Do you need to do an elimination diet? Plus tips on how to survive it.

If you are reacting to your food, it means you aren’t digesting your food properly.

I have found that most people I talk to have some sort of digestive issue (bloating, constipation, nausea, or just constant tummy troubles). Unfortunately, a good deal of people either ignore these symptoms and/or take some sort of over the counter antacid or laxative and call it a day. However these are usually just band-aids to the entire other problem (especially if you feel this way frequently). Digestive issues could also be causing other ailments and you might not even know they are connected. Your gut health is also linked to allergies, acne, chronic inflammation; or even anxiety, lack of energy, and moodiness. 

I spend a week in my class explaining how the digestive system works and how it controls 70% of your immune system. That’s a whole lot. I also discuss how food gets broken down and how it gets absorbed. If nutrients do not get absorbed properly, they cannot get into your system to do good things. Also, if the bacteria in your gut is off balance, it affects the other parts of your body too (remember there are more bacteria in your body than your own cells, so be nice to them!) If something is irritating your digestive system or your digestion isn’t working properly, it will affect other parts of your body too, which is how other problems occur. But how to you figure out what is irritating your system? 

One solution is to try an elimination diet. This is exactly how it sounds, you eliminate possible food irritants to see which one is the offender. You can eliminate them all at once, then substitute them back slowly to see what doesn’t work or eliminate them one by one until you feel better. Its really a matter of preference and time. 

Obviously, the fastest approach is to just eliminate all at once for about a month to six weeks, and then add them back one by one very slowly. If your symptoms return after adding one, then you know the culprit.  However, if completely overhauling your diet overnight is too overwhelming then the other approach is just as good but it will just take more time (unless you happen to pick the right one right away). If you really feel like you want a fast way to potentially feeling better, then I would recommend the first approach. A month goes by in a blink anyway, might as well do something that could lead to you feeling better, right? There are many things that an elimination diet could help with:

  • Not hungry for breakfast (crave coffee)
  • Excess body fat and cellulite
  • Poor energy
  • Short temper, easily angered 
  • Skin breakouts 
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep 

If your body isn’t digesting food properly, or if there is something you are eating that your body isn’t handling correctly then many issues such as these could arise. This is because nutrients aren’t being broken up and absorbed efficiently. They might be seen as invaders, in which your body attacks them causing inflammation and/or allergy systems. Or you are nutrient-deficient and things just aren’t working properly as a result. 

So what types of foods do you eliminate?

The most common food irritants are processed foods, (added) sugar, dairy, soy, gluten, and corn.

If you are looking at your diet now and freaking out because “Omg, I eat all those things! How can I get rid of them all at once!?” Its ok. It actually sounds scarier than it is. Majority of these foods come from processed food, so by just eliminating them you are already one step ahead. If you can’t do that fully, then you have to read the ingredients for everything you buy. Yes, everything. There is added sugar in just about everything packaged these days (even bread and other things that doesn’t even make sense to add sugar to). The FDA did just made it so companies have to include a line that says “Added sugar, ” so you know if they added it (and how much). This was because companies were being sneaky and adding sugar, but calling it something else. A good way to see how much is being added is doing a little simple math: 4 g sugar is equal to about 1 tsp of sugar. So if you see something that says 12 g added sugar you can estimate that in that serving roughly 3 tsp of sugar was added. 

There are also soy and corn in many packaged foods. I have found that a lot of companies actually do call out on their packaging, “Soy free” but if not you have to check the ingredients for the words “corn” and “soy” to make sure they don’t have any. Many things should also say things like “contains soy” in little writing on the package too. 

Dairy is a a bit more obvious to avoid. No cow’s milk, butter, or yogurt. Also, for anything packaged you can see if there is dairy being sneaked in. This one is generally the hardest for a lot people (including myself) because of CHEESE. Cheese is very difficult for many people to give up (even temporarily). This is my hardest too. I can easily use almond and coconut milk and swap out butter for olive or coconut oil (some people also continue to use ghee because the lactose is removed from it). They even make coconut or almond yogurt now. But there are really no good substituents for cheese (my opinion). However, I will say that after the first week, your tastes buds do adjust and it becomes easier. If you really need to use it, there are lots of vegan cheeses available, however lots are made with soy. You can also find lots of recipes online for vegan cheeses that are good (and will be more nutritious anyway). You could also figure out what you typically eat cheese with and see if there is some alternative that could give you the same texture or taste profile. For example adding avocado to sandwiches to give it that creamy/fatty mouthfeel that cheese would. Cheeses have a great umami taste profile (which is probably why they are so delicious), so you could also try adding other umami flavored foods, like mushrooms, nutritional yeast, seafood, pickles (kimchi is great for this!), garlic, etc. to your dishes too to satisfy that taste profile. 

