by Dr. Will Cole
As a functional medicine practitioner, my job is to uncover the root issues of chronic health problems and coach my patients into a higher state of health well-being. But as many other health professionals will tell you, when you spend your days taking care of others, it’s easy to make your own health a low priority.
Practicing what I teach, I’ve always eaten a healthful diet, but with 60-plus-hour workweeks and a family to take care of at home, I felt increasingly drained of energy and just not like myself. Diet alone was not enough. Adding insult to injury, I also know that I have MTHFR genetic mutations (and you might too – an estimated 40% of the population does), which likely contributed to years of autoimmune spectrum digestive and skin problems.
With my stress levels shooting up and adrenal fatigue creeping into my life, I knew I had to do something more than eat my vegetables. I decided to reset my health with an autoimmune elimination diet. I’ve seen autoimmune protocols do wonders in thousands of my patients’ lives over the years, but now it was my turn. I wanted to see what it could do for me. After 60 days on the program, I found I had increased energy, fewer digestive issues, and I also uncovered hidden food intolerances that I can now be mindful of throughout my life.
I recommend that everyone try this elimination diet – whether you have inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, food intolerances, digestive or skin issues, or just want to feel your very best. Here’s what I did:
What I ate for 60 days
Vegetables: At least 6 cups of veggies every day.
I focused on a variety of different colors, especially green leafy vegetables, which contain folate, necessary for supporting methylation pathways. I also ate colorful starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and yams.
Fruit: Just a few small handfuls per day.
To limit my fructose intake, I focused on berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.
Organic meat: 1 to 2 palm-sized pieces per meal.
Healthy fats: 1 to 3 tablespoons per meal.
I cooked with natural fats from grass-fed organic meats, like tallow, and also clarified butter (ghee). I also had a daily dose (through cooking or just eating straight off the spoon) of extra-virgin coconut oil. I also used avocado oil and extra-virgin olive oil for dressings and other room-temperature uses (never for cooking).
Other foods I enjoyed occasionally:
- Coconut: I enjoyed a coconut in many forms, including full-fat coconut milk, butter, and aminos (a great soy sauce alternative!), as well as fresh or dried into flakes for snacking.
- Grain-free flours: In moderation, I used flours from cassava, coconut, and plantains as alternatives when baking. I also used tapioca starch and arrowroot powder, but only occasionally.
- Natural sweeteners: I used small amounts of raw honey, grade B maple syrup, and molasses, but not every day.
Here’s what a typical day of meals looked like for me (I give you permission to copy me!):
- Breakfast: Smoothie with avocado, spinach, berries, coconut milk, and coconut oil
- Lunch: Salad of field greens with wild-caught salmon and a dressing made from olive oil and vinegar
- Snack: Organic bacon-wrapped dates and homemade kale chips
- Dinner: Sauteed vegetables in coconut oil, sweet potatoes with coconut butter, and albacore tuna
What I avoided eating
I decided to go all-in with this diet, and that meant giving up a few things, too. I find that when it comes to an elimination diet, you need to do it fully or it won’t accurately tell you what foods are reactive for you. (It’s like being a little pregnant – either you do it all the way, or you aren’t doing it!) Here are the foods to eliminate for 60 days if you want the plan to work.
Refined and artificial sugars:
You may have already ditched these, but I also axed other sweeteners that sound healthy but are actually highly refined, like agave nectar and raw sugar.
I mean all grains – even the gluten-free ones such as rice, quinoa, oats, and corn. Grains tend to be generally inflammatory and hard to digest, but anybody can live without them for 60 days.
Dairy and eggs:
Many people have trouble with the dairy protein, casein, which is found in products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as the protein albumin in egg whites which can also be inflammatory for some people.
Nuts and seeds:
Although most people consider these to be generally healthy, I took nuts and seeds out because I find they can be rough on the gastrointestinal system, and they cause inflammation in some people.
This category includes white and yellow potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and some spices. These can cause inflammation in some people with autoimmune spectrum problems.
FODMAPS refers to foods like legumes, onions, and garlic with certain kinds of carbohydrates that can aggravate the gut in some people, and since I have digestive issues, I wanted to limit them (although I didn’t avoid them entirely). For a full list of foods in this group, read my article on FODMAPS.
Alcohol and caffeine:
I avoided all alcohol during this time and restricted my caffeine intake to just a few cups of green or white tea per day.
What I discovered after 60 days
After 60 days, I slowly brought foods back in over a few weeks, testing each one to see if it caused any flare-ups of my symptoms or a decrease my energy level. Here is the order I used to reintroduce the foods:
- FODMAP fruits and vegetables, one at a time.
- Eggs (Note: I brought yolks in first, then the whole egg, because the albumin protein in the white is typically the part that causes the most problems).
- Nuts (Note: I brought cashews and pistachios in last because they are members of the poison ivy family, and more people have issues with these).
- Dairy (Note: I reintroduced in this order: grass-fed butter; raw goat yogurt or kefir; raw goat milk; raw goat cheese; raw cow cream; raw cow yogurt or kefir; raw cow milk; raw cow cheese).
- Nightshades, one at a time.
During my 60-day food experiment, I went outside of my comfort zone and discovered some new foods I thought I wouldn’t like (such as sea vegetables and shellfish). I also found out that sugar makes my life worse – no surprise there. Milk, legumes, and most gluten-free grains also don’t agree with me. I discovered I don’t feel as good when I have lots of nuts or fruit, but I can tolerate small amounts.
Your results will likely be different because everybody has individual reactions to foods. The overall effect, for me and likely for you, was renewed energy, clearer skin, and significantly fewer digestive issues.
What’s right for you?
Everyone is different, so your experiences will be different than mine, but the structure for discovering which foods do or do not work for your body can be the same. Go at your own pace, and if you want confirmation of your results, food immune reactivity labs can add credence to the information you discover about yourself, as well as help customize what’s right for you.
Also, remember that just because you have a food intolerance now doesn’t mean you always will. Many of my patients find that as they heal their gut, they can tolerate more foods, so what you give up today isn’t necessarily gone forever.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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