WHAT IS AN ELIMINATION DIET ANYWAY?
The elimination diet. There are different versions of this diet/strategy, but at their core they all share the same basic concept of cutting out certain foods, one by one, or group by group, and then reversing the process by re-introducing those same foods incrementally, and documenting or reviewing how the foods might be affecting you now that they have been out of your system for a while.
The logic here being that we as humans are adept at getting-on-with-it, and there may be many times when we are being badly affected by a food, and suffering for it, but not aware of the direct link. This is a survival mechanism often at play, as we numb out pain, and other vital information to do other, more practical things.
Typically, those who use this approach are looking to identify foods that may be causing excessive weight gain, bloating, or real, intolerances, sensitivities, allergies, and illnesses.
DOES IT WORK?
Let’s get straight down to business and give you the juice before the squeeze.
Does it work?
The answer is, it depends.
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but if you can make nuance your friend, you will learn how to swim in the ocean of grey, instead of being yo-yo’d like a pin ball, up and down between black and white thinking.
BLACK AND WHITE THINKING
Black and white thinking says that the elimination diet is the best way to tackle all your problems, or it’s a useless strategy, and maybe even dangerous.
Nuanced thinking is open to the possibility that it might help, and that it might not. You have two options to find out:
Research more about it, and learn about people’s first hand experiences
Experiment and try it for yourself..... or both options
To give you some scope, here’s my own personal experience with trying an elimination diet.
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
At the tender age of 18, I had just stopped boxing. I had been training 6 days a week, but now I Found myself doing no exercise at all. Needless to say, I had a habit of eating big, but now, without the intense exercise, I wasn’t using all of that energy.
I gained a fair bit of weight. My face was also covered in acne, and my ears stuck out. You can only imagine that I got teased a little bit. I was constantly depressed, and having disturbing thoughts.
One day, the girl I’d had a crush on, made fun of my weight and it was just too much for me. I decided that I needed to make a radical change.
I’d heard that sugar, and fatty foods made you fat! In that stage I also binged a lot…. Like a lot a lot, and every time I would eat sugary processed foods, I could feel my skin burning, and it seemed as though it had a direct impact on my acne.
This was the kind of acne where there’s barely any clear skin visible. Think spots, on spots, crusting skin, and a thin residue of the latest cream I was using to treat it.
I told my dermatologist that it was food that was affecting my acne. She laughed and said that was impossible. I was convinced. I was living it, not her.
I stopped seeing her, and decided that I would take matters into my own hands.
NO MORE MR. NICE GUY
I went home. I assessed all the foods that I thought were sugary, fatty, processed, and ‘unhealthy’ and I cut them out. That meant chocolate, sweets, take-away food, bread, vegetable oils, sugary alcohol, and anything else that didn’t seem like a wholefood or drink.
It was difficult at first. In the first month, bread and chocolate were all I could think about. I don’t need to tell anyone reading this how hard dieting is, or how good bread and chocolate taste, but my motivation was driven by pain, and pain is a force to be reckoned with.
While most people last on these kind of diets for maybe a week or two, I lasted for 3 years. I cured my acne within 2-3 months, lost weight incredibly fast, my mood was radically altered, and I felt the creepings of joy for the first time in years.
IT’S A MIRACLE!
If you’re into sensationalist diets that sell hot and fast, then yes, it was a miracle. It was like medicine. It did cure my problems, and it did leave me feeling like I knew far more about my body, than any medical professional ever could.
Not to mention that after 2-3 months, it wasn’t hard to do anymore. It wasn’t an effort to not eat those foods. It was easy. I just didn’t want them. Another miracle!
I saw no need to reintroduce them, as I thought I had clearly found the culprits to all of my problems.
THERE’S OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE A ‘BUT’ IN HERE SOMEWHERE
…But, I did stop after 3 years.
Because I was missing out on life. I was living like a monk, in a world where people were eating and drinking all of these things.
Special occasions are marked by food. Celebrations of all kinds, and even just day to day living we use food to come together, and connect.
I had none of that joy from food. My joy was plain vegetables, and chicken breast. Pleasure was missing from my life in so many ways.
HOW WE EAT IS OFTEN A METAPHOR FOR HOW WE LIVE
Food is meant to be exciting and pleasurable, and how we eat can often give clues to how we behave in other areas of our lives.
