Five step survival guide for elimination diets

October 29, 2018

The beginning of the elimination diet journey often starts like this.  You don’t feel good, so you go to the doctor, hoping for answers.  The doctor prescribes an elimination diet and refers you to a dietitian for more information.  You anxiously await days or even weeks for the appointment.  When the dietitian goes over the details with you, it quickly becomes evident that you’ll be attempting to live off of a few staples like steamed veggies, hard boiled eggs, plain white rice, salt and pepper chicken, and water for four to six weeks.  Now, for some people, this diet is delightful.  For some of people, myself included, this diet sounds like torture.  No more fancy brunch dates with friends, no more decedent desserts, and no more tea or coffee.  Is this elimination diet even possible?!

The answer is YES!  And, it doesn’t have to be as boring and restrictive as you may think.  Spicing it up does require a bit of creativity and likely some cooking.  Luckily, there are a number of resources available to help, in addition to the materials provided by your doctor and dietitian.  These resources range from recipe websites to blogs of fellow elimination diet followers to health and food coaches to support groups.

Elimination diets take a certain amount of dedication.  Following through the best you can, will allow you and your doctor to determine if the diet was effective for you and what the next steps are in your treatment plan.  If you follow the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to a multi-week food adventure that’s in disguise as an elimination diet.

Step 1: Mentally prepare.  Know this diet is temporary and take it one day at a time.  While you’re going through the elimination diet, practice extra self-compassion and gratitude.  An attitude of gratitude will distract you from what you aren’t eating and keep things in perspective.  For example, I’m often thankful that smells don’t hurt me.  I can walk by a bakery and catch a whiff of freshly baked bread and not have any GI symptoms.  Instead of being upset that I can’t eat the bread, I think back to fond memories of enjoying fresh French bread and a warm bowl of soup.

Step 2: Know what to expect.  It’s like going on a camping trip.  You’ll be without running water and braving the elements, but you’ll make due and have some good stories to tell when you get home.  Elimination diets require making similar adjustments.  You should expect different food cravings and shifts in your metabolism.  Stock your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with foods that are allowed on your diet and, if possible, get any tempting cheat foods out of the house.  Have a meal plan ready and plenty of snacks.

Step 3: Just do it!  It might be a rough start, but stick with it.  When you start to feel the benefits of the diet, it will be easier to keep it up.  If you need extra encouragement, ask your friends and family to keep you motivated or join a support group with other people on a similar diet.  Your doctor may be able to suggest one or you can find one online, sometimes even through Facebook.

Step 4: Do your best.  No one is perfect.  If you slip up one meal or one day, it’s ok.  Just get back to the diet.  If you’re finding it too difficult, identify the reason why.  Is it that you are tired of the food selection?  Spice it up!  Check out the ETP recipes page for inspiration.  Is it that you need more grab-and-go food options?  Kick your meal prep game into high gear for a few weeks.  Check out the ETP blog for tips.  Is it that you’re hungry all of the time?  Carry snacks with you.  Always!  If you’re still having trouble, think about working with a food coach.

Step 5: Evaluate next steps with your doctor.  Hopefully, the prescribed elimination diet worked for you, and now you and your doctor can decide how to proceed.  There may be a food challenge phase or longer-term dietary changes.  Whatever the case may be, you made it through the tough part!  You have the tools to continue to modify your diet as needed to stay healthy and feel your best.  If you need extra support, remember to have an attitude of gratitude and reach out to your support system, whether it be friends and family, a food coach, or a support group.  You are not going at this alone.

I hope this five step survival guide makes your journey through the elimination diet easier!

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