A Nutritionist's Guide to Elimination Diets (And How to Not Go Cray)
Originally published in The Chalkboard Magazine
"GLUTEN-FREE, SUGAR-FREE, lectin-free… these diet labels may have earned major trend status, but for many, they’re a mandatory method for staying well. Done the right way, elimination diets can have far-reaching health benefits. But embraced without guidance or clear goals, they can leave us feeling totally deprived and overwhelmed. Integrative nutritionist Jennie Miremadi is sharing her pro tips for taking on an elimination diet in balance – and with sanity intact…" -The Chalkboard Magazine
As an integrative and functional nutritionist, I’m often guiding clients through major diet changes that involve cutting out foods they eat regularly and love. While the benefits of removing certain foods from their diets can have a profound impact on health, making these changes isn’t always easy or sustainable without the right mindset and tools in place. I know this all too well.
For many years, before I was a nutritionist, I not only restricted my food intake with diet pills, I jumped from one fad diet to another. I never thought about eating food for nutrients, using food to nourish myself physically or using food to improve my health. I thought only about the effect food might have on my weight.
When I got to a point in my life where I was determined to change my relationship with food, I realized that if I was going to make sustainable healthy changes to the way that I was eating, I had to alter the way I thought about food and its role in my body.
This became apparent as I began to take certain foods out of my diet for my health. At first, when I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt like I was on a deprivation diet all over again, which made it impossible to stick with long term. I realized that removing foods from my diet was much easier to maintain if I focused instead on how the food I ate would impact my health and how it would make me feel when I ate it – I let that become my gauge for my food choices. The more I noticed how good I felt when I nourished myself with healthy food, the more I preferred to eat that way. And, as I started experimenting with how to make delicious food in line with my new eating approach, the more it became a natural part of my life.
Now, I eat an anti-inflammatory diet about 95% of the time and it’s pretty much effortless for me. But it didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process that included major changes to my thinking, changes to how I was nourishing myself with food, and a lot of practice in being kind to myself along the way.
If you’re looking to upgrade your health by removing certain foods from your diet, approaching it in the right way is crucial. Here are some tips to help:
CHOOSE TO FEEL EMPOWERED, NOT DEPRIVED
When you let go of eating certain foods, feelings of deprivation might creep in. One of the best ways to combat this is by approaching your diet change from a place of empowerment instead of deprivation. Focus on what you are gaining by making these changes, rather than what you are giving up. Recognize that you have a choice, and you are choosing to nourish your body in a way that will elevate your health. Acknowledge yourself for making that decision and allow yourself to feel empowered that you have the tools, knowledge and ability to affect healthy change in your body and your life.
EAT FOOD THAT YOU LOVE
Just because you’re changing the way you eat, doesn’t mean your new diet shouldn’t be filled with food you love. Search your favorite wellness blogs for new recipes that look amazing or buy a cookbook with recipes tailored to your new approach. The more you make this experience a delicious one, the more likely it is that you’ll want to stick with it.
FIND DELICIOUS SUBSTITUTES
Finding flavorful replacements for the food that you’re no longer eating can be key in helping you enjoy and embrace your new diet. Make a list of all of the foods that you’re excluding, and then figure out healthy substitutes for each those foods. Whether it’s coconut aminos in place of soy sauce, a tahini-based dressing instead of a dairy-based one or a collard green leaf ‘wrap’ in place of bread, experiment with new ways to prepare your food that will help you love it.
REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED
Are you hoping to increase your energy by eating a cleaner, healthier diet? Are you trying to find a way of eating that makes your body thrive? Are you dealing with a health issue you want to support with nutrition? No matter your reason for making these diet changes, it might feel really tough to eat this way at first. If this happens, reconnect to the reason why you started, reminding yourself of all the benefits you hope to achieve with your new way of eating. This can help motivate you to keep going when you feel like giving up.