Do you struggle with unexplained symptoms such as bloating, brain fog, headaches, weight gain, or fatigue? Here’s a super simple way to determine if food sensitivities might be the culprit…
The idea behind elimination diets is to help people identify subtle, gradual reactions to common food groups such as gluten, dairy, egg, soy, corn, peanuts, sugar and alcohol. By completely avoiding those foods for at least 4 weeks, a person is able to clear out any antibodies and will usually notice an improvement in symptoms. After 4 weeks, each food is added back one by one to test the body’s response. When you go on an elimination diet, it is like hitting the “reset” button and most people feel dramatically better and may lose some weight!
Here’s what you should remove:
- Gluten (wheat, rye, and barley)
- All artificial preservatives, additive, dyes, sweeteners, etc…
Unless you eliminate all foods 100%, you may not notice a difference in how you feel. In addition, many people have strong sensitivities to more than one food. If you only go off one thing at a time, you won’t feel partially better and you may feel no better at all.
Plan ahead by shopping for foods that you can eat. Make a grocery list of organic protein sources (fish, chicken, bison, beef); healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil or coconut butter, olive oil, grape seed oil; milk alternatives, like coconut milk, almond milk, or coconut yogurt. Be sure to stock up on snack foods like hummus, chia pudding, guacamole, cashew spread, raw nuts, seeds, and nut butters. Most important, make sure to get a variety fresh fruits and colorful vegetables and vow to try something new each week! Make sure to read all labels carefully to find hidden allergens. Eat a wide variety of foods and do not restrict your calorie intake. If you don’t notice an improvement during the four weeks, you either don’t have any food sensitivities or you may need further testing.
If you find yourself hungry during the elimination diet, first ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” Other reasons we eat are out of boredom, loneliness, fatigue, or anger. If you are hungry, you are probably not eating enough fat. Increase your intake of healthy fats. Add avocado to smoothie or on top of burgers. Use coconut oil on top of roasted veggies and salads. Snack on nut butters or coconut butter.
The first few days will be the hardest as your body goes through withdrawal from sugar and your cravings will be more intense. Symptoms you may experience in the first week can include changes in sleep patterns, lightheadedness, headaches, joint or muscle stiffness and changes in gastrointestinal function. Such symptoms rarely last for more than a few days. You may find yourself walking around looking for something to eat and nothing sounds good. This is usually because we have trained ourselves to snack on processed sugary foods, especially when we are bored or tired! Be sure to start your day with healthy protein.
The goal of the elimination diet is to reconnect you to how food makes you feel. There is no typical or normal response and each person may differ in how they feel. The key is that you reestablish your connection with food and begin to understand how food affects the way you feel. After the four weeks, you may begin to reintroduce the foods you’ve eliminated but it is important to do so one by one, with only one new food introduced every 2-3 days. That way you can monitor your body for return of symptoms, such as brain fog, water retention, or bloating. If you notice symptoms with a certain food, take that one out and add another. At the end of your elimination diet you should come away with a sense of what foods you do well with and which ones make you feel terrible. Hopefully, you will feel improvement during the elimination diet and continue avoiding the foods that make you feel the worst.
I know changing habits, especially involving food, can be difficult. I promise you the health reward will be well worth it. And soon you’ll be feeling so much better that you will not even miss the foods you’ve given up!