Why the Low Oxalate Diet Isn’t Easy

Calciu oxalate crystals in urine - photo credit to NASA.

If you’re just discovering the low oxalate diet, it may be the first time you’ve ever considered imposing a special diet on yourself (or a loved one). Or perhaps you’ve tried several other specialty diets before, and have been told now you need to add yet another. It doesn’t seem to matter what your previous experience with specialty diets is; the low oxalate diet seems to look too difficult from almost everyone’s perspective.

Why low oxalate isn’t easy

I read daily messages (on the Trying Low Oxalates group) from folks who have just discovered that they need the diet, or who think they might, but just don’t know. And from the perspective of one who is new, it can look almost impossible. If this is where you’re at, take heart! I was there myself not so long ago. It’s a big part of why I started this site. More importantly, I want to tell you that even though it isn’t easy, it’s VERY much worth it!

I don’t know why you’re curious about the low oxalate diet. Perhaps you have calcium oxalate kidney stones, and have been told it’s the only hope you have of avoiding that horrendous pain in the future. Perhaps you have a son or daughter with autism, and your DAN! doctor has told you how well many such children respond to it. Maybe you’re like me, with an undiagnosable condition causing you constant pain and suffering, and the only clue you have is that someone told you all that spinach you’ve been eating is high in a substance that’s toxic to your body – oxalic acid. Whatever your reason, I applaud you for taking this first step and doing some research.

You see, one of the toughest things about this diet is the lack of information available about it. And what information there is to be found, is often conflicting. One list says green beans are low in oxalates, another says they’re high. And then there’s all your friends and relatives; unlike the Atkins diet or South Beach, they’ve never heard of oxalates, much less a diet that forces you to keep track of them! I remember when I was starting, my boyfriend thought I was crazy. He just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted, just like I always had. This probably stemmed partly from the fact that few of my ailments were visible. He couldn’t see my joint and muscle pain, or feel my fear when an anxiety attack hit. If I had had hives, or eczema, or some other visible manifestation of my oxalate toxicity (as some do), he might have had an easier time.

A real kick in the teeth

What’s even tougher than that, though, is the fact that this is one of the few diets where you can expect to get worse before you get better. How’s that for a lousy set of prospects? If you haven’t yet read around let me elaborate a little bit: when a person begins the low oxalate diet, they usually experience what we call a “honeymoon” period. This could be anywhere from a day or two to a couple of weeks, where whatever symptoms they’ve been experiencing clear up. Autistic kids gain a new behavior or two. Fibromyalgia sufferers are suddenly pain-free (or nearly so) for the first time in years. It’s all so wonderful! And then they get hit with the phenomenon we call “dumping.”

Dumping, simply put, is what we call the body’s process of detoxifying all the oxalates it has stored. So dumping is what I mean when I refer to “getting worse.” The good news is, knowing what to do about your dumps can make them bearable, and sometimes even make the dumping symptoms go away entirely. But nothing can really prepare you for your first dump, mostly because nobody knows how you personally will dump. Ask a dozen people on the Yahoo group what happens when they dump, and you will likely get a dozen different answers. It even changes for the same person from one dump to the next! I’m a great case in point; my dumping symptoms have ranged from a runny nose and sore throat to muscle spasms and constant chills. I have also had vulvar pain, burning bowel movements, and horrendous bladder pain. There’s more, but I’ve made my point; there’s no way to know exactly how dumping will manifest, or when. But having the support of the Yahoo Group and the information on this website at your disposal is wonderful when you finally do dump!

If you’re coming to the low oxalate diet (LOD) as someone who has IBS, or a child with ASD, you may be combining it with other diets. Once again, the Yahoo group’s got your back! There are tons of helpful folks on the list who are doing the exact same thing. There are also handy food lists to help you know the status of foods on other diets (SCD, GAPS, and low salicylate diets are commonly combined with LOD). If you have blood sugar issues and need to eat low carb, you’ll find help with that as well (I follow low carb and LOD simultaneously myself, so you’ll find quite a few low carb/low ox recipes on my Low Oxalate Recipes site). Mitochondrial issues? You’ll find help raising your carb intake while staying low ox. Believe me when I tell you you probably cannot mention a diet that has not already been heard about on the group. So please don’t let the difficulty of adding a new set of food restrictions intimidate you. It can be done!

My chocolate!

Finally, there’s the fact that people love their favorite foods, and adopting a low oxalate diet may mean giving up some of those favorite foods. I can completely commiserate on this. I’d done Atkins, and later a different version of low carb, but I never had to give up chocolate on those diets; I just had to go with a low-sugar version. Now suddenly I’m faced with having to avoid chocolate for the rest of my life?! Well, no, actually. But I definitely have to plan my intake of chocolate, and consume a whole lot less than I would like. Still, almost any food is manageable, and the ones which we’d do well to avoid completely probably aren’t as crave-worthy as chocolate (spinach and beets come to mind). But diving into a huge bowl of comfort-food mashed potatoes? I’ll probably never do it again, because I don’t want the consequences. If I’m going to trigger oxalate symptoms, I’d much rather enjoy a little bit of chocolate to earn them. :)

So there you have it, the worst of the ugly truth about the lox oxalate diet. Yet hundreds of people the world over are following this diet, and finding that the gains experienced far outweigh the difficulties encountered. I recommend starting slowly, so as to avoid the worst kinds of dumping symptoms, and also to give yourself time to adjust. Food is a very powerful influence in our lives, and it can be difficult to change diet even for the most motivated folks. And of course, make sure you have medical supervision! Having a doctor who knows what tests to run to make sure you’re not throwing your chemistry out of whack is indispensable. But I do encourage you to give it a try. If you have oxalate issues now, it’s a physical impossibility for them to simply “go away on their own.” Our bodies can be very efficient at storing away this toxic stuff, but eventually it will reach critical mass, and then you’ll have road that’s that much harder to travel to get back to health. It’s much easier to start today, travel slowly, and be healthier in a couple of years than you have ever been before in your life!

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