Gluten can also be a bit difficult for some people. Bread is hard to give up. Gluten-free breads are expensive, but available. I have found baking with almond flour is pretty good (I have a killer waffle recipe that is gf). There are tons of gf recipes online for many breads and baked goods if you like baking. Pasta is easier to switch out because there are lots of options now. I have found that brown rice pasta to be the best tasting one (make sure you rinse it after cooking, and it will taste very similar to regular pasta). You can also substitute quinoa or even spaghetti squash! Spiralizing veggies like zucchini are also good pasta substitutes. There are gf crackers available too.  Again, I would look at where you are eating gluten and see if there is an alternative that would work instead too. For example, you could eat a burger without a bun, pile on the toppings, and it would still be delicious. Or make a taco salad instead of putting filling it into a tortilla. 

Many elimination diet protocols also tell you to avoid alcohol and coffee. Again, for many this can be tricky too (myself included!). I agree with the no alcohol (which will actually help you sleep better). Coffee can be a personal preference. However, if you are the type that drinks multiple cups of coffee a day, then cutting out coffee would be in your benefit. But if you have to have that one cup in the morning to start your day (which is me), then I don’t really think that one cup is a big deal. I have one really good cup of coffee (with full fat coconut milk and cinnamon) in the morning. I figure if I am going to have one, its going to be a good one. Good coffee alternatives are matcha tea and chicory tea, which are pretty good (that’s what I go for).  Also, any herbal tea is good too. This is the one I like. If need a burst of energy, I always reach for these energy fizz sticks because they force me to drink more water, plus they have lots of vitamins in them. 

Ready to try an elimination diet?! 

First thing I must warn you: The first week will be hell. You will be hungry, irritable and maybe hating life, questioning why you are torturing yourself like this. This is NORMAL. This is your body adjusting to this new way of eating and is basically in shock. If you were eating a lot of sugar, this part is like a withdrawal. You will probably be craving everything. However, you just have to get past this first week. Because after the sucky part in the beginning, suddenly something magical happens. YOU FEEL AMAZING. All of a sudden, your brain feels unclogged, you might have lost a few pounds, you have crazy energy and just feel really good. Cravings also will have subsided. Then it all becomes worth it and the rest of the month becomes easier. 

Here are some tips to survive an elimination diet:

  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Especially in the beginning and for the first week. Have lots of snack options ready. Spend one afternoon collecting your recipes for breakfast/lunch/dinner and make your grocery list before you start. Stock up your spice cabinet. Make a plan of attack, so when cravings arise (and they will!), you will be prepared. 
  • Get rid of (or donate, hide) all foods that you are supposed to be eliminating. Out of sight, out of mind. 
  • Tell your family/partner/spouse what you are doing and you just want their support. 
  • Join a support group that is following the same plan (FB groups are good for this). This is good for recipe swapping and advice. I use the plan laid out by Arbonne (30 days to healthy living and beyond) because they have the BEST support system and it has worked for me. Plus, all their consultants have done it themselves (or doing it along side you) and are literally a text away to help you. They usually connect you to their FB group, which has recipes and advice. Yes, they have accompanied products, but technically you don’t need them, but they are very useful (especially if this is your first time and you want some helpful items). I personally love the protein powders to make my morning shakes (easy breakfast!) and their energy fizz sticks (when I need a pick me up). 
  • Eat when hungry. You don’t have to worry about eating too much on this diet. If you are hungry, you MUST EAT. Stop when full. Your body will naturally regulate how much food/calories its taking in, so don’t stress over it. Just eat. This is very important because when you are hungry, its literally your body telling you it NEEDS something. So, listen to your body and please eat. 

I hope this was helpful to you! I have done an elimination diet (with great success!) so all of this advice was from my experience. I actually plan on doing it again this month, so if you are interested, send me a message and I can help you! Or if have done it before, share your experience! Any advice? Did I miss anything?