7 Crucial Elimination Diet Strategies for Success
I understand that following an elimination diet takes a lot of determination. When you go through the trouble of revamping your kitchen and avoiding many of your favorite comfort foods, you want to make sure you do it right. It takes serious focus and discipline to achieve optimal results, so I’m going to show you how to do it right.
If you are going through all that hard work, you will want to follow the elimination diet correctly the first time around!
Merely avoiding allergenic and inflammatory foods for a few weeks is a great start. However, it is not enough if you are trying to complete a full elimination protocol. Below are seven strategies to help you experience a higher level of success when following an elimination diet protocol. Here are seven crucial strategies for you to follow to achieve ultimate success.
1. The Elimination Diet Process: Time Matters
Think of how long you have been feeling sub-par. Months, maybe even years, right? So why would you give up after ten days? You may not experience any change in symptoms after a week or two, but that does NOT mean you should stop what you’re doing! Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen plenty of “10-Day-Miracles”, sometimes even 3-day miracles.
However, the majority of people following an elimination plan typically need to follow the program for a minimum of 3 weeks or 21 days to see genuine progress. I often recommend a 6-week elimination protocol because this is approximately how long it takes for the human immune system to “reset” itself if you will. For those who have been feeling poorly for years, I often have them follow the approach for 12 weeks before reintroducing foods.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, or 10 days for that matter. The same is said for the rebuilding of your immune system!
2. Eat in a Way That Supports a Healthy Gut
Most of your health as a human being is determined by the health of your gut. Plain and simple. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Hence why your food choices matter SO much!
Almost 80% of the immune system harbors in the digestive tract. Think of it as a microscopic village inside your intestinal wall. We want that village full of kind, hard-working (bacteria) soldiers who do their best to keep out the invaders. The soldiers are on the front lines of the battle for us, constantly monitoring everything we ingest or inhale. These guys help regulate our immune response.
When our gut experiences inflammation, it is a result of the invaders (bad bacteria) overthrowing the soldiers (good bacteria). To safely and effectively rebuild our army of soldiers, we have to focus on two key points.
a) Strict removal of inflammatory foods (as well as any we may have a known food intolerance to). By doing so, this dramatically decreases overall inflammation. Our immune system begins to heal as a result.
b) Incorporate more phytonutrients, prebiotics, probiotics and more protein-rich food sources.
Unfamiliar terms? That’s OK, here’s a quick cheat sheet:
Phytonutrients: The beautiful colors covering your fruits and vegetables. Phytonutrients are chemical substances that help protect plants (and humans) from a damaging environment.
Probiotics: Good bacteria found primarily in our gut. These good “bugs” help maintain the microbial balance in our digestive tract while improving digestion and immune health. Great examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, Kombucha tea, coconut kefir, and Kvass.
Prebiotics: These little guys are undigestible plant-fibers that live inside the large intestine. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics. The more we consume prebiotics, the more fuel our probiotics have to live off and grow. Typical examples include garlic (preferably raw), leeks, Jerusalem Artichoke, onions, acacia gum, and bananas just before they are ripe.
Protein Rich Food Sources: Foods that contain high amounts of good quality protein include, chicken, fish, legumes, grass-fed beef, seeds such as hemp, chia, flax, etc.
3. Use Phytonutrients as Your Secret Weapon
Eat the rainbow! And no, I am not referring to Skittles. By choosing a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day, you are providing your body with a large dose of phytonutrients and antioxidants. Phytonutrients and antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals and substances found in plants. They help our body fight free radicals while promoting natural healing and detoxification in our organs.
Phytonutrients and antioxidants are the hidden gems most famous for protecting plants in nature from outside invaders such as bugs and fungi. When we as humans consume phytonutrients and antioxidants, we too receive an extra line of defense from the outside world.
This concept is especially important for athletes. When you are training day in, and day out, the cells in your body experience oxidative stress. Antioxidants, in particular, are responsible for helping to “calm” the stress happening inside your cells. This is why I say phytonutrients and antioxidants are critical for reducing the burden of inflammation.
