Tired of stomach issues such as bloating, gas, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea? It may be worth trying an Elimination Diet in order to identify any food intolerances or sensitivities you may have. This article explains what an Elimination Diet is, how to do it, and also details the results of my husband who suffers from IBS and myself while performing an Elimination Diet. It is a must read for people with gastrointestinal issues!
Our Struggle with IBS
My husband has suffered from IBS for years. When he was in High School he had so much stomach pain and urgency to use the restroom that it was difficult for him to leave the house. He went to doctor after doctor doing test after test with no results before one of them finally pointed out that he might be lactose intolerant. He cut milk from his diet and "voila" he felt good enough to leave the house. Not great, but good enough.
Cutting out milk helped a lot, but he still suffered from pain, bloating, gas, indigestion after eating, and alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. When it started getting worse we decided it was time for another attempt at figuring it out. He went back to the doctor and had a barrage of testing, but all of the tests came back negative - there was nothing physically wrong with him that they could find. The Doctor said there was nothing else he could do and that he should just eat more fiber...
Being physically healthy should have been something to be excited about, but at this point it was disappointing when we were really wanting some answers. We decided to take matters into our own hands and perform a comprehensive Elimination Diet program as our next step.
INTERESTING FACTS: According to this research study, 20% of the population in industrialized countries suffer from a food intolerance or food allergy. The American College of Gastroenterology cites that 10-15% of the adult population has IBS, but only 5-7% of them get diagnosed.
What is an Elimination Diet?
An Elimination Diet is where you cut out food groups that you might have an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity to and then wait for your body to adjust to your new diet (it takes about 2-3 weeks for your body to reset), and then slowly re-introduce foods to see how you react to them. It is a way to identify which foods are causing you which issues.
When you search the internet you will find a lot of E-Diet plans recommending to cut out Dairy, Gluten, Soy, Eggs, Nuts, Shellfish, and Corn. These are the most common food allergies. You can do a Simple Elimination Diet by cutting one group from your diet, waiting 2-3 weeks to see if your symptoms clear up, and if they don't you can move on to eliminating another group and repeating the process. However, that method would only work if you happen to have one major food intolerance.
In our case we decided to perform a Comprehensive Elimination Diet to cut out the common allergies in addition to some other food groups identified during my research including the FODMAPS, which are known to cause issues in people suffering from IBS.
What are FODMAPS?
FODMAPS are foods that contain short chain carbohydrates that ferment in your gut, are difficult to digest/absorb, and which can especially cause issues in people with IBS. They can be broken down into 6 categories: Fructose, Lactose, Polyols, Mannitols, Fructans, and Galactans. Which is a mouth-full! Unfortunately, they span many food groups from sweeteners like honey to dairy to beans/legumes to a subset of nuts, fruits, and vegetables. To make things even more confusing some foods are listed in multiple FODMAP categories. But don't give up on the idea of trying this method! After hours of research I have put together a comprehensive list of foods that you can and can't eat on this specific diet plan so that you can rest easy and focus on meal planning.
Here are the Rules:
1) COOK AT HOME. The diet requires you to meal plan and to cook everything at home so that you can control all of the ingredients. When you order chicken from a restaurant you won't know if it's been cooked in butter (dairy), vegetable oil (soy), or olive oil (good). You can try requesting it to be cooked a certain way, but you won't know for sure.
2) NO CHEATING. The E-diet requires no cheating because eating a food that you are intolerant to will set you back to day 1 on resetting your stomach. If you eat outside the diet and then have stomach issues you will have to wait until they go away to continue.
3) EAT AS MUCH AS YOU WANT. Wait...did she just say "as much as I want" and "diet" in the same sentence? Yes, I did. This is not a diet geared towards losing weight, but you are very likely to lose weight as a by product of eating less carbs, less fat, and never eating out. I ate bacon liberally and sprinkled brown sugar all over my gluten free oatmeal and still struggled with hunger pains and unintentional weight loss. You are going to be hangry enough from the food restrictions, so try not to make it worse by not eating enough calories during your meals. Extra snacking might be needed if you are hungry between meals.
4) NO ALCOHOL. You aren't supposed to drink alcohol while on this diet for two reasons:
-Because alcohol upsets our systems and our stomachs. It causes acid reflux in many people as well. If your stomach is hurting from alcohol the effects of the diet will be unclear and your efforts may be wasted.
