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Sunday
Oct162016

Should You be Following an Elimination Diet?

I recently saw an Internet meme depicting a woman sharing a recipe with her friend, proudly proclaiming its compliance with her gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, fat-free, and soy-free diet. The punch line? She was sharing a glass of water.

It seems like every time we turn around, a new suspected food villain emerges. A quick trip to a natural grocer shows more and more “something”-free options, like gluten-free oatmeal and dairy-free yogurt. Since when did so many foods become enemies of our health? Or, the better question to ask is…are they? It’s not at all surprising that, outside of life-threatening food allergies, there’s a pervasive societal skepticism over the necessity of it all. It’s sometimes even snubbed as a completely made-up, pretentious, and unfounded diet trend of the affluent. What’s the real story here?

Truth be told, each one of us has a complex and beautifully unique metabolism. The dynamic interplay between individual genetics, environment, biochemistry, and physiology dictates how weight, energy level, and even mood responds to a particular nutrition approach. As humorous as the diet meme is, some food elimination tactics are necessary for some people to reach optimal health. For others, eating a completely non-restricted yet balanced diet, based on unprocessed foods, yields a healthy body composition, in-range lab markers, and a fabulous level of vitality. How do you know which camp you fall into? And more importantly, what do you do next?

Gut Instinct

Those who may benefit from an elimination diet usually have some underlying imbalance in gut and digestive health- even if overt symptoms of digestive imbalance such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn, and constipation are not present. Our GI tract is physiologically married to our immunity, skin health, brain and nervous system function, and more. Hippocrates even famously proclaimed that “all disease begins in the gut.” Because digestive health is so interwoven into these countless other systems, food reactions can actually show up in a variety of ways that seem like they have nothing to do with digestion.

For example, most people with chronic sinus congestion, patches of dry or scaly skin, or persistent fatigue often do not immediately consider food reactions as a potential root cause-- unless they are also running urgently to the restroom or doubled over with stomach cramping. However, these seemingly unrelated symptoms are some of the most telltale signs that the gut is not happy. Others include difficulty losing weight, seasonal allergies, and autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (a leading root cause of thyroid dysfunction), lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. While each one of these does require medical management, the importance of diet and potential food reactions in conjunction with the plan of care cannot be understated. It’s also worth noting that having a significant history of NSAID use or taking rounds of antibiotics can take a toll on gut health, so be sure to stay in tune with your body’s signals if those apply to you.

The challenge is that some of the potential warning signs, like stubborn fat or fatigue, are pretty generalized and non-specific, meaning that it is hard to tell for sure whether or not a particular complaint may have a food trigger. Unless, of course, you follow the gold standard: an elimination diet.

Process of Elimination

It’s not uncommon to have reactions to more than one food, which, without the right support, can add a significant layer of frustration to the trial-and-error game. If someone has a sensitivity to say, gluten, tomatoes, and eggs, eliminating just one of those at a time would result in minimal symptom relief, often leading to the potentially misguided conclusion that the individual food that was just eliminated “must not be it.” While it can seem like doing a full elimination trial is impossible (glass of water, anyone?), it absolutely can be done successfully when you have the right guidance.

For those that have under-the-radar food sensitivities, the rewards of pinpointing the trouble food or foods are well worth the short-term hassle. And, in most cases, an elimination diet should be a temporary approach until the culprits are identified. Otherwise, the restrictive nature can create stress, lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, create imbalances in your nutrition habits, and sadly, create feelings of isolation in social environments that revolve around food that may feel off-limits.

Generally speaking, a full two to four weeks of 100% commitment lays the groundwork for success, provided you are focused on supporting overall digestive health during the process: chew your food thoroughly, heighten your attention to stress management, and consider extra gut-friendly supplemental support (ie quality digestive enzymes and pharmaceutical grade probiotics). The end of this short-term elimination diet leads to the most important piece: the re-introduction phase. At this point, one eliminated food is reintroduced at a time, followed by three to five days of elimination again. If no issues creep up, the food is likely to have a green light to be a regular part of the routine. However, if you notice discomfort or concerns from reintroduction (ie nasal congestion, aches, puffiness, etc), you may want to reconsider. 

