When I first started on my health and fitness journey about 4 years ago, I started experiencing uncomfortable and embarrassing digestive issues which was starting to drive me crazy! I had never experienced these issues before or at least I never noticed because of all of the junky nutritionally void foods I was dumping into my body the many years prior. I was determined to figure out the foods that where working with and those that worked against my body in order to lose weight and be healthier. When you realize that your digestion is much less than optimal and you feel terrible, it is time to do something about it. I got to that point and started noticing that I had symptoms like gassiness and bloating that started happening a lot. I knew I needed a reliable way to find out WHY this was happening and, more importantly, WHAT was causing my discomfort. That’s when I found out about the Elimination Diet.
The Elimination Diet is an approach to figuring out which foods you are sensitive to so that you can eat mindfully, keep your digestive symptoms at bay and start losing weight. About 80% of your immune system is in your gut and is considered the “second brain” in your body, so it is important to keep it healthy and keep things running smoothly. It's also been discovered that if your body is in a constant state of inflammation, it can prevent you from being able to lose weight.
In the elimination diet, you start by eliminating common culprits of digestive upset and common food allergens. You dial down your daily meals and snacks so that you are only eating real, nourishing foods that will not hurt your gut. In fact, you can begin to heal your gut with a proper elimination diet. The categories of food to eliminate are:
- Grains – The foundation of the Food Pyramid for decades, at one point the government suggested we eat 6-11 servings of grains per day. It has now been discovered that many people have a hard time digesting grains, including corn.
- Processed Foods – There are many toxic chemicals (like MSG, artificial colors, and flavorings) and other undesirable ingredients (like GMOs, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup) in processed food that can impede digestion and even cause disease.
- High Glycemic Foods – Large amounts of starches and added sugars can feed a bacterial overgrowth (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth aka SIBO) and other gut dysbiosis problems.
- Gluten and Fructans – Found in many grains, gluten has been found to be one of the causes of leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases. Fructans are found in FODMAPS (short-chain carbohydrates) and can also feed those bad bugs in your gut.
- Soy - Over 90 percent of all soy grown is genetically modified and is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Many people can't tolerate soy but have no idea because they eat so much of it on a daily basis via processed packaged foods. Soy phytoestrogens cause infertility, breast cancer and hypothyroidism. It contains high levels of phytic acid which reduce absorbtion of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum, which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.
- Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oil – The top offenders are corn, soy, safflower, canola and vegetable oils. These can cause inflammation throughout your body and destroy your health.
- Feedlot Meats and Dairy – Meats and dairy from the conventional food system are full of hormones, antibiotics, and even poisons such as arsenic. These animals are sick and stressed form living in confined polluted spaces.
- Eggs, Peanuts, and Shellfish – All are common food allergens.
- Gut Irritants – Caffeine and alcohol can wreak havoc on your gut. Avoid these while you are healing.
The Elimination Phase
All of the common known gut irritating foods we talked about above will be eliminated for an initial 14 days. This is so we can allow enough time for food allergens and other gut irritating foods to fully get out of your system and your symptoms to go away. Make sure to write yourself a list of all the foods you can and can't eat during the elimination period so that you are very clear on which foods you need to avoid. It's very easy to forget and slip up on the foods you are used to eating. It's important to stay on track during this time so that you can really figure out which foods work best for you!
Then, you will gradually reintroduce these foods back in your diet one at a time to see how your body reacts. With certain food, you may notice reactions from it immediately and with others you may feel the effects a day or so later. It is important to keep a food reaction journal during this time so that you can pin point exactly how you are feeling both mentally and physically. The entire elimination could take up to 35 days or so depending on how many foods you introduce back in. This can be tailored specifically to your personal needs with your health coach or practitioner.
The Reintroduction Phase:
For two weeks, follow the elimination diet without any exceptions. It is best to have your meals and snacks prepared ahead of time because you don’t want to risk eating foods that may be cooked with unapproved ingredients. If you do eat any packaged foods, you will need to check the labels carefully for hidden ingredients such as soy, dairy and gluten.
After you have completed the 14 day food elimination diet, you will now start to add foods back in one by one. Introduce one allergenic food in two days increments for 3 meals per day (morning, noon, and night). You will then go back to the strict elimination diet for the next 2 days and monitor how you feel. Take notes on how you are feeling before, during and after the reintroduction. If you notice a server immediate reaction from a food, you can stop there and go ahead and remove the food from your diet and go back to the elimination diet.
Below is the schedule I use with my clients who do a general elimination diet of the top known allergenic foods. Follow the schedule below to keep track of what days you will reintroduce each food. Log your food during the elimination and reintroduction phases so you can go back and use it as a reference point.
During this time you will need to document how you are feeling, both during the two reintroduction days and the two days following it. Take note of any headaches, muscle aches, constipation, bloating, low energy, mood swings, fatigue, foggy thinking, etc.
Day 15: Gluten
Day 16: Gluten
Day 17: Back to elimination diet
Day 18: Back to elimination diet
Day 19: Dairy
Day 20: Dairy
Day 21: Back to elimination diet
Day 22: Back to elimination diet
Day 23: Soy
Day 24: Soy
Day 25: Back to elimination diet
Day 26: Back to elimination diet
Day 27: Corn
Day 28: Corn
Day 29: Back to elimination diet
Day 30: Back to elimination diet
Day 31: Eggs
Day 32: Eggs
Day 33: Back to elimination diet
Day 34: Back to elimination diet
Day 35: Discuss
Eventually you will come up with an eating plan that your body will love. Everyone is different and finding your own unique way of eating to feel good will change your life.
Dr. Mercola - http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/12/04/soy-dangers-summarized.aspx
Dr. Axe - http://draxe.com/canola-oil-gm/
Dr. Mark Hyman - http://drhyman.com/blog/2012/01/27/inflammation-how-to-cool-the-fire-inside-you-thats-making-you-fat-and-diseased/
Eat Wild - http://www.eatwild.com/basics.html
*Heizer, W D., Southern, S, McGovern, S. The Role of Diet in Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: A Narrative Review. JADA 2009; 109: 1204-1214
CalorieLab - http://calorielab.com/news/2011/01/01/big-8-food-allergies/