I Tried An Elimination Diet and Here’s What Happened
I believe in eating whole, nutritious foods. Eating real foods is not a diet. A diet is placing rules and restrictions on what you can and cannot eat at any given point in time.
Personally, I have always taken an 80/20 approach to the way I eat. The majority of my meals are full of healthy fats, proteins (animal and other), veggies and fruit. A lot of our food is sourced straight from our garden or from my husband’s hunting.
When I’m not eating at home, that’s what I consider the other 20. We’re a normal family. We occasionally indulge in pizza, burgers, ice-cream, etc. I’m just mindful to try not to make a habit of it.
That being said, I recently decided that I was going to give an elimination “diet” a try… and here’s why.
Fighting Off Inflammation
With today’s Standard American Diet (SAD) it’s no secret that sugar is hidden everywhere, and I mean everywhere. There’s a really good chance if the food you’re eating has a label on it, it also contains sugar. As we now know, sugar is an inflammatory product that wrecks havoc on our system.
In addition to that, more research is pointing to evidence that gluten is also a major player in the inflammatory game. So what do these foods and inflammation actually do to our bodies?
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to a stimulus. In other words, the body’s reaction to being provoked, whether through trauma, stress, or diet. Inflammation is often targeted as the “bad-guy” in research, but inflammation is a necessary part of healing.
However, chronic inflammation (the kind persistently caused by diet and stress) is believed to be a contributing factor in many of today’s autoimmune responses and chronic diseases, including heart disease. Some other issues linked to inflammation include thyroid problems, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel, type 2 diabetes, depression and other anxiety disorders.
While I don’t believe in diets, I have to admit, I’m also a “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it” kind of person. I feel guilty putting down any particular way of eating, if I haven’t tried it myself (aside from the Keto diet, which I personally believe should only be used for certain persons, under medical supervision.)
Last year, I stumbled across several different versions of elimination diets. The purpose of these food plans, is to eliminate only those inflammatory foods for a period of time, allowing your body to heal and recover, and then re-introducing them slowly to see how they are tolerated.
Each elimination diet was a little different, but all of them seemed very restricting. I had been curious about them, but never quite curious enough to take the plunge.
So after starting this blog, and talking often about real food, this seemed like the perfect time. We’re just coming out of the holidays, and I personally had been noticing symptoms of a little too much sugar in my own diet.
Here are the foods that I planned to eliminate for 30 days.
Going into it, I was nervous about eliminating dairy. We had switched our butter and milk to grass-fed dairy products several years ago. Aside from that, my dairy intake was already pretty limited. I did a deep dive into the dairy we consume here.
The nuts, legumes, and grains would be just a bit tricky.
I knew that eliminating sugar and alcohol wouldn’t cause any issues, because as we all know, they’re not foods we should be consuming on a consistent basis anyway.
My biggest concern with this way of eating, was that I enjoy having dairy, nuts, legumes, and quality grains as a part of my normal diet. I felt fairly certain that the only foods really impacting my health were the sugar and alcohol. I also knew that at the end of the 30 days, I would happily re-introduce these foods back into my diet as tolerated. Buuuttt…I was curious if all of these other foods were really impacting my health.
Quitting a Diet
Let me premise this paragraph first by saying that I used to quit things. There was a point in my life, where if I tried something, and it was too hard, I quit. I’ve worked hard to make sure that I no longer approach life and commitments in that way.
However, I also strongly believe there is a major difference between quitting because something is hard and quitting because it’s just not working.
If something is obviously not benefitting you it’s OK to stop. Would you continue an exercise plan that you don’t enjoy, just for the sake of it? I hope not! If you’re not in it, then you’re not benefitting your body at all. That doesn’t mean you stop exercising, it means you find a plan that works for you.
I was prepared for this way of eating. I shopped, planned, prepped and I was ready to go. I knew that I was eliminating a common source of fat (dairy), so I planned accordingly and made sure I had a variety of other options to choose from.
The first 2-3 days of eating this way felt reasonable. I was consuming a lot of protein, vegetables, and doing my best to make sure I had enough fat and carbs. But by day four, I felt really off. I had a major decrease in energy and waves of hunger pangs. By day five, I felt hungry constantly. I rarely made it more than two hours without feeling like I had to have food.
At the end of day five I decided I was going to reintroduce dairy. I stuck the remainder of the plan out for one full week, and then decided this was simply not for me.
All of that being said… my very first thought when I decided to stop was, “I failed.” <—and this is the exact reason I do not believe in placing extreme restrictions on the way we eat. We should never feel guilty for choosing to nourish our bodies one way or another. We’re allowed to change, improve, modify, but I never want to view eating any form of food negatively.
Anyone can eliminate alcohol and sugar to make their body feel better. That’s not a diet. I tried it, but I didn’t see the need to continue eliminating food groups that can be very beneficial and I enjoy, only to resume the way I usually eat in 30 days.
Do I think an elimination food plan is doable? Absolutely. People do them successfully all the time. However, I also started researching and found that a lot of people stopped for reasons similar to mine.
Everyone’s body is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Another reason that trendy diets can be so frustrating. But my experience wasn’t all negative. Here are few of my final takeaways from the elimination plan:
The need to very carefully avoid sugar was really helpful, and I’m excited to continue to follow that part as much as possible!
I found some amazing new recipes that I can’t wait to share.
Eating quality, whole foods will have a positive impact on your health, but it doesn’t have to be complicated!
Sugar is everywhere. Preparing for this elimination plan was a good reminder of that!
Check product labels - not necessarily for nutrition facts, for ingredients! Look for sugar, dextrose, syrup, in their various forms and processed additives.
Planning/prepping make a BIG difference. It took some extra time up front because I went a little beyond what I usually do, but I didn’t have to do any additional prep on busy weeknights before dinner.
Eat until you’re comfortable, not stuffed. Don’t obsess over portion sizes, but be mindful of how you eat and how you feel.
Eat responsibly. Seriously, it’s OK to enjoy life, but you also only get one body. Take care of it.
Incorporating healthy fats makes all the difference. Every time that I felt extremely hungry, I knew it was because I was struggling to get enough fat in my diet.
You can eat well without counting, tracking and eliminating. By focusing on protein, fruits & veggies and occasionally using quality grains, you’ll naturally reduce carb intake to an appropriate amount, eliminate sugar, and eat a balanced diet.
Every person is different. As individuals, we have to find a way of eating that works well for us, without placing unrealistic restrictions on our day to day. Some people may need to avoid specific foods out of medical necessity. Totally fine. Other people may avoid certain foods based on ways that their body responds. Also, perfectly OK. You may decide to simply reduce the amount of a certain food you consume.
The point is that being mindful of what we eat, being honest about our food habits, and being intentional with how we nurture and care for our bodies will go a long way in terms of managing our health.
As a friendly reminder, I am a registered nurse, not a dietician. I have experience helping people achieve wellness through a balanced lifestyle approach. However, every person is different with their own medical history and personal needs. This is not to be used as medical advice.