As regular readers will know, I am now in the full throes of my elimination diet. It began, 5 weeks ago by cutting out a crazy number of foods from my diet. I am now at reintroduction stage, which is really interesting, and I feel a little like a baby tasting everything again for the first time, more appreciative than ever of the textural differences, flavour nuances and versatility of certain foods.
Doing this elimination feels like the one of the toughest dietary challenges I’ve ever put myself through – but the things I will discover are going to be invaluable for my sustained gut health.
I have been working closely with nutritionist Molly Sanders of duo Molly and Erica, who has been guiding me over Skype each week of the protocol and for this post, I wanted to ask her and Erica more about how elimination works. Together, they answer some of my early and ongoing questions about elimination.
What is the purpose of an elimination diet?
M: Essentially, to eliminate any foods that could be causing or contributing whatever condition, especially inflammatory conditions, a person may be suffering from. For the “average Joe,” so to speak, a less strict elimination diet for 10 days to a week, especially in the spring can be really useful to give the body and the digestive tract a bit of a break.
E: It’s a great way identify which foods people are sensitive to. Eliminating all of the most common allergen foods and then reintroducing them back into the body one by one over a long period of time. This method helps the person listen to their body’s reaction to each individual food and helps to isolate which foods are causing the problems in their daily diet.
Who is an elimination diet useful for?
M: Mainly people with inflammatory conditions (Crohn’s, eczema, colitis, etc.) would benefit from an elimination diet and people with multiple allergies.
What are the different stages of an elimination diet?
M: First we cut a number of foods out completely – anything that may be causing an issue for you. Then a long series of adding foods in one at a time. The first stage can be anywhere from 1-3 months. The second stage is a pretty slow going process, adding in a new food item every 3 days or every week.
What sort of things will I be cutting out?
M: It really depends on what the issue is. For most people the big allergens – gluten, dairy, corn, soya, eggs – they all go temporarily.
Why can’t I eat certain foods like white potatoes, they seem harmless enough?
M: Great question – if you’re doing elimination to try to manage an inflammatory issue, it’s likely you’ll be eliminating a class of foods called nightshades: aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes. There are actually tonnes of nightshades in nature, but only a handful of them are edible – the rest are seriously poisonous, even deadly. The inflammatory reaction some people get is due to the presence of glycoalkaloid – found in small amounts in the above mentioned potatoes / aubergines etc , but the buildup can become an issue – so it’s a good one to experiment reintroducing.
How important are supplements during elimination?
M: You can certainly do an elimination diet without supplements, and if you are doing a lighter style elimination protocol, you may not need them. But for people with serious inflammatory conditions, the supplements are important not only to keep you from feeling like crap, but to make sure you’re getting high doses of nutrients that may not be coming in through the diet or may not be properly digested.
Are there some foods that you’ll discover you can never eat again?
M: For some people, that’s a possibility but for most things you’ve eliminated, you will eventually be able to include it back into your diet. When I say that to clients, they tend to go into mental freak out – “What if I can never eat bread? Or cookies?” But the truth is when you come off an elimination diet – or when you try out a food that you’ve eliminated and you have a bad reaction, you won’t WANT to eat that food again because it simply makes you feel like crap.
E: There are definitely foods that you will know you will not want to eat again because they cause you so much discomfort and pain. Eating wheat and gluten to me is not worth it as it bothers me so much. Most people cannot imagine giving it up but that is because they do not understand what it feels like to have such an adverse reaction. It is much easier these days to have diet specifications because there is much more information out there.
Can you do elimination on a tight budget? Surely lots of fresh produce is going to cost a fortune?
M: It’s absolutely possible! Your grocery bill may be higher, but especially for people used to eating out for many meals, the cost will balance out. Otherwise, frozen veggies and fruits are good options, root vegetables are inexpensive and don’t forget to check out the reduced produce section – bruised or ugly doesn’t mean it’s gone bad!
E: Fresh produce does cost more than more carbohydrate centered foods. But you also can see how much money you are saving that you are not spending going out. We as people are more inclined to spend £6 at a café for a croissant and a latte but are quite shocked when six apples cost us £2. It all does balance out in the end but at the time can seem to be much more money when you go buy your groceries all in one place versus going out to eat here and there.
