Was it Ms. Scarlett in the kitchen with a candlestick?
Solving the mystery of our digestive issues can sometimes feel like a game that has gotten very old- a daily cycle of bloating, poor elimination, rashes, fatigue and worse. In fact, food sensitivities and other GI disturbances have been linked to allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, dementia, infertility, insomnia, mood disorders, and migraines.
Our gastrointestinal system is a wondrously complex system that does much more than digest, absorb and eliminate- it’s an independently working nervous system (the enteric nervous system)- replete with neurotransmitters, hormones, chemical messengers, enzymes and a diverse colony of beneficial bacteria. In fact, the gastrointestinal system represents almost 70% of our entire immune system.
Imagine your gut like an overlooked precious natural habitat that your very life depends on, and you’ve got the picture!
Many things can go awry in our gut: inflammation, intestinal permeability, enzyme depletion, microbial imbalance, detoxification dysfunction, motility problems. Each one of these factors can be impacted by food sensitivities.
Determining the source of your digestive issue sometimes requires acting like a detective, carefully noting symptoms and triggers. A great tool for this process is doing an elimination diet. While the idea might be a bit daunting initially, with the right support this tool can become the most profound self-experiment you have ever done. It is inexpensive, fairly simple to do and empowering. Elimination diets are not flawless, but continue to be the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities. Food allergy testing does exist, however it tends to be pricey and not very reliable.
An elimination diet is just like it sounds- a process by which foods are eliminated for a period of three to four weeks for adults and then deliberately re-introduced one at a time to determine if symptoms are observed. Almost anyone with digestion problems can benefit from an elimination diet.
Who should not do an elimination diet? Individuals with respiratory reactions (asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or emphysema). Anyone with a personal or family history of anaphylaxis (a severe whole-body allergic reaction) should not do an elimination diet, as it could be life threatening. People who suspect celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, have anemia or a family history of celiac should be screened for it first, as it is hard to diagnose this autoimmune condition after a long-term elimination.
At Double Happiness Health we tailor elimination diets for the individual, taking into consideration many factors guided by research, clinical experience, patient symptoms and history and what the patient is willing and able to do. One size does not fit all but the more suspected food groups you take out the better, although it is admittedly more challenging. Often it is the foods we eat every day that we have become sensitive to without realizing it. The basic foods to exclude in an elimination diet are gluten, dairy, egg, soy, corn, smoked or processed meats and smoked fish, shellfish, nuts, lentils and most beans, alcohol, coffee, citrus and nightshade vegetables.
Mon Dios, what CAN you eat!? Actually, that leaves enough for a pretty satisfying diet. You should not go hungry- this isn’t meant to be like fasting and there is no need to micromanage your diet except to eliminate the suspected items. Be sure to drink plenty of water- about 60-70 ounces per day. Include fresh meat, fresh fish, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, most veggies and fruits, adzuki and mung beans, unsweetened rice milk, coconut milk, avocado, seed and seed butters, olive oil and coconut oil. Get our shopping list here.
No one is expecting you to eat like this forever- that wouldn’t be very fun. I liken the process to tossing pebbles into still waters- we can see the ripples, whereas toss a boulder into a choppy lake and you’d hardly notice. This temporary diet allows the gut to become very calm and easier to observe.
After about three weeks of the elimination phase, you begin to re-introduce a single food for a single day. You would not introduce both gluten and dairy on the same day or on subsequent days. Say you reintroduce gluten on a Monday- you can have a slice of toast at breakfast and wheat pasta at dinner. Then you will resume your elimination diet, looking out for reactive symptoms Tuesday and Wednesday. If you have not observed any symptoms, you can try reintroducing another food such as dairy on Thursday. It’s a good idea to keep a food/symptom journal during this time. Symptoms or reactions you might notice: bloating, bowel changes, headaches, brain fog, sinus or respiratory issues, breakouts or rash, fatigue and inflammation or joint pain. If you note symptoms, keep that food out of your diet for the rest of the re-introduction period. The whole process is completed within 5-6 weeks.
It’s not an easy process, but it is very do-able and can be very rewarding. Some tips:
• Planning ahead for your meals is critical to success.
• Prepare by having the foods you will need in advance.
• Toss or hide foods (really well) that might tempt you.
• Cook bigger portions that can last over several meals.
• Try some recipes out before you begin so they are familiar and easy.
• Calendar the elimination diet when you do not have big social events or travel plans.
• Make sure your family and friends know that you are doing it so they can support you.
• Make social plans like going to the movies or a hike so that you don’t feel isolated.
Be sure to seek out some cookbooks and blogs as inspiration, and work with DHH practitioners before and during your process. Acupuncture support helps to balance your qi and optimize the healing of your gastrointestinal and immune system. We can also help guide you regarding tailoring your elimination diet just for you and to create a treatment plan to optimize your health.