When I was told I had to do an elimination diet to figure out what was causing my digestive upset it felt a little daunting. The word elimination doesn’t really have a great connotation it feels very restrictive and isolating. Looking back now though, I’m so happy that I listened to my body. My elimination diet, which is still on going, has proven to me that as individuals what we put into our bodies does matter. Everyone knows if you eat fast food everyday you’re probably not going to feel like your best self. With food sensitivities though you could be eating the best diet in the world of only raw fresh foods, but if you’re gut doesn’t like tomatoes and you’re eating salads like they are going out of style, you’re still going to feel like there’s an alien trying to crawl out of your stomach. Remember sensitivities can be hard to pinpoint because many of them are real foods and symptoms can present themselves days after ingestion. In this post I wanted to break down an elimination diet English class style with some 4w’s.
What is an Elimination Diet?
Plainly speaking an elimination diet is when you select certain foods to remove from your diet for a set period of time. After that time period has expired you slowly reintroduce the eliminated foods one at a time to see if you’re body can now tolerate them. If symptoms return after trying the eliminated food its a good chance that food might not like you and will have to stay away. As for the ‘period of time’ if you do research on the ‘interwebs’ many resources will give different timelines for elimination. Some will be two to four weeks, some might be two months, others might be longer. Do your research, speak to a professional, and figure out whats best for you. I’m on a timeline of three months the reason being is that I needed to thoroughly cleanse my system of these culprit foods. A shorter timeline might not be enough time for my body to forget its ex-boyfriend Dean Dairy and if you bring him back into the picture too soon hairdryers might get thrown at Deans head. After my three month period expires (11 days! 11 days!!!!!) I’ll slowly add in one food at a time every four days. If no symptoms appear from that food in the four days I can safely add it back into my routine. If symptoms do appear however, I must wait until all symptoms have disappeared before I move on to the next food.
Please note: you must eliminate all variations of the foods you take out. For example if you are eliminating corn that means you are also eliminating: corn oil, corn meal, corn cereals, corn bread, corn flour, corn starch, corn sugar, popcorn, hominy, grits, baking powder, corn chips, etc. Prepare to get really familiar with the outside (aka fresh) ailes of your grocery store. I stick to a rule of anything packaged can’t have more than four ingredients. Don’t worry if this sounds like too much, you can do it, I will be here to help you.
I want to give you my real life timeline so you can see the level of commitment and time this could take from you. Elimination is 3 months. I had to eliminate 50 foods. 1 food can be tried every four days. That adds another 28 weeks giving me a total of 10 months of some kind of elimination in my diet. The first three months are definitely the hardest, but just know this isn’t something that just ends after your elimination period is up this is definitely a trial and error system. Especially if you have lots of baddies out there trying to make your tummy have troubles.
Why are they important?
Elimination diets really are the gold standard for figuring out which foods might not agree with you. We can (and I did) take the food sensitivity blood panels. But they are known to not be 100% accurate. They are just supposed to be used as a guide to help you figure out what you might possibly need to eliminate. During my time period I had to continue to eliminate foods as I saw them cause issues even though the test said I would be fine eating them. The best indicator about what makes you feel good is your body. Make sure to listen to it. Don’t let a piece of paper dictate your diet. If you feel good when you eat something go for it, if you feel bad, add it to the naughty list and try again in reintroduction.
Who could benefit from trying one?
My personal opinion is that anyone can benefit from trying out an elimination diet. You may not have to go to such extremes if you’re not having bad symptoms. Maybe just try the three big culprits: dairy, wheat, and soy. See if taking any of these items out makes you feel better. If you still feel great whether they are there or not then you’re a rock star and eat all the pizza you can for me, how I miss pizza. For others that are worried about what their digestive system is trying to tell them there are signs you could watch out for that might let you know if an elimination diet is good for you:
- lump in the throat
- joint pain
- autoimmune disorders
- the list goes on and on…
If any of these symptoms plague you, I urge you to really give this a try. At the start of this process I had heartburn almost every night before bed, I would have to run to the bathroom with diarrhea (not glamorous but the truth) 2-3 times a day 3-5 times a week, and I constantly felt like there was a rock in my stomach. All these symptoms really impaired my life far beyond what I was willing to admit. Now at 11 days to go I have regular bowel movements once every other day, no more heartburn, and the rock in my stomach is gone. In my (non-doctor) opinion, this actually works.
When is the best time to start?
As soon as possible would be my immediate reaction if I were you. However, there are some things to consider. It is summer time and people are traveling more often during this time of year. This can be a hard diet to commit to when traveling. Eating out in restaurants during the elimination phase isn’t really recommended since you are not there seeing exactly what is happening to your food in the kitchen. It might be best to start when you have a couple weeks where the event calendar is looking a little sparse. Don’t worry if you want to get started right away though. I’ve traveled 5 or 6 times in the past three months and have managed to stick to my diet. You can read more about that in a Tips and Tricks post that is coming soon!
I truly hope if you are suffering from digestive issues on a daily basis after reading this you start to consider an elimination diet. Or better yet, maybe you’re on one already looking for someone to share your experiences with. As always please comment below, I’d love to hear your stories or help give support in anyway. You are not in this alone there are many of us out there ready and willing to lift you up.