettuce and rice burritos on my blog: http://web.me.com/maggiewilliamson/magtime/Blog/Entries/2011/4/26_Sanoviv_Recipes.html. My guess is that you will feel wonderful- and who knows, as you innovate we all may gain from your talents in cooking for autoimmune disorders. That market could use you!

  11. Not sure why, but I started saying “My pleasure” (or, often, just “pleasure”) instead of “you’re welcome.” (Which, grammatically, should be, “you’re welcomed,” shouldn’t it?)

    Not afraid of the 8 weeks, but of it being successful … reminds me of Sorry/Thankful, a little bit.

  12. Andrea A

    I am currently following a restrictive diet to heal my angry gallbladder and am on week 8. It’s a pain but I do actually feel better. And yes, there are times when I have fallen off the wagon . . . and paid for it too. Now, I notice that the cravings for the foods that don’t agree with me come less and less. It’s been a roller coaster but it’s getting easier with time. I might even admit now that I enjoy it. So, you too can do this Jess. I have faith in you 😉 And, if you are ever feeling down about it all or have questions, shoot me an email (I am a nutritional therapist).

  13. andreadevon

    i think the most important thing you said was that you are afraid of the eight weeks being successful; it’s actually pretty profound, knowing that we can make ourselves more well and yet… maybe not totally able to commit to it, or being scared of the process. I hope you learn to love coconut oil (i couldn’t cook without it) and teeccino (one of the flavored coffee-replacement brands) and all the other changes that you are undertaking. Most importantly I hope your body loves it! (I have a whole post about teeccino and lots of posts about coconut oil if you need some inspiration on your journey). aloha, andrea

  14. Oh that is so tough. I constantly have people recommend similar type diets for me due to my RA and I have resisted – because just like you said – what if it works!? I did have to go on a very strict diet when I was nursing my oldest, Thomas. He had horrible food allergies and at one point I was gluten, egg, dairy, soy, sesame, peanut, garlic, pepper, and melon-free. Once we narrowed it down I was able to add back in gluten and dairy but was off the rest for over a year while he was still nursing. I would be lying if I told you it didn’t really suck. I used to have quiche fantasies. I remember the visit to the allergist when he told us that Thomas was allergic to garlic and pepper and just to “cut them out”. Clearly the man didn’t cook if he thought that cutting out garlic was no big deal. I actually wrote in my first blog post ever: http://www.mendolo.com/2008/05/19/the-beginning/ of how I felt when I realized how difficult that diet would be (there was crying in public involved).

    The diet did have huge benefits for Thomas and even some for me. I discovered, for example, that I don’t react well to soy and we have eliminated it from our family’s diet completely. The best advise I can give you during this time is to be good to yourself and seek out non-food sources on enjoyment (exercise, books). I gave myself permission to buy a whole bunch of books on amazon and abe during the dark diet days just so that I had something to look forward to – an evening book instead of evening ice cream. And if you do find that dairy is an issue, you should try doing only raw (non-pasteurized) dairy. It makes a huge difference to how many people digest dairy. We are in the process of moving to all raw dairy products in our family – we finally have a place that sells it near our house.

    Good luck and I hope the diet brings you some answers.

  15. I wish you the best of luck. I’ve done them here and there in the past only to discover that yes, I am truly allergic to dairy and that I am ok with gluten. 8 weeks is a long time and I can truly understand the situation you find yourself in- a life based around beautiful food is a hard one to restrict. I want to say: if it works, it will be worth it. But I find that a very hard sentiment to give to you. Life will be different if it works, but look to Shauna and all that she has done to make living gluten free a new way to embrace food. You’re alive and blessed with a beautiful family, a good career and a penchant for words. You will find new ways to eat and fall in love with new foods. Thank you for sharing your joys and struggles with us.

    • Hey there, Jess-
      Sending you hugs and positive energy as you undertake this challenge. I’m sure there is wisdom in your ayurvedic physician’s ‘prescription,’ given your health issues.
      However, perhaps there are some additional things that you can do to help your immune system too. Have you ever taken probiotics? The nurse practitioner who works w/my MD (doc operates a medical practice w/several alternative treatment practitioners) recently recommended taking probiotics at the level of 10 billion microorganisms daily – I was already taking 5 billion.
      Would fish oil supplements help? Our chiropractor recommended taking 2,000 to 3,000 units (particularly when under stress) per day. The key is that neither of these will work immediately; it could take at least 4-6 weeks to see results.
      Also, would massage, chiropractic and/or acupuncture help with any of your immune system challenges?
      Best of luck to you and keep us posted. – lisa waterman gray

      • Ahh, Lisa, you bring up so many good points! I’m taking probiotocs, but only 2.5 million – that may be a good place to start. I’m doing fish oil and flax seed oil, and have an acupuncture appointment tomorrow… we shall see!

  16. Oh Jess. I’m so sorry to read this and totally can sympathize with the fog you are currently in. I went to see a naturopath for the first time and got a food allergy test. It came back no gluten, soy, dairy, or eggs. Meat and fish were fine for me, but I choose not to eat those things. So, facing life as a gluen free vegan who can’t eat soy, I did a 180 and went to see a Western medicine allergist (an MD) who told me the test was total bullshit and to throw it away. So there you go. I’m lucky – I don’t have lupus or shingles, I was whining about a list much less restrictive than yours, and I got to just throw it away. I may do a 2 week cleanse, just to eliminate and see what causes me nausea, bloating, migraines, etc, but again – it’s not lupus. I feel for you Jess. I trust that you will be able to write about this journey intelligently and begin a road map for the rest of us.

    • Thanks, Dana. It’s so hard to balance western and eastern medicines–I just wish I could be a fly on the wall 10 years from now to see what works out!

  17. Jessica

    Hey Jess! It has been a while and I just happened to visit your blog today. I did do the elimination diet when my lupus symptoms first came on after my first son was born. It was hell but it worked! Once it went into remission, I slowly went back to my regular diet but would go back and forth if my symptoms came back. I have been healthy for a while but have been having lots of digestive problems, low energy, etc so just eliminated gluten to see if that is the culprit. It has been five days and I feel great! We’ll see….
    It would be great to see you again,
    Jessica Walker (from Yoga Momma)

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  19. Oh I do know what you”re going through…I’m lactose intollerant, allergic to wheat, strawberries, lentils and a lot of beans too, and some other stuff as well. Now my doctor has put me on a diet whithout any fruit, soy products and any other dairy products as well….so I totally get what yout going through!
    You can do it, I’m sure! 🙂

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