• Erin Zaranec

Food as Fuel: My Elimination Diet

Updated: Apr 15

A year ago, I was at the Cleveland Clinic having an excision surgery. After years of pain, cysts, a cancer scare, and a ruptured mass on my right ovary, I had a surgeon who was hoping to remove any remainder of the mass that she could while also checking for endometriosis and other ovarian disease or issues.

Fast forward a year and, long story short, surgery didn’t do too much. It relieved me of immediate pain and gave us a good internal view of my pain points, but I was left sitting in a post-op room being told I didn’t have many good long-term options.

My full journey into functional medicine can be found here, but for now I’m focusing on one of the most important aspects of my introduction to functional medicine: my elimination diet.

Starting on January 2, 2021 - I took on a full journey of treating food as medicine and fuel. I’m not going to lie, I never ate horribly (except a year or two in college, let’s not talk about that) but I haven’t always focused on the nutritional components of my meals. I would go for quick staples - taco night, a small salad for lunch, turkey burgers - as many of us do.

My elimination diet changed all of that.

I had to cut out:

  • Gluten

  • Dairy

  • Eggs

  • All Caffeine - including coffee and pop

  • Added Sugar

  • Alcohol

  • Pork

  • Beef

  • Processed Meats

  • Shellfish

  • Soy

  • Corn

  • Peanuts (which I never ate anyway!)

All of these food groups were considered potential triggers for my medical issues: bloating, nausea, pelvic pain, migraines, and overall fatigue and low energy.

I went full force and cut everything out cold turkey - yes, even coffee! The first week was ROUGH. Mostly because I got really overwhelmed in the prep work and bought things that made no sense for full meals. So, I had caffeine withdrawal headaches and was hangry all the time. No good.

After that, I wised up and started taking this diet way more seriously. I found some affordable and easy dupes for things I loved (like chips and crunchy snacks) and found bloggers and websites that posted recipes I could enjoy and afford. In fact, I started doing 90% of my grocery shopping at Aldi. So you can be healthy on a budget, trust me!

Here are some of my favorite food swaps:

  • Love tortilla chips? Bean chips or Cauliflower chips have a similar taste and are within the same price range.

  • Need an easy dinner? Brown rice and Quinoa pasta makes for a quick meal when you’re just not in the mood to cook.

  • Sunbutter. Just do it. I haven’t had peanut butter in nearly 5 years so I truly can’t compare the taste but me and Trader Joe’s unsweetened sunbutter have become best friends. I put it on my rice cakes, celery, and fruit.

  • Like burgers but can’t have beef? Lamb burgers are AMAZING. Lamb is a bit more expensive than beef (in my experience) but cooks similarly and can be seasoned so well. I’ve been loving lamb burgers with lettuce and tomato.

  • Want the crunch of a granola bar but going gluten free? Rice cakes are a good crunchy addition to breakfast, I add sunbutter, banana, cinnamon, and raisins to mine. You can also get gluten free oats - who knew?! I love Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free oats - I make homemade oat bars, baked oatmeal, and more using mashed banana as a binding base.

  • All the milk options. I, personally, do not eat nuts of any kind. But I love a good oat milk - pro tip: watch the added sugars! So many nut and plant based milks have unnecessary added sugars but Aldi’s oat milk is so affordable and compliant for my diet.

  • Splurge on extra flavor. Now, I’m cheap. I’ll say it. So spending $6-$8 on a Primal Kitchen dressing or marinade was hard for me to grapple with, but they are so worth it. So many dressings and sauces are filled with added sugars it’s no wonder they’re so cheap! I love Primal Kitchen’s Unsweetened BBQ and Italian Dressing.

Once I found these swaps and other additions into my diet that I loved, I felt a big difference pretty quickly. By week two, I found myself feeling more energized in the mornings, even on a bad night’s sleep. I had less stomach bloat and weeks without a single stomach - which was unheard of for me.

I hated (and still get annoyed by) the amount of cooking and prep. I can’t even have a snack without something needing to be chopped or peeled or prepared in some way. But having to do dishes daily is worth being able to feel like a normal person more often!

After six weeks of a full elimination, I worked with my dietician to safely reintroduce one food group. My bloodwork and microbiome study showed some problem areas we needed to be sensitive around and led to the decision to reintroduce eggs.

Reintroducing eggs allows me to venture into the world of gluten free breads, cauliflower crusts, and more! Eggs bind SO MANY THINGS eliminating them was tough, even though I feel like I rarely eat eggs by themselves.

I’ve had two reintroduction days of eggs and feel confident that they’ll be a permanent addition back into my diet. Gluten free breads, here I come!

Do you have other swaps that you've made to your diet that just make you feel good?! Let me know!

An important note: I do not endorse diet culture or making unnecessary changes to your diet for looks or aesthetic. All food swaps and diet components mentioned in my blog were recommended by medical professionals and were done under medical supervision.

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