Can I go out with my friends to eat?
M: You can do whatever you want…BUT it can get a little tricky. Definitely look at the menu before you go somewhere and don’t be afraid to call ahead or ask your server what kind of accommodations that can make for you.
E: In my own personal experience as I have Celiac’s disease, going out to eat was the toughest part. One of my favourite things to do is go check out new restaurants. A few things you can do ahead of time:
1. Call the restaurant or go online and check out the menu, see if there is anything that can be modified to suit the stage of elimination that you are at. Also call ahead and let them know that you need to make modifications and if the kitchen is willing to help you out, most times they are but some kitchens are strict.
2. Always eat before you go out, most often than not you are restricting carbohydrates that are more filling, so therefore make sure to eat something at home first so that you can feel satiated when you do go out with everyone, this will avoid you feeling too envious of the other patron’s plates.
Gutsy: If I can chip in here, I would say this has been one of the trickiest parts for me, certainly in the initial phase, while cutting most things out. Eventually once rice was reintroduced, I could enjoy Sushi and Japanese soups with rice noodles. I realised how important going out was for me, but I saved a pretty penny in the mean time when I was focused on batch cooking great meals and staying at home! Inviting friends over to my place more just made me feel good, even if they wanted to have a spoon of mayo or a side of pitta break with their dinner. It’s much easier to stay firm and not tempted at home in a controlled environment!
Isn’t it impossible to do something like this alone?
E: Most definitely! That is why Molly and I are in this business together, we recognise that a support system is key to success. We have a page called Molly and Erica’s Brazen Foodie Community. This is a place where people can ask each other questions about what they were feeling by removing the foods, share recipes and gripe with each other if they wanted. When I first discovered that I was Celiac ten years ago I relied heavily on these kind of group chats as it was not as well known back then.
Gutsy: For me, having my partner do it with me was key. It meant we just got on with it, and moaned together. But having Molly & Erica’s food page and support over Skype was such an asset. We laughed and swore a lot, they are great because they don’t judge or take the moral high ground when you getting emotional over sugar cravings, they totally get it! I would whole heartedly recommend working with them, they are a formidable down to earth bunch of nutritionistas!
What are the key tools, ingredients and components to a successful elimination diet?
M: The nitty gritty is going to change from person to person, but the big one across the board is definitely preparation. As I mentioned, the “no-go” list is going to be different from person to person, so finding recipes that work for your restrictions, planning your meals, planning your snacks, and having an honest conversation with yourself about what you will struggle most with are both really important.
E: Time is a word I heard a lot when Molly and her community did the first elimination diet together. It does take some time to organize your meals to ensure that you have enough food throughout the day to keep you satiated. Sunday is meal prep day and you do have to dedicate yourself at least a few hours to do the most time consuming meals. Having a blender is very helpful as you can make a smoothie every morning to help with removing the carbohydrates. Many people rely on toast, muffin or cereal in the morning as something quick with their coffee on the way out the door. A smoothie can be prepared the night before and quickly blended in the morning.
Can you tell us a success story of one of your clients that followed an elimination diet?
M: I have a client now that has been going to doctors for years with a general feeling of crappiness and couldn’t really find out much. So when I saw her, I suggested a pretty intense elimination diet and a hefty supplement regime – I suspected across the board nutrient deficiencies was an issue. She responded within days! Higher energy levels, better sleep. Within a few weeks quite a few of her complaints – joint pain, spasming colon, even brain fog – were gone or significantly better. It’s just amazing to me, and of course to her, how quickly she felt better.
E: Molly did a great job at committing to the elimination diet, she recognised when she was feeling frustrated and reached out. She was more upset that she was getting upset, that is why a community is so important. She also had a lot of fun on it, her energy levels were increasing so much. She had to take walks around the block of our office every hour just to get it out all the extra energy. She also felt really good as she was no longer irritated by foods that were bothering her – she even stopped having period cramps!
Gutsy: And my success story is still in the making, so stay tuned on this blog for my updates.
Thanks to Molly & Erica for their contribution!
love Gutsy x