Your digestive system is a huge portal into your body. The system is so complex (science is just starting to scratch the intestinal surface, so to speak) and lots can go wrong or swing out of balance.
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 there are more neurotransmitters in the gut than the spinal column. Hello brain connection.
If you have digestive issues, persistent autoimmune or inflammatory symptoms or even stubborn weight loss, you may consider trying an elimination diet. This is something I often do with clients to help them regain control over their inflammation, weight and health goals.
An elimination diet is one where you strategically eliminate certain foods to see if you react to them. In fact, most nutritional cleanses are based off of an elimination protocol. It can help immensely 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 a few weeks. 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
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 avoiding a certain food.
Elimination diets can be less expensive, and in some cases more reliable, than standard allergy testing.
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. Having a good plan makes things much easier (even exciting). If you love grocery shopping, cooking from scratch or trying new recipes, you’re going to draw on all these skills.
Some common triggers for inflammation include sugar, sulphites, gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, egg plant). Various inflammatory conditions have different triggers, so there is not one diet that fits all.
Elimination diets are starting to gain medical attention. The Low FODMAPS is often recommended for IBS. The Autoimmune Protocol is showing great promise for reducing autoimmune symptoms. In fact, two medical studies focusing on Hashimoto's and Crohn's saw remarkable improvement in symptoms in just 12 weeks. And studies around Paleo has shown to improve blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure more so than the American Diabetes Diet, or the Mediterranean Diet.
And the best part of all of this, as you reintroduce foods (marking what your body reacts to), you end up with a customized diet that best suits your unique biochemistry … you bond with health!
Cons of elimination diets
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.
Elimination diets can become overwhelming. You need a plan. Your plan should be strategically created to ensure that the most common food allergens are eliminated for your condition (there are different foods for different conditions). This will give you the highest likelihood of success.
You also need to commit to following the plan for four to six weeks, if not longer. This can be difficult for some people, especially if you’re a social person. That’s where the plan comes in handy.
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 (clients - I know that you know who you are). 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.
In this process, sometimes people find that they're intolerant to one of their favourite foods, and that is disappointing. Are you an ignorance is bliss person? Well, that is up to you … how long have you had this problem? How has it impacted your life, your confidence? And are you willing to continue feeling this way? Only you can answer that question.
When you're eliminating certain foods (or parts of foods, like gluten), it can be HARD! Believe, me … I get it. No one likes to feel different. And you are probably going to need to prepare more meals, snacks and drinks from scratch. If you don't take full control like this, it can be so easy to accidentally ingest something that you're cutting out. And at that point, you might need to start all over again. Ugh.
Elimination diets can be a very useful tool to identify food sensitivities. They can be empowering and customized.
However, they can be difficult to adhere to and, sadly, you may find out that you’re sensitive to your favourite foods.