Starting an elimination diet can be a great way to learn what foods are triggers for your condition, and it can ultimately help you feel better when you know what foods to avoid (I recommend starting an elimination diet that eliminates corn, soy, gluten, dairy, and eggs). However, there are a few common mistakes that people make that can cause an elimination diet to be less successful. I asked my fellow practitioners at the Blum Center for Health for their experience with elimination diets; here’s where we found were the most common mistakes:
1. Not scheduling appropriately.
A proper elimination diet requires a time commitment of about five weeks, including the reintroduction process. Scheduling this over a vacation, wedding, or a bunch of parties can be very challenging. Sometimes it’s better to wait until you have the time to do it correctly.
2. Having too many processed foods.
Don’t just aim to follow trendy labels like "gluten-free" or "dairy-free." Eating an excessive amount of processed foods, even if they're free of the eliminated foods, may not lead to the results you want. Try to stick with all-natural, whole foods.
3. Not having enough healthy food.
Because you are eliminating foods, it’s important to plan and make sure that your body gets the nourishment it needs. An easy way to do that is to add in plenty of vegetables, fruit, and clean sources of protein. By doing this, you'll also feel less restricted.
4. Loading up on certain foods.
Nuts, avocados, and maple syrup and honey are common staples that people tend to enjoy a little too much when on the elimination diet. Eating these in excess can cause GI distress, which can interfere with your ability to pinpoint food sensitivities and give your gut the rest it needs. These foods are also either high in calories, fat, or sugar, which can lead to unintended weight gain.
5. Restricting calories.
You can’t just take out the bad without putting in more good. For every calorie that you are removing from your diet, you should replace it with one from a nonprohibited food, particularly foods filled with antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients, which can help your immune system in a number of ways.
While some people do use elimination diets to lose weight, restricting calories can create unwanted symptoms like fatigue that mask how you ought to feel. You shouldn’t be starving yourself or skipping meals; rely instead on natural reductions from cutting out processed and inflammatory foods.
6. Failing to keep a written log of symptoms.
During the reintroduction phase of the process (when you add back the foods you’ve eliminated), you have to write it down and analyze everything you consume right away. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to remember accurately, you’ll never see the patterns, and the whole experiment becomes a missed opportunity. Here’s a simple chart for keeping track.
7. Expecting that you will feel miraculously better.
Everybody is different, and it may take time to see and feel results. While many people do feel great, don’t expect to feel amazing on Day 1, Day 3, or even Day 15, but rest assured every day is a step closer to healing your gut and identifying triggers for chronic ailments.
If you’ve unsuccessfully tried an elimination diet previously, now may be the time to try again. By following the proper steps and avoiding these common mistakes, you will better understand which foods you should avoid and which foods fit into a balanced diet that can keep you feeling great.