Why do you eat food? For nutrients, for enjoyment, or a combination of both? A good balance between the two is healthy and necessary, but as a society, that balance is starting to fall much more heavily in favour of ‘pleasure’. We are eating more and more (both figuratively and literally) foods that aren’t nutritious and are actually doing more harm than good.
Look at the increase in food intolerances, allergies (skin, hay fever, etc.), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not to mention the even more common bloating, gas, fatigue and brain fog. These are actually all in some way connected to the foods that we eat. I have previously suffered from food intolerances, and have had the same old “you have IBS, nothing we can do about it” from the doctors. But there is a way to rectify the imbalance in our bodies, and one of the best ways to do this is through an elimination diet.
There are many variations on this cycle, with some ranging from plain extreme to some which just cut out the main culprits. I believe that everyone could benefit from some form of elimination diet, as our gut health as a society seems to be declining at a rapid rate. This elimination cycle is a really great way to press the ‘reset’ button on your gut health, and uncover issues that you didn’t even realise were related to your eating habits.
So how do you do an elimination diet? Below are the steps to successfully completing an elimination cycle, but remember, you want to tailor this to your body, and tune into any signs or signals that your body may be giving you.
Step 1: Evaluation
Figure out WHY you’re going to undertake an elimination cycle. Do you have allergies (skin, food, hay fever, etc.), do you have gut irritation (IBS, bloating, gas, etc.), or are you doing this as a reset for your body. If you fall under the first two categories, doing the full elimination diet will be best for you, but I will admit (from personal experience) it is cumbersome and a lot of hard work (but worth it!). If you want to just start with cutting out the main culprits that is a good kickstart, and you can work up to eliminating other foods that may be causing you issues.
Step 2: Plan
This is potentially the most important yet overlooked step in those deciding to do an elimination cycle. This is like meal prep but on steroids. You need to set aside a plan for at least 23 days where you are able to schedule in all your meals. It takes 21-23 days for the antibodies (the ones attacking all your foods – even the good ones) to turn over. You don’t want the old ‘security guards’ reacting to every item you put in your mouth, so if you don’t quit the foods you’re sensitive to for at least that time, the body will start to react to them again a lot sooner. Cooking at home is your best bet when it comes to knowing exactly what is in your food.
Preparation also relates to mental preparation. Realise it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks but always bring yourself back to the ‘why’. Keeping a food journal on how the body feels post meals can help keep you on track. Remind yourself that it is temporary. Short term pain for a longer term outcome.
Step 3: Go Cold Turkey
You may have seen my blog on the 100% rule, which has a strong correlation with this elimination diet. When you have decided that you are going to do this elimination cycle, commit, eliminate, and allow no exceptions. The fundamentals are no gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, fast food, or alcohol for 23 days. That’s the easy part. If you have specific food intolerances or IBS, there may be fresh foods that are causing reactions for you too (I was in this basket!). If that is the case, speaking to a local dietician will help you to sort out what other foods you may need to eliminate and there is more information from NSW Health here.
Step 4: A Typical Day
So what does a typical day look like then? There’s surely nothing left to eat if all those food groups are eliminated? We’ve been tricked into thinking the only foods that are delicious are the ones from a box. Doing this elimination cycle is basically going back to fundamentals; eating fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Breakfast can be oatmeal with fresh berries and some dairy free milk (like almond or coconut). Lunch can be a salad with all the fresh vegetables plus a lean protein. Dinner is some roasted vegetables with some lean protein again like salmon.
Step 5: Post Cycle
Once you’ve completed the 23 days, look back on how you felt throughout the cycle. Think about how you felt before the cycle and how you now feel after. What are the differences? Then on Day 24, start to reintroduce one eliminated item group e.g. dairy. Allow the body 48 hours with this. If no adverse reactions, try it again. Once you’ve decided whether to allow that food back into your diet, move onto reintroducing group 2. There is no structure here for what order things should be integrated in, however allowing the 48 hours for the body to process each is essential. If you do find that you’re reacting to one of the groups GREAT. You’ve found your culprit. You can mourn the loss of it from you life, and then move on and figure out what you’re going replace it with, i.e. a healthier and more welcomed food for your body.
While an elimination cycle is challenging, it is also immensely rewarding to reset the body to full health. Try it out. It’s just 23 days! See how you feel and please report back.