Tips for Staying Sane on an Elimination Diet
To make the diet as easy as possible and reduce the cost:
Avoid prepared foods (this actually simplifies the diet!). Pretty much every prepared food contains something on the list of foods to avoid. There are so many different additives/ingredients and so many names for MSG that I eventually decided that reading the labels was more effort than cooking from scratch.
Use the freezer. Try to cook large amounts of each dish at one time, then freeze individual portions for later. This is a tremendous help and ensures that there’s food you can eat when you have a migraine and can’t cook. Soups freeze well. I also make casserole/stir-fry hybrids. I cook the protein and the veggies, then mix with a grain and freeze it all in individual portions. If you’re concerned about reheating food in plastic containers, you can freeze individual portions in straight-sided wide-mouth canning jars. They can go from the freezer to the microwave and you can eat directly from the smaller ones.
Don’t forget salads. They’re easy and versatile, but be sure to use fresh greens. Pre-packaged greens are often chemically treated so they stay fresh longer and those chemicals can be migraine triggers, according to my dietician. For dressing, you can use a little olive oil and herbs (like you’d put in a vinaigrette sans vinegar). To add some bite or tang, put it in the blender and mix in fresh ginger. This apple-beet-carrot-ginger juice (made with golden beets) is an excellent replacement for citrus or vinegar in dressing, and pomegranate juice is also a good alternative.
Grill when possible. Grilling is quick, easy, and imparts a lot of flavor. Try to minimize the formation of grill marks, which may increase histamine levels.
Buy what you can on sale. I buy vegetables on sale, cook large batches of whatever recipes use them, and freeze in individual serving sizes for later. If meat is on sale, but you won’t have time to cook it, just take it home and freeze it. I freeze mine in small portions and defrost it in hot water or the microwave. (The USDA says that thawing meat it hot water is not safe. Based on recent studies, some food scientists say it is safe, as long as you start with water that’s between 125 and 140 degrees and don’t let it drop below 100 degrees. Take a look at the article in the reference list below1 and decide if you’re willing to risk it.)
Buy hard-to-find or expensive foods online. Some of the “Foods to Eat” can be expensive and hard to find. I order nonperishables online from Vitacost or Lucky Vitamin. Vitacost is particularly good for unusual grains and sulfite-free dried fruit. Both places have much lower prices than Whole Foods.
Sulfite-free dried fruit and vegetable brands include Made in Nature, Bare Fruit, and Just Tomatoes (they make all sorts of dried fruits and vegetables, not just tomatoes).
To be sure you get good nutrition and don’t develop new triggers:
Check your nutrition in Self’s nutrition database. You can input everything you eat in a day to see what the nutritional balance is. You don’t have to hit the RDA for everything every day; average them out over a few days is fine.
Eat a protein, a grain, and veggies at every meal. My dietician recommended this. While I don’t know the rationale behind it, I feel best when heed the advice.
Aim for as much variety as you can. This gives you a healthy variety, keeps you from getting bored, and reduces the chance that you’ll develop a reaction to a food from eating it every day. Likewise, keep the serving size to an amount that you’d normally eat. (I don’t know how common developing a reaction to a formerly OK food is, but is a problem reported among people with food sensitivities. It happened to me with several foods and I still haven’t been able to add them back nine months later. People warned me. I wish I’d listened.)
To not get bored out of your mind with a limited diet:
Try foods you don’t think you like, but haven’t had in a while. I didn’t used to like mango, figs, or pomegranate, but I eat them all regularly now.
Investigate what’s in your grocery store’s produce department. Take a look at everything. Try anything that’s not on the “Foods to Avoid” list, even if it isn’t on the “Foods to Eat” list. It might wind up being a trigger for you, but probably not. Some foods I’ve tested successfully include chayote squash, cactus pads (I live in Arizona!), and passion fruit.
Look for different varieties of typical foods. Regular arugula tastes different than microgreen arugula does. Beyond standard red radishes, you can get breakfast radishes, Easter egg radishes, watermelon radishes, and even black radishes. Apples come in many different kinds. There are many different kinds of melons and squash than the basics that are most widely available. All of these foods have distinct flavors, even within the same food family. Availability of non-standard varieties often depends on when the food is in season where you live. Farmers’ markets are a great place to find variety.
Buy the freshest, highest quality ingredients that you can. The meals on this diet are so simple that individual foods often stand out. I’ve found that I prefer the flavor of certain fruits and vegetables from different stores and farmers’ market vendors. I try to get melons at Sprouts, bell peppers from one farm, and arugula from another, for example. This ability to taste differences may be because I’m a supertaster, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been complimented on how good the celery I serve at parties is!