-Most alcohols are made out of foods on the banned list. Vodka = potatoes, Whiskey = corn/wheat, Wine = fruit juice, Mead = honey. Gin is made from Juniper berries and Tequila is made from Agave plants, and I have no idea if those are diet friendly. If you are set on drinking then you can drink some Sake because it is made from fermented rice and rice is on the OK list. Flavored sake is pretty enjoyable to drink even for someone who hasn't had it before.
What you Can and Can't Eat:
We decided to cut out FODMAPS, Gluten, Soy, Nightshades, Eggs, Certain Meats, Alcohol, and all Nuts/Seeds. It sounds intimidating, but cooking with the remaining foods can be easy and quick - so at least that part is good! If your stomach still hurts after three weeks of the Elimination phase then you can try cutting more foods, or it could mean that food sensitivity is not your main issue.
Breakfast: Bacon, Approved Fresh Fruits, Gluten Free Oatmeal (I used Montana GF Raw Oats), Tea, Coffee
Snacks: For snacks I ate fruits or raw veggies.
Lunch/Dinner: Approved meats (whole or ground cooked in olive oil), Approved Veggies (fresh or frozen), Approved Gluten Free (GF) Grains, Salads (dressing made from lemon juice & olive oil).
Dessert: If you are craving sweets you can eat fresh fruit sprinkled with sugar. Or an herbal tea with approved sweetener. You can also make your own compote by boiling fruit with water and sugar (you can add in cinnamon or cloves for extra flavor).
PRO TIP: Cook oatmeal and bacon in bulk ahead of time for the week. I cooked oatmeal in an Insta pot and the bacon in the oven.
How to Re-introduce after Elimination:
After about two weeks of the Elimination Phase with all the foods removed, hopefully your stomach issues (pain, cramping, bloating, sour stomach, constipation, etc) should have improved to a point that you have a stable baseline. If it has not then you can try the elimination for another week or try eliminating more foods; however, if this still doesn't help you may not have an issue related to a food sensitivity.
When you are ready for re-introduction you will pick a food or a food group and it eat every day for three days. You don't need to eat it at every meal, but maybe 1-2 times a day. On the fourth day you should know if it is causing issues. If it is not you can move forward with adding the next food and repeating the three day trial process. If you react poorly to a food you will have to re-eliminate it from your diet and wait for your stomach to feel better before continuing. It is very much a touch and go process.
What Happened for Us - The Highlights:
-Weight loss. We both saw immediate and steady weight loss. I lost 3 pounds and my husband lost 8 pounds over the course of 5 weeks even though we ate until we were full at each meal.
-Bathroom Regularity. Our digestive systems became a lot more regular. We went to the bathroom every day (sometimes multiple times per day). Our weight stabilized (no daily ups and downs) indicating that we were not constipated. Unfortunately, our stools were loose and the need to use the bathroom was sometimes urgent - sorry for the TMI.
-Significant Decrease in Stomach Issues. My husband who has IBS stopped having stomach pain, constipation, and bloating after 3 weeks of the elimination phase. It was a big and noticeable improvement in the way he felt. Before the diet he rated his discomfort around a 6-7, but after the Elimination phase of the diet he rated it at a 2. He kept saying he felt "empty" in his abdomen. We think this was the feeling of not being constipated, which he wasn't used to.
-We discovered some very clear food sensitivities! We already knew he is lactose intolerant, but he also identified a strong intolerance to eggs and soy. Those were huge discoveries because they are foods that we eat regularly and are found in almost every processed food!
We stopped doing the diet after about 7 weeks. Even though we didn't test all of the foods on the list, we learned some very valuable information. We learned that it is possible to drastically reduce stomach pain and constipation by eating the diet approved foods. We also learned about some additional food intolerances, which we can now be mindful about avoiding. I discovered that even though I don't have 'issues' with my stomach that I did have constipation pre-diet and also experienced bloating after eating gluten - so that was interesting to learn about myself. It was a lot of work, but I am happy with the results. It is very reassuring to know that there were some answers to his issues and things that we can avoid eating moving forward!
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Please note that I am not a Life Coach not a Doctor. You should consult a medical professional to find out if this approach is right for you. If you already know you have a food or medical sensitivity that is on the OK list you should avoid those foods.