Elimination diets are everywhere. Every nutritionist, health coach, and websites are constantly bombarding us with information on how an elimination diet might be exactly what the doctor ordered (and in some cases, physicians are encouraging them!).
As an Integrative Clinical Nutritionist that has been trained in research-based nutritional protocols and creating individualized eliminations for my personal clients, I definitely understand their value and need in the health world.
For those of you that don’t know what elimination protocols are (often referred to as elimination diets), they are strategic and therapeutic protocols that are designed to identify foods that may be triggering your physical symptoms and are aimed at reducing inflammation throughout the body.
They are incredibly useful and therapeutic in a clinical setting and in some cases, an essential component in a healing journey. For instance, if you’re someone that has been diagnosed with an Autoimmune disease, an elimination protocol can be vital in reducing the symptoms that you experience as a result of your autoimmune disease.
Although they are benefits and needs for elimination protocols, they aren’t always the right answer.
And in some cases, we’re simply not ready for them yet.
We often cling to the idea of an elimination protocol as the holy grail for unlocking your health, especially if you’re someone that has been searching for an answer for a while.
But there’s one thing we forget to ask ourselves before we start one…
Are you really ready for an elimination protocol?
I’m not talking about having your pantry stocked, meals planned, support around you, and having a trained professional ready to help you execute and come off the elimination protocol effectively. Although this is important if you’re going to be on one – preparation is half the battle.
I’m talking about whether or not you are mentally and emotionally prepared to start an elimination, to begin with.
I have found that this is something that is often missed. So, I’ve put together 5 reflection questions you should be asking yourself and discussing with your integrative nutritionist or physician before you start one.
:: What is my motivation for starting this protocol?
I believe this might be the most important question and quite frankly, the one that you need to be the most honest with yourself about before digging into a protocol. Within motivation comes our mindset. If our mindset and motivation is not clear and not in alignment with the true purpose of an elimination protocol, this is where we can run into a lot of problems. One thing that I’ve found often in practice is that a lot of people seek out elimination protocols as a means to “clean up” their diet or in an attempt to lose weight. When we use elimination protocols to clean up our diet, this is often an attempt at restricting what we’re eating. The truth this, most of the time when we dig into why we feel we need to “clean up” our diet, to begin with, it largely can be rooted back to the fact that we’re already too restrictive. So, adding a restriction on top of restriction is not the answer and can long-term feed a negative relationship between food and our body. This is not the goal of an elimination diet. If your motivation is around cleaning up or losing weight – I encourage you to explore that more without the use of an elimination protocol.
:: Have I been diagnosed with an illness or do I have symptoms that would benefit from an elimination protocol?
Elimination protocols are designed to be therapeutic and help identify triggers that may be the root cause of your symptoms/health condition. For instance, if you’ve been diagnosed with chronic migraines, an elimination protocol might be of great benefit to you because often, migraines can be triggered by certain foods. Now, each food is not the same for each person, but going through an elimination diet to determine which foods might trigger your migraines could really positively impact your quality of life.
On the other hand, if you haven’t been diagnosed and you don’t have any specific symptoms (such as joint pain), that may benefit from an elimination protocol, I encourage you to spend a little more time reflecting on questions 1 and 3 to determine your true motivation and history of dieting.
:: Do I have a history of restrictive dieting?
Before I start an elimination diet with my clients, this is one of the first patterns that I look for. If you have a history of restrictive dieting or an eating disorder, starting an elimination diet too early in your recovery or before you’ve worked through this pattern, can be a slippery slope and incredibly triggering. The primary use of elimination protocols is not a means to restrict what we’re eating – it’s to be used as a strategic and therapeutic method to help heal the body.
However, the more popular they become and more mainstream, I see them being used in this way. A major (very popular!) example of this has been the use of the Whole 30 diet. This isn’t a rant about the Whole 30, that’s a post for another day. But the point is, when we use elimination protocols against their true purpose, we tread a thin line between restrictive and disordered eating patterns. This is why it is VITAL to be honest with yourself before starting an elimination protocol. If you have a history (or think that you may) of restrictive dieting and disordered eating, I encourage you to read this post and refer to the resources section at the bottom of the page.
:: If I’m being honest with myself, what are my current eating patterns? Am I currently eating in a way that would support an elimination protocol?
One of the major struggles that I see happens when someone starts an elimination protocol too soon or without being prepared, is they have a tough time adjusting because it is drastically different from their current eating patterns.
What I mean by this is if you’re about to embark on an elimination protocol that cuts out dairy, gluten, and soy (for instance), and your meals currently are heavy in dairy and gluten, the adjustment is going to be that much more difficult for you. Not to mention, you may not have a pattern set up to support the change in intake and you end up not eating enough food (or calories!). I see this happen a lot – then what happens is the adjustment is too drastic and it makes it that much more difficult to execute.
I believe that in order to have a successful elimination, you need to have a pattern in your meals that already supports the natural progression of an elimination. Not to mention, often a lot of symptoms can be eliminated without giving up anything at all and working towards including nutrient-dense foods at each of your meals.
It’s important to ask yourself – is there room for me to improve and make sure I’m setting up the foundation first?
:: Am I prepared and supported to effectively get off the elimination protocol?
Ok, if you’re ready to rock and execute a well thought out elimination protocol, this is the final question you need to ask yourself. The whole point of an elimination protocol is to identify your unique triggers and learn how certain foods impact your body. If you’re not ready or prepared to slowly reintroduce the foods back into your routine in a thoughtful and strategic manner, then you are not ready to start an elimination protocol, at least not alone. This is where I would highly encourage you to not do an elimination protocol without the supervision of a trained physician or nutritionist. If you’re not supported and not slowly reintroducing and learning how the foods impact your symptoms and your diagnosis, then the elimination didn’t do what it was meant to do. I’m not sure about you, but if I’m going to go through all the trouble of executing an elimination protocol, I want to know I’m walking away with the information that I was seeking. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
If you’re curious and not sure if you’re ready to start an elimination protocol or have any questions about where you might fall in the ready spectrum, please feel free to ask me! I would love to hear from you and where you are in your journey so that I can help curate more posts to help you along the way.