Per my doctor's orders, I will be embarking on a 21-day elimination diet starting Monday, July 23rd, and I couldn't be more excited annoyed. The truth is, I hate diets. You'd think as a holistic nutritionist in training, I'd be all over this type of thing, but that honestly couldn't be further from the truth. Food rules are my least favorite kind of rules, or so I learned when I attempted the Whole30 a few years back. I believe a healthy lifestyle begins and ends with eating mindfully, not restrictively, and in my experience, deprivation only leads to an endless cycle of self-sabotage.

So, then, why did I agree to this?

First, a little background: I've struggled with hormonal imbalances in the form of acne, hirsutism, fatigue, and irregular periods since I was in high school. Once I figured out the root cause of all of these pesky symptoms, I made it my personal mission to heal myself naturally—with good quality foods, regular exercise, and Alisa Vitti's famous cycle-syncing method. While I've seen a lot of improvements in the past couple years, I'm still not confident that I'm where I need to be in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy (which is a problem, considering Scott and I are hoping to start a family in the near future). I finally decided that enough was enough, and in February, I met with a functional medicine practitioner here in Frisco to address the underlying issues affecting my fertility.

So far, after many tests, it's looking like chronic stress may have a lot to do with it. But stress can come from anywhere—a demanding job, a devastating loss, low self esteem, excess caffeine, or even hidden food intolerances. If I want to kick my hormones into gear and give my body a fighting chance to conceive naturally, I have to eliminate as many stressors as possible, starting with what I can most easily control. Yep, you guessed it: my diet! That's where the dreaded elimination diet comes in. After 21 days of cutting out every common food allergen, I'll be able to pinpoint exactly which foods are causing distress through the reintroduction phase (more on this later). Unfortunately, it's usually the everyday staples in our diet that tend to become a problem for our immune systems over time, which could mean that chocolate and nuts are going to show up as red flags for me. We shall see!

I'll let you in on a shameful secret: This is my THIRD attempt at this diet, just in the last month and a half. (The title of this post is purely for self-motivational purposes.)

The Rules

For 21 days, I'm not supposed to touch:

+ alcohol
+ caffeine
+ corn
+ beef, pork, or processed meats
+ shellfish
+ soy
+ dairy (not including ghee)
+ eggs
+ gluten
+ nuts
+ all added sugars & sugar substitutes (with the exception of stevia and erythritol, in small amounts)

Yeah, this is going to suck. But I'm determined to do it to the best of my ability, which is why I've once again taken to the blog. Writing my goals down usually helps me stick to them.

So, here we go!

Day One
  • I start on the Monday after a big weekend spent hosting the siblings, so my fridge is full of noncompliant junk food and almost nothing else. (Way to be prepared, Emily.) I grab some fresh fruit and coconut butter for breakfast, pack a venison Epic bar for lunch, and begrudgingly make my way to the clinic without caffeine. As you can imagine, I'm starving by 10am. I munch on some raw carrots and try to distract myself with work. 
  • Other than constant yawning, I surprisingly feel okay. Lighter. After three full days of sugar and alcohol, my body definitely needs this reset.
  • Thanks to my wonderful husband, dinner is a delicious rotisserie chicken and half of a sweet potato saturated in ghee. I fall into bed early, exhausted. Must remember to get groceries tomorrow! 

Day Two
  • I wake up exhausted after nine and a half hours of sleep and force myself to get to an 8:30am yoga class. I'm not used to exercising on an empty stomach, and I struggle my way through each vinyasa. 
  • Immediately upon arriving home, I blend up a protein-and-fat-filled smoothie to begin my day. (Go-to recipe: frozen blueberries, frozen cucumber/cauliflower/green peas/zucchini or whatever frozen veggie I have on hand, Vital Proteins collagen beauty greens, hemp seeds, raw greens, 1/4 avocado, cinnamon, and filtered water.) It's satisfying enough, but I miss the nutty taste and crunch of granola swirled in. Unsweetened coconut flakes will have to do.
  • I feel a tickle in my throat, and lethargy still follows me around like a sad puppy dog. Am I getting sick or already experiencing detox symptoms? 
  • Since I lack the energy to grocery shop (again), lunch is a can of olive oil soaked sardines and dinner is the same as last night (plus sautéed spinach). If I don't meal plan soon, I'm going to end up failing or starving, neither of which is an option.

