Elimination Diets

When do you use an elimination diet and why?

Elimination diets are usually people’s last resort, but they could easily find the answers to a lot of your issues. Most everyone would rather take a pill than eliminate something that they enjoy. I’ve been there, but now that I have done it and feel better… Man, I wish I had cut out those foods earlier! As your body becomes more inflamed, it becomes more sensitive, your gut becomes more leaky, and you acquire more food sensitives. Food sensitivities are not allergies, and many people are later able to add in foods they were sensitive to.

Believe it or not – not all food sensitives show up as a stomach issue. My sensitives displayed as brain fog, anxiety, and irritability. This is common and this is why most people will avoid an elimination diet because they think, “I don’t have gut issues.” Well, secretly it is all related to your gut. Your gut is connected to your brain (aka your neurological system) more than discussed. So that brain fog and irritability you get from eating pizza can actually be a food reaction! Crazy but true, and not talked about enough!

Tips:

  • During your elimination diet make a list of what you can eat; this will make meal prepping easier, and it will emotionally be easier to handle what seems like a restricted diet. Don’t get caught up on what you cannot eat or you will be frustrated the entire time and cheat on your diet – which will only prolong it!
  • Put all the elimination foods out of site in a box or spot in the fridge. The whole “out of sight, out of mind” will be beneficial when you are tempted to cheat or get hangry and want a quick snack.

Your pain threshold

This is something I learned about during my elimination diet of tyramine from the Heal Your Headache book by David Buchholz. This is applicable for all elimination diets and trigger foods. By decreasing your trigger level, you move further away from your pain threshold. If you are in a constant inflammatory state, you are more than likely always close to your trigger level. By lowering your trigger level, you are not only able to have less pain, but you will be able to more easily realize what triggers you when you reintroduce foods.

I am a visual learner and the whole “pain threshold” thing made much more sense after reading Dr. Buchholz’s book. Here is my own doodle version.

How do you know what foods you are sensitive to?

There are a TON of elimination diets. The most common include gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, histamine-free, the Anti-inflammatory Protocol (AIP), Paleo, Whole30…. shall I continue? Each serves its own purpose but if these are health diets (not to lose weight), you are doing these to feel better! If you have been in pain for a long time, you probably have developed food sensitives to a lot of foods without knowing. The most common sensitives due to the inflammatory process in the gut can be linked to non pasture raised eggs, conventional dairy, gluten, processed sugar, and soy. I have a separate blog post on a leaky gut and cover the science of why these foods cause inflammation in the body. To summarize, our gut becomes “leaky” as our body develops inflammation, which ultimately results in foods not being properly absorbed and toxins leaking into the body, causing chronic inflammation and food sensitivities to inflammatory foods.

To personalize your elimination diet, a professional should look at where you are stuggling. You can have your food antibodies tested, but I don’t like to start here. You can go through a doctor or purchase a kit and do this at home via finger stick or hair sample. Contact me for my recommendations; there are a ton of options. Some PCP’s can run these under insurance,

There are two primary antibodies you can have tested: IgE and IgG. The IgE antibody test measures for actual allergies, and in regards to elimination diets, it would be for food allergies. You are probably aware if you are having an actual allergic reaction (hives, itching, rashes) to foods, but it never hurts to test to rule out allergens. The IgG antibody test shows what your body is sensitive to. This sensitivity puts you closer to your pain threshold and acts as a trigger and inflammatory response in your body.

There are eight common food allergens that can cause an allergy or food intolerance/sensitivity: eggs, dairy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy. Caffeine, foods high in histamine or tyramine, and certain additives like MSG and preservatives can also cause inflammation in the body on top of these common allergens. If we don’t eat a varied diet, we are allowing inflammation to occur, specifically if we eat one of these commonly triggering foods often.

When you do an elimination diet, you eliminate all triggers of the diet for a given amount of time (6-8 weeks is best practice) and then each week, you slowly reintroduce one food back into your diet. Doing this properly can take a lot of time and is why simply getting your food antibodies tested may be a good idea.

Yet this is not necessary and can always be done after trying a food diary and some trial with eliminating common foods to identify intolerances. The easiest way to start is by eating your normal diet and recording how you feel. You can then choose what to test and eliminate from your diary. It’s important to not only keep a diary of what you ate and how it affects your physical pain but also how it affects you mentally and digestion-wise.

If we consume high-inflammation foods on a regular basis and our body is already in a chronically inflamed state, food sensitivities frequently develop.

