Here’s what happens when you do an elimination diet

Palliative care

Charlie Bond tried to tackle her food intolerances by eliminating them from her diet

When I was 17 I was diagnosed with IBS, and ever since then I’ve been searching out different ways to understand my body and which foods and drinks make me unwell. I’ve been to the doctors multiple times, tried various medications and then two years ago cut out dairywhich helped, but not quite enough.

Then, I interviewed local functional nutritionist Fleur Brown for So Magazine, and as part of the interview, I met with her to find out what happens during one of her nutritional consultations.

Ahead of meeting with her, I was required to complete a food diary, a routine diary (where I noted down my wake up and sleep times, how often I exercise and times that my energy was high or low) and a nutritional questionnaire where I described any issues I experience and also my goals for my health.

Before my consultation, I also undertook an allergy and intolerance test from Life Lab Testing, which turned out to be a real eye-opener. I was right about my dairy suspicions, but there were so many other foods on there I had ‘critical’ reactions to – including wheat, eggs, mustard, beef, most fruits and even cucumber.
In fact, I had so many that Managing Director Carl Raven told me he’d never seen results with so many critical foods on the listat that stage I didn’t know whether to feel special or terrified.

So, armed with my list, I visited Fleur. She too was surprised by how many foods I was intolerant to, and suggested that many of the reactions I have to foods could be due to ‘leaky gut syndrome’, or increased intestinal permeability – a condition where the immune system reacts to germs, toxins or other substances that have been absorbed into the bloodstream.

She helped me to grasp a better understanding of why the foods I eat affect me in different ways, and suggested I try an elimination diet for four to six weeks to see how I got on. So, trying not to think about the fact I was having to give up all of my favourite foods, I set about trying it. Here’s what happened.

1. My tastes changed

About a week into the diet, I started to notice a metallic taste in my mouth, and certain foods tasted different as a result. Fleur told me it was likely to be a side effect of ‘cleaning up’ my diet, and it shouldn’t last long. It did eventually get less noticeable, but my tastes definitely altered during the four weeks – I found sugary foods far too sweet, while other foods tasted more bland.

2. I had to check ingredients very carefully

Who knew lemon was in SO MANY things? Because the list of foods I was eliminating was pretty extensive, I had to be really careful when reading lists of ingredients on packets. It turns out mustard, lemon and ginger feature in all kinds of foods – and even buying ‘free from’ products had its issues. For example, egg free mayonnaise still contained mustard, wheat free bread contained eggit became a bit of a minefield!

3. My options weren’t as limited as I expected

Once I got my head around what I could and couldn’t eat, I didn’t actually find my diet as limiting as I expected. I eat a lot of Mexican food so finding an alternative for wraps was a struggle at first, but eventually I caved and spent £3.50 on some sweet potato wraps. They weren’t particularly healthy (still full of additives and preservatives) and they weren’t as tastybut they meant I could still have the dinner I wanted with very little compromise.
I joked I was eating like I was in the 1950s – a lot of my meals consisted of potatoes, meat and some variety of vegetable as most of them were still on my ‘safe’ list.

4. I was strictbut I still slipped up

I did the elimination for just under five weeks, and in that time I rarely ate things I shouldn’tbut it did happen. Part of the problem was that although the test had listed my intolerances, it didn’t explain which foods might also be worth avoiding. For example, I was intolerant to quite a few fruits including apples, bananas, oranges, lemons, mangos strawberries and peaches – but the test didn’t include other fruits from the same families, like raspberries or limes so it was hard to know which foods to continue eating.

The other issue was eating out – over the short time I did this elimination, I happened to go for dinner a few times, and it was near enough impossible to eat a meal without having something I shouldn’t. A lot of restaurants are good at providing allergen information but because I was so limited on what I could actually eat, I just had to try and decide which foods would be the best to risk.

5. The reintroduction was the hardest part

Once the elimination phase was over, I then had to embark on an even trickier task – reintroducing all the foods I’d cut out. Although I tried to do this one-by-one, it proved harder than I thought and as a result I probably took myself a couple of steps back in the process. It took me around two weeks to start to feel ‘normal’ again.

Overall, it was a really interesting experience – not one I’d wish to repeat any time soon, but it was useful to find out which foods were affecting my body and see how I felt by eliminating them. Other than the times I accidentally ate things I shouldn’t, I felt a lot better and was able to get a better understanding of the reactions I have to certain foods.

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