Now that you have used your Symptom Journal to identify potential triggers, you should avoid those foods or drinks, then eventually reintroduce them, with an Elimination Diet. As the name implies, this is a meal plan that eliminates or removes certain foods and drinks. The idea is to remove your symptoms, too! That said, it is important to follow an Elimination Diet for 3 to 4 weeks, or until you have do not feel symptoms anymore and you feel good. (I like to say “health” is not just the absence of illness, but a feeling of physical and emotional wellbeing). Then you will gradually reintroduce one at a time to see if it creates symptoms again.
Before I go on, please know that you should do this with the help of a dietitian or specialist in integrative medicine for several reasons:
1. Guidance in creating a meal plan that give you a variety of nutrients. If you simply cut out everything gluten and just eat gluten-free crackers for a month, you will likely develop other problems such as constipation and fatigue due to lack of fiber and vitamins.
2. Moral support. An experienced health expert knows this