When I had to undertake an elimination diet, I googled at length, and came away with precious little helpful information. Having now been on an elimination diet for around 18 months (minus holidays, Christmas, various falls of the wagon, and umpteen days where I quite frankly *had* to have some Giant Chocolate Buttons), I’ve gradually accumulated information from my Gastroenterologist, Dietician, and trial and error, and for me it was an obvious topic to cover for the A-Z blogging challenge.
What is an Elimination Diet?
If you are experiencing digestive problems or IBS which you suspect are attributable to particular foods, an elimination diet can be undertaken to determine which foods you are intolerant to.
What is involved?
For the first 2 weeks, you eat just chicken and rice, and drink water. At no point during that fortnight does breakfasting on chicken become any less surreal. If your stomach problems have not settled by the end of the two weeks, then your symptoms are not attributable to specific foods, and you can give up the elimination diet as a bad job (with a squeal of relief, and prompt pouncing on the nearest bag of buttons).
If within those 2 weeks you notice a dramatic improvement in your symptoms, then the good news is that your problems are due to a food intolerance, and by avoiding that food, you can make your life far more comfortable. The bad news is you now have the fun of identifying that food.
Why an elimination diet?
There is no other way to reliably determine whether your symptoms are related to foods or drinks
Introducing new foods
This is where the elimination diet can get very tedious. New foods can only be introduced one at a time, and each new food must be eaten for three consecutive days before it can be given a “Yay” or “Nay”. A bad reaction of the first day can just be your stomach crying “Holy hell, what is THIS??”, and it may well cope fine on day 2 and/or 3. The first time I tried porridge I could quite literally have curled in bed and cried at the horrendous stomach cramps. I was brave/foolish/reckless/all-of-the-above enough to try again the following day, and was right as rain. I personally have not persevered with a food for longer than three days with a bad reaction. It is (so I’ve read) worth noting the date that you tried it and coming back to it some months later – apparently intolerances can wax and wane.
A food diary is an absolutely essential part of an elimination diet; otherwise you won’t be able to keep track of exactly which foods are causing issues. I have one column for time, another for what was eaten, and a third for symptoms. From the diary I also learned that my symptoms follow a specific time pattern, and that has been immensely helpful in allowing me some dietary freedom. I now know that 6 hours after a problem food I will have severe stomach pain, and at 24 hours will have such stomach bloating that nothing in my wardrobe will fit and I will be viewed with compassion by women 9 months pregnant with quadruplets. On those “Get me chocolate buttons RIGHT NOW!!!” days, I do some quick maths, and decide whether I can tolerate those symptoms wherever I will happen to be at the time.
- Ask to be referred to a dietician – mine was wonderful
- Supplements are your friend. An Elimination diet will not harm you short term, but if you have a huge gap if your dietary options, make sure you supplement it (I take calcium because dairy is one of my intolerances)
- If you have a bad reaction, do not panic! Your stomach will settle down again eventually. If needs must, cut it back to absolutely definite safe foods for a couple of days.
- Balance. I kept a geeky chart of foods I was introducing to ensure my diet was as balanced as I could manage.
- That being said, if there is a food you would sell your Grandmother for, try it! It will improve your enjoyment of food immensely.
- Screwing up is not the end of the world! If you fall off the wagon, cut yourself some slack. You can get back on again any time you chose. At Christmas, for example, I eat whatever the hell I fancy for at *least* a week, and anyone asking me when the baby’s due can go hang!
- See below for list of foods that are *likely* to be fine, and foods that *may* be more likely to cause problems. I started with likely-to-be-fines so that I could get several new foods in quickly to give me more variety. After that I went more on personal taste. Don’t panic at the length of the problem list – I have pinned down 4 intolerances so far, and yet have successfully managed several on the problem list without issue.
Please note, the views here are my own, and the information gleaned by my own trial and error. I am by no means an oracle on food intolerances, and they are no substitute for the advice of a qualified Dietician.
Likely safe foods:
- plain, unprocessed meat
- fresh/frozen unprocessed fish
- all vegetables except those on suspect list
- all fresh/dried fruit except on avoid list
- soya products/rice milk/vegetable margarine
- salt/herbs/sugar/honey/spices (in moderation)
Commonly problematic foods:
- processed/smoked fish/shellfish
- citrus fruit/apples/strawberries
- wheat/rye/oats/barley/corn/custard powder
- dairy/eggs/chocolate soya milk
- tea/coffee/fizzy drinks/fruit squash/alcohol
- corn oil/vegetable oil/wheat germ oil
- yeast/yeast extract
- gravy mixes
- salad dressings/ketchup/sauces