What’s your favorite food?
Admittedly, I don’t really have one.
I used to though. I used to love chocolate, pizza (the Pictou County kind, of course), brownies and ice cream.
Nowadays if I had to pick a favorite, I’d tell you I like medium-rare steak over the BBQ, a glass of red wine, and an occasional bite of dark chocolate.
Does that list seem a bit disappointing? Let me tell you exactly why it isn’t.
In the past few years, I’ve drastically altered my diet. It started about seven years ago, when I was a student and I was getting stomach sick so often that it was hard to get out of bed. To get me through an exam period, I was on a steady diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and takeout pizza because they were both fast and delicious. What I didn’t know was that the food choices I was making were wreaking havoc on my stomach.
So, not by choice, I removed dairy from my diet.
And begrudgingly I started to feel a lot better.
I switched to soy milk and stopped making grilled cheese. Soy ice cream just isn’t the same, but I ate it anyway.
After I removed dairy from my diet and I moved on from university to a professional job in Toronto, I noticed that my hair was thinning out and my stomach issues came back, much worse than before.
Naturally, I assumed I was suffering from something else: stress. So, I de-stressed by quitting my job and moving to Nova Scotia.
I cured my work situation, but the stomach issues prevailed.
Months later, I searched out a Naturopathic doctor, on a quest to fix things once and for all. Here’s the cool thing about a Naturopathic doctor: they care about how you feel all the time and want you to feel your best. Medical doctors (are awesome) but strictly care about whether you are alive or at risk of dying. See the difference?
The naturopath immediately recommended an elimination diet for at least three weeks. That means: no dairy, no gluten, no coffee, no sugar. Just basic, plain food. A limited intake of rice and potatoes. Specific fruits and veggies only. Oh, and no alcohol. Hah.
What’s cool about this experiment is that once you “clear your system”, you add back in the potential pain-causing culprits (dairy, gluten, etc) to see what happens. It’s like you are a real live science experiment!
It was tough to get off coffee and get used to herbal tea, but I managed. (A few coworkers miiight have suffered in the process). Alcohol was easy, but social situations were awkward. Meal time becomes drab and dull, but spices became my new BFF. And, when your three weeks are up, you’ll very quickly understand what was causing your problems. For me, dairy was still a culprit (no surprise), but gluten was also a major problem for me. So, out with the dairy and the gluten.
For a while, I was doing really well. My willpower seemed to improve, and I was easily avoiding many products that I didn’t need. I found good gluten-free substitutes for some things, especially in baking. (Remember, I love brownies).
And then, the stomach issues came back.
Not as severe as before, but trust me, once you get to this stage, and you’ve changed pretty much everything in the quest to feel better, you notice the slightest imperfections, and you want nothing more than for them to go away.
So back to the naturopath I went.
(Can you guess what he said?)
(Kind of. I pay him for more than just the suggestion to take food out of my diet, I swear to you.)
Yeah, no sugar in tea or coffee, no gluten-free baked goods (straight sugar), and oh, be wary of fruit altogether.
Some people began to ask me not what I couldn’t eat, but what I can eat.
Then I learned about something called FODMAPs. Basically, they are a group of sugars and they break down differently or something. Here’s what I understand: it means that certain fruits and veggies are good and certain fruits and veggies are bad. They all got different molecules that act differently when digested. I kid you not.
So as you might ask, “what do you eat?”
Here’s where the story turns a corner. I no longer wish to eat gluten-free goodies, dairy or tons of potato chips. I’m happy to avoid processed foods, fast food and chain restaurants in the name of feeling great.
Lots of meat, fish, eggs and poultry, lots of (the right) veggies (I like squash, salad, and red peppers), and a few indulgences where possible. It’s not a perfect system, and yes, it’s limiting. No more baked goods, lighten up on the coffee, and stick to bananas over any other kind of fruit.
But here’s the kicker: I feel great. And, there’s so much positive science out there on gluten, dairy, and processed foods that I think everyone else should get on board. I don’t go out to eat a lot, and I won’t stay out partying really late, but that’s because after a seven-year journey of learning about food and health, I know what works for me, and I hope that others soon get on board with eating better, too.