Health: 21 Day Elimination Diet / by Ginevra Held

So yesterday I completed the 21 Day Clean Diet also known as the Elimination Diet.  I should make it clear, I am not using the shakes that you buy from Dr. Junger.  I am following the food elimination guidelines that he sets forth.

Now, I don’t like the word “diet” because it suggests an attempt at weight loss which this is not. As my friend said when I mentioned I was doing an Elimination Diet, “what the hell, you are skinny AF.”  Amusing.

I went on the diet in order to attempt to determine if I have food allergies.  The fact is since I was little, I have randomly gotten itchy red things (gross) on my face and of course American doctors are never interested in why, they just try and prescribe you something which either a) does nothing b) makes it worse or c) has ridiculous side effects.  Needless to say, I never filled any prescription they advised for my crazy skin.  

I noticed that my skin was totally acting up so I thought I would give this diet a try to see if food is playing a part.

The way the 21 Day Clean works is for 21 Days (duh) you only eat foods that are not known to cause allergies.

Simply put, no eggs, dairy (cheese, milk, butter, yogurt), no gluten at all, no red meat, no sugar. Also no caffeine or alcohol.  Also, no strawberries, oranges or grapefruits, no nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes) and no potatoes.  For the full list and guide from Dr Junger click here:

I really like pasta, eggs, cheese and yogurt and that has been the hardest.  Before starting the diet, I hadn’t had that much bread and was had gone without milk for a while as I couldn't easily buy it within walking distance, so giving those two up at the start was not hard. Additionally,  I don’t really consume much sugar, but you can’t have honey or maple syrup, which was a little annoying.

Basically, my diet these past weeks has been a lot of vegetables, in varying combinations, roasted, sautéed, stir fried (don’t forget no soy sauce).  And a mix of quinoa, lentils and black rice. Plus, at one point I really needed a chicken, so I got one to roast, along with some turkey breast, this was very helpful for a change of pace. Overall the diet is not that bad.  Plus I use a lot of olive oil and coconut oil so that helps.

I learned about this diet from Gwyneth Paltrow, of course, and I have been wanting to try it for a while.  I decided this was a good time since I am alone, so I didn't bother anyone with what I can and can not eat, and summer fruits and vegetables are not quite in full swing, so I am not missing out totally on tomatoes and strawberries.  Luckily though, there is a lot of Spring produce available.  I think this diet would be very hard in the winter with less vegetable options.

I learned a couple of things straight away:

  1. Read everything!  I mostly don’t eat anything packaged at all, however, I had a favorite curry spice mix I was using.  Before I embarked on the 21 days, I read everything in my kitchen.  The curry spice has potato in it. wait what?! The balsamic crema has high fructose corn syrup (are you f*ing kidding me.) And the herbal tea I bought for this diet, but did not ready has barley extract. WTF
  2. When you restrict your diet, you are forced to explore other modes of eating.  I think we all get into a habit of reliance on one or another food group and I know for sure I was getting way too friendly with my eggs and cheese.  They say again and again, lots of vegetables, and really its true.
  3. Vinegar and Lemon Juice are your best friend.  I have also put vinegar on everything, or wanted to and now I have an excuse.  Vinegar and Lemon are the flavor makers.
  4. Spices rock.  This has forced me to use more spices.  I am very liberal when it comes to spices, never really paying attention to how much a recipe calls for, unless its something hot.  
  5. You can eat a ton of vegetable until you feel full, but you don’t every really get that heavy feeling that comes from the other stuff. This is nice.

Now that my 21 days are completed, you begin a reintroduction phase to try and self assess allergies.  Before I get into that I want to reflect on where I am after 21 days.

I feel my skin is much clearer and I did not have any itchy reaction marks.  (actually, this is not true, there was a recipe for root vegetables in Dr. Junger's manual, it called for parsnip or ruttabega or one of those, I roasted one, and almost immediately I had a little rash.  Clearly, I am not meant to eat those, and it was easy to determine the culprit as everything had already been eliminated!)

I have retrained myself to fill my plate with vegetables.  I have always been very mindful of health and eating healthily but I think we all get side tracked occasionally and this has been a good reminder of Michael Pollan's adage to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."  I never ever eat anything that is packaged or prepared, I was more relying too heavily on my eggs and cheese and pasta as we are want to do in winter.

Basically, I think this was a good experiment and again has really brought more mindfulness to my eating. I have been experimenting with alternative flowers and sugars etc and this has just furthered the curiosity.   

I also think Instagram has helped in a way, in that I have taken pride in my cooking to the effect that I want to photograph it and share it.  This is a good thing as it plays into the mindfulness aspect.  Good food is not just fuel, it is a way of life.

Now that I have completed my 21 days, there is a reintroduction phase.  This is where, duh, you reintroduce the foods you’ve eliminated, one at a time and in isolation so that you can assess your reaction.  I think this makes a lot of sense.  It will be time consuming but hopefully worth it.

Today I reintroduced dairy, I will let you know how that goes.  I chose to get sheep's milk yogurt instead of cow's milk.  I feel that because of this diet I am more open to alternatives.  You need to break habits every once in a while so that you can forge new paths.

Again here is the full cleanse program from Dr. Junger:

Gwyneth Paltrow’s second cook book, It’s All Good has lots of recipes for this diet.

Dr. Hyman is the other professional I have been taking advice from, he advocates avoiding gluten and dairy and not being afraid of good fat which is right up my alley.  

Are there any specific food diets you have tried?