Today is my first full day doing an Elemental Diet. And I plan on doing a daily post about my experience with it.
If you don’t know what the elemental diet is, the simple answer is that it’s a short-term, pre-digested, liquid replacement for food as a way to get nutrients into someone with a really messed up gut (e.g., SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s) and to give your digestive system a break. You can read more about the elemental diet here.
According to the nutrition consultant monitoring me, the plan is to do two weeks, but I honestly think I’ll need to be on it for a month.
It may seem extreme, but for people like me, it’s actually a God-send and a tremendous relief!
I’ll talk more about which formula I picked, and why, shortly. But first, I want to tell you how I got here.
I’ll try to keep it brief, but I want you to understand how desperate and dire my situation has become especially for others who may be experiencing the same symptoms so they’ll know they aren’t alone.
I know I’ve felt like an alien when trying to explain this to other people, especially doctors, who find my circumstance impossible to believe.
But if you don’t want to read the background, click here to skip it.
I’m now 65 years old and have had IBS-C since I was a teenager. In my early 20’s, I found myself with an increasing inability to tolerate whole food groups, such as dairy, citrus, and fermented foods.
As an aside, I’m also a compulsive overeater. Gratefully, I went into a recovery program in my early 30’s, and, as of today (one day at a time), I haven’t had a binge for 22 years and continue to live by a weighed and measured food plan (yes, including this elemental diet).
Despite the fact that my food choices and portions, once in recovery, were healthy, my digestive issues continued to worsen.
Disabled from Symptoms
In 2010, I became disabled with a cluster of severe symptoms that no one could explain, which included chronic light-headedness, brain fog, migraines, weakness, and fatigue that prevented my continuing to work as a technical writer.
Beginning in 2015, I became completely unable to go to the bathroom (sorry if that’s too much information, but it’s crucial to understand the severity of my symptoms). The trapped gas and gut pain were debilitating. And the food intolerances continued growing exponentially.
And all this was happening despite no real explanation from doctors or a way out that worked for me. In fact, one gastroenterologist gave me Amitriptyline to dull the pain. I’ve been on and off it ever since, with mixed results. Certainly, it provided no slowing of my food sensitivities and actually worsened the constipation, as if that were possible.
Gratefully, I finally discovered that distilled water enemas provided the necessary relief (oral laxatives, magnesium, and fiber had long since stopped working).
More and more, it became clear that all my symptoms emanated from my gut. And I later determined that my gut issues actually stemmed from unresolved childhood trauma, which I’ve been working on for nearly four years. But however I got here, an inability to process food was the result.
By 2017, the only fruit I could tolerate were red grapes. Grains were limited to white jasmine rice and yams. I became unable to eat any vegetables, nuts, or beans. Fermented foods were a horror. Herbs and supplements caused as severe a reaction as food.
Testing showed that I had methane-prominent SIBO. I began living on low FODMAP foods. The antibiotic Rifaximin was intolerable and no one would prescribe Neomycin, which I doubt would have fared any better for me.
Just to get this out of the way, here is a list of my major symptoms related to food, medication, herbs, and vitamins:
* Severe trapped gas and bloating
* Brain fog and disorientation
* Difficulty breathing
* Vaginal stinging/burning
* Rectal itching
* Difficulty swallowing
* Fatigue and weakness
* Hoarseness and globus
Here are just a few of my diagnoses:
* Severe osteoporosis
* LPR Reflux (non-acid so clearly due to food sensitivities)
* MTHFR and other mutations
* Methane-prominent SIBO
* Migraine-associated vertigo
* Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
* Convergence insufficiency
* Self-diagnosed with histamine issues
Doctors and Money
The appalling way I’ve been treated by the medical community as you will surely relate to if you, too, have an invisible illness, will come as no surprise to you. They cannot see beyond my appearance, despite my desperate pleas for help.
The problem is I look “fine.” My blood tests are overall OK. Millions of women have osteoporosis, so that’s not a red flag to them. The story of what I experience can’t penetrate beyond what they see in front of them.
Some arrogantly display their disdain and disbelief. Others profess sympathy, but clearly don’t hear me … or they think I’m exaggerating.
For instance, my internist, a kind person who sincerely wishes she could help me, looked me right in the eye and suggested I drink coconut milk or take fish oil capsules for the reflux despite my telling her over and over that I can’t ingest ANYTHING but five or six foods without a severe reaction.
I’m not going to waste your time telling you horror stories right now.
