Guest post written by: Aglaée Jacob, MS, RD
Elimination diets have become the answer to everything in the holistic and alternative health communities.
Gut issues? Try an elimination diet.
An autoimmune condition? Go on an elimination diet.
Skin problems? Start an elimination diet.
Hormonal imbalances? You should consider an elimination diet.
Trying to lose weight? Elimination diets are the solution.
Feeling stuck in your career or unhappy in your marriage? Elimination diets are the answer to all of your problems.
I wish I was joking but it’s pretty close to what’s out there these days.
There are now hundreds of books recommending different variations of an elimination diet to cure almost every health problem, to the point that it’s very common for many people to have been on at least one, if not many, different elimination diets… without even getting the results that they were looking for!
Elimination diets can truly be THE MOST USEFUL TOOL when trying to better understand the relationship between the foods you eat and how you feel in your body… as long as you don’t fall into any of these 5 common traps.
- Using the “more is better” approach
The main purpose of an elimination diet is to eliminate certain foods or food groups from your diet to press the “reset button” of your body and allow you to identify the problematic foods that contribute to your health issues.
The eliminated foods can include gluten, grains, dairy, soy, sugar, vegetable oils, nuts, nightshades, eggs, FODMAPs, etc. It can be any one of these things (or any combination), depending on your diagnosis, symptoms, background, and the practitioner your work with.
The problem is that many tend to adopt the “more is better” mentality with many things in life and elimination diets are no exception. So many elimination diets out there are quite drastic and only include a handful of foods.
Yes, you may feel better initially but most people actually start feeling worse very quickly after embarking on an extreme elimination diet.
There are 5 main reasons to this:
a) cutting out too many foods & food groups is likely to result in nutritional deficiencies,
b) eating the same foods over and over again can put you at risk of becoming sensitive to the very foods that used to be safe for you,
c) this approach is not sustainable for most people, even for only 3-4 weeks (especially with kids, a career, and/or a social life!),
d) the psychological deprivation it causes is a source of stress that can become a barrier to healing, and
e) this approach omits the fact that true holistic healing is not only about food and your physical health (more on this with mistake #3).
This is why a more gentle approach focusing on 2-3 foods / foods groups at a time can often be WAY MORE EFFECTIVE to improve your health, both in the short- and long-term.
I’ve had many clients not getting the results they were looking for after having been on multiple very restrictive elimination diets prior to working with me finally feel better by simply eliminating gluten and reducing (without eliminating) sugar and FODMAPs. As simple as that. That’s just an example but I’ve seen this happen more than once.
The elimination diet that will work best for you will depend on a variety of factors but I can guarantee that the best elimination diet for you is A LOT LESS restrictive than what you think it should be.
A very cookie-cutter and drastic elimination diet is like
using the same hammer to bang on everything instead of carefully
choosing the tool that is best suited to your situation.
The truth is that less is actually more with many things in life, including elimination diets.
- Forgetting that healing takes energy
The majority of people going on an elimination diet to improve their health also end up cutting out too many of the precious calories their body needs to heal. Yes, I know. Calories are NOT everything but we can’t deny the fact that the body needs energy to heal. And that energy comes from the calories in the food we eat.
It’s understandable that most people involuntarily end up taking in fewer calories after eliminating many foods & food groups. This is because the focus is on eliminating all the “bad” foods and we often forget to replace the foods we cut out with other safe foods to compensate.
The body requires a certain amount of energy every day to allow your brain, digestive system, heart, lungs, kidneys, and all of your other important organs to function. We also need extra energy for our daily activities. And on top of that, we should not forget about the additional energy our body needs to heal!
Yes, healing takes energy!
How many times have I seen new clients come to me stuck on their healing journey to discover that the main reason they were stuck was because they were simply not eating enough!
Please don’t make that same mistake. Do NOT undereat on your elimination diet and make sure to replace the lost calories with other safe calories from healthy fats, quality protein, and safe carbs.
- Focusing on only one root of health
A strong tree needs strong roots. And not only one root… many of them!
Health is exactly the same. Food is one root but we cannot focus on only that one root and hope to have a healthy tree when many of the other roots may have been neglected for a very long time.
Holistic has become a buzz word but few people use it the right way. Holistic healing is not only about treating the whole body… it should also include mental health, emotional health, and even spiritual health. True holistic health encompasses the body + mind + heart + soul.
health = body (physical) + mind (mental) + heart (emotional) + soul (spiritual)
Looking at your physical health only and focusing on using food to heal your body may work short-term, but it will leave you stuck in the long-term. Here are some of the ways you can water as many roots as possible to strengthen your tree of health.
