Now that you have decided to embark on an elimination diet for yourself or your child, there are a few things that I would like to cover. Remember why you are doing this and what you hope to gain. This isn’t a fad diet.
8 Tips for a Successful Elimination Diet
Clean Out the Kitchen and Prepare Wisely
This means to research why you are choosing this elimination diet and to take the time to understand and commit to it. If your head is not truly in the game, your chances of successes are minimal. Your health is at stake, educate yourself on why the foods you have been consuming may be the root (or aid in symptoms) of chronic issues. Clean out your pantry and refrigerator and start from scratch. Many seasonings and packaged items that you may think to be harmless are full of flavorings and other products not allowed on your elimination diet.
Meal Prep is Key
Find a few easy to prepare, easy to cook, and easy to clean up after recipes as your staples. The key is not to replace your current diet’s unhealthy foods with a diet-friendly version, but instead, try new foods or learn how to prepare things in new ways. If eating out was a go-to, preparing lunches for the week ahead of time will keep you on track. If dinners are always a last-minute thought, utilizing a slow cooker or pressure cooker may help you out. You can wash, chop, and portion foods after your grocery trip to make them easier to grab for meals throughout the week.
Keep a Food Journal
You need to write down your food consumption times and ingredients. You should also include your mood, sleep patterns, and ailments. You will be able to start seeing a pattern throughout your elimination diet that will help you to decide what foods are safe and which are trigger items.
Have a Support System
Are you entering this elimination diet alone? If a friend or family member is also on board, it will be a bit easier to stay motivated. But it’s completely doable to sail these seas solo, too. It is, however, important to have support. This means that your spouse or family should avoid eating your biggest non-diet foods in front of you. They can help you choose meals, talk with you about your experience, or simply cheer you on. Talking with others who have been through an elimination diet is also extremely helpful (and motivating).
Never Have an Empty Kitchen
When hunger strikes, food needs to be available. Keep high protein, diet-safe snacks premade and portioned and ready to grab. Toss some in your bag and pack a few for work (or school for a child). Visit the grocery store when needed to replenish fresh produce and other daily staples but stick only to what is on your list and avoid aisles filled with foods you are avoiding.
Do Not Cheat
Remember that this is not a weight-loss diet. If you cheat early on in an elimination diet, you will have to start from day 1 again. You will have to give the body time to detox from the consumed items. An elimination diet is done to learn the foods that trigger your ailments. Once you hit ‘baseline’ for a few weeks, you will be allowed to add back in items one at a time. From that point, you will know what triggers your body. Then it is up to you to either limit or permanently eliminate them from your daily life.
The Two-Week Detox Period
The first two weeks will be hard. I am not lying here. The body will go through a detox with headaches, mood swings, and exhaustion, especially if your previous diet consisted of highly-processed foods and lots of sugar. Push through and stay strong. Your body needs to be cleaned out so you can become the healthiest you possible.
The detox period does end, and you will feel better. You should even start feeling great. Your energy should increase, sleep should be easier, and your mood should improve. Some people feel so good that they become scared to reintroduce foods at the end of their elimination diets, but remember that you want to learn exactly what’s negatively affecting you. Knowledge is power, don’t be afraid to gain this knowledge.
Your Diet is Your Business:
You do not have to explain your choice to anyone, but if someone genuinely is interested in learning about your journey, you can share whatever you choose with them. That being said, you have the right to tell others to worry about what’s on their plate not what’s on yours.
For a school-aged child:
Talk to his teacher prior to beginning the diet. Let her know why you are doing this and ask her to please follow your food guidelines while he is under her watch. This goes for any childcare provider, including family members.
An Elimination Diet For Breastfeeding Moms?
I’ve discussed the importance of seeing through an elimination diet for yourself and your children, but I have not mentioned new moms yet. When speaking with pregnant clients, I tend to discuss their nutritional habits, which leads into the rabbit hole of gut health conversations. We know that gut health is linked to just about everything in the body, and that holds true for the developing fetus and soon-to-be newborn. The mother’s gut health effects the baby’s gut health, which impacts a newborn’s skin, sleep, moods, poop, and so much more.
Breastmilk is superior to formula. This is not an opinion, but a fact. A breastfeeding mother has the power to manipulate and heal her infant’s gut and eliminate or improve issues that arise all by eliminating or adding foods into or out of her own diet.
Within those first few months of infancy, many parents assume the ‘witching hours’ of crying are normal. They assume that butt rashes are to be expected. They think that spitting up is why bibs were created. They believe that their baby just doesn’t sleep, but that there’s nothing to do but survive this stage. Many turn to medications, ointments, sleep training, formula, baby cereal, or other non-natural band-aids that truly cause damage to a baby. It is lack of education, and the lack of support from a pediatrician that sends parents running for these alternatives.
