Navigating an Elimination Diet as a Couple

Jessica has endometriosis, and Chris is her partner. Together, they find ways to manage the condition and support each other through its challenges. Jessica is currently following an elimination diet. Below they discuss how it is going and the difficulties this can cause when eating as a couple who live together.

What is an elimination diet?

From Jessica:Elimination diets can be for all sorts of things, but generally, they are one of the most reliable ways for identifying food sensitivities, intolerances, and foods that are affecting any medical conditions. For me, this is for my interstitial cystitis (the evil twin of endo!) which is a condition that causes bladder pain, frequency, irritation, and hypersensitivity. I’ve been trying to manage this condition for several years now, so the elimination diet rules out some of the more complex triggers which could be behind the pain - including histamines and oxalates. The protocol also has an autoimmune component to it, as I’m presenting with some symptoms of an autoimmune issue and we have a lot of autoimmune issues in my family!

How easy or difficult is to to maintain this diet?

From Jessica: So hard! Really, really hard. This is my third week and I’m finally beginning to get the hang of what to eat, but my symptoms haven’t improved much. I’m working with my nutritionist at present to try and work it out, because I am so sensitive, that even the few things I am allowed to eat are still causing me issues. I’ve been continuing to have poor sleep most nights because of the pain, and couple that with a diet that’s very restrictive, it just means I’m really depleted. It’s not even tiredness, it’s beyond that - it’s like my body is totally zapped of energy!

I had to add eggs into my diet in order to try and rectify the energy issues. As someone who had eaten vegan for several years, this has been both mentally and physically challenging to do! I think the emotional strain of a diet like this can really take its toll; my values are having to be put to the side temporarily and a lot of joy comes from my relationship with food. I love to cook and bake, and I love to enjoy exciting meals at the weekend - I’ve been quite lost with only having a small selection to play with.

From Chris: It's like our whole mental recipe book for eating for endo has been torn up and we're starting again from scratch - and it took me long enough to get used to the previous lists of foods!

I've been constantly making mistakes and adding ingredients to food that Jess can't eat, so I'm probably not helping the symptoms either. There has definitely been a change in the last week or so and we're finding new reliable recipes and getting used to what ingredients we can and can't use.

What are you doing to overcome these challenges?

From Jessica: We’re doing a lot of food prep. I’m going out this weekend so I’ve been making snacks that I can carry around with me, which makes going out much easier, but is time-consuming.

I’m also doing my best to find new recipes and to get excited about trying to work with new ingredients. It’s an odd feeling - I’ve been used to baking vegan and gluten-free for so long, and now I can’t use any nuts, seeds, plant-based binders! I’m having to learn how to bake in a whole new way. It gets frustrating, but I’m staying open to it.

Ensuring I take my supplements and also allowing myself the time it takes to adjust to this diet, has definitely been helping! I had to order a heap of supplements and they took a while to arrive, so starting the protocol without them probably wasn’t the wisest choice.

Chris has been a great help in terms of support. He’s been eating the same dinners as me and hasn’t made a fuss about it, so I feel much less stress about that. If I had a partner who also wanted us to make separate meals, I think it might have tipped me over the edge!

From Chris: Yea, I think just eating the same diet as Jess has really helped simplify things and it means that we're both thinking about creative meals, rather than me leaving it up to Jess while I carry on as normal.

Trying to see the elimination diet as an opportunity to explore new meals, try new ingredients and get creative is also a helpful way of taking the sting out of how restrictive the diet can feel. For example, we both ate turnips for the first time this week. Unfortunately, not a vegetable I'm going to put in regular rotation!

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