Day Three
  • My mood is in the dumps today. I lack the motivation to do anything productive, and a general sense of dread is beginning to seep in. I know that this is just my brain's way of crying out for stimulants, but this revelation makes it no less depressing. It also makes me realize how often I turn to food and drinks when I'm feeling less than chipper. Now I'm forced to actually sit with my feelings.
  • To cheer myself up, I justify a trip to Central Market. Finally, some fresh veggies!
  • Dinner is wild-caught salmon, riced broccoli, and roasted zucchini. 

Day Four
  • Is kombucha allowed on this diet? I don't even know, but I'm drinking it. Probiotics!
  • Easiest meal ever: Pick a protein (ground lamb), a leafy green (baby kale), a fat (avocado) and a starch (black beans). Coat everything in homemade taco seasoning, mix it all together, and you've got yourself one healthified burrito bowl.

Day Five
  • Mmkay, I'm getting bored with my meal/snack options. Lots of poultry, veggies, avocado, and coconut products. (I'm not very creative in the kitchen.) This doesn't bode well for the next 16 days.
  • I think I may be allergic to watermelon. Anyone else's ears and neck get fiery hot when they eat it on an empty stomach? That's new.
  • Scott and I went to a sushi restaurant tonight because I was dying to eat something other than chicken. I ordered raw tuna sashimi and an eel roll, which unfortunately came covered with eel sauce. I looked up the ingredients when I got home, and what do you know, it's made of soy and sugar! So much for bringing my own coconut aminos. Oh well, I refuse to start over because of a little eel sauce. Upwards and onwards!

Day Seven
  • WE'VE MADE IT THROUGH WEEK ONE, PEOPLE. And life is looking up. Yesterday Scott's parents spent the day helping us with yard work (#homeowners), so we wanted to take them out for dinner to thank them. We ended up going to a local Tex Mex joint, and the food was incredible. Scott and I split an order of chicken fajitas, and I got a side of grilled veggies. Just look at that spread! (No, I didn't have any tortillas, chips, cheese, or sour cream. But the rest was fantastic.)
  • I created a Pinterest board for inspiration. Hopefully this will help me tackle the next two weeks.

Day Nine
  • Thank God for this ice cream. It might not be 100% "clean" but it sure is delicious.
  • Confession: I almost caved and bought a coffee yesterday. Almost. Life is just not the same without the stuff.
  • Only 12 more days to go! I got dis.

Day Eleven
  • So I'm officially sick. I woke up with a sore throat yesterday, and today it's a full blown cold. Bring on the bone broth. I find it interesting that my immunity is down even when I'm practically living on meat, fish, fruit, and veggies. Sigh.
  • In all honesty, though, I'm kind of getting the hang of this diet. It still feels limiting, and I haven't been 100% perfect (a bite of dark chocolate here and there), but for the most part, I haven't slipped up in a major way. Hurrah!
  • Sprouts' freshly cooked dark meat turkey is the bomb. Although I'm sort of wondering if they secretly use nasty ingredients like MSG and soybean oil in the marinade...

Day Thirteen
  • It's been surprisingly easy to eat out on this diet, but one thing I can never order is a salad! Even the "healthiest" ones come chock-full of cheese, nuts, and sugary dressing—so I usually make my own with Primal Kitchen's avocado oil vinaigrette from Kroger. Delish!

