Elimination Diets - What are they and why are they so important?
So here we are, 2021 is finally behind us. We are looking forward to a better, brighter future. So why not make it even better and join me on my latest experiment with health and wellness. I announced in last month’s blog that I was going to try an Elimination Diet and I’m already off and running. Why? Well, I have noticed that at times I don’t feel absolutely 100% with my sinuses feeling a little mucousy and my skin feeling a little scratchy. I have been suspecting that something in my already healthy diet is not agreeing with me, and perhaps causing some inflammation which can be really bad, and could lead to arthritis, IBS, skin disorders and any of the autoimmune conditions we increasingly hear of – yes the stakes are high!
So, I’ve decided to do some digging to find out what it is. I’ve done the research and here I’m going to lay out the basics. The “gold standard” for food sensitivity testing is usually considered a blood test for antibodies, but possibly even better is to actually cut out the foods that are causing your inflammation and see how you feel when you reintroduce them. Whatever your ailment, a simple elimination diet may help a bit, or it may even change your life! In fact, I actually recommend that everyone try an elimination diet at least once just to see the effects. You may be surprised. Everyone has a different chemical makeup and many people actually live with sensitivities that they are not aware of, putting the symptoms down to bad luck, genetics or perhaps aging. Let’s run through a simple strategy for doing your own elimination diet. I’ve broken it down into an easy 5-step plan.
Step 1: Take stock of your symptoms?
It could be anything really. A food sensitivity can lead to literally hundreds of conditions. Perhaps you’ve experienced some skin issues, or digestive concerns like gas, bloating, or some irritable bowel, or perhaps you suspect allergies? You may feel that your energy levels are not what they were, or you are worried that you are becoming more forgetful and have some ‘brain-fog’. Maybe you just don’t feel you are living at 100%.
Make a list, and almost everyone has some symptom that can be noticed. It might be subtle, recent or long-standing. For me, scratchy skin, some mucous from time to time and some days with less energy than normal. Just bring it to your awareness so that you can notice changes when they happen on the diet.
Step 2: Eliminate the 'Usual Suspects' for 30 days
We know that there are certain foods that cause irritation to many people, so playing the numbers game these are the foods we will eliminate. This is the BASIC ELIMINATION DIET - No gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, fast food, or alcohol for 30 days. On top of this I’m doing no-processed food and no coffee to make it a good detox at the same time. Yes. I could go even deeper and maybe I will need to if I don’t get the results I’m looking for. Let’s see how we do.
Why 30 Days? - Antibodies, which are immune system proteins that your body makes when it reacts to certain foods, take about 23 days to ‘turn over’. This means that if you don’t quit these reactive foods for at least 23 days you won’t experience the true effects of elimination. Also, we know that new habits start to form after 21 days and we really want some of these new habits to stick. So why 30 days? This is me just making sure! No Booze – Really? - Yep, we want you to get the best results and alcohol is not only a sleep disruptor but it is full of sugar that promotes harmful bacteria and yeast overgrowth in your gut as well as disrupting your blood sugar/insulin levels
Step 3: Create your grocery list
You’re probably thinking: "OMG! What can I eat?" But don’t worry, it’s not actually as daunting as you may think. We just need to do a little grocery shopping and take just a little time to get organised. Here’s your grocery list to get you started.
30% “clean” protein, i.e. organic, hormone-free, grass-fed, happy, lean beef & chicken, wild fish and shellfish.
70% vegetables, salads, legumes (beans & lentils), nuts, seeds, seaweeds, and gluten-free grains like quinoa.
I told you it was simple! Just some simple rules to follow. I’m going to be heavy on fish and high quality meat, and then piles of vegetables. I’m not counting calories as I’ll be saving plenty by excluding alcohol, breads, pastas and the like. Here’s a typical dinner while I’m on this protocol. BTW, I’m not doing breakfast as I usually practice the 16/8 Intermittent Fast. I told you…...I’m not going hungry! Fish, jacket potato and loads and loads of greens, fresh spicey salsa and avocados, topped with olive oil, black pepper and sea salt.
Here's the full breakdown of what you should eat and what foods you should avoid.
Eat plenty of fish. (But do watch out for fish that may contain mercury like tuna & swordfish)
Eat lots of fresh whole foods, and make your meals yourself.
Make sure you are getting lots of fibre for gut health.
Eat lots of healthy fats found in olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, walnut oil, and avocados.
Enjoy the process.
Watch out for ‘health’ products like cereal bars and low calorie drinks; they are often highly processed and loaded either with sugar or chemical sweeteners.
Be careful not to overload yourself with gluten-free breads, cereals and products. It’s definitely counter-productive to replace refined carbs with a lot of gluten-free refined carbs. Also, oats can often be cross-contaminated and may contain traces of gluten so do check they state “Gluten Free”.
Step 4: Re-introduce eliminated foods after 30 days.
On day 31 you are going to reintroduce only one thing you eliminated from your diet—like gluten, eggs or dairy. You can eat it 2 or three times that day if you want. Then stop and see how you feel over the next 3 days. I’m going to reintroduce whatever I’ve been missing the most first ( I suspect it will be eggs). This really is quite simple, just stick to the rule – one at a time!
If, over the next 3 days you feel no reaction, go ahead and eat the food again. If there’s no reaction by the next day then you can consider the food safe and can re-incorporate that food into your diet on a regular basis. Obviously, if you feel any reoccurrence of the original symptoms then this food should be removed permanently. Once you’ve decided on the first food that you reintroduced, pick another one and follow the same steps.
It's likely you’ll be enjoying how you feel, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to go back to how you were. Stay in control and follow the steps; it’s worth it.
Step 5: Always listen to your body!
During this entire elimination and reintroduction process, do monitor how your body is communicating with you (signs & symptoms). Almost everyone will feel some benefits as simply reducing the sugar and cutting out the fast food and preservatives (and of course no alcohol) while replacing them with good wholesome, quality meat and vegetables will almost certainly provide you with more energy & vitality, improved sleep and a clearer mind.
How are your original symptoms? Maybe the skin rash has improved or your belly bloating has decreased.
Now it’s up to you to decide how you’ll proceed. If you now know which certain foods are not good for you, you can decide to eliminate them permanently or just reduce them drastically. It’s your choice, but now you know, and at least you’re making educated decisions.
I strongly believe that everyone should try an elimination diet at some stage and probably the sooner the better; autoimmune conditions are now more prevalent than heart disease. We all have our unique genetic and chemical makeups and a different history. We will react differently to different foods and someone’s medicine can be another’s poison. There isn’t a blood test existing that can tell you how life will be with or without a particular food — this is why we must experiment. It’s basic science really, something that we can’t hide from. Once you know, you know, and you really could save yourself from a lifetime of inflammation, annoying symptoms, and all too often, chronic disease.