These issues are not normal and are a sign that something is off. More often than not, the answer lies in learning what foods (through the mother’s milk) are causing these issues. This can be discovered through an elimination diet. Food sensitivities are typical with infants, as their digestive systems are still maturing and are not ready to handle specific proteins (or other nutrients) just yet. Every baby is different, but there are many similarities that have been discovered.
I highly recommend to pregnant women in my practice the elimination of dairy beginning around 36 weeks gestation. This gives the body a few weeks to process and detoxify from the food group. Dairy is milk products derived from cow’s milk. They are over processed and stripped of all natural nutritional value anyway, so eliminating them should make your body feel better overall. However, cow’s milk is meant to be processed by baby cows, who have 4 separate compartments to their stomachs. They are also meant to weigh a ton (a literal ton). Our newborns are not meant for this. Their tiny bodies ache when trying to process dairy. Eliminating it before baby arrives should help keep those first few weeks peaceful.
There is no research to share on food preservatives being passed from a mom and found in breastmilk, but elimination diets speak for themselves. While you can choose to eliminate dairy alone, your baby may need more or other items removed as well. Dairy is typically the best place to start, as the newborn period can be overwhelming. If your baby is already in your arms, and you are experiencing troubles, you may choose to consider a full elimination diet that includes processed items, gluten, dairy, and other common triggers.
Things to Note with a Breastfeeding Elimination Diet:
There are two guts working, not just one. This takes more time. It can take 2-4 weeks before seeing improvements. However, many mothers testify that results can begin to be noticed within days.
Just as typical elimination diets go, breastfeeding diets aren’t forever. Once baseline is established, (meaning the issues have leveled off and life is calm and happy) you can continue for several weeks and then start adding in one eliminated item at a time to see if the issues arise again. Baby’s digestive systems tend to mature between 4-6 months of age, so what bothered them as a newborn may be better tolerated later.
A baby’s sleep should improve, but the goal is not to train the baby to sleep through the night. Research links dairy and wheat consumption to poorer sleep patterns. This isn’t surprising because it’s hard to sleep when your stomach hurts. Finding the trigger foods will help your baby find better sleep, but infants are supposed to wake to nurse throughout the night. An elimination diet may help them sleep longer, but no baby is meant to sleep 12 hours without waking.
Colic is a term used to label all crying with no known reason, and while an elimination diet should help most colicky infants, there may be other issues to look at.
The main food allergens (dairy, wheat, eggs, nuts, etc) are the most common foods to eliminate, but consider citrus foods, processed items, dyes, and grains, as they are becoming more well-known for causing issues today.
(The American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s clinical protocol for infant allergies offers a plan for an elimination diet.)
Whether you have read Part 1 to this series or not, perhaps you aren’t needing to know about children’s elimination diets, I want to share with you the overall reasons to seek out an elimination diet for yourself.
We live in a world full of chronic illness, excess weight, sleep troubles, anger issues, focus problems, and so many other ailments that seem to affect most to all of the adult population. While so many adults choose to berate the younger generation, or even friends and family over choices to lead healthier lifestyles by stating, “We turned out fine! You are being absurd,” there is so much these adults don’t consider when saying this. The truth is that most adults battle known or unknown autoimmune issues, are on medications, struggle with ailments that they fail to include when they tell everyone how “fine” they turned out.
Our bodies are not meant to consume the processed food items that have become our daily indulgences. We are exposed to toxins through the air and water. We don’t sleep enough. We are over-worked, over-stressed, and under-exercised. Our bodies are inflamed, and inflammation is the trigger to a list of ailments to long to completely list. However, the following problems are a few of the most commonly experienced:
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Bowel Disorders
- Skin Problems
- Brain Fog
- Joint Pain
- Heart Disease
- Bone Health
Recent research has revealed that most, if not all, age-related diseases are linked to inflammation. This is a huge red flag. This means that we can aid our own bodies in battling against the ailments that most struggle with as they enter and live through retirement. No, an elimination diet will not prevent you from being diagnosed with cancer in the future; however, properly completing a thorough elimination diet will open your eyes to what impacts your body. This gives you the power to reduce inflammation and lead a healthier lifestyle with fewer chronic problems.
What is an Elimination Diet?
A diet that takes out foods from your typical diet. Generally, all chosen foods are eliminated together and left out until the person begins to feel/act/achieve a ‘normal’ state for a period of time. Once this occurs, foods are very slowly reintroduced, taking extreme note on behaviors, sleep, moods, skin appearance, and overall health. Through the reintroduction stage, you will discover what foods ‘trigger’ or intensify your ailments, symptoms, and disorders.
An elimination diet is not a diet to be followed forever. It lasts as long as needed to establish a baseline, and after reintroduction, an adaption then becomes the new lifestyle. For example, if dairy is a trigger, you may choose to remove it permanently from your life, or you may strictly limit it. The elimination diet is hard to complete, but the information is beyond valuable, and your health is worth improving.
