Elimination Diet: Not The Next Fad Diet
This year Gwenyth Paltrow put out a new cookbook called "It's All Good" that centered around the idea of an 'elimination diet.' Apparently, Gwenyth Paltrow had an anxiety attack -followed by a migrane- one day and decided to go to the doctor. This resulted in them telling her that she, and her family, are allergic to a wide range of food (wheat, all things in the nightshade family, some fruits, some animal products, etc). Like any celebrity, she hired a personal chef to cook for her and her family and another cookbook was formed.
While I do not judge her, or doubt the situation she went through, I was/am bothered by the message the book has started to perpetuate and I would like to set it straight. If you just read "It's All Good" you would think that an elimination diet means you have to cut out ALL foods that anyon e could be allergic to forever. Also, by doing this you will loose weight, look great, and have clear skin like Gwenyth Paltrow (introduce new fad diet here). As someone that has actually done several elimination diets -for the purpose of seeing if I have a food allergy/intolerance- I wanted to give a little more information and hopefully set the record straight.
What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is
- NOT a new fad diet
- NOT a way to loose weight
- NOT synonymous with words like gluten free, lactose intolerant, meat intolerant, vegan, or cutting carbs.
An elimination diet is a method by which to determine if your body has trouble digesting, or is allergic to certain foods. A common reason is to determine if you are allergic or intolerant of wheat, dairy, red meat, etc. By eliminating the foods from your diet, the inflammation caused by eating the food subsides therefore allowing your body to balance out and process what you eat better/more efficiently. After eliminating the food for a specific period of time (e.g., wheat) , you reintroduce it to see if your body reacts (e.g, digestive reaction, skin reaction, etc.). This method makes the signs of adverse reactions to the food much easier to identify when they are re-introduced -if they are there at all.
One of the common side effects of eliminating a food that you are allergic to, or intolerant of, is weight loss (if you were overweight) or weight gain (if you were underweight). When you do not, or can not digest a certain food the common side effect is that your body either stores it all or purges it all. Once you eliminate that food from your diet, inflammation reduces and/or your body can properly digest what you eat, and you start to gain needed weight or loose unnecessary weight.
This should NOT be twisted into a weight loss program.
How do you do it?
Step 1: You figure out what food(s) may be the culprit.
Step 2: You eliminate ALL forms of it for anywhere from 1-4 weeks.
Step 3: Reintroduce the food and see how you feel.
Step 4: Eliminate the food again.
Step 5: Reintroduce to see if you get the same reaction.
Lets go through an example. I'll go through the process of the elimination diet I did for gluten.
Step 1: Gluten is the possible culprit so I did some research to figure out what exactly gluten is. Some think it's just bread but I found out that flour is used as a binding agent in many foods, is almost always present at fast food restaurants, can be cross contaminated in fryers, is in barley, etc. etc....you get the idea.
Step 2: This is where that research is really helpful. Not only do you drop the breads, barley, flours, etc., you have to read labels (it's actually conveniently placed at the bottom of the ingredients list 'Contains: WHEAT') and ask for gluten free menus when you go out. To be honest, whenever I do an elimination diet I try to eat at home the whole time. Makes it much easier to know/control what i'm eating and reduces the wide range of questions I have to ask.
Step 3: After about a week (sometimes I go 2 weeks) I will have a piece of bread. Less is better. If you really have an allergy then suddenly giving your body a burger (gluten in bun and possibly patty), pasta, and bread pudding is going to be PAINFUL! Depending on your body you will see a reaction minutes to hours later. For me it's within the hour. I have digestive issues, get bloated and feel sick for a few days after. At this point I see no need to do steps 4 & 5 but some do if their reaction isn't as extreme. A good researcher does repeat their results after all. :)
A couple things to keep in mind. If you do the elimination diet and your body doesn't react, but you still feel sick, think of the foods that may be paired with what you thought was the problem. For example, maybe you're not allergic to wheat but instead the dairy that is usually present in pasta sauces, cookies, etc. Another thing is that if you think you have several issues with food (i.e., lactose and red meat) be sure that you control for ALL of those when doing an elimination diet.
Ok. Lets say that you did the elimination diet and found out that you have a pretty bad reaction to a certain food. What is the next step?
It's up to you. Some have such an extreme reaction to the food that they completely cut it out forever (as was my case). For some it is such a mild reaction that they will 'splurge' from time to time.
Regardless of your decision the main thing to remember is: DO NOT BE ASHAMED. Just like vegetarians and vegans you have decided not to eat something and there is NOTHING wrong with that. One of the biggest issues I even have is 'inconveniencing' someone whether that be at a restaurant (i.e., asking what is GF) or at someones house. I have had to work -and still work- on getting over that because adhering to a certain diet is not a crime. If your server acts annoyed they will get over it. Your friends and family with understand.
Also, do some research. The culinary industry is coming so far and there are so many resources out there. Blogs, cookbooks, websites, restaurants have all started to focus on certain dietary needs, allergies, etc. I even go to bakeries that have an entire oven devoted to GF prodcuts.
So there you have it. An elimination diet is not a fad weight loss program and does not require you to eliminate EVERYTHING that ANYONE may be allergic to FOREVER.
Hope this helps. :)