For the past two weeks, I have been following the first phase of something called the LEAP protocol, which is basically an elimination diet based on elaborate food sensitivity testing. That testing was done as part of my functional medicine evaluation. In phase one, you basically eat the 12-15 foods to which you produce the least antigens while your body gets rid of those that have been produced by the foods in your normal diet to which you do react. In phase two you add the next least reactive foods back, one at a time, and so on for five phases, during which you monitor for bad reactions. When you are done with that, you've basically added back all the foods that tested in the "green" or low reactivity zone. After that you can experiment with adding untested foods, in the hopes that after 4-6 months, possibly longer, you might even be able to try again some of the foods to which you did react.
The underlying idea is that by removing foods to which your body has developed a sensitivity, you rest your system and let it heal. Ironically, the LEAP material explains that people often find that the foods they crave are precisely the ones that cause the strongest antigen production in their systems. My pre-catharsis cravings had been for popcorn, and sure enough, corn was one of the things I tested highest for within the "yellow" or moderately reactive zone.
Back in May, when I blogged about my evaluation, I wrote about the "specter of deprivation" and how it made me feel to contemplate possibly giving up some of my favorite foods. This was well before my major emotional catharsis, and it was not easy, at that point, to face that specter. Still, I figured that maybe it would be okay, since I would be giving up only those things that were scientifically proven to cause me unpleasantness.
In fact, I've spent the last two weeks not dodging shadows but basking in the sunshine.
Fortunately, I had only four items in the "red" zone -- goat's milk, raspberries, lima beans and sorbic acid. While I love raspberries and chevre, I often go months without eating them, so that was all fine. Some of my very favorite foods were, however, in the "yellow" zone. In addition to corn, I also react to wheat and cheddar cheese. Not so good. But surprisingly, when I sat down with the detailed outline of what to eat when, I found myself focusing on all the really good things I could have at any given point. Amazing! And I was lucky that some of my very favorite foods were also the lowest in antigen production. Imagine the hardship of being told to eat mangoes and cherries, or salmon.
I am working with a dietitian who is certified in the LEAP protocol, who changed things around to make better sense of the choices nutritionally (in cases where two items were equally non-reactive, they had been assigned to phases in alphabetical order rather than according to any more sensible reason) and ensure that I got enough variety to make the first phase livable. Here is the entire list of acceptable ingredients on which I have been living for the last two weeks:
Protein: salmon, lentils, American cheese (preservative free), Mozarella
Starches: potatoes, rice, quinoa
Fruits: mangoes, cherries, bananas, pineapple
Vegetables: celery, bell peppers, cauliflower
Nuts/oils: almond, cashew
Flavor enhancers: basil, honey
That's it. 18 ingredients, from which I have had to construct an entire bill of fare.
Back in the poetry-writing days of my youth, when everyone around me was wandering through the Iowa corn fields and emoting in free verse, I was writing sonnets, sestinas and villanelles. I found that my creativity thrived on the constraints of these intricate forms. I've found myself thinking often of those days during the past two weeks, and experiencing again the absolute exhilaration of coming up with something interesting and exciting in spite (or because) of the imposed limitations. And I've learned a lot in the process.
If I hadn't been barred from eating bread, would I ever have discovered how much I really love rice crackers? Had tomatoes not been taken off the table, would I ever have realized that sauteed red peppers function, taste-wise, in exactly the same way in a pasta dish? Less spectacularly, with broccoli, green beans and asparagus out of the picture, would I ever have remembered how delicious simple steamed cauliflower can be?
Sadly, I have not yet experienced the marked improvement in symptoms the protocol is supposed to induce, but my booklet says that the more messed up your system has been, the longer it can take to clean itself out, so I remain hopeful. And today I added yogurt, entering into phase 2 of this next great adventure.
A hui hou.