“So, what can’t I eat?”

Here’s where we get personal: it depends. Your recent fat loss progress (or lack thereof), current symptom complaints, and readiness to change have a huge bearing on whether or not you should follow an elimination diet. If you’re ready to reject the exhausted, achy, sub optimally feeling status quo and commit to a real change, then this might be worth some real consideration.

Prior to beginning, it may be helpful to complete a food sensitivity test as a general guideline to help personalize your approach. While it is not typically used as a diagnostic tool, it can provide additional information to suggest foods to exclude during a temporary elimination phase.

It is assumed that if you are ready for an elimination diet, you are mentally ready to prepare for and commit to a diet that is full of whole, real, nourishing food and free of processed food. Generally, here’s what should be included: quality meat, fish, and poultry sourced from healthy animals raised on their natural diet, lots of organic, colorful vegetables, adequate unprocessed fats and oils, and real-food carbohydrates such as fruit and starchy tubers. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad, right?

When focused on eating this way, it’s easier to stomach (forgive the pun) the commitment to remove several common culprits: gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, egg, shellfish, corn, and sugar. Sound familiar? These are all purposefully and mindfully eliminated on the Life Time D.TOX program. To boot, some people struggle with several concurrent concerns, like GI symptoms, autoimmunity, ongoing fatigue, and skin issues. In these cases, a temporary tightening of the dietary reigns to also exclude nuts, seeds, legumes, and plants in the nightshade family, like tomatoes and eggplant, can be a game changer. While many of these foods are generally considered healthy and encouraged on a balanced and complete nutrition program, imbalances in gut health and immune system function can create challenges in how our bodies response to them. The truth is, if you’re stuck with uncomfortable symptoms, you do not truly know what role, if any, that some of these foods could be playing. The good news is that partnering with a nutrition coach can simplify this entire elimination diet approach into a proactive, doable phase in your nutrition programming.

Before you start building internet memes about being on an ice and water elimination diet, check out the sample day below:

 

  • Breakfast: Turkey breakfast sausage patties made with Celtic salt, sage, thyme and rosemary, served with a side of cinnamon-roasted sweet potato wedge.
  • Lunch: Grilled, wild-caught whitefish with thinly sliced lemon, fresh parsley, and capers over organic mixed greens and a side of melon cubes.
  • Dinner: Shredded grass fed beef roast made in a slow cooker with oregano, savory spices, rainbow carrots, and root vegetables

That’s a much better, isn’t it? Maybe, perhaps, this thing is worth a try.

The best thing since sliced bread

Our nutrition team has seen and heard countless testimonials and case studies from those who have committed to a short-term elimination diet, prioritized healthy mealtime habits, supplemented strategically, followed through with step-by-step food reintroduction, and most importantly- listened to their bodies. They’ve often found renewed energy, weight loss, reduction in aches and pains, improved digestion and clearer skin. The most amazing part is that, although an elimination diet is designed to be temporary, we’ve heard story after story of people who, while initially hesitant to start, end up surprising themselves by continuing on without including several of these foods as part of their regular routine. The benefits the experience are well worth it.

You’ll discover one of two things: your body either thrives of an all-inclusive, whole foods diet, or your metabolism, wellness, and energy are in a much healthier, happier state with a balanced diet that excludes specific foods that do not make you feel like your best self.

We live in a food landscape that pulls us in every direction but healthy. While an elimination diet may not be the easiest approach at first consideration- is it really easier to not do anything and perhaps remain stagnant in a stage of health that is anything less than stellar?

If you feel like an elimination diet might be for you, or if you have questions about D.TOX, gut health, or where to start, e-mail weightloss@lifetimefitness.com. We are excited to hear from you!

In health, Samantha Bielawski, Registered Dietitian, Program Manager - Life Time Lab Testing

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.  

 

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