Guest blogger April Norris has joined us once again today on Benner Fit to discuss her experiences with elimination dieting! So excited to have her share! Remember, as with all diets please proceed at your own risk and pace yourself accordingly should you follow her plan.
Tofu, egg whites, granola, whey protein, edamame, Greek yogurt… You might not realize it, but the so-called “health foods” you've been eating daily are potentially sabotaging your health. If you’re already a clean eater, as I’m sure many Benner-fitters are, this concept might be hard to wrap your head around. But trust me, the following information can significantly improve your life.
The current buzzword in holistic nutrition and integrative medicine is “inflammation”, and for very good reason. Research is finding that inflammation is the underlying cause of virtually all the chronic diseases we have in current society²: diabetes, high blood pressure, allergies, obesity, arthritis, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease, asthma… to name a few. In 2012, the Center for Disease Control reported virtually half of all Americans (117 million) had at least one chronic disease¹, and that number is expected to grow. Under normal circumstances, inflammation is a healthy immune response, in which your body protects your tissues in times of trauma or infection. But when an inflammation persists for a long period of time, the chronic conditions listed above can develop, thus crippling our society and medical system.
Do you or someone you know struggle with allergies, constipation, bloating or gas? How about that slow, confused, hazy feeling known as “brain fog”? Are you suffering from acne, uncontrollable mood swings, PMS or migraines? These are just a few symptoms that numerous people struggle with, which can be caused by inflammation and the foods we consume. And I’m not just talking specifically junk foods, or processed food. Your body can develop sensitivities to even the healthiest of foods, often those you eat daily.
Before I get any further into an elimination diet, and how it could help you, let me take a moment to tell you my journey and how I came to be a Certified Holistic Health Consultant. I was first introduced to the world of food sensitivities about 2-1/2 years ago, when my son, who was 6 months old at the time, began developing severe bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus infections. We saw a slew of pediatric specialists, all diagnosing him with different conditions: asthma, “chronic cough”, allergies, even probable eosinophilic esophagitis (Google it). After my son had a few invasive procedures done, and all results came back normal, I intrinsically knew something else could be done. There HAD to be another way instead of pumping him full of medications every day. I found a Naturopathic Doctor, and she told us to eliminate every ounce of gluten, dairy, and soy from his diet. Within two months, he was off all steroids, antibiotics, and blossomed into an exceptionally vibrant, rambunctious 2-year old! As the rest of the family went gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free by default, we all started noticing dramatic improvements in our health: my daughter’s chronic eczema and ADHD behaviors dramatically improved, my IBS symptoms disappeared and that stubborn baby weight finally came off, and my husband’s itchy legs and chronic knee pain vanished! I personally saw and experienced that food CAN and SHOULD be used as medicine. Our bodies have an innate ability to heal itself when given the proper nutrients. That is why I am so passionate about sharing my knowledge with the world and all you fabulous Benner-fitters.
So what happens when you eat a food that causes inflammation? A little bit of anatomy is involved here, so bear with me. Imagine for a moment, the most ideal intestinal lining is like a crocheted blanket, with the yarn tightly woven together. But, when we eat a food we are sensitive to, the “yarns” of that gut lining develop microscopic holes as they become inflamed. These food molecules squeeze through those holes in your intestine and wiggle out into the blood stream. Perhaps some of you have heard the term “leaky gut”, and this is where the idea originates. These food particles “leak” out into the bloodstream and your immune system starts attacking these food particles like they would a virus or bacteria. Your white blood cells are on overdrive and the inflammatory response of your body ramps up in order to protect your tissues. Your body doesn't react the same with a food sensitivity as an anaphylactic reaction. To my clients, I describe a food sensitivity reaction like water torture… a very slow and steady trickle of low-grade inflammation. BUT it’s enough to lower your immune system, increase your cortisol levels (because the body becomes stressed by fighting these “food invaders”), and starts to cause symptoms like migraines, joint pain, bloating, IBS, acne, eczema, you name it. When we remove these inflammatory foods, we can let the body heal and find out easier what is causing our symptoms. So instead of treating the symptoms, we find out the root cause, which is more often than not, food related.
When we do an elimination diet we cut out wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs. These foods are over consumed in the American diet and are present in a majority of processed foods. Our bodies have lost the ability to properly digest and assimilate them, so they end up causing irritation in the gut lining, which leads to these health issues we've discussed earlier. So by eliminating these foods that are difficult for the body to process and cause reactions, we allow the intestines to rest, regenerate, and renew the protective gut-lining, that is so critical to our overall health.
