So, what the heck is an elimination diet?
You guessed right! It’s when you eliminate foods from your diet over a period of time and then reintroduce them. This strategy enabled me to get to the root cause of my chronic digestive pain and all my bizarre symptoms - like tingling hands, brain fog, and feeling forever tired.
What I learned through this method that I couldn’t figure out anywhere else:
My blood test and biopsy confirmed that I have celiac disease. But, through an elimination diet, I uncovered that I am allergic to gluten, corn, soy, oats, eggs and I have a sensitivity to yeast, sugar, dairy, and chocolate. Figuring this out made the world of a difference.
Ok, but what's the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity?
Immunoglobulin, an antibody, is what your body produces when it's under attack by a virus, infection, germs, or another pathogen. When a traditional GP requests blood work to test for celiac disease, they are looking at your immunoglobulin levels to see if you have an immunoglobulin deficiency. There are five types of immunoglobulin (A, D, G, E, or M), but I'm focusing on G and E right now.
Immunoglobulin E (aka IgE)
The Mayo Clinic describes an allergy as when “your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn't." So, when you eat something you are allergic to, IgE antibodies are released to fight off the food. Then, your immune system "inflames your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.” You feel this reaction because your body releases histamine. You may feel this in form of hives, itchiness, teary eyes, stuffed up nose, sneezing, shortness of breath, a rash, your throat closing up, swelling, weakness, and anaphylactic shock.
Immunoglobulin G (aka IgG)
Now, IgG antibodies are always present in the body to help prevent infections. They are also "readyto multiply and attack when foreign substances get into the body" according to The John Hopkins Medical Center. They provide long-term resistance to allergens, but your body won't produce histamine when it releases IgG antibodies. Therefore, the reaction is much smaller and the symptoms are subtle. For this reason, they are called sensitivities. Your body is still having a reaction, but you will never go into anaphylactic shock because there is no histamine release. This can make sensitives harder to spot because it's possible that you have been living with them forever. This may feel like brain fog, headaches, irritability, insomnia, bloating, gas, cramps, and fatigue. Sensitivities cause inflammation in the body too and you must take them just as seriously.
Why this method is the best:
#1: Only you can truly tell if something is bothering you.
In the past, when I was eating everything, it was difficult to determine what exactly was causing me pain. Plus, over time feeling “off” became my normal. I also prefer the elimination diet method because you are in control and you don't need to justify your symptoms to anyone. With my experience with the traditional medical system, I would explain my symptoms of brain fog, tingling in my hands, loss of feeling in hands, and constant migraines, and because I didn't have a textbook diagnosis of a rash and hives, they always thought it was something else. You are the only person that lives in your body and can tell when you feel "off."
#2: It's low cost.
I'm lucky to live in Canada where my health care is free, but living in the US is a whole different story. You can do an elimination diet for next to nothing and completely on your own.
#3: No wait time.
Bouncing between appointments, I got fed up with waiting for someone to give me a friggin answer. With this self-directed method, you have full freedom and control. Plus, you can start whenever you want.
#4: You can test yourself for anything you want.
For me, the standard blood work only tested for gluten intolerance with my IgG and IgE markers. I had suspicions about other allergies, but blood work testing for that wasn't available through the Canadian health care system.
The elimination diet methodology :
You want to start with the LEAST allergenic foods and work your way up to the MOST allergenic foods. Plus, you need to allow your body two full days of rest before you introduce a new food. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the functional medicine community, “symptoms are delayed up to 72 hours after eating, a low-grade food allergy” and you need to allow time for a reaction to happen since they may be “hard to spot.” Plus, if you flare up from a food mid-way through your diet, you need adequate time for the inflammation to subside. Otherwise, you won’t be able to determine if the next food you introduce is causing a reaction.
Curious? Here's how:
- Pick a good time to do this.
- Truthfully, there will never be the “right” time. Heck, there will always be birthdays, dinner parties, and holidays. But, I promise it will make your life 100x easier once you figure out what foods are causing your flare-ups.
- Start by only eating anti-inflammatory foods.
- You'll need to clear the inflammation out of your system for two to three weeks. This is very important because inflammation has built up over time in your body from eating foods that you are allergic and sensitive to. All the of this needs to subside. Then, you will be able to notice if a food is triggering you.
- Build a schedule for yourself to introduce the top allergens over time.
- You'll want to check yourself for legumes, tree nuts, the palm family, eggs, fish, shellfish, gluten, dairy, yeast, sugar, nightshades, allium vegetables, corn, and soy. These are the top most allergenic food groups and most of us eat these frequently.
- Wait 72 hours between new foods.
- Sometimes, symptoms can be delayed, so the 72-hour breaks are critical. Plus, if you react to a food, you need to let the inflammation subside.
- Monitor and record your symptoms.
- Remember, you might react differently than hives or rash. Also, pay attention to stomach pain, bloating, gas, and discomfort - those are indicators that your body is reacting too. Anything that feels "off" counts as a symptom - no matter how strange it may sound! I had a tingling sensation in my fingers from time to time and shrugged it off as a random occurrence. Turns out, it out it was a symptom of an autoimmune disease.
- Prep your food & pack it along with you.
- Being prepared helps. Oh man, there is nothing worse than not having a packed lunch during a company dinner and having someone offer you a gourmet sandwich. I’ve been there. Bring more food with you for the day than you think you need. Then, you’ll never get hungry and be tempted to sneak in a little dairy and gluten.