June 22, 2014

An Elimination Diet Taught Me How to Cook & Gave Me My Health Back. ~ Lily Milkovic-Jakal

LilyMilkovic_CuttingParsley_elephant journal_Photo Thom Milkovic

I used to hate cooking.

Just the thought of being in the kitchen felt like a chore. My disdain was actually a running joke in my family, “It’s time to cook dinner. Where’d Lily go?” Laughter and eye-rolling would ensue. It was true—I’d hear mention of starting dinner and slip away to a back room.

But all of that was about to change when my health took a serious nose-dive.

One day before Thanksgiving, I woke up covered in itchy, fiery hives that lasted for four months. I suffered from relentless anxiety and fatigue, chronic constipation, heart palpitations and sulked under a dark cloud of depression. I missed a lot of work as I shuffled from one specialist’s waiting room to the next in search of an answer.

Eventually, I found a naturopathic doctor who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid) and administered the Immuno Labs food intolerance blood test.

A week later, I was handed a list of 15 foods that I tested highly reactive to.

The list included many staples in my diet like beef, dairy, wheat and eggs. I was strongly advised to eliminate all of the offending foods for at least three months if I wanted relief from my hives.

My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. What was there left to eat? It came down to either living with my hives for what could possibly be an eternity, or facing the fear of not knowing what to eat. Desperately, I chose the latter.

Eliminating the offending foods from my diet proved invaluable for two reasons: First, my hives vanished within days. Thank God and all that is holy! Second, it forced me to be mindful of what ingredients comprised the food I was eating.

I started reading labels for the first time in my life.

I even researched how things were made, in an effort to navigate menus more effectively. I remember sitting in a breakfast diner one morning wondering what was in a standard pancake. I had no idea that eggs and milk were in the ingredients list. I had never thought about it before.

I became a regular at the Whole Foods Market hot bar where the ingredients are clearly posted above each entrée and I explored the many local, organic, vegan and raw restaurants in my city. I knew these eateries were safe bets because of their emphasis on the quality and content of the food they serve, and this made my elimination diet experience much less painful.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but by eliminating so many staple foods from my diet, I was also eliminating a lot of processed, refined foods and consuming more fruits, vegetables and whole foods—real foods. I soon noticed an improvement in my mood, enhanced energy levels and a growing interest in food philosophies.

I was still highly dependent on eating out, though, and wasn’t sure what to do in the kitchen.

I attempted only very basic feats like steaming broccoli—after looking up how to steam broccoli— and slicing an apple or a cucumber to take to work as a snack.

Fast-forward to a year later, and my husband and I packed up and traded our tiny Los Angeles apartment for a new life closer to ailing family members in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. My new home presented me with a large, useable kitchen, but deprived me of the plethora of organic, whole food-conscious restaurants to which I had grown accustomed to in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, going without eating wasn’t a viable option, but neither was returning to my old eating habits. So I finally did what I knew I had to—I learned how to cook.

The first few months of my cooking attempts were awkward, to say the least. I fumbled my way through a knife-cutting class, stocked my spice cabinet and found myself in need of purchasing a new kitchenware every time I tried a new recipe. I didn’t know what seasonings paired well with what and, despite my best efforts, a lot of my meals turned out bland.

It wasn’t long, though, before I found myself actually enjoying the journey. I embraced the learning experience. Cooking was no longer a dreaded chore. The kitchen, a place that once induced anxiety, transformed into a creative outlet. While the outside world could judge me based on my appearance, behavior or work performance, my kitchen always welcomed me with open arms.

Today, I find myself effortlessly preparing nourishing meals, intuitively seasoning dishes and appreciating the meditative practice of chopping, mixing, cutting, sautéing and baking.

I have been hive-free for more than four years now and have seen a marked reduction in thyroid and autoimmune symptoms. Food has become my medicine, and cooking the means to reclaiming my health.

I thought the elimination diet would eliminate my life, but it gave me my life when it taught me how to cook.



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Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Thom Milkovic (Used With Permission)

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