What I’ve learned after 3 weeks on an elimination diet

I wrote up some tips for spoonies here. If you’re eliminating gluten, dairy, corn, and soy, and you have limited energy, check those out.

In the past, I’ve been too scared to try eliminating any particular food for more than a week. The reason was two-fold: one, I have such limited energy and I perceived dietary restrictions as being lots of extra work and two, I really like dietary indulgences. I savor good food. I think having something tasty is a great pleasure in life. And I tend to be a person who is fairly well-behaved (drinking rarely, staying away from drugs that aren’t prescribed to me, OTC, or caffeine, avoiding smoking, almost never going to parties). I think because I have so few indulgences, good food and laziness feel extra special to me. (Having limited energy does not equal being lazy. But sometimes, even when I do have a bit of energy, I give myself a lazy day.)

This time, I knew it would be different, because I’d have my health coach Monica to talk me through the plan, and to check in with me on how it’s going (an extra big deal since she’s going to have a little one any day now! so it’s very nice that she takes the time to email me). I’ve found those ways to deal with the diet that I mentioned in the tips post linked earlier. But I’ve learned some other things, too.

I’ve learned that I can be very happy with a salad, if I put the right things in it. I’ve learned that locally produced meats are amazing. I’ve learned that sometimes you really want butter, not olive oil or coconut oil, and that is a good time to use bacon grease if you happen to have it on hand.

My big takeaway, that I hope will stay with me even after I’m done adding foods back in and seeing what does or doesn’t make me feel bad, is that if I’m willing to do a little work and carefully budget, I can get high quality ingredients and make myself things that are not only just as indulgent as any foods I was eating before this, but tastier. Obviously, I shouldn’t subsist on a diet of Izze and Lara bars, or even home-made almond flour muffins (though anything made with almond flour is going to be much lower in sugar than any other baked good). But I hope that I’ve given myself a good foundation for expanding my diet to include a wider variety of healthier foods, without feeling deprived of the junk food I ate so often in the past. And I’ve learned that I don’t need to be afraid of changing my diet. I won’t starve, eat something that will make me feel bad because I decide it’s worth it, or live off of pistachios and fruit (though that has served as lunch a few times in the past 3 weeks).

Renaissance Spoonie

I have a LOT of interests, and at various times I have kept up with not only the interest itself, but also the community surrounding the interest. I have too many interests to be an expert in anything. Several years ago I discovered the book The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. If, like me, you have trouble designing your life around your plethora of interests, it’s definitely worth checking out.

One of Lobenstine’s key suggestions is to limit yourself to pursuing 4 interests at a time. One can be a career interest and the other three can be personal interests, or you can mix it up differently, but career + hobbies should fall into 4 categories, unless you can work more hobbies into your career. You can rotate different things into your sampler of interests whenever you like.

I find, though, that thanks to my chronic illness and the extreme fatigue that comes with it, as well as the higher priority self-care must have in my life, that I can’t just pursue 4 things like work, improv, singing, and crochet. (Which leaves out so many ways I like to spend my time, including gaming, gardening, reading…)

Because of my illness, my sampler needs to look more like this:

  1. Work or school

  2. Self-care: food prep, exercise, hygiene

  3. Home care: laundry, picking up, grocery shopping

  4. ONE PERSONAL INTEREST.

This means I can only be intensely focused on one thing at a time, and it bums me right out. So I’m looking for ways to deal with it. One way is to rotate that one thing VERY rapidly – like “Today is an improv day. Tomorrow will be a video game day. The next day will be a crafting day.” And that’s sort of where I’m at right now.

The other is to combine things. For example, reading on my bus commute; crocheting while loading screens are coming up on video games.

I think I need to consciously utilize these two techniques to keep from feeling like I can’t have hobbies/interests.

The Remarkable Difference Adequate Treatment Makes

I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It’s an autoimmune disease in which my body attacks my thyroid. The thyroid controls basically, you know, every bodily function. So if it’s under attack and starts to function poorly, your (or, rather, my) whole body becomes a sad mess. This affects both physical and mental stuff. The treatment I use is a combination of two synthetic hormones that supplement the hormones my body either isn’t making or isn’t properly converting into other hormones.

For more than a year, I’ve felt like this condition was getting worse. And the lab tests showed a decline, but were still kind of okay-normal, but suboptimal, and I was just too scared to bring it up with my doctor.

Then in January I got feeling bad enough, and the test results were finally suboptimal enough, that I went to my doctor and checked in about getting an increase in the dosage of these hormones, which after some hand-wringing about how they could actually be hurting me, she eventually agreed to. About a week before that appointment, I started taking a selenium supplement, which has been shown in medical studies to help Hashimoto’s patients.

In early January, I was having a lot of really bad days. I was too sleepy to accomplish much in the first week. I had an eight-day headache. My joints were constantly aching. Sometimes my muscles ached, too. I felt stupid and slow. Exercise sounded like something that would be difficult to get through both because I wouldn’t really be able to breathe afterwards and because it would just aggravate my joints more. Getting up in the morning was very difficult. Many days, I was not confident in my ability to meet my basic adult obligations.

About a week after starting the selenium supplement, I began to feel kind of like a person again. I hadn’t really, not for the first three weeks of this year. I felt like maybe I was capable of dealing with life.

It takes about 4 weeks to notice much of a change from a dosage increase in thyroid meds, and 6-8 weeks for it to show up on a serum test. But today is two weeks since my dose increased, and I can feel a difference in my body and my attitude. Yesterday I went swimming for the first time in more than a month. I got up, took my medicine, braided my hair, kissed my husband goodbye, wished him a happy morning of playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, and was on my way. I swam for I don’t know how long, but I swam until my legs started to say, “Please, no more, thanks.”

This morning, I went for a walk. It was a one-mile walk. A couple of weeks ago, I would do this same walk, and at the end of it, I would need to just sit for ten minutes to catch my breath. This morning, I came in, sat for a minute or two, and started making breakfast. I hard-boiled some eggs. For the past couple of weeks, all I’ve been able to do was mix up an instant breakfast powder with milk.

My mind isn’t as sharp as I’d like yet, but I feel optimistic that it will be in the next month or two. I still get sleepy mid-afternoon, but I get a few hours of good thinking-time in at work before that happens. I can’t convey just what a difference it is to feel like things are getting better, like it’s possible for them to keep getting better.

I need to remember this feeling. I need to remember, next time I start to feel low, that I can take control, I can talk to my doctor, and I can make it better. I have that power. I need to internal-locus-of-control this thing, and I can. I can. That’s the hardest, and most important, part to remember.