Is this healthy diet hurting me?
July 22, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Could this healthy diet be making me ill? WTMI inside.

Someone on this site, somewhere referenced this elimination diet and since doctors, friends, and forums have been suggesting for ages that I try eliminating things like dairy, grains and sugar from my diet to help control inflammation I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm on day 12 right now and I feel horrible. My insides hurt and I've had diarrhea since yesterday. I feel weak and shaky whenever I try to move around too much. Now, I had an episode of weakness not too long ago, which prompted me to try this out, so I'm not sure if the weakness is in any way connected... It's hard to explain, but what seems to be happening with the pains and weakness is that my overall mind fog (not counting right now because I'm in a lot of pain and it's hard to focus...) is gone so the pains that I've always felt are now intensified? That, of course, does not explain the pain in my inside (upper right abdomen towards the back) or the diarrhea, but I thought that all of this fresh food was supposed to *help* the digestion, not hurt it.

Anyway, I've been following the diet fairly well - since my funds are limited, I've been eating frozen fruits and veggies (they're way cheaper than the fresh stuff and last longer) and my protein comes from tree nuts, lean ground beef, and roasted chicken. I haven't been cooking the veggies, mostly just thawing them out and eating them raw... It's more nutritious that way, right? For hydration it's been water (with lemon), tea, and coffee - sometimes juice.

Anyway, should I be worried about the diarrhea? Do you think it's the diet? Should I give it up as a lost cause and return to my really bad eating habits? Honestly, I'd go to the doctor's but they have proven time and again to be incompetent to the point of dangerous. If it comes to the point where I need to see a doctor, I'll probably try to convince a friend to drive me the two hours to the nearest "big" city.
posted by patheral to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a lot going on here, but I will say that the raw veggies are probably contributing to your diarrhea. Try lightly steaming them.

The abdominal pain is worrisome, though, and I'd say a trip to a doctor would not go amiss.
posted by Specklet at 5:59 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: What kind of food were you eating before? If you were a junk food junkie and ate nothing but pale and tan carbs, mostly deep-fried, and you switched to a diet of primarily fruits and vegetables, I would definitely expect a lot of diarrhea.

It takes a while for your system to get used to a big switch like that. You might have better luck doing a more gradual, less radical change-over.

If you were eating pretty well before this, and you've only changed (e.g.) 10-20% of your diet, then it might be something else.
posted by ErikaB at 6:00 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh and I just noticed that you're eating the fruits and veggies raw. As long as we're already in TMI territory, I have a pretty good diet, but nevertheless, raw broccoli? "Intestinal cramping" is only the beginning. Same goes for cooked cabbage.
posted by ErikaB at 6:02 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know this is controversial on MeFi, but my body goes a bit haywire without just a little grain carbs. Just a bit of rice, pasta crackers. I do much better when I add this to an otherwise protein/whole foods/vegetable heavy thing.
posted by sweetkid at 6:03 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: This concerns me: "Should I give it up as a lost cause and return to my really bad eating habits?" It isn't all or nothing. The plan that you linked to is very, very extreme. I am also like sweetkid; I need carbs! I am really sluggish on a paleo diet. I also do better when I don't eat breakfast (or when I eat a light one). You can eat healthier without resorting to drastic diets!!! I don't want to throw you off the path of truth or anything, but why not cut out dairy and try eating whole grains? You could eliminate the major allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts/nuts, soy, wheat/gluten, shellfish, fish) and see what that does for you. You have options. Alternatively, return to your original diet and see if you feel better. If not, see a doctor. If you do feel better, try doing the 'healthy eating' thing step-by-step.
posted by 200burritos at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, definitely cook the vegetables. They're actually pretty hard to digest raw, and you won't lose as much nutrition as you'd think, even cooking them well.

I've experienced loose stools on a similar diet - adding a banana a day and a sweet potato here and there helped, if you're determined not to add any rice etc. as sweetkid suggests (I find I do better with a little rice also).

This could also be gastritis/heartburn/gas/food poisoning. So cut back on the coffee, maybe eat a banana or some chicken soup (with a little rice), stay hydrated and give it a little time. But "a lot of pain" that prevents you from concentrating isn't so good. If the pain persists or gets worse, see a doctor. Could be gallstones or something even more serious.
posted by Knicke at 6:16 PM on July 22, 2011

If you went from lots of carb-stuff to lots of veggies and beans, the added fiber might be, uh, moving things along more quickly than is comfortable. That part of it, at least, should settle down; I can't speak to anything else.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:20 PM on July 22, 2011

This happened to me. My plane is about to leave, so I'll have to post details later. But you're not the only one. I thought paleo eating was going to kill me.
posted by medusa at 6:25 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: Cook the vegetables! They're NOT more nutritious raw. The fibers need to be broken down before you ingest them.

"Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw,"
posted by Ideefixe at 6:29 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you're feeling weak, you've got diarrhea, and you're in enough right-side abdominal pain that you had trouble writing the question, I'd strongly suggest getting a medical opinion.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:30 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Upper right quadrant abdominal pain that is as severe as you are describing is definitely a reason to see a doctor.
posted by goggie at 6:33 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. :) They certainly set my mind at ease. I've been eating bananas, but I'll certainly start steaming the veggies, and maybe add some sweet potatoes (I'm not fond of them). If that doesn't help, I can probably add whole grains back into the diet and see what happens. I'm pretty sure that if anything's aggravating my inflammation it's the processed sugars and probably the dairy, maybe the nightshades... but probably not the grains.

My previous diet wasn't the worst in the world, but it certainly wasn't the best. I used to eat fairly well - I've drastically changed my diet before to accommodate for GERD - but the stress of grad school and other things over the past few years has caused me to eat more sweets than I really should... And I never have been a big veggie eater...

The "lot of pain" I mentioned earlier also includes joint pain (every major joint in my body hurts right now) and overall pain from my fibromyalgia as well as the abdominal pain. Normally I can endure quite a bit of pain since it's a daily thing, but today it's dragging me down. I've had gallstones before and while the pain is similar, it's not in the right area. I have also suffered from GERD and it's not the same type of pain...
posted by patheral at 6:34 PM on July 22, 2011

I tried this diet last month, with disastrous results, which I'll share.

I wasn't totally on-board with the diet because some of their reasoning seem woo to me, but I decided to try it and see if I could benefit from their approach. By the third day, I felt weak and hot on a walk, and realized I was experiencing "carb flu". It was unpleasant but bearable. By the fourth day I had extremely low energy (and I was eating loads of protein and healthy fats), and felt spacey ("fog brain"). By the seventh day I had what I call an epiphany space walk where I realized not only did I not feel like walking, I couldn't imagine doing my running. Ever. On this diet. That's when I decided to hell with it.

Like you, I had trouble in the bathroom. After two horrible incidents in the bathroom (which sent me straight to the shower), I decided if I had a third incident, I was off the diet. I came off the diet shortly after that anyway, as it severely undermined my ability and motivation to run and even walk.

I know Whole9 has it's fans on MetaFilter, but I'm not one of them. The positive takeaway, for me, was that it reinvigorated my interest in fresh produce and healthy fats (such as avocado). But good God I need carbs in my life!

Oh, in case it's not clear, I felt absolutely AWFUL on this diet, not just physically but mentally. I'm not very impressed with the website, the communication of the organizers, their lack of data, nor their woo-woo reasoning either (with their reasoning on peanuts and beans being particularly laughable and bogus). YMMV, but it gave me pause about the whole approach. I like the "eat more leafs, some healthy fats, and vegetables" thing, but not with the absolutism of no carbs like brown rice.

Some people just aren't able to do the low-carb thing, especially if you exercise a lot. There's a carrot they dangle that's sort of "if you can just get through this rough patch, your body will switch to burning fat instead of carbs" but I felt so crappy that I didn't give a damn whether my body was burning fat or carbs, I just wanted it to feel normal again and be able to exercise.

On preview, gnomeloaf has good advice.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Those people who say "paleo" is low-carb are mistaken. At the very least, ancestral diets span the carb spectrum, averaging out to a pretty balanced macronutrient ratio.

I would advise upping carbs, and even including white rice or skinless potatoes.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:50 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pain in the upper right part of your abdomen could be a symptom of a gallbladder attack. I would see a doctor about that, even without the other stuff going on.
posted by fancyoats at 7:21 PM on July 22, 2011

Actually, if you look through the Whole30 archives, this is... extremely common. I had a kind of difficult time for the first couple of weeks, but then got used to it (I did this just this past December-January, and I had a pretty crappy diet before that). Now I only feel crappy if I go back to eating grains/carbs/sugars. I eat mostly Paleo now and I do quite well (and have kept off about 15 lbs)--I have gallstones, GERD, and possibly even IBS, but when I eat Paleo, even with the higher fat content, I feel a lot better. I also started Crossfit at the beginning of May, and the combination has actually got me feeling better right now than I've felt in probably 10 or 15 years, when my GERD first appeared.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:27 PM on July 22, 2011

their woo-woo reasoning

It was the "no potatoes: it's kind of arbitrary" that bugged me most. Dudes. You're writing an extremely proscriptive diet, and parts of it are "kind of arbitrary"? DOES NOT INSPIRE CONFIDENCE.