4. Decrease Your Toxic Burden
Yes, toxins are an undeniable thing. No, this is not voodoo witchcraft. Just think about this from a fundamental standpoint. If you are putting all this effort into eating a certain way to decrease inflammation and feel better, why pollute yourself in another way? In other words, if you sit down to a beautiful meal of fresh produce, high quality-plant based fat and organic protein, don’t polish off your meal with a can of diet soda! That would be the equivalent of taking two steps forward only to take five steps back.
OK, so you say you do not eat processed foods. That’s great! BUT have you evaluated the rest of your kitchen? Consider checking the quality of your water at home. Avoid heating food in plastic containers. Choose organic produce. Purchase grass-fed, pasture-raised, and free-range sources of animal protein. More research is starting to show that these options contain a better nutrient profile and contain fewer contaminants than conventionally raised animal protein.
Concerned about a budget? Check out ewg.org to see which types of produce would be best to buy organic. With animal protein, get to know your local farmers. More times than not, buying quality protein straight from the sources is more cost-effective than the grocery store.
Sad but true: the vast majority of our food supply has been altered with the addition of preservatives, additives, artificial flavors and sugars, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides in conventionally grown food. You can read about this in our previous post about why you should consider gluten-free pasta alternatives due to the prevalence of Glyphosate in our wheat supply in the United States.
Toxins such as these are more heavily present in manufactured foods and conventionally grown produce. When we eat these foods repeatedly, we place extra stress on our liver. Try your best to eat fresh, whole foods while on the elimination plan. By doing so, you have covered all of your bases.
5. Stop Restricting Calories
Perhaps you are attempting an elimination protocol to lose weight. While in theory that sounds like a good idea, you really should be following a plan like this as a way to improve health while decreasing full-body inflammation. After all, an extremely restrictive food plan should never be followed for life.
If you find that you cannot survive to venture outside of your “food comfort zone” then that suggests there is an underlying issue that has yet to be addressed.
For the first few weeks, focus on the quality of your food choices. Ensure that you are choosing only the acceptable foods on your specific plan. If you spend all your time and energy calorie counting, you may find yourself hungry and miserable.
Living each day feeling angry, anxious, and stressed can increase inflammation. Not to mention you will likely be missing out on a variety of fantastic metabolism-fueling foods. Plus, many times weight loss will occur as a byproduct of decreasing inflammation anyway.
6. Strictly Remove Inflammatory Food Sources
Inflammatory foods are eaten more often than you think, so completely removing them for weeks at a time will offer more benefit than you think!
Not just weekly, but often 2-3x/day. So many of us fail to notice how often major allergens are added to the convenience items that we eat every day. I counseled an athlete last week who said: “I never, ever, ever, consume soy because I know it will give me man boobs.”
a) Soy will not give you man boobs.
b) I found soy in his protein shake that he uses in the morning after lifts, soy in the bottled salad dressing that he dumps on his salad at lunch, and soy in his favorite protein bar that he eats before bed. His mind was blown.
Needless to say, you are not scot-free just because you are avoiding that food in its natural form.
7. Listen to Your Body Talk
If you are not in tune with how you are feeling or which foods trigger reactions in your body, it is difficult to experience long-term success. Whether you take a few brief notes in your phone each day, you write an extensive novel on looseleaf paper, or you use an app like MySymptom Tracker, it is critical that you document the process. And remember, making a note of “good days” is just as useful as making a note of “bad days!”
In summary, following an elimination diet correctly is a bit trickier than most think. However, if you place a little extra time and effort into the process, your results have the potential to be life-changing!
Do you have certain tips or tricks that helped you achieve great success following a comprehensive elimination protocol? Let us know your thoughts below!
- Lozinsky AC, Meyer R, De Koker C, Shah N. Time to symptom improvement using elimination diets in non-IgE mediated gastrointestinal food allergies. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2015 Aug;26(5):403-8.