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The Basics of an Elimination Diet

Something you’re eating just might be “eating you”

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I was eating a great diet!  But I was tired, had some joint inflammation and wasn’t sleeping well.  That may sound like a lot of people you know.  I was also a single mom with a young child which was certainly contributing to my lack of sleep and energy.  BUT.  There was one thing for me that really didn’t make sense.  I would get these waves of exhaustion that would come over me.  A lot of times it was right after eating.  I kept thinking, this doesn’t make sense.  I’m eating great.  I shouldn’t have these challenges.  I should have lots of energy.

What I didn’t realize then was some of the things I was experiencing were indications of food sensitivities and poor gut health.  The two can often go hand in hand.  Food sensitivities cause some people gas, bloating, skin issues and more.  I needed a reliable way to find out WHY this was happening and, more importantly, WHAT was causing my discomfort. That’s when I found out about the Elimination Diet.

I discovered I wasn’t quite as healthy as I had assumed.  I went through some pretty major detox and through the course of the Elimination diet found that I was sensitive to gluten, corn (mainly in the form of flour) and peanut butter.  Back then I ate quite a lot of whole wheat products and peanut butter.  (Peanut butter crackers are so handy for busy moms chasing little ones.  Am I right?)

Once I finished detoxing, cleaned up my diet and focused on supporting my gut (think probiotics), I began to heal and have the steady energy I should have had all along.  Sometimes what’s healthy for one person isn’t so healthy for another.  I did miss my peanut butter crackers for awhile.  But I didn’t miss those waves of exhaustion.  Thankfully those are gone!

The Elimination Diet is an approach to figuring out which foods you are sensitive to so that you can eat mindfully and keep your digestive symptoms at bay. The gut is where the majority of your immune system is and is considered the “second brain” in your body, so it is important to keep it healthy and keep things running smoothly. In the elimination diet, you start by eliminating common culprits of digestive upset and common food allergens. You dial down your daily meals and snacks so that you are only eating real, nourishing foods that will not hurt your gut. In fact, you can begin to heal your gut with a proper elimination diet. The categories of food to eliminate are:

  • Grains – The foundation of the Food Pyramid for decades, it has now been discovered that many people have a hard time digesting grains, including corn.
  • Processed Foods – There are many toxic chemicals (like MSG, artificial colors, and flavorings) and other undesirable ingredients (like GMOs, trans fats, and HFCS – High Fructose Corn Syrup) in processed food that can impede digestion and even cause disease.
  • High Glycemic Foods – Large amounts of starches and added sugars can feed a bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and other gut dysbiosis problems.
  • Gluten and Fructans – Found in many grains, gluten has been found to be one of the causes of leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases. Fructans are found in FODMAPS (short-chain carbohydrates) and can also feed those bad bugs in your gut.
  • Unrefined Oils – These can cause inflammation throughout your body.
  • Feedlot Meats and Dairy – Meats and dairy from the conventional food system are full of hormones, antibiotics, and all sorts of other chemicals from the low quality feed they are given.  They also simply aren’t healthy because of the lifestyle they are forced to live which is unnatural to how they should live.
  • Eggs, Peanuts, and Shellfish – All are common food allergens.
  • Gut Irritants – Caffeine and alcohol can wreak havoc on your gut. Avoid these while you are healing.

There is a 3/3 guideline for adding foods back into your diet:

“Do not conclude a food causes symptoms, unless symptoms occur within 3 days of eating the food and occur consistently on 3 separate occasions after eating it.”*

You will know, as you begin to add foods back in, what works and what doesn’t. I suggest starting slow; give the diet a few weeks to work, and start adding foods back in one at a time. If a food causes symptoms on 3 different occasions, you will know that you are sensitive to that food and to avoid it for a while and try again later. Eventually you will come up with a plan that your body will love. Everyone is different and finding your own unique way of eating to feel good will change your life.

During all of this I became a certified Holistic Health coach.  (psst.  Health coaches have usually had to deal with their own health challenges before they became coaches.  It’s the quest for knowledge for your own health that gets  things started.)  I also now offer what I call a Refresh (because that’s exactly how you feel afterward – Refreshed).  It’s part detox/cleanse and part elimination diet.


*Heizer, W D., Southern, S, McGovern, S. The Role of Diet in Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: A Narrative Review. JADA 2009; 109: 1204-1214

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