But you have to know that I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars seeking help within the traditional AND alternative medical community, including dozens of spiritual and energy-based treatments and tests.
The Final Straw
By December 2019, I became so weak and frightened about my lack of nutrition, I knew I needed to try something new.
So, in early January 2020, I embarked on the full-blown carnivore diet because it appeared to me that plant-based foods were the problem based on my experience. Unfortunately, two weeks on that diet led me to the situation that broke me apart.
We’ll categorize my decision as, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” And, in truth, you really can’t know whether you’re making a good decision until you try, right?
On the carnivore diet, upper gut pain was severe with the recommended high fat steaks. I tried ox bile, which worked like a charm, but gave me intense diarrhea for nearly a week, stopped by one Imodium (and my sluggish gut), thankfully. At first, it seemed like a miracle that I was going to the bathroom … until that going went WAY too far!
I began eating leaner meat, and feeling much better, but my health soon worsened. Members of the Facebook group I had joined were trying to help and attributed my symptoms to the normal adjustment period to this diet.
By the end of two weeks, I couldn’t walk more than a few steps without severe weakness and breathlessness. My symptoms were worse than anything I’d experienced, including those that had disabled me!
A visit to the emergency room showed absolutely nothing wrong with my heart. But no one would hear me when I insisted it was my gut.
Back to my diet of red grapes, hemp seed, white jasmine rice or yam, and chicken. But I was beginning to react to these foods as well.
Thus began a series of doctor visits that got me mostly nowhere.
The gastroenterologist (#6 – my internist urged me to see her) insisted on sending me down a rabbit hole of cardiovascular and pulmonary tests, which led to needless spending and no answers.
I will say that she also strongly encouraged me to try Pepcid, which alleviated the breathlessness after a few weeks, verifying that this was gut-related after all. And I read how LPR reflux can cause this, as well as hiatal hernia and schatzki’s ring, all of which I have.
I’d never been able to tolerate Pepcid before as it gave me migraines. But desperation led me to discover that there’s lactose in most brands, which explained my reaction. And once I chose the lactose-free (usually the 10 mg version), I had no problem with it at all! And my internist did say that there is an antihistamine effect to Pepcid (don’t know if that’s true), but that could explain why it helps some of my symptoms.
So it absolutely wasn’t a complete waste of time. But Pepcid’s not a cure and hasn’t done anything to increase my body’s ability to tolerate food, which appears to be what’s causing the reflux to begin with (a 24 hour PH monitor showed ZERO acid spikes).
Two weeks later, I began having difficulty swallowing. A truly terrifying feeling, I must tell you. A swallow test showed absolutely nothing wrong. Yet, I was choking on food and even water. The technician administering the test pretty much rolled her eyes at me in response to my insistence.
I began sleeping in a recliner, because laying any flatter caused me to choke. I’ve actually slept on a wedge pillow for many years, but now, I need to be almost upright. I’m very lucky to have the world’s best, most comfortable recliner! I feel very cocooned and am sleeping pretty well despite my husband’s dismay that I’m not sharing the bed with him right now.
After a last, frustrating appointment with my internist, I realized I was back on my own. Only now, this felt dire, truly a new low.
I began pureeing my food, the little I could eat. And I discovered that even animal protein had joined the no-food zone for me.
Finding an Elemental Formula I can Tolerate
In the past, I’d asked gastroenterologists about using some kind of meal replacement, but they wouldn’t consider it. Now, I knew it was my only hope, but I also knew, from past exploration, it was unlikely I could tolerate any formula. From what I’d seen, they all contained soy or corn or some other ingredient that I knew would send me into paroxysms of pain.
But then, I found a formula that was so hypoallergenic I had real hope that it might just be a possibility.
Before I tell you the brand and which formula, I have to tell you the elemental diet is OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive! I’m paying $130 for just a THREE DAY SUPPLY!!! Two weeks’ worth will be $650 and I needed an extra because of my testing. So that brings my current total to $780! PLUS the expedited shipping.
But when you’re at the end of your rope and only malnutrition and a long, lingering descent into the abyss face you, it’s worth every penny.
DISCLOSURE: I HAVE NOT BEEN PAID, DON’T RECEIVE A ROYALTY, AND HAVEN’T BEEN GIVEN ANY PRODUCT FOR FREE. THIS IS SIMPLY MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND MY OWN PERSONAL MONEY I’VE SPENT TO PURCHASE THIS PRODUCT!