Food diaries

So now, you’ve decided on the food(s) that you are going to eliminate. Regardless of whatever led you to your choice of food group — pure curiosity to see how you feel, a hunch from noticing symptoms after eating certain foods or from an actual antibody test — you need to keep a food diary to track your symptoms. If you are cutting out all the “good stuff,” you want to do it correctly and only once! Don’t trust your mind to make a correlation between how you felt the last time you had pizza and this time. We think we can remember, but if you truly are sensitive to something, you probably aren’t aware of it fully or you wouldn’t be eating it.

Keep in mind: food sensitives may not just show up as digestion issues (mine didn’t). Besides the common digestive signs when you have an intolerance (gas, belching, bloating, irregular elimination, and so forth), you can have neurological food intolerance symptoms. This can include anxiety, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, and pain.

Now if you suffer like I did with anxiety, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, and pain daily, you may think, “How will I know it’s worse?” This is why a food diary is important, especially during the reintroduction phase. Ultimately you should be feeling a decrease in symptoms before you reintroduce foods. This is why even though it sucks at the time, you should wait at least 6-8 weeks until you add foods back in. This will allow you to properly track your food sensitives and symptoms. I was amazed at what caused my brain fog and anxiety after eating. I was sensitive (without knowing) to so many things I ate daily.

Reintroducing Foods

You should reintroduce foods slowly (even though I know you are dying to add in everything at once). You should do this by adding and monitoring one food group (example: eggs) for a few times a week. Remember to only add one food back into your diet at a time. Reactions can occur anywhere from hours to days after a food is ingested. My reactions were always pretty fast, but the results of it could last days. This again is why a food diary is important; you can’t possibility recall or correlate all of your symptoms and emotions from that egg you ate days ago. Keep in mind if you do have a reaction to something while reintroducing a food, you should continue to eliminate it and reintroduce it again at a later time. You may have to eliminate it permanently, but more than likely, you should be able to tolerate it in moderation in the future.

1. Find the right time to reintroduce foods

Firstly start introducing foods when you are in a good place mentally, with some space in your schedule. When your digestion is calm you feel relaxed is a good time, rather than when you’re trying to move house, just about to go on holiday or going through redundancy. 

2. Be aware some reaction to food reintroduction is normal

I completely understand you might have some anxiety about this process, but it’s really helpful to remember that there may be a mild increase in digestive symptoms when you start changing your diet.

When we change our diet we can sometimes feel a bit of gurgling in the stomach, or a bit more gas escaping from our bodies. This can be down to

  • the gut microbes feasting on the fibre they have missed,
  • some ‘bad’ bacteria dying off,
  • or your body remembering how to digest certain foods again. 

Symptoms like bloating or gas doesn’t always mean it’s not working or that you should stop the trial. You will need to work out what is mild discomfort, what can you tolerate, and what is too much

I’d always recommend listening to your body, and stopping the process if it feels too uncomfortable. (And of course if you have a known allergy you shouldn’t eat those foods at all unless under the supervision of a medical professional)

3. Start low and slow

Take very small increases in foods to begin with, at a pace you feel comfortable with. Start with very small amounts of your chosen food and build up. For example 1/2 cup of milk on day one, 3/4 on day two and so forth. Do not eat cheese, milk and icecream all on the first day- you will react!

4. Focus on eating properly

During the food reintroduction phase you may find it helpful to focus on the basics of eating again.  This could include

  • chewing your food really well
  • sitting upright at a table
  • getting into a relaxed state before you eat by deep breathing. 

A little science behind how we become sensitive to foods

Every time we eat something, it comes with its own bacteria and it helps feed our gut microbiome. Our gut has its own ecosystem called a “microbiome” which contributes to issues if unbalanced or if it has an overgrowth of a certain kind of bacteria. This is why variety in your diet and switching up what probiotics you take (if you take them) are important. It’s really easy to have an overgrowth of one bacteria if you eat the same thing everyday. If you are healthy, this won’t drastically affect your health, but if you have chronic illness and chronic inflammation, your gut can easily become leaky. This can result alone from diet, but it usually occurs in combination with chronic medication use, chemical exposure, and a diet high in inflammatory foods.

You got this!

It is going to be difficult but in the end, it is worth it! Once you see how amazing you feel after a few months of skipping out on that gluteny, conventional dairy-filled pizza, you will never regret it or look back. Remember, not all eliminations are forever! Most aren’t and you may be able to later add in foods you reacted to, at least in moderation. If you suffer from chronic inflammation symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, brain fog, IBS, anxiety, and so forth, take the leap in investing in your health by fueling your body with what it needs to heal. You’ll be amazed by what you discover, and you may even get off your medications and live that pain-free, carefree life you deserve. Thanks for reading and contact me for any questions or guidance. I am here to help because I wish I had some guidance in the beginning of my journey.

-Chronically Kate

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