I was severely lacking in pleasure in other areas of my life. I was living in extremes. Emotionally wound up so tight, unable to relax, and surrounded by a world where people seemed to be smiling a lot more than me.
Joy was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to be perfect, and perfection is impossible. It is a delusion that says you can be flawless but in truth leaves you vulnerable to everything.
So one day I stopped. Again, it was because of a girl I liked. She offered me something like a piece of chocolate. I refused it, thinking my skin would erupt instantaneously in a breakout of acne, and she just calmly told me to relax.
I’m a sucker for a pretty face, and so I went for it.
Nothing. No weight gain. No acne. No mood change.
Long story short, from that point on I reintroduced those foods I’d forbidden myself, and here I am today. Stable weight, great energy, and no acne.
BUT IT’S NOT SO BLACK AND WHITE
Those years were marked with a lot of experimenting, and they still are, but the most important thing I found was balance.
If you go to any extreme you will find complications. I didn’t just start eating donuts by the crate. No, I introduced those foods slowly. Not only was I hesitant after so long of not eating them, but the taste was not as good as I’d remembered. They really were too sweet, and greasy -for the most part at least- and I was happy with my new heightened awareness.
Also, before I’d cut all of these foods out as a spotty 18 year old, I was of course going through puberty, which has its own hormonal rollercoaster to contend with, not to mention that I was binging on a lot of sweets, etc… and had a very limited concept of nutrition. In those 3 years I learnt a so much about nutrition, so I of course I had a more balanced approach once I returned to eat more variety.
I do of course go overboard on highly processed foods sometimes. When I do, I often get more spots, still to this day. Not enough to worry about, but enough to still feel certain that my intuition was right when talking to my old dermatologist.
Strangely enough, I now probably lose the most weight when eating those treat foods. They are usually so filling for me that I have no appetite afterwards. Another tell tale sign that skinny is not a valid marker for health.
The biggest test for me however, is my energy and my mood. These are two components that are essential to my wellbeing, and are without a doubt, 100% affected by what I eat. As true as it was at 18 years old, it is today at the age of 30.
If I eat too much of processed foods, then I become lethargic, and less motivated in many ways. The deceptive thing about these foods as well can be that the effects are often delayed. They taste great in the moment and offer a sugary rush, but then that high is compensated for later by feeling low on energy in the coming days.
I normally feel like my energy is around 80-95% of full, kick-ass capacity (give or take a few days if I can’t get enough sleep). If, however I eat too much processed food some days, my energy levels can easily go down to 30-40%. Again, it doesn’t happen immediately though, which is where we can get confused. We might not even notice the effect until the next day, or further in the week, and so we don’t immediately connect the low energy and mood, to what we eat.
In fact, feeling 100% rarely feels like you’re flying high. It often just feels ok. Nothing extraordinary. It’s not until you go down significantly, and then you rise back up that you notice.
You need immediate evidence or documented evidence. With these two methods of feedback, you’re able to see the direct effect they’re having on you.
For that reason, I really like elimination diets….. for myself……sometimes! They can encourage you to document how you’re feeling physically, and without such documentation, it can be easy to lose track of things like energy levels, digestion, and exercise performance/recovery, and many more components.
I’m glad I did it. I still try from time to time eliminating, and then reintroducing foods and drinks. The most recently has been coffee, and when I reintroduced it, it was one of the worst experiences I’d had in a long time…. Plus, it just tastes bad to me. My energy has never been better without it, and I sleep like a baby.
IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU?
It depends. It’s worth bearing in mind that it can run the risk of you excluding foods that you might need. Many people go vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, and beyond, with the idea that they are ‘purifying’ and ‘detoxing’ their bodies, but are consequently missing essential nutrients.
Sometimes we can convince ourselves, or be convinced by others, that we have an intolerance because that food, or group of foods is out of fashion, and so exclude something unnecessarily.
Another big risk factor is for those with eating disorders, or those who have a propensity to latch on to extreme, all or nothing thinking. Demonizing foods can set up patterns of behaviour that spill out into other areas of life, and further currupt your relationship with food and a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
If you suspect an intolerance, or you would like to try it, then it’s usually best to consult your medical professional before attempting to omit foods from your diet. Especially major food groups like proteins, dairys, fruits, and vegetables.
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