The elimination diet: wondering how to get started?
When you have to deal with certain food sensitivities or you aren’t able to tolerate specific foods, it can be very frustrating. In fact, you might revolve your entire day around planning your diet.
And that’s no way to live your life.
This is why so many people turn to the elimination diet plan. In fact, it might just be the perfect solution you need.
Let’s look a little bit more at what food means to you.
Food is so much more than just what your body needs in order to function. Every time you put food into your body, it’s transmitting all types of messages. So your body does what it does best: responds according to the situation.
How does the food do this, you ask? Well, it doesn’t pick up its iPhone and start texting the body to let it know what’s coming.
The Elimination Diet and Understanding Your Gut
Here’s what actually happens when food enters your intestines.
Your gastrointestinal (also charmingly known as your GI) tract serves as the connector between the food you put in your body and your body.
Kind of gross, but if you stretch out this entire organ, it’s basically the size of a tennis court. That’s wrapped up inside of you! But it’s a good thing it’s big, because it has a pretty big role to play.
Here’s what your GI tract does – it changes your food into specific chemical messages. It does all of this through absorption and digestion.
But it can do more. Oh so much more.
A lot of people don’t know that their GI tract also serves as its very own nervous system – or rather, the enteric nervous system.
Because of this, your GI tract is full to the brim with things like enzymes, hormones, chemical messengers, bacteria and neurotransmitters. Pretty crazy, huh? It even holds the responsibility of being the location where over 70% of your body’s immune system lies. No pressure or anything!
But like most things in life, not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes, things go wrong. But don’t worry – there’s a plan for that.
When things get screwy, here’s what happens.
Think about all those responsibilities we just listed. The GI tract is kind of a big deal, especially because it holds so many functions and critical components. Obviously, what’s considered a healthy body should likely start with a pretty healthy GI system.
And other elements tie into this, too. Looking to drop a few pounds? Get your GI system in shape. Want to improve your overall performance? Get your GI system in shape. Want to have overall good health and wellness? You guessed it – get that GI system in shape.
Elimination Dieting and A Healthy GI Tract
A Healthier GI tract means a healthier you. Easier said than done. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in the GI tract. Things like mobility problems, inflammation, enzyme deficiency, and intestinal permeability can occur.
But here’s where things get interested – just about every single food sensitivity or intolerance can be connected to at least one of those problems in one way or another.
Every day, more and more evidence pops up showing that certain food sensitivities can cause some serious damage to countless other systems in the body, which then unfolds a ton of symptoms you probably don’t want.
Having a food sensitivity or intolerance have been connected to health problems like:
- Allergies and asthma
- Mood changes/disorders
- Certain skin conditions
- Autoimmune disorders
- Kidney issues
- Problems with addiction
Just when you think that list can’t get any longer, there are two pretty big problems – cardiovascular diseases and neurological diseases like dementia.
So yeah, food sensitivities can be a little bit more serious than we originally thought.
And as more evidence surface every day, we’re learning more health problems to tack onto that list.
This is where the elimination diet comes into play.
Putting the Elimination Diet to Work
Because of these serious health issues that come along with food sensitivities, this diet can work wonders for your health.
Plus, there’s no harm trying.
Of course, there are other methods to trying to treat GI tract conditions. But, the elimination diet is by far the fastest and easiest way to gain control back.
What will this mean for you?
Well it’s time to step outside of your comfort zone and be willing to give up some foods you might eat all the time, in order to figure out what is harming your body. Your food is your fuel and if you’re experiencing health problems that might be related your gut, it’s time to play detective.
The Great and Powerful Elimination Diet
Most experts and health gurus know and will tell you over and over again:
No one single perfect diet approach for everyone exists.
Because all of our bodies are set up differently, everyone has individual needs on what they should eat, when they should eat, and how often they should eat. Plus, with so many environmental factors to take into consideration, it’s near impossible trying to nail down one solid solution for every human body.
But when you’re dealing with issues with your GI, a diet such as the elimination diet is truly one of the greatest approaches around. People end up feeling the best they’ve ever felt after following this diet – it could literally change your entire life.
Okay, so you might be asking yourself what is so great about the elimination diet? What makes up the elimination diet?
Here’s what you do:
- You get rid of (or eliminate, duh) specific foods for a certain period of time. This can usually be about three or four weeks.
- Then, after the selected time has passed, you dip your feet and test the water by very slowly mixing these foods back into your diet.
- You’re acting as your own researcher so make sure you take note on how you feel after you add them back into your diet.
- By the end of the 3 to 4 weeks, give yourself one food back. Not 2, not 3. Just one. Then give yourself 48 hours to watch for symptoms.
Now you might be scratching your head and saying No way. Not doing it. The elimination diet isn’t for me. Too big of a risk. I’ll just give food allergy testing a try and see what comes up.
You can do that, if you want. But here’s what you should know. First, it’s costly. And secondly, it doesn’t really provide 100% reliable results.
When it comes to putting a finger on food sensitivities, the elimination diet is the way to go.
We aren’t saying this way is foolproof either. Much like other types of medical testing, it comes with its fair share of flaws.