- BODY: prioritizing sleep, avoiding overexercise, drinking enough (quality water), reducing alcohol and coffee, yoga (which has been proven to be at least as effective as a low-FODMAP diet for gut health!), improving air quality, looking at environmental toxins, decreasing your exposure to EMFs (electro-magnetic frequencies)…
- BEYOND THE BODY: not constantly stressing out about your elimination diet, not overfocusing or overanalyzing your symptoms, giving yourself permission to slow down and not constantly be doing something, meditating or deep breathing, watching your self-talk, creating healthy boundaries around social medias, work, and elsewhere in your life, eliminating toxic people around you, yoga, spending time outside in nature, connecting more deeply with loved ones, taking on a gratitude practice, reading mindset books, practicing daily prayer & mantra…
As you can see, food is only one root and all of the other roots listed above need to be watered and nourished as regularly as possible. You can’t improve your health with food at the detriment of your mental and emotional health, especially by causing stress and a scarcity mindset with your elimination diet.
A holistic elimination diet should not only eliminate potentially problematic foods,
but also many of the other factors that could be toxic to your mind, heart, and soul.
- Introducing fear during the food reintroduction phase
The proper way to do an elimination diet should include a carefully planned reintroduction phase where foods are reintroduced one at a time after the initial elimination phase… but that’s unfortunately the step where a lot goes wrong for so many!
The most toxic ingredient that is often added during the reintroduction phase is fear. Some people start feeling so much better on their elimination diet that they become afraid that any of the foods they eliminated will make them feel awful again. And rightfully so.
But overstaying on your elimination diet past its expiration date can be a costly mistake in the long-term. Remember that food is not poison. Some food is medicine and some food is simply just not so good for you, but not poison.
The goal is to allow you to find the least restrictive way to eat to feel as awesome as you can and the only way you can get there is by starting reintroducing new foods to broaden your diet and decrease your risk of developing new food sensitivities or causing nutritional deficiencies.
And remember that fear equals stress for your body. It activates your sympathetic nervous system, which then works against the whole digestion process. This is why fear actually makes you much more likely to react to the foods you eat.
So take a few deep breaths… and enjoy the taste and texture of the new foods you reintroduce during this phase while trusting that your body is doing the best it can! Even if you react to a food you reintroduced, I promise that it doesn’t undo all of the good work you’ve done in the last weeks.
Your body has an amazing ability to heal. Yes, even your body.
- Taking on an elimination mindset
As soon as we hear “elimination diet”, we start thinking about all of our favorite foods that will be taken away from us. That’s just how the brain works. It’s actually wired to give negative things 5 times more attention compared to positive ones. But that scarcity mentality can set you up for failure before you even begin your elimination diet.
Our mindset is the lens through which we look at everything and it can have a profound influence on how fulfilled you feel in your life and how successful you are with your elimination diet to improve your health. And if your mindset is an elimination mindset, it could be a big barrier to healing.
Shifting your mindset away from scarcity towards a mindset of growth, abundance, and healing is as simple as consciously reminding yourself of the positive things you have in your life, cultivating trust, and focusing on the vision of health you desire for yourself. It can include a gratitude practice, repeating mantras like I trust the process, I trust my body, or I am healing, constantly reminding yourself of the vision you have for your health and your life in 3 years from now for example, or anything else that helps you shift out of the lack mentality.
Even though it’s relatively simple, it’s not necessarily easy and it is definitely something that needs to be repeated daily, if not multiple times a day. It is a daily practice. So keep practicing and keep healing. You’re already on your way.
Wishing you the most healing elimination diet so that you can move on to living your most fulfilling life!
If you would to enter for a chance to win a copy of my new book, CLICK HERE. (The giveaway will end Monday July 2nd)
By Aglaée Jacob, MS, RD, author
About the author:
Aglaée is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with over 12+ years of experience, and the author of Digestive Health with REAL Food. As someone who has dealt with her fair share of digestive and hormonal issues, including IBS, SIBO, and PCOS, she learned to heal her digestive issues by developing her own natural and holistic protocol, which she outlines in her book. In addition to these health issues, Aglaée overcame nearly two decades of disordered eating and poor body image and has now recovered from binge eating disorder. Today, Aglaee is passionate about helping people struggling with health issues and helping women heal their relationship with food and their bodies—and the space where those two problems converge. Now that she healed herself, she loves eating (chocolate, plantains and cheese are her favorite foods!), yoga, traveling, practicing her Spanish and spending time in nature