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Elimination Diet

Elimination Diet

Food intolerances and allergies are one of the fastest-growing health concerns today, and it’s estimated that roughly 20% of the population in the western world is affected by either of these conditions. An allergy is an immune reaction to a protein component in specific foods. This causes a massive release of histamine, which gives rise to itching, swelling and anaphylactic reactions. An intolerance is a reaction within the digestive tract, or other body organs, not the immune system. The response can take hours to develop and includes things like stomach pains, diarrhoea, headaches and skin rashes.

Addressing the various factors that influence the development of an intolerance or allergy, along with a therapeutic elimination diet (and gradual reintroduction), can potentially decrease the intolerance or allergic reactions that previously occurred. This is done with the aim of improving a persons quality of life, and also to avoid any long term restrictive diets that can cause nutrient deficiencies. Elimination diets can be a valuable part of a food intolerance or allergy management plan.
elimination diet
Today we are going into the workings of an elimination diet, and why this can be a significant step in reducing your food intolerances. We’ll take a look at other factors that affect the success of an elimination diet too. It’s important to note that you should always embark on an elimination diet under the guidance of a doctor, nutritionist or naturopath who specialises in this area.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet is basically the removal of certain foods from your diet, usually those that have been identified as potential problem foods. However, if you have no idea which foods are causing issues, or if you seem to react to everything, then removing a wide range of foods can be most beneficial. The foods are removed for up to 4 weeks, and then slowly reintroduced one at a time. This allows you to see if your body reacts to them upon reintroduction. The whole process usually takes approximately six weeks, but can take a lot longer if your case is complicated.

The elimination diet is regarded as the gold standard in food intolerance and sensitivity circles, and it allows you to experience firsthand the results that certain foods have on your system. This is very empowering and will enable you to then make decisions about which foods to consume or not.

Why the need for this?

Often the reason for our symptoms is on our plates. We are having reactions to the foods that we are eating, and unless we challenge this, we may not find out which foods are the problem. Many of us feel subpar all the time, and we think this is normal. We may lack energy, have achy bodies, foggy brains, and we don’t know how good we are designed to feel. Some other symptoms that can be caused by food intolerances include:

  • Diarrhoea and constipation issues, or alternating between both
  • Poor bacterial balance in the digestive tract, and problems such as SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • Enzyme deficiency in the stomach, leading to poor breakdown of foods
  • Nutrient deficiencies
    Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Inflammation through the digestive tract and whole body
  • Poor detoxification
  • Headaches and Migraines
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as food intolerances can impact every system in the body and produce a myriad of different symptoms. Undertaking an elimination diet is one of the first approaches that you can take if you are experiencing any kind of gastrointestinal symptoms, or any of the symptoms listed above.

What is tolerance?

We have three main barriers of entry into the human body, and they are the respiratory tract, the skin and the digestive tract. As individuals, we react to the foreign matter that enters our body through the above channels in unique ways. These range from no reaction at all, to a severe anaphylactic reaction. The level of response we have is our ‘tolerance’ level. 

There are several factors that affect our tolerance levels. These include:

  1. The strength of our immune system and the amount of histamine that is released as a result of exposure to the foreign body. When specialised cells in our immune system called mast cells react to foreign bodies, they do what is termed degranulate, or degrade. When this happens, they release a lot of histamine, which is what causes allergic reactions, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing etc. In this case, stabilising the mast cells is a big part of supporting the body, and this can be done through natural medicines and herbs.
  2. The strength of the digestive tract. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, if the gut lining is damaged and ‘leaky gut’ has resulted, this can cause many food intolerance reactions to occur. Primarily what happens in these cases is that the gut lining gets small holes in it, which then allow food particles through into the bloodstream. This sets off the immune system, as it thinks the food is foreign invaders. Many different symptoms can arise from this.
  3. The health of the microbiome is also important. If the bacterial balance in the digestive tract is out of order, this can create a lot of inflammation and reactions to various foods.
  4. The health of the digestive process and the way food is broken down in the body. If someone has, for instance, low stomach acid, they won’t be able to break food down efficiently. This can cause digestive discomfort and food reactions further down in the digestive tract. Working on creating a fully functional and efficient digestive process is also part of a food intolerance management plan.

How do we find our tolerance?

The way to find your tolerance level is to do an elimination diet. Upon reintroducing various foods, you take notice of any reactions that occur and how much of a particular food it took to produce this reaction. The point at which a reaction occurs is your tolerance level of that food. This can change over time, particularly if you do gut healing and detoxification work with a natural health professional. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to retest your tolerance to the foods that set off your symptoms previously. You may find that you don’t have an issue with them anymore, or that you can now tolerate more of them.

The steps of an elimination diet.

The steps of a healthy elimination program include;

Step 1 – Rest – elimination phase.

Step 2 – Reset – specific herbal and nutritional medicines help to reset the health of your gut and microbiome, theoretically allowing you to tolerate more foods than before.

Step 3 – challenge – reintroduce foods one at a time and assess reactions.