But what do you have to lose? Not money. Not time. Since you get to see the benefits and results right away, it’s worth it to task the risk. No waiting for test results – you’re getting them every single day.
What Should You Cut Out During the Elimination Diet?
Are you getting the hang of it yet? Okay, so you’ve decided you want to eliminate food. But where do you start?
The best method for getting started is getting rid of the biggest number. Basically, the more of a restriction you put on yourself, the better the results are going to be.
Yeah, that’s a little difficult. But don’t forget you’re in it for the results. And they’re going to be spot-on.
As a safe rule of thumb, get rid of any foods that contain products or ingredients like:
- Citrus fruits
- Nightshade veggies
Don’t panic! Stay with us. You’re getting rid of those things, yeah, but think of what else you could put in its place. You can have things like fish, rice, almost all fruits and veggies, and healthier meats like turkey or lamb.
You aren’t going to starve – there are still plenty of options to pick from.
If you’re worried about sugar, try switching regular white sugar, or using a natural sweetener like honey.
Now, like we said, this is a pretty strict diet. But do what you can and work your way up. And, like we said earlier, every body is different. So tweak your elimination list as you see fit.
But here’s what you need to remember – the more foods you’re able to eliminate, the higher the chances of you finding out what you’re unable to tolerate. So this all plays into your health.
You should also take a look at foods you eat often. Is cheese an every day item for you? What about bread?
Just because you eat something frequently, doesn’t mean this isn’t the exact food that’s causing your problems.
Even with regular items you eat all the time, cross them off your list and see how you feel. It’s definitely a possibility that you’re making yourself tolerant because of how often you’re consuming the item. But could your health be better without them? Quite possibly.
Are we there yet?
Many people want to know how long they should maintain for the perfect elimination diet. Well, that really depends on what kind of symptoms you’re experiencing and how old you are. Like we said above, most adults should aim for 3 to 4 weeks of restricting.
Like all diets and non-diets, make sure you’re drinking a ton of water! If you can get up to 4 liters in a day, that’s ideal.
Don’t think that we’re trying to get you to get rid of all foods. After all, you need more than just water and air to survive.
The whole purpose of the elimination diet is to get rid of certain foods for a while, to identify those that are having a toxic effect on your body.
Then, slowly but surely, add them back in, one by one. This slow process gives you time to see what symptoms pop up from which food.
By the end of the 3 to 4 weeks, give yourself one food back. Not 2, not 3. Just one. Then give yourself 48 hours to watch for symptoms.
Watching for Food Symptoms with the Elimination Diet
Let’s say you decide to give yourself bread back on a Friday. During the day, you might have some toast or a sandwich. Saturday and Sunday should be spent watching out for any kind of reactions.
If you don’t have any reactions, great! Move onto the next food. Just keep going with this process, introducing another food every couple of days. By the time you’ve gotten through your list, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you can tolerate – and what you can’t.
Now, from start to finish, the entire elimination diet process should take around 5 to 6 weeks total.
Like we said, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself by the end of that 5-6 week span.
Keep an eye out!
There are a few things you should keep a look for. You’ll want to take a look at everything from your sleep, mood, and energy to your digestion and bowel movements. This is how you use the elimination diet to see how specific foods affect your body.
A lot of people find it helpful to jeep a journal during their elimination diet, so they can keep track of how they feel – physically and mentally and if there are any emotional symptoms.
It goes without saying, but if you start feeling better (like you can sleep better or you see a major boost in energy) then you can probably guess that a food you generally consume is the problem.
When you start bringing these foods back into your diet, you need to look for any changes, whether positive or negative. Making the elimination diet work is about picking out the exact foods that are poisoning your body.
Things that would qualify as a negative reaction would be bloating, not being able to sleep, being extremely tired, having a headache, the feeling of being foggy, sinus issues, breakouts, rashes, and inflammation or joint pain.
Since you’re getting rid of foods one by one, you need to keep a careful eye on everything happening.
There have been some people who state they feel a surge in their energy when they bring a food back into their diet. This isn’t really a health thing – this is more related to stress. Either way, keep track of all reactions.
Making the Elimination Diet Work for You
If you’re going to use an elimination diet, first build yourself the foundation for success. There are certain steps you can take to make this process easier and improve your chances of success.
Like with most diets, preparation is key. Research the foods you’ll be planning to eat ahead of time and grab recipes online. Then get comfortable with cooking them. Make extras so you can spread out your meal throughout the week.
And we know this might hurt to read but it’s time – clean out your kitchen. Any foods that aren’t going to be a part of your life for the next 3-4 weeks need to go in the trash.
You’ll throw off your results is you start throwing IN new and random foods. Keep it simple. The idea is less variables. Remember, the elimination diet only works if you do, so no cheating.
Understanding your body and the way it reacts to things can be a little confusing. But the most important thing you can do during this process is listen to your body! Using an elimination diet is about learning your body’s signals and reactions.
The whole idea of this process is to gain a better understanding of your body’s unique needs. Learning your body’s own best fuels for working is a major stop on the road to health. Sometimes that might mean you have to step outside of your comfort zone. The upside, in the end you’ll be running your body as a more efficient machine and cutting out toxic foods.
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