Food is powerful stuff. This dietary approach is not recommended without medical supervision for those with a history of anaphylaxis/food allergies, are pregnant, eating disorders or children. Always speak to your physician before starting any new dietary program.
Not too long ago I was having coffee with my old beat partner. During a break in the conversation he calmly scanned the coffee shop, leaned in and whispered something that almost knocked me off my chair “I have something to tell you…I’ve been on a vegan diet for 2 months”.
This may not seem like a big deal. But coming from him it was like telling me he was actually a time traveler from the future.
He was that kind of co-worker who would playfully make fun of me for being a vegan whenever we ate lunch together. He’d toss out comments like “I just mowed the lawn Henkel. Should I save you the clippings for lunch?” while chowing down on his plate of pulled pork with a side of chicken.
He was also one of those salty, battle born cops with the deep scars to prove it. The kind of cop you wanted on calls because he had an easy-going manner, didn’t believe anyone’s bullshit and would literally glide across the room with the dizzying confidence of a true warrior…. Fred Flintstone sized drumstick in hand.
So, hearing this confession made me pause for the punchline. When I realized he was serious, I responded with a puzzled look and slow “Whyyyy?”.
“My doctor said I need to lose weight and my cholesterol is really high. I want to be around for my kids Henk and my daughter told me to try it.”
Then he said something that I’ve heard many times before: “I tell ya, I feel a lot better and my pants are getting looser. And the food’s not too bad! I even have the energy now to go on walks and my sleep has gotten so much better.”
I’ve experienced this response to just plain old food myself. I’ve been vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, paleo, IIFYM and KETO to help me successfully reach goals. It’s like being part of a covert group that holds this incredulous secret we’re too nervous to reveal.
Now I’m not necessarily promoting a Vegan diet, although it certainly has its well-earned place. But it’s an elegant example of how just removing specific foods for a bit can be extremely therapeutic.
He simply used this formula: out with the bad, in with the good.
In the Functional Medicine/Nutrition space there’s a name for this: An Elimination Diet. It’s the cornerstone of any therapeutic food plan because it removes common, inflammatory foods.
So it can help uncover potential food sensitivities and intolerances that have been causing you issues for years.
Some Benefits Are:
- Supports healthy microbiome (your gut!)
- No calorie restriction.
- Reduces inflammation (e.g. aches, sleep, brain fog, acne, low energy).
- Phytonutrient rich diet (you’ll be eating more than just brown/tan colored foods).
- Reduces toxic burden (e.g. artificial colors/flavors, food additives).
But the two biggest benefits? You’ll become more aware of what’s going into your mouth (vs shove-n-go). AND you’ll find out which foods just don’t make YOU feel so good.
It’s a Game Changer.
How Does It Work?
An Elimination Diet clears the playing field and helps reset your immune system by removing foods that may be driving your inflammation. It then allows your body to rest, restore and basically reboot by layering in nutrient-dense foods. It’s like a Ctr-Alt-Delete button for the body.
Similar to a structure fire, the foods you remove are like water putting out a fire. The nutrient-rich foods you replace them with are like clearing out the burned debris then rebuilding the damaged structure. And just like any reconstruction project, it takes time to see progress. A general timeframe to feel some marked improvement and think “wow…I’m feeling kinda good!” is usually around 3-4 weeks.
Some examples of Elimination Diets are:
- Gluten Free, Dairy Free
- 6 Food Elimination (e.g. gluten, dairy, eggs, shrimp, peanut, soy)
- AIP / Autoimmune Protocol (best done with a practitioner)
- Low FODMAP (best done with a practitioner)
- Low Histamine (best done with a practitioner)
The overall idea is to be on a plan for a short while, maybe 3-6 weeks, then slowly reintroduce foods you excluded one by one to see how you feel. I’ve witnessed clients remove an innocuous food like corn, only to reintroduce them weeks later and experience clear reactions like a headache, gut pain or even sleep terrors. Who knew?!
How Did This Work For My Old Beat Partner?
By going vegan, he removed foods that were causing him inflammation like bread, dairy, charred meat, greasy potato chips and the famous $5 teriyaki specials.
He then replaced them with lots of colorful and fiber-rich fruits and veggies and found healthier things to snack on then chalky protein bars or the mystery cookies left in the patrol room.
With his increased energy and happier mood, he finally felt motivated to walk every day, enjoyed conversations with his kids without dozing off and finally slept well without using sleep aids.
And although he didn’t stay on his vegan diet, he learned a valuable lesson: the connection between food and how he felt. Which translated into making much healthier choices no matter what diet he was on.
How Can You Succeed On An Elimination Diet?
- PLAN ~ Start with a simple Food Plan (like this one). Print it out and take it grocery shopping. It reduces the “what can I eat?” dilemma.
- SHOP the outside perimeter of the grocery store. This is where you’ll find the produce and organic meat. Nuts and seeds are usually kept here too.
- Keep meals SIMPLE ~ instead of trying to recreate a gluten-free pizza or vegan meatball, just fill your plate with:
- healthy carbohydrates (e.g. veggies, brown rice, quinoa)
- healthy protein (e.g. non-GMO tofu, eggs, wild fish, grass-fed beef) and
- healthy fat (e.g. olive oil, flax oil, MCT oil, pastured animal lard or grass-fed ghee).
- Have SNACKS handy ~ hardboiled eggs, smoked salmon, avocados, beef jerky, nuts, seeds, veggies and fruit all fit well in a small cooler. It’s not sexy. But it’s cheap and satiating.
- Become a LABEL READER ~ the truth is in the label, not the front of the package. Many foods you’re trying to avoid are hidden in things like supplements and body care products. But they can be found by reading the label.
- Be PATIENT ~ your body needs time to adjust to this. And so does your mind.
Bottom line: you can never go wrong with a whole food, plant-based diet that layers in clean, organic food choices and removes the highly processed, sugary, refined ones.
Final thoughts – To avoid becoming muddleheaded and frustrated, I’d recommend starting with a whole foods-based, gluten free, dairy free diet or working with a Functional Nutritionist/Physician to help guide you through a protocol most suitable for your needs.