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Episode 193: How to Survive an Elimination Diet (Part 1)

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If you know me, you know I am not a fan of deprivation for deprivation's sake when it comes to dieting.

I don't think we should be cutting out foods willy nilly, and I certainly don't think we should cut out entire macronutrients.

However the old adage is true: one person's superfood is another person's poison. And sometimes there are certain foods that cause a reaction in our body that prevents us from looking or feeling our best.

And the only way to truly know what those foods are is through an elimination diet.

An elimination diet is where you remove a food entirely for a minimum of 23 days, reintroduce it for a day, and then take it back out for 3 days while you watch for a huge range of potential symptoms.

Why is it necessary to do this when we have things like food sensitivity tests? 

First of all because food sensitivity tests are still in fairly new and they're far from perfect.

I may use them in my practice as a starting point, but I still recommend doing an elimination diet utilizing the results those tests give you to confirm whether or not they hold true. 

Also there are literally hundreds of ways you can have a negative reaction to a food. Sensitivity tests only test one of those reactions. Different foods can cause inflammation, feed pathogenic bugs in our gut, turn on and off different genes, changes in hormones, leaky gut, autoimmune conditions, the list goes on. 

I know... I myself had to go on a 9 month elimination diet not because of food sensitivities but because I had opportunistic bacteria overgrowing in my gut that I needed to kill off. And so the journey began.

In that time I couldn't eat chocolate, coffee, grains, legumes, sugar, dairy, alcohol, garlic, onions, or fermented foods.

Here's how I did it without losing my ever-loving mind.

1. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can't.

When you look at the list of foods I couldn't eat during my elimination diet you may wonder what in the world I ate. And if you followed me on Instagram during that time, you'll know I ate a lot of really good looking stuff. 

That's because I focused on the huge variety of fruits, veggies, meats, and seasonings I could eat. 

Constantly focusing on that do-not-eat list only makes us feel frustrated and deprived, and honestly it stunts our creativity when it comes to putting our meals together. 

2. Know where to look for recipes.

These days, so many people have food sensitivities you can basically type fill-in-the-blank-free recipes, and a ton of options will come up. 

But I'm personally a huge fan of the Whole30 cookbook, The Defined Dish blog and cookbook, and for my particular elimination protocol the SIBO Made Simple Cookbook.

3. Don't get hung up on following recipes to the letter.

I once had a client find a recipe that she wanted to try but she said 'I can't eat garlic though.' The recipe had 2 cloves of garlic in it. 

The point is, just because there's an ingredient or two that you can't have doesn't mean you can't just omit or replace said ingredients. Think about recipes more as guidelines and inspiration than as a rule book. 

For example, you could swap a protein for a protein like chicken for fish. Or if it calls for potatoes and you can't have nightshades, you could do another starchy veggie like yucca root

4. Know what questions to ask at restaurants.

Eating out might be one of the most challenging parts of following any elimination diet because obviously we just don't know what all is going into even a seemingly simple dish.

Here are some things to look out for and ask about:

  • Whether a dish is cooked in oil or butter.
  • Sugar is going to be found in almost all sauces, dressings, and condiments, which is why I always bring my own, or ask for some oil and lemon.
  • Ask them not to put butter on top of steak or other proteins (they usually do this to add flavor and shine to a dish).
  • Don't shy away from bringing what you need. During my elimination diet I regularly went out with my own container of vegan pesto, coconut milk for coffee, and chimichurri sauce to add flavor to the very plain dishes I had to order.
  • Ask what meats are marinated in. My friend had a horrible reaction after eating plain grilled chicken at Chic Fil A because they marinate their chicken in milk.
  • And the overall golden rule: don't assume anything. When in doubt, always ask.

5. Find other ways to enjoy life that don't revolve around food.

If food and drinks are the main way you enjoy your free time and bond with friends, you're going to need to find some alternatives unless you want to be extremely bored and feel very left out for a while. 

Check out this episode for some great ideas!

6. Keep it simple when you need to. But also have fun and experiment when you can.

On days I was super busy I always kept my meals and snacks extremely basic so I wouldn't get overwhelmed.

Snacks were usually a fruit and some nuts or some chopped veggies with guacamole.

And dinners were usually a one pan meal of roasted chicken or fish, non-starchy veggies, and potatoes. In fact, more often than not I did this in the air fryer which made it go even faster. And I would just change up the flavor by swapping out seasoning.

With that said, there were times I was really craving something fun, different, and exciting. And since I knew I couldn't safely do that at a restaurant I would usually find one new recipe to try each week that might be a bit more work intensive, but that would have a fantastic pay off. These meals kept my inner foodie sane. 

Want to hear the next 5 tips for surviving an elimination diet? Join us same time, same place next week!

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