Just felt like I had to get that out of the way.
So the formula I’m using is Physician’s Elemental Diet Dextrose-Free. From their website:
“Integrative Therapeutics Physicians Elemental Diet Dextrose Free for the management of Irritable bowel, Crohns disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and moderate to severe impaired gastrointestinal function. Intended for use under medical supervision for the dietary management of patients with GI dysfunction. For patients who have limited or impaired capacity to digest, absorb, or metabolize ordinary foods and nutrients.”
Here what it DOESN’T have:
* artificial coloring
* artificial flavoring
* dairy products
Where to Get this Formula
With this particular formula, you can only get it from a healthcare provider because you need to be monitored. This definitely presented a problem for me. But a search on the Internet showed that there are practitioners, like chiropractors, who are authorized to sell the product and will provide the dietary management.
After much research, I chose to go with OVitaminPro (again, I receive no financial or other compensation from them), owned by chiropractor Dan Schlenger and his wife Mary, who does the nutritional consulting. So far, my experience has been very positive with her and the company.
Testing the Elemental Diet
Based on Mary’s guidance, I tested one scoop in 12 oz of water. And was surprised that the only adverse reaction was a little bit of itchiness that wasn’t bad at all! A few hours later, I tried two scoops and I was fine.
But the problem was that I wouldn’t have enough of the formula to continue full time until more could be delivered. So she advised me to use half food and half elemental. By the way, this semi-elemental diet is one that can be done for a long time (maybe up to a year).
Full time, I’m supposed to use 12 scoops a day, divided into three scoops four times a day. That will provide me with 1800 calories, which I really need since I’ve lost six pounds in the past two months.
Mary also told me to stop the Pepcid while using this full time as it could cause problems since the nutrients are predigested.
This brings me to today, which is my first full day using the elemental diet. The bloating is reducing and I’m not in much pain. I am having some skin issues, but it could be from trying some other foods when I was doing the half experimental and half elemental. I’ll let you know.
I do feel very weak, but let’s face it, I’ve not been eating much for a long time. As I said earlier, I lost six pounds in two months and I’m not overweight. Right now, I’m 5’4” and weigh 118.2 lbs.
According to what I’ve read, this formula is much more palatable than other brands. It tastes like vanilla mixed with anise or licorice flavoring, which is not a combination I would choose.
It tasted pretty nasty when I just used a spoon to stir it in room temperature water. Using my Blendtec to blend the powder with two ice cubes and 15 oz of water makes all the difference. They say to drink it slowly over 30-60 minutes to keep from shocking your digestion. I’ve felt too hungry to do that. But I may try to slow it down a bit to see if it makes a difference in how I feel.
I felt really hungry after a few hours in the morning. I’m discovering about three and a half to four hours in-between feedings is best. Still, I had to turn down going to an art fair today because I felt too weak and light-headed. I just didn’t want to push it. But it’s not awful.
The consistency is a really thin shake. By that, I mean it has a slight thickness to it. It’s pleasant.
I must admit to a pretty bad taste in my mouth for most of the day, but that’s been happening since I began pureeing my food, I think.
Overall, I’d say I’m doing phenomenally well using this product!
I’m just so amazed and profoundly grateful to be able to finally get some nutrition into me without any strong adverse reaction. With each “shake,” I express my gratitude and picture it healing my body.
What Happens Next?
Truthfully, I’ve got no idea what happens after these two weeks. I don’t know what will change that will enable me to tolerate food. But maybe if this allows my gut to heal a bit and reduces some inflammation, that might help.
I did have a consult with a nutritionist recently, who is having me do a test called the GI Map with Zonulin. It’s one of those overall alternative tests to check for leaky gut, parasites, fungus, and lots more. The problem is that I probably can’t take any of the “remedies” and I’m not really sure about these tests overall, but I understand the nutritionist needs some basis on which to make recommendations.
And finally, I want to tell you that I believe, with all my heart, that all of these symptoms have a mind/body connection. I’m continuing to work on feeling my feelings and learning to love and have compassion for myself, along with healing my childhood trauma, which is a crucial component to any healing protocol I undertake.
However, even though I believe the symptoms are fueled by my mind, the result, such as osteoporosis and an inability to eat anything, are very real. I recognize that there’s definitely a fine line between not giving power to the symptoms and taking care of myself. It’s a daily battle.
I don’t know which side of the line I’m on today.
All I know is that my gut and I needed a vacation from the war.