The Basics Of An Elimination Diet

The fall rowing season started today and I'm so excited. Fall always seems like it's bursting with energy, doesn't it? Something about the nostalgia of going back to school, wearing a crisp pair of new jeans, and starting something from scratch just gets me so excited. I feel like life starts over in the fall, and it's one of my favorite feelings. 

My fellow coaches and I were chatting about how this could be a great opportunity to do a little reset. The fall season gets crazy with early mornings, late nights, and long weekends traveling. I realized in my first year of coaching last year that, even though I wasn't training, my diet didn't have much room for error. One beer would make me feel like shit if I had to get up at 4 the next morning to be at a race course, and grabbing a quick snack when I was feeling tired would just continue making me more tired.

My fellow coaches decided that fall season seemed like a good time to go dry (read: no drinking until our last race has ended), so I just decided to say fuck it and go all in. I've been wanting to try an elimination diet forever, why not now?

I posted a few thoughts about this over on my Instagram and got a lot of questions, thoughts, and ideas on how to best do an elimination diet. I figured that it made the most sense just to share it all here so that we can all benefit. 

What is an elimination diet?

Per the experts over at SELF:

 "an elimination diet means removing any potential food triggers from one’s diet, and then through a careful process of reintroduction, identifying food allergies or intolerances—“kind of like a one-person experiment,” Lisa Cimperman, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF.

While food allergies are more serious and generally easier to diagnose—you eat a peanut and everything swells up—food intolerances are subtler, with a more delayed reaction to a problematic food. This can make them more difficult to figure out, but still mean serious side effects, says Dave Rakel, M.D., the founder and director of the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program."

Hopefully that explanation makes sense to you. It's essentially just the process of removing foods from your diet, and then slowly reintroducing them to see how your body responds. It's a great way to give your system a rest, and also a powerful tool to learn more about how your body reacts to different foods.

Personally I love the idea of a one-person experiment. I am here for it! While I'm not officially doing my elimination diet under the supervision of a medical professional, I consulted a ton of medical professionals in my arsenal about best practices before deciding what was best for my body. I highly recommend doing as much research as you can and getting second, third, and fourth opinions. The more you know, the better.

Speaking of which, do you have any good resources you can recommend?

Why are you doing an elimination diet?

I was vegan for seven years with some longer stints as a raw vegan. When I first started veganism, it was around the same time that I was learning the basics of nutrition, food ethics, and how food could impact athletic performance. I went all in. For the first six years or so I felt amazing. It was definitely what my body needed when I first started, and I realized how much intelligent nutrition could impact the way that I felt. Towards the end of my vegan years, though, I felt like I was constantly fighting my body to stay vegan. I was ignoring cues that my body was giving me, was getting hyper-restrictive with my diets, and was focused more on eating the "right foods" instead of eating what was right for my body. By the time that I stopped being vegan, I really felt like I had lost the ability to listen to my body. It was like my years of healthy eating had evolved into something unhealthy, and I lost touch of how vibrant my body could feel.

It's been about a year since I stopped being vegan. I actually stopped on Labor Day weekend 2017! In the last year I've really enjoyed having a diet with no restrictions. It has felt so refreshing to be able to eat what my body wants without worrying whether or not it's an "allowed" food. But, in the back of my mind, I've still felt this urge to reconnect with my body. Cheesy? Absolutely. But I am also a big believer that we only get one body, and that it's our responsibility as humans to get to know that body as well as we can. I want to take the time to really learn how my body reacts to different foods (and common allergens) so that instead of eating a diet that might be labeled by a big group as being "right", I'm eating the diet that's right for my unique body. 

I also have been having a lot of brain fog lately, which is something that I'd like to explore more. I definitely have a weird sleep schedule, but this is brain fog that goes beyond a bad nights sleep. It can't completely be fixed by more coffee, and I'm tired of chugging coffee every morning to feel alert. I know that dairy and gluten can be giant contributors to brain fog, so I'm curious to see how my brain feels when I remove those from my diet.

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What are you eliminating?

Here's what I'm starting with:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugars
  • Onions + garlic
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Nightshades
  • Alchohol
  • Limiting caffeine to one cup/day

If I end up adding/taking away anything from the list, I will absolutely let you know! I chose foods that are common allergens and that were listed in the outlines to most elimination diets that I found online. Common allergens are things that people are commonly allergic to, like peanuts! I'm also removing alcohol, sugar, and most caffeine because those are addictive substances that can mess up your health in so many ways: metabolism, sleep, energy levels, etc. Even though I don't have a problem with these substances (ok, except a GIANT reliance on caffeine), I still think that it's empowering to remove things from your life to prove to yourself how easy it can be to live without them. Especially things like alcohol that so many people in our society rely on as a social crutch. 

Do you have any tips?

I'm barely 24 hours in so my wisdom and experience right now is... minimal at best. That being said, before I started I asked pretty much everybody that I knew if they had any tips for me, and wanted to share them below in case they help you too!

  • Try Whole30. Basically everybody and their dog told me this. A few years ago I did a program super similar to Whole30 when I was vegan and I loved how I felt. The Whole30 is an awesome program, especially if you are just getting your toes wet with clean eating or removing certain food groups from your diet. For me, I wanted something that was a little more tailored to my current diet. I eat a lot of eggs, so I wanted to make sure to cut those out completely for my elimination. I also drink a lot of coffee, which is OK on Whole30, and wanted something that challenged me to dramatically reduce my caffeine consumption.
  • Drink lots of water. I feel like this is just a generally great life tip, you know? The general feedback that I got about elimination-style-diets was to keep drinking water to keep things moving, stay hydrated, and stay energized. I pretty much never leave home without my water bottle, so this is an easy one for me.
  • Plan to sleep a ton. Any time that you make a big change to your diet or exercise routine, it's natural that your body will feel a little out of whack. Most people that I talked to said that this manifested in their body as being more tired than usual. I haven't noticed this yet (I'm always sleepy and am only one day in!) but I've built time into my schedule to be able to take a few midday naps at lunch time the first week if needed.
  • Don't rush into reintroduction. Part of an elimination diet is that eventually you'll be reintroducing all of the things that you originally eliminated. I had a lot of friends recommend that I take this super slow: introduce one thing at a time, notice how your body feels, and take it easy on your body.  One friend who found out through an elimination diet that she had a host of hardcore food allergies suggested that when I reintroduce a new food I have a small amount and then wait for the next three days to see how I feel. Keep in mind that your digestion takes a longer time than you probably think, and your reaction to certain foods might not be immediate.
  • Meal prep! I genuinely don't understand how people survive without meal prepping. It saves us so much time and is also the perfect way to avoid eating a bunch of shit that you aren't supposed to be. I like to meal prep on Sunday afternoons. It's an activity that I look forward to and I'll pop in an episode of My Favorite Murder (or three) and just get it all done. It's cathartic for me. 
  • Go raw. A few people that I asked about elimination dieting suggested that I just take it the whole way and go raw vegan. I've done huge stints (up to a month) as a raw vegan before and, depending on the time of year and my activity levels, usually feel amazing after. That being said, going raw takes a ton of planning, a lot of eating, and is hard to do with a family. It's also kind of a band aid fix, in my opinion, since I'm looking to find some dietary changes that are more sustainable. Going raw right now just isn't super sustainable for me, but I do loooooove a good juice cleanse.

Helpful Items For Your Elimination Diet

I'm one day in and feeling good! Do you have any ideas? Questions? Thoughts? I want to hear from you and find resources that answer your questions.

Stay rad and eat clean most of the time,

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