Step 1 - Rest phase

Okay, so elimination diets can be daunting, especially when you learn that the most effective way to do one is to remove the most amount of foods initially. However, there are still plenty of foods to choose from in the elimination/rest phase. This initial phase is called ‘rest’ because it gives your digestive system a rest from many foods. Hopefully, this includes the ones that may be causing your symptoms. The rest phase aims to remove any inflammation that affects the digestive barrier and is causing overactive immune stimulation.

The foods that are removed are selective to each individual, which is why we are not providing a list here. You can find lists on the internet, but an individually tailored approach is what works best.

Please note, the purpose of an elimination diet rest phase is NOT to remove the foods forever, so don’t worry. The aim is to remove them for up to 4 weeks, and then slowly reintroduce them to find out which foods your body does well with, and which it doesn’t, and at what amounts (your tolerance level).

Foods are reintroduced only after all of your symptoms are eliminated, which can take up to 4 weeks. If you find that this approach does not eliminate your symptoms, they may be caused by something other than food intolerance, in which case further investigation with a doctor/naturopath is recommended.

Step 2 - Reset phase

The reset phase uses strategically prescribed nutrients, herbal medicines and probiotics to improve the strength and function of the digestive tract and immune system. This aims to increase a person’s overall tolerance levels, which are tested in the third phase, called challenge.

This phase (all of the phases) needs to be undertaken with a Naturopath or Nutritionist, who will prescribe you specific supplements and probiotics suited to your individual situation. This is very important in order to achieve the highest level of healing possible for you.

Step 3 - Challenge phase

After the rest and reset phases, when you no longer have any symptoms, it is time to challenge your body by reintroducing foods that you eliminated in the rest phase.

The recommended rate at which you do this does depend on your symptoms and needs, but a basic approach that works well for many people is as follows:

Reintroduce the food at a rate of 1 day on the food, two days off. If no reaction occurs, then increase this to 2 days on the food, one day off. If there is still no aggravation, you can include that food in your diet in moderate amounts, such as eating it two days out of every 7. It’s very important to track your symptoms and the introduced foods in a food/symptom diary during this phase so that you can pinpoint which foods cause reactions and what your tolerance levels are.

It isn’t always possible to identify every trigger food during this phase. If this is the case, you then move into a maintenance period. This is designed to maintain the health and integrity of your digestion, and allow you to incorporate as wide an array of foods as possible in your diet.

A healthy long term approach –

The maintenance phase of an elimination program comes after the rest, reset and challenge phases. This is an essential inclusion because highly restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups are not recommended for long term use. This is due to the potential risks of nutrient deficiencies, which is especially important in children.

This maintenance phase takes all the information you learned during the rest, reset and challenge period of your elimination diet, and puts it into action. Your practitioner will help you to take the foods that you are still triggered by and introduce them strategically, which will ultimately allow you to enjoy the most extensive variety of foods possible within your bodies own limits.

The basic process is as follows:

Step 1 – Introduce trigger foods at a rate of 1 day on the food out of 7, with a minimum of 5 days break in between. This goes on for four weeks. If an aggravation does occur during this time, then the food is eliminated again for a further two weeks and re.tested. If no aggravation occurs during the four weeks of eating this food once a week, then move on to step 2.

Step 2 – is the same as step 1, but you eat the food two days out of every 7. If an aggravation occurs, remove the food for two weeks and then start again. If no aggravation occurs for another four weeks of eating this food twice weekly, move onto step 3.


Step 3 – is the same as step 1, but you eat the food 3 out of every seven days. If this can be tolerated for four weeks in a row, then you can maintain eating this food up to 3 days out of every seven on an ongoing basis.

You may find that your long term tolerance level is to eat a particular food twice a week, but you can’t handle eating it three times a week. This is absolutely fine, just stick to twice weekly and know that this is your tolerance level.

This work takes time but will set you up to allow a diet with the most variety and nutrition as possible. During the maintenance phase, you may also need some supplementation if any flare-ups occur, and to help in maintaining your digestive health.

If you would like some direction in where to start with your reactive foods, we highly recommend our bioresonance hair intolerance test. Taking the test will give you a list of foods that your body reacts to, and you can use this list as your ‘foods to eliminate’ list, and drastically shorten the amount of time you do an elimination diet for. You can read more and purchase the test HERE.

Summary

Elimination diets are considered the benchmark in modern food intolerance treatment options. This approach offers a phased approach to eliminating specific identified trigger foods from a person’s diet, and then gradually reintroducing them with the aim of identifying and improving food intolerances. A person’s tolerance level to their trigger foods refers to the amount of that food they can consume before they react to it.

There are 3 main stages to an elimination diet, which we discuss in detail within this article.

These stages are the rest and eliminate stage, where foods are eliminated, and the body has a chance to heal from the inflammatory symptoms bought on by food.

The reset stage, where further healing is done to reset the health of the digestive and immune systems.

Lastly the challenge phase, which is where eliminated foods are reintroduced in a carefully planned way.

If the desired results are not achieved in these 3 phases, then a maintenance phase can be entered into as a long-term healthy way to manage intolerances. It allows for a varied and nutrient dense diet that works within a person’s tolerance levels, which is the ultimate aim of the elimination diet.

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