I Am My Own Lab Rat

Back in my undergrad days, we ran all our psychology experiments on lab rats.

Our lab rats were ugly bastards: ginormous, mangy, and sporting beady red eyes, they also had a tendency to bite. (However, one rat redeemed himself when he bit one of the meanest, almost-certainly-a-sociopath people I’ve ever met. I thought about slipping that rat an extra food pellet as a reward for a job well done, but then I realized that it might reinforce the biting behavior overall, not just the biting of probable sociopaths, and that this would be a very bad thing. But I digress.)

Anyways, although I’m neither mangy nor sporting red beady eyes (at least I hope I’m not), I’m going to be my own lab rat for the next few weeks.



You see, I’ve been feeling spectacularly unwell for the last couple of years: despite having gone gluten-free, I still often wind up with some fairly gnarly stomachaches. My joints often hurt. My soft tissue aches. I have that “Who, exactly, is responsible for filling my sinuses with concrete and then driving the truck over the length of my body?” feeling with fairly alarming regularity.

I suspect that part of this is stress and a lack of sleep — after all, I often feel a bit better during the weekends — but I’ve also long wondered if other food sensitivities might be lurking in the murky deep of my immunological system.

Then, because sometimes the stars align, while doing more research about autoimmune diseases I found a recently-published book by a doctor who, wouldn’t ya know, just happens to focus on autoimmune diseases.

The Immune System Recovery Plan, by Dr. Susan Blum, is one of the most scientifically sound books on autoimmune disease that I’ve encountered. Many people have theories about so-called miracle cures for autoimmune disorders, but a) they often tend not to be doctors or scientists, and b) as such, they tend not to back up their claims with actual, y’know, science. They instead tend to rely entirely on anecdotal evidence, which, while important and powerful in its own right, probably shouldn’t be the entire basis of a book about medicine.



Fast fact: while I was studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition last year, my all-time favorite class modules focused on functional medicine. Functional medicine is slightly different from conventional medicine in that conventional medicine focuses on treating the symptoms of any given condition, whereas functional medicine focuses on treating the causes of the condition itself.

Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Andrew Weil were two of my favorite IIN speakers because of their commitment to — and scientific understanding of — functional medicine. Dr. Hyman (seriously dude, call me if you ever need an intern!) perfectly explains the difference between functional and conventional medicine:



Anyways, Dr. Blum is the founder of the Blum Center for Health, where she practices full-time functional medicine. In her book, she uses both data-driven scientific evidence and anecdotal evidence — and I appreciate the combination of the two (after all, statistics can only do so much without a key illustration or two to drive them home).

In her book, Dr. Blum strongly recommends trying a 3-week allergen elimination diet to see if symptoms improve while one is living sans what she identifies as the big 4 allergens: gluten, dairy, soy, and corn.

I read this over the weekend, and decided to embark on that 3 week experiment myself. Then — because like I said earlier, sometimes the stars align — I was visiting MindBodyGreen, and I saw this article: 5 Signs a Hidden Food Sensitivity is Sabotaging Your Health. I have every single symptom, y’all. When I shared the link on Twitter, my comment just about sums it up:


Fullscreen capture 6182013 80302 AM.bmp

Story of my life, indeed. This only reinforced how much I need to try the 3-week elimination diet, even though it’s going to be a bit of a pain in the ol’ tuchus.

Why might it be a bit of a pain? Because virtually everything has soy or corn in it. Tea? Soy lecthin. Salad dressing? Soybean oil. Most GF products rely on corn starch and soybean oil, so despite having been strictly GF for over five years now, I could still be ingesting loads of other possible problem foods.

This means…I’m going to have to cook everything from scratch.

Y’all. I have no time for this. I’d need, like, an entire day off of work in order to cook allergen-free bread, soup, granola, etc. from scratch. (Now, if I were, say, a freelance writer and had all sorts of scheduling flexibility, then I’d be golden. Alas, I have no such luxury.)

So, I’m torn. Part of me really hopes that the 3 weeks of allergen-free eating go a long way towards helping me feel better, part of me is like….”Noooooooooo! Already pressed for time! Cannot handle any added responsibilities or tasks!”




Soooo…we’ll see how this pans out. Here’s to scientific experiments!

Have you ever done an allergy elimination diet?

Do you have specific food sensitivities?

How do you find the time to cook things from scratch?


14 thoughts on “I Am My Own Lab Rat

  1. riversidebaking June 18, 2013 / 9:12 am

    Have you seen gwynnies “it’s all good” book? Loads of elimination diet recipes. Good luck I hope it uncovered some solutions for you x

  2. chasingchels June 18, 2013 / 9:33 am

    Ah love, I wish I could offer some insight but as far as I know, I’m not allergic or intolerant to anything. I know how hard the soy thing is, though…peanut is allergic to soy so his mom can’t have anything with soy in it while she’s still breastfeeding…which narrows down what she can eat a lot. She’s made it work since she doesn’t have any other intolerances, but i know it was rough for a bit (and still can be when they’re out to eat). I hope you figure out what’s going on, love!

  3. Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama June 18, 2013 / 10:08 am

    When we were in Hawaii earlier this year, we were traveling with an extended family member with lots of the same allergies. She had cut all corn, gluten, and dairy from her diet. One evening we were eating at this AMAZING Thai restaurant and the owner came to talk to us. Turns out most Thai food is naturally corn, gluten, and dairy free, and there are a fair amount of dishes without soy. Maybe Thai takeout is the solution to your problems!