Day Fifteen
  • And just like that, Week Two is done. 
  • I survived my first big social outing yesterday. Scott and I went out on the lake with his family, and while everyone else feasted on sandwiches and chips/cookies/nuts, I stayed fueled with veggies, hummus, fresh fruit, plantain chips, cassava flour tortilla chips, venison bites, and sparkling water. Carb heavy, but not altogether unhealthy. Sidenote: A good book can ward off junk food cravings. I'm currently reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, and I'm hooked.

Day Seventeen
  • Welp, I've finally given in to my caffeine addiction. On Monday, my coworkers requested a coffee run, and I just couldn't say no to the delicious nitro cold brew calling my name at Summermoon. I know, I know. I should have resisted! But for a girl who's about a step away from the finish line, I'm finding it hard to care this week.
  • For my mother-in-law's 60th birthday on Tuesday, we had dinner at a famous fried chicken joint in town. I did okay by ordering hickory smoked chicken and green beans but for the first time in two weeks, while everyone else was chomping down on buttered biscuits and fried chicken, I felt downright DEPRIVED. If it wasn't for Scott's encouragement, I would've thrown in the towel then and there.

Day Eighteen
  • I ate leftover smoked chicken for lunch today, and I'm experiencing some major brain fog. Suspicious.
  • A great low-sugar dessert I've been loving lately: sunflower seed butter, vanilla ghee, cinnamon, and coconut flakes on coconut tortilla from Thrive Market {full disclosure: that's an affiliate link}. It's not chocolate, but it does the trick.

Day Nineteen
  • It's Friday night and a glass of wine sounds so good right now. Must. Resist. 
  • So far, I've figured out that I'm mildly allergic to watermelon, cucumber, and banana. Turns out, this isn't uncommon for those with a ragweed allergy. (According to my allergy test, that's me!) Coffee also makes me feel kind of weird, but I already knew this. I'll have to wait until the reintroduction phase (Day 22) to figure out what else my body hates. 
  • Our fridge is practically empty, so dinner tonight is red lentil pasta with chicken sausage from the farmers' market, sprinkled with sautéed greens and nutritional yeast. Yum.

Day Twenty
  • I'm so close to food freedom that I can almost taste it. Actually, I can literally taste it. I snuck a slice of bacon from Scott's breakfast. Whoops.
  • In other news, my heart was racing after my morning oatmeal (a common sign of altered immune response). And this isn't the first time that's happened after consuming a bowl of oats. Whyyy.
  • We went out with friends last night to a gastropub, and while my dinner was compliant (cedar plank salmon, jasmine rice, and grilled veggies), I might have celebrated the eve of Day 21 with a pint of cider. And then a glass (or two) of "paleo" wine {another affiliate link}. Whatevs, I'm over it.

Day Twenty-One
  • I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HERE. The real fun doesn't start until tomorrow, but at least I've made it this far!
  • On the menu today is another hearty smoothie bowl, split pea soup, and shredded chicken salad.

To Recap

Guys. Call me a wimp, but that was not at all easy for this girl. Here's a rundown of how I did!

+ Cheats: Coffee/chocolate (on several occasions), sugar (minimal), bacon, soy (damn eel sauce), alcohol (once—worth it).
+ Potential allergies: watermelon, bananas, cucumber, and oats.
+ Physical changes: Honestly, nixing certain food groups didn't make me feel any healthier overall. In fact, to compensate for what I was giving up (eggs, red meat, nuts, shellfish, dark chocolate), I found myself filling my plate with a lot more carbs than I normally would. Beans, root veggies, gluten-free grains, and fruit became staples in my diet, which may or may not have been the best thing for my fragile blood sugar. It also didn't help that for almost two out of the three weeks, I took a break from exercising as a result of my cold. However, I am interested to see if the reintroduction phase reveals any more allergies. Up first: eggs and nuts, two of the toughest foods for me to live without.

As happy as I am to reach Day 21, this journey isn't over, folks! Far from it, actually. Stay tuned for Part II to find out what discoveries (if any) will result from the next few weeks!