What Else Will I Experience?
During an elimination diet you will not only help lessen the inflammation within your gut and body as a whole, but you can expect the following:
Begin the Journey of Healing the Gut.
There is no ‘quick fix’ to healing the gut. This is a great start, and with further research, you will be able to continue feeling the benefits.
Find Food Intolerances
Everyone has food intolerances. Not everyone has the same intolerances. You will learn what foods bother you, trigger ailments, or stir up issues you didn’t even know that you had.
Learn Boosting Foods
After noticing what foods bother you, you will notice that some actually give you more energy, help you sleep easier, and boost your mood.
Increase Your Energy
Without foods that inflame your gut, the body works easier and more comfortably. This impacts your energy level positively.
Motivation to Balance your Lifestyle
Good habits generally trigger more good habits. When you start feeling better, you should be drawn toward including more exercise, less alcohol, and more sleep in your life!
Inflammation of the gut is linked to chronic problems throughout the entire body, including neurological and autoimmune disorders. While we continue to wait for the science to catch up to what so many of us have already concluded, we can begin to take charge of our lives, and almost more importantly, our children’s lives.
I’m creating a three-part series on the topic of elimination diets because there are generally three types of individuals who are looking to learn more about them. Adults who are tired of band-aid solutions that cover symptoms, mothers who are exhausted and frustrated with colicky, cranky, diaper-rash-butt babies, and parents who want to figure out what is happening with their children. All three of these people have walked through my office doors. Some find it amazing that something as simply difficult as an elimination diet can change all of their lives.
I’m starting the series with elimination diets for kids because this generation is struggling with gut-inflammation like no generation before them.
Look around and you can see the ever-growing number of children suffering from ADHD, ADD, Autism, Type 1 Diabetes, IBS, Obesity, Cancer, Depression, Anxiety, Sensory and Mood Disorders. While some of these disorders cannot be fully recovered from, they are all linked to a leaky or inflamed gut. As the gut is truly the ‘brain’ of the body, it feeds the real brain and cannot do as intended when it is inflamed and not functioning properly.
One (not so) small example: Researchers have found that putting ADDHD children on a restrictive diet to eliminate possible, previously unknown food sensitivities decreased hyperactivity for 64% of kids.
Children have age on their side, but their young guts may not even know how to be healthy or function correctly. If your child struggles with food allergies/sensitivities, rashes/skin issues, extreme emotions, tantrums, sleep troubles, lack of control, or any of the above mentioned issues, I highly recommend beginning an elimination diet to heal the gut and learn what specifically effects your child.
I am a huge proponent for daily probiotics and utilizing digestive enzymes, but you should get to the root of the issues. We cannot eliminate the environmental toxins from our children’s lives, but we can work to restore gut health and possibly ease their chronic ailments.
What is an Elimination Diet?
It is exactly as it sounds. A diet that takes out foods from the typical diet. Generally all chosen foods are eliminated together and left out until the person begins to feel/act/achieve a ‘normal’ state for a period of time. Once this occurs, foods are very slowly reintroduced, taking extreme note on behaviors, sleep, moods, skin appearance, and overall health. Through the reintroduction stage, you will discover what foods ‘trigger’ or intensify your child’s ailments, symptoms, and disorders.
What Elimination Diet is Right for My Child?
This is where things get hard. There are several diets you can choose from, but there is not a one-size-fits-all magic trick diet. Well, there might be, but many parents opt to go for an easier introduction to the food-eliminating world. The GAPS diet will bring you back to the very root of foods and keep you there until the gut is healed. It then slowly reintroduces foods as you record the body’s reactions. It is a wonderful option, especially if things do not change after eliminating the basic foods.
There are three basic types of elimination diets:
The strict, limited foods “oligoantigenic diet” which eliminates nearly all foods except a limited number that generally cause no problems.
The multiple-food elimination diet removes foods that most commonly cause food sensitivities. Dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, soy, eggs, nuts, citrus, processed foods and artificial colors and flavors top the list of what should be first eliminated.
The single-food elimination diet removes only one or two foods at a time. It is most helpful if you are highly suspicious of one or two items your child is eating. However, this diet typically leads parents into a multiple elimination diet, as it is not as accurate.
You can learn more about diets geared specifically toward ADHD, Autism, and other ailments like the Feingold Diet. You can try a month of Whole30 and see if it leads you to any easy solutions. You can create your own diet if you feel comfortable doing so. However, a diet is not an overnight miracle. It takes 2 weeks or so for the body to detox from the foods it is used to. This detox period can be emotional and extreme, especially when a child is use to consuming food dyes, sugars, and processed items on the regular. Stay strong and committed, keeping other foods out of reach and sight. Once your child reaches ‘baseline’ or what you would consider ‘typical’ for a 3-week timeframe, you can add back in one thing at a time. Reactions (emotional, mental, or physical) can occur up to two days after eating something.