(I suspect one of them just doesn't like potatoes.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:30 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure you are drinking enough water since since you are eating a lot more fiber.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2011

Probably not an issue, but not inconveivable that if you eat too much of the same greens you could be getting alkaloid poisining. If you are going to eat a lot of greens it is good to mix them up. Not sure if eating a lot of the same green for only 12 days would do it, but close...
posted by jcworth at 8:13 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: Unfortunately, fad diets - and this is one - rarely have much going for them. One of the issues you may be having is that if you suddenly take in a lot of veggies and fruit, you are taking in a lot of fiber - if you are unused to it, this can result in all sorts of things like bathroom runs. Fiber has to be introduced gradually into the diet, i.e. the amount of fiber consumed has to be increased very gradually. Any very sudden and dramatic change to your diet composition and caloric level as well as exercise regimen is counter-indicated. Change must be gradual and to give your body enough time to adjust. Mostly, stay away from fad diets. Who vetted this diet? Is there science behind it, or claims by some person or another? Remember, even medical doctors hawking a diet are not above hucksterism. A diet should be vetted by independent evaluations from medical authorities. And of course, first and foremost, it always pays to educate yourself, so you are in position to evaluate whatever diet is pushed on you.
posted by VikingSword at 10:09 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am totally unqualified to tell you that that diet sounds horrible, but it does.

I'm also totally unqualified to tell you that if you start a fad diet and you feel ill, the cause is probably the fad diet.

I would also wonder if you're eating enough.
posted by tel3path at 2:58 AM on July 23, 2011

I haven't seen anyone mention it yet, so I will: probiotics can help if you are having digestive problems from the increase in fiber. I am guessing you aren't allowed to eat yogurt on this diet, but perhaps you could make fermented vegetables (such as sauerkraut, kim chee, beet kvass) a regular part of your diet?
posted by parrot_person at 3:19 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally, I tried to cut carbs a few years ago and felt terrible, with similar digestive problems and all. My body likes bread and cheese. When I was in Vietnam, I also lacked this portion of my diet--and once again experienced the same digestive problems.

Every body is different.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:37 AM on July 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I don't feel like I'm going to end up in the ER anymore and have taken everyone's advice under serious consideration. I'm not going to chuck the diet out the window altogether, but I will tweak it a bit. Meaning, I'll start cooking the veggies and add some carbs back in (like whole grains and rice).

I mean, this isn't a drastic lifestyle change I'm talking about here - the strict regime I'm on now is purely temporary. The idea is to see if cutting the foods out makes me feel any better (so far other than feeling slightly more energetic and alert -- no) then add the foods I've eliminated slowly back in and see if they make me feel worse.

I truly appreciate everyone's advice. Thanks!
posted by patheral at 9:40 AM on July 23, 2011

Best answer: Hi patheral, I just want to strongly suggest that you switch to cooked veggies for at least a week before adding grains and rice back to your diet. The quantity of raw vegetables (particularly cruciferous veg like broccoli) that you were eating is very hard on the digestive system and I feel pretty confident that that's been the main cause of your discomfort. If you add rice and grains back into your diet at the same time that you switch to cooked veg, you'll never know which food was causing the problem.
posted by telegraph at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2011

As far as carbs, if you're doing an experiment with avoiding potential sensitivities it's best to keep grains to just white rice.

"Whole grains" are not really healthy and not eaten in significant quantities by hunter-gatherers and traditional societies unless soaked or fermented.

You might also try restricting FODMAPs sometime, as they are another common source of digestive issues.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2011

Good for you for taking steps to get healthier! A common mistake people make when cutting carbs from their diet is that they try to eat low-fat at the same time and from your description, it sounds like this might apply to your current diet. A low-carb, low-fat diet leaves your body with no fuel to burn so you feel weak, foggy, and generally crappy. Try cooking your veggies with olive oil and drizzle your salad with a good oil based dressing. Buy well marbled meat and leave the skin on your chicken. If you're worried about the health risks of adding more fat to your diet, this article by Gary Taubes (and his two books as well) helps explain why fat has gotten a bad rap and how much of what we've been told about the dangers of dietary fat is based on bad science and politics rather than reality. Keep up the good work and I hope you feel better!
posted by platinum at 1:50 PM on July 24, 2011

Response by poster: By the way, thank you all for the advice. I did start cooking the vegetables, and it helped tremendously! I haven't added any starches back into my diet because the pains have disappeared almost completely (I still have loose stool, but not diarrhea) and I feel much better. I truly appreciate the helpful advice. Thanks!
posted by patheral at 10:04 AM on July 28, 2011

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