  4. thepaceofitall June 18, 2013 / 10:14 am

    My friend had to take out soy and dairy when she was nursing her baby, who was having tummy trouble. She said taking out soy was the hardest, as soy was in everything.

    Anyway, good luck to you, I think this is a smart idea and I hope you can figure out what’s going on!

  5. livliveslife June 18, 2013 / 10:33 am

    I’m very interested in hearing how this works for you. When I went to the allergist a few months ago, she told me to give up wheat, corn, soy, rye, barley, and rice because of how commonly people are allergic to them. I didn’t do that (partially because I’m a baby, and partially because I wouldn’t have been able to eat hardly anything with my existing allergies), but often wonder if I should. If you do decide to go through with this new diet, I hope it all goes well for you, especially the time management piece. Please keep us updated…I might give it a go if it makes you feel better!

  6. megbek June 18, 2013 / 11:52 am

    How very insightful of you to take this on yourself. I couldn’t agree more about eliminating variables to really pinpoint what causes you to feel less than perfect. It’s interesting that gluten free products utilize a ton of corn products because in my research, (NOT A SCIENTIST, MAY NOT BE TRUE!) I was under the impression that corn is indeed a grain. It’s not a veggie, fruit, or root – but a grain, hence its uses in today’s food. So, essentially, you’re not eating gluten, which is the root of a lot of digestive issues, but it’s still a grain, which is becoming a more frequent irritant in humans today.
    Cooking everything for yourself is VERY time consuming. Like, all the way. It’s tough, and sometimes, when you’re hungry, you just want to eat. I can relate – I have a busy job and a busy after work schedule but insist on cooking things no matter what. I suggest a weekly prep of basic foods – eggs, lettuce, all that stuff, so that you can throw things together based on what diet food you’re eliminating that week. I hope it all gets worked out, I can imagine that this should solve a lot of your internal health issues! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. cjoye7 June 18, 2013 / 1:02 pm

    Crossing my fingers for you lady and hoping you find a solution soon!! Love you!

  8. Erin June 18, 2013 / 1:05 pm

    Sounds like the easiest path is to stick to whole foods prepared simply. Meat, fruits, veggies, rice (& other GF grains). I’m a HUGE fan of the grill. Throw anything on the grill & it turns in to delicious magic! My favorite thing is to mix a simple marinade in a couple baggies (one for meat, one for veggies/fruit). I’ll usually use the same marinade for both. The general make-up of the marinade should be: Olive oil + something acidic (lemon juice, vinegar, wine, apple juice, anything you think would be good) + flavoring (I usually use a big scoop of minced garlic + salt & pepper, but I’ve also been known to use minced fresh cilantro, or whatever spices I have on hand.) Pop your meat & veggies in the marinade. Shake up the bags to coat well. Let them sit in the fridge for a bit (or even days) & then grill that shit. Delicious. EVERY. TIME! Serve with some rice or quinoa, or not. Bam! Healthy & delicious! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Becky @ Olives n Wine June 18, 2013 / 1:37 pm

    I tried to do an allergy elimination diet with dairy last year after having major tummy pains/troubles and that lasted about 3 days until I couldn’t go without cheese any longer! I would still like to do one, particularly with packaged foods of all kinda which shouldn’t be that difficult – I just need some determination. I love that you’re taking this into your own hands and seeing what works best for YOUR body!

  10. Charlotte @ Commitness to Fitness June 18, 2013 / 2:58 pm

    Holy… I bow down to you wayne’s world “we’re not worthy” style for even attempting this 3 week program. this is going to be a huge commitment but if it works, my gosh, what a life changer!! i hope you get this figured out so you start feeling better soon!!

  11. Alix June 18, 2013 / 5:47 pm

    1) That last gif is the best gif. Ever.
    2) Even though you’re not going as crazy as paleo, what YOU need is to pore over some paleo blogs and cookbooks. Is what you need. You’ll get good ideas and the food will be Lillian-friendly. I recommend “Well Fed” by Melissa Joulwan. It’s got some good time-saving hacks, sauce recipes and general strategies for making the constant cooking from scratch sustainable.
    3) Salads are your friends! Also, my favorite soy-free salad dressing is equal parts EVOO + really good balsamic vinegar shaken together in a bottle or jar. That’s all you need, but splurge for the good balsamic – makes all the difference.
    4) Good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Alex @ therunwithin June 18, 2013 / 8:41 pm

    honestly this is how I was feeling before I started the whole 30. I knew I was allergic to gluten but I still had some symptoms that would not go away. I hope you find something that works for you.

  13. rachwilksdotcom June 19, 2013 / 7:57 am

    So as you probably know, Eric and I spent a month making everything from scratch (and this was before I had a flexible schedule)…here are some things that I’d recommend!
    – Prep some kind of breakfast in advance (either hard-boiled eggs and bacon that you can then eat with toast, or a simple bakes fritatta or egg casserole you can slice and reheat in the AM)
    – Make lunches for the week on Sunday and portion them into to-go containers. (Applegate Farms burgers make this easy, as does nitrate-free sausage from WF or TJs…just add some veggies and you’re good to go.)
    – Chop veggies on Sundays and prep as many other things as possible
    – Crock Pot recipes for dinner
    – De-prioritize working out. I know that can be hard but your main health goal during this time is eating healthier so if you have to scale back to just a couple workouts a week, it’s well worth it. Also, making everything from scratch is a workout, trust me!

    Good luck, I hope you start feeling better soon!!

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