The pros and cons of elimination diets for autoimmune and inflammationSep 23, 2022
Do you suspect you have food sensitivities, meaning, foods are causing physical reactions in your body, like gas, bloating, muscle and joint pain, headaches, skin outbreaks, constipation or rapid release?
If so, welcome! You are not alone. Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are a huge contribution to an array of inflammatory symptoms all over your body.
Things like autoimmune issues, inflammation, and even your mood can be affected by what you eat. This is because 70% of your immune system is found in or around your gut, and the bulk of serotonin is produced in this area.
In fact, there are more neurotransmitters in the gut than the spinal column!
Hello gut-brain connection.
If you have digestive issues, persistent autoimmune or inflammatory symptoms or even stubborn weight loss or gain, you may consider trying an elimination diet. This is something I help members of The Integrative Autoimmune Network with, as part of a whole-body plan to regain control over their energy, inflammation, digestion, weight and health goals.
And they are always surprised by the results because they have a GI on speed dial, or have gone for testing only to be told, "everything is normal."
When it's not.
Should you try an elimination diet for autoimmune?
An elimination diet or nutritional therapy is one where you strategically (and temporarily) eliminate certain foods to test how your body reacts. In fact, most nutritional cleanses are based off of an elimination protocol and almost every naturopath or FMD puts their patients on some sort of an elimination diet as a first step.
Nutrition first, even from the natural doctors.
Elimination diets can help when trying to figure out if a particular food is contributing to your symptoms – or simply give your body a break so the inflammatory fire elsewhere in the body can calm down.
You generally start out by eliminating the most common food allergens for 30 - 90 days. Then you slowly add them back one at a time and note any symptoms (better or worse).
Let’s go over the pros and cons of this approach.
Pros of elimination diets for autoimmune and inflammation
By tuning into your body's reactions to certain foods, you can pinpoint sensitivities and intolerances that may otherwise fly under the radar. This is the main benefit. Experiencing results first-hand can be very motivating when it comes to dialling into nutrition to support autoimmune.
Elimination diets are less expensive, and in many cases more reliable, than food sensitivity testing (IgG).
It can also be very empowering to be in control of what you eat, learn about food and the compounds they contain, and to try new recipes that exclude common trigger foods (meals that may become your new favourite)!
Having an easy-to-follow plan makes things much stressful (even exciting). If you love grocery shopping, cooking from scratch or trying new recipes, you’re going to draw on all these skills and have fun in the kitchen.
Some common triggers for inflammation for those with autoimmune and even those without a diagnosis, but are still experiencing imbalances include:
Sugar, Sulphites, Gluten, sometimes Grains, Dairy, Corn, Eggs, Nuts/seeds, Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, egg plant), plus processed food chemicals and oils.
I understand that is a very discouraging list. Rest assured, it's a general list.You may not need to remove all of these. Various inflammatory conditions have different triggers, so there is not one diet that fits all.
Elimination diets are also medically recognized, which is why we include research-backed nutrition and guidance inside The Integrative Autoimmune Network.
There isn't one diet for one disease, so part of the process is helping people figure out which nutrition plan is best for them, based on what they've tried before that worked (or didn't work), symptoms and co-diagnosis.
From there it becomes straight forward in terms of an upgraded Mediterranean for diet for autoimmune, paleo, AIP, low FODMAP or even low histamine.
Cons of elimination diets for autoimmune
People tend to focus on only the foods to avoid and in the process, end up underfeeding themselves during the elimination process because they're not sure what to eat.
This leaves them feeling hungry, tired, frustrated and under nourished. What you ADD to your plate is equally important in reducing inflammation, which leads to more energy, less inflammation, brain fog and motivation.
People often mistake other inflammatory influences for a reaction to food. Sleep, movement, stress and bowel movements can also impact reactions. You need to take a holistic view.
During the elimination process, you may not figure out everything you're sensitive to. Sensitivities can also ebb and flow depending on your environment, stress levels, exposure to toxins, etc. That's when food sensitivity testing can be helpful ... troubleshooting.
The idea of eliminating everyday foods you love, is overwhelming and is the #1 reason why people don't even try them to begin with.
During this process, sometimes people discover that they're intolerant to one of their favourite foods, and that is disappointing.
And you are probably going to need to prepare more meals, snacks and drinks from scratch, which is time and energy that you may already be low in. Some see this as a negative .... others see it as great rewards. It depends on your mindset and what you value in your health.
What your elimination dietary plan should consider
When you're eliminating certain foods (or parts of foods, like gluten), it can be HARD! Believe, me … I get it. You don't want to feel restricted at meal time when you already feel restricted in your body or other aspects of life.
That's why a plan with certain goals and milestones help.
Your plan should ensure that the most common food allergens are eliminated for your unique situation (there are different foods for different conditions). This will give you the highest likelihood of success. Working with a professional with experience will help you focus on the right foods for you.
You also need to commit to following the plan for 30-90 days, if not longer. This can be difficult for some people, especially if you’re a social person. That’s where professional guidance and using tools like Reality-Based Meal Planning to stay the course (like meal templates, product swaps and personal accountability) come in handy.
Part of a successful elimination process includes tracking your food. If you’re not used to tracking all foods and symptoms every day, it can seem like a task.
Most of my clients roll their eyes at the thought of tracking food. Yet, it is something I insist on … it is a gateway to understanding your body and marking progress. You can't help yourself and I can't help clients if you're not tracking what you're eating.
You can use a simple pen and paper or a fancy app. For instance, I have a food tracking app for my clients that they can download onto their phone and simply upload photos of what they're eating and symptoms that arise. This way,
In addition to food, I also take into consideration sleep, movement, stress and bowel movements which can also influence inflammatory symptoms ... autoimmune and inflammation are reflective of nutrition, digestive, lifestyle, nervous system and environmental imbalances in total.
Elimination diets can be a very useful tool to identify food sensitivities. They can be empowering and customized and greatly reduce inflammation in the body.
However, they can be difficult to adhere to and, sadly, you may find out that you’re sensitive to your favourite foods.
If you're curious about what elimination is best for you ... and how to make that work so you can get the quickest, fastest insights and results ... reach out and we can chat. You can schedule a call here to see if The Network makes sense for your health goals, or if you're better served with another resource.
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