Usually, elimination diets should last anywhere from 7 to 21 days. The longer, the better, obviously, as it allows the number of antibodies to diminish and for your body to eliminate them through your organs. (We've also heard the old adage that it takes 21 days to form a new habit – time to start some new habits, peeps.) Now, I’m sure this elimination diet lingo sounds a bit overwhelming. “So what CAN I eat?!?”, many of my clients ask. I want you to focus on the foods that will nourish, replenish and rebuild your body. Don’t stew about what you’re depriving yourself of, or all the things you’re missing out on. Keep in mind that every single bite of food is sending informational messages to your cells. Give it good information so it can perform at optimal levels. This is a time to honor your body and discover how your body can heal itself.
- DO eat clean proteins (organic, hormone-free, grass-fed, lean beef, chicken, wild caught shellfish and wild-caught fish that’s low in mercury, legumes, raw nuts and seeds.)
- DO eat as many vegetables as you desire! The fiber and water content will assist in ushering out the toxins from the processed junk and/or inflammatory foods.
- DO embrace healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, ghee (clarified butter, non-dairy), coconut oil, flax and walnut oil.
- DO get creative and find or make easy, nourishing snacks like seaweed, kale chips, apple chips, and protein balls.
- DO eat gluten-free grains like quinoa, rice and millet. Oats have to have a gluten-free label because they usually become cross-contaminated on the equipment.
After 7-21 days of eating whole, unprocessed, wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and egg-free meals, you want to slowly reintroduce these foods, individually. For example, let’s pick dairy. You would eat some yogurt for breakfast, some shredded cheese on your salad, and some real butter on your vegetables at dinner. Monitor your symptoms throughout the day, and perhaps the next day if you are questioning the results. (Food sensitivities sometimes have delayed reactions, up to 24-48 hours after ingestion4.) Obviously, if you feel an immediate reaction to a food, then don’t continue eating more of it that day. Your body is your best teacher. It might be telling you “I don’t like yogurt! And to show you, I’ll give you a migraine!” - listen. If you go through 2 days and don’t feel any symptoms to a food, then add another single food, possibly eggs next. Continue doing this until you've tested all the usual suspects, and have drawn conclusions about what nourishes and builds your body, or what depletes and tears your body down.
As you reintroduce foods, a food diary is an essential component. This will help you become aware of the subtle physical and emotional changes that may occur after eating a specific food. Be on the lookout for fatigue, rashes, congestion, insomnia, bloating, itchy eyes, moodiness, increased stress, and trouble concentrating/brain fog. These are some of the more understated symptoms that you don’t often notice until they accumulate over time. Jot down a few sentences in your journal each time before you eat, and again after you eat. Although a food journal seems bothersome and mundane, this will be the greatest gift you can give yourself. You are experimenting with your body, and as any great scientist will tell you, you need good research notes.
Ultimately, the key to making any elimination diet successful, is to prepare. Go shopping, chop up veggies, have your recipes ready to go, make meals in advance and freeze them so you’re not reaching for something you shouldn't…
Changing the way I ate and cooked for my family 3 years ago was undeniably intimidating. I hated to cook and dreaded being in the kitchen, but I had a sick baby and was prepared to do ANYTHING to get him healthy. Now, almost 3 years later, I actually enjoy experimenting with recipes, discovering various ways to make veggies taste good, and sharing my knowledge with my clients. I hope you’ll give an elimination diet a try… eat better, feel better, think better, live better.
Resources: 1. "Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 09 May 2014. Web. 16 July 2014. 2. Daniluk, Julie. Slimming Meals That Heal: Lose Weight without Dieting, Using Anti-inflammatory Superfoods. United States: Hay House, 2014. Print. 3. Drake, Victoria, Ph.D. "Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health." Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Oregon State University, 2007. Web. 16 July 2014. 4. "Food Allergies and Sensitivities: General Information from UNL Food Allergy Team." Food Allergies and Sensitivities: General Information from UNL Food Allergy. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, n.d. Web. 16 July 2014.
April Norris is a board Certified Holistic Health Consultant (AADP), Certified Pilates Instructor (BASI), hot yoga enthusiast, artist, and devoted student of natural health. April is passionate about helping clients eliminate food sensitivities and optimizing digestion in order to lead a life full of vitality. She provides workshops, teleclasses, seasonal detoxes, small group and individual nutrition counseling. Look her up on www.optimalvitalitywellness.com, follow April on Facebook at Optimal Vitality, Twitter at @optvitality, or Instagram @optimalvitalitywellness.
If you need additional help with an elimination diet, April offers a 15-day seasonal detox, or elimination diet plan. This is an easy, online program, done in the comfort of your own home. She will guide you step-by-step through this process, to help you find foods which your body will rejoice and provide you with boundless energy. April offers over 75 recipes, made from fresh, seasonal foods, a shopping list, and self-care tools designed to help you reconnect with your body and become more in-tune with what it needs.