Elimination diet... sounds horribly restrictive and torturous doesn’t it? The truth is they aren’t that bad. They are actually quite an effective tool for identifying the possible food culprits that are causing the symptoms you are experiencing and prevent you from feeling great.
Elimination diets are often an essential next step after the tracking process we took a deep dive into last week. Remember the whole purpose of tracking your foods, habits and of course how you are feeling, is to become more intune with your body and how certain foods are making you feel.
Once you have an idea of what food is causing your issue, the next thing is to test those theories using an elimination diet. This is exactly what it sounds like, eliminate a food from your diet for a period of time to see if your symptoms are reduced or go away completely. Then you “challenge” it by reintroducing the food to see if the symptoms return.
Elimination diets aren’t meant to be for life, it’s not that you will never be allowed to have that food again. It’s simply a tool to see if your body agrees with the food, so you are able to make an educated decision as to what you want to include in your diet on a regular basis. It helps you to know exactly how a food affects you so you can decide whether it’s “worth it or not” to eat it. For instance, refined sugar is not great for me, if I go on a candy binge, I know there are going to be some consequences. Nearly immediately after eating it I get a headache and tension in my shoulders. Does that mean I never partake? Nope, I personally have a hard time resisting Wine Gums and Swedish Berries, but at least I know the trade offs to having them, so I can make an informed decision.
The first foods to start with are those you think are causing you issues. Maybe there ones that were flagged for you in the tracking process, or maybe one you just notice don’t make you feel great after eating. If there aren’t specific foods that you are aware of that are causing you issues, that’s okay. You can always try eliminating the common culprits and go from there. These culprits include:
There are a lot of different ways of doing an elimination diet, and there are a lot of sneaky things that can trip you up along the way and end up tanking the entire the process (trust me I know from experience).
Here are some helpful tips for the most effective elimination diet:
Plan ahead by thinking up new snacks and meals you can have that meet your new dietary restrictions, or simply think of how you can modify your current go-to meals and snacks to be better aligned with your new way of eating. At first, dietary restrictions can feel so limiting and challenging, but a little planning and experimentation makes you realize the options are limitless.
Do not eliminate all possible food culprits at once. Drastically changing your diet by eliminating many food items at once can be very challenging and hard to stick to. I recommend eliminating one at a time, removing the next item once you are feeling comfortable with the previous change. I often opt for 1-2 weeks before removing another food item. With this stepwise process, I would not reintroduce any foods until I have taken all of them out of my diet for at least 2 weeks.
Start by removing the easiest foods first, the ones you commonly eat less of or feel less attached to. This will ease you in slowly help build your confidence.
During the elimination period, you need to be strict with that food. Don’t allow yourself to have it occasionally or small amounts here and there. This will dilute the results of the elimination diet, making it hard to determine how the food is affecting you.
Eliminate the food for at least 4 week before you start to challenge it. Depending on both the food and the symptoms it causes, it can take months to resolve the issue completely, but 4 weeks is usually a safe amount of time to see changes in common issues (that is if it’s that food that causing it).
When you challenge the food, only reintroduce a small amount at a time. It’s not ideal to reintroduce gluten by having four heaping plates of pasta and half a baguette in a single sitting.
When you are reintroducing a food you also only want to do one at a time, so if symptoms do return you know exactly which food was causing them. Also, when you are reintroducing a food, you don’t want to make any other changes in general, such a trying a new supplement or tripling your daily water intake.
You want to wait at least 4 days between reintroducing new foods, because sometimes symptoms can show up delayed.
When I attempted my first elimination diet, I broke all these rules and I learned a lot from it. I eliminated a whack of foods at once without proper planning or meal prepping. Between being vegetarian and my new food restrictions, I couldn’t think of what to eat, so I ended up eating a diet entirely consisting of vegetables, which is great, but not very filling or satisfying. Because I was restricting so much without properly planning real meals, after a few days I would go on a total binge session of all the forbidden food. I would have a meal with all the food I eliminated in one and of course in excess quantities. With this approach, I didn’t get to the bottom of what was causing my symptoms because I wasn’t eliminating the foods for long enough to see changes and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to identify which foods were causing the issue because I changed them all at once.
This tool is so incredibly powerful, especially when paired with a tracking tool that helps you get more in tune with your body. Unfortunately it needs to be done right in order for it to be effective in learning how certain foods are impacting your body. If you are struggling with following through with your elimination diet, feel free to reach out for advice.
Want to learn more?
Check out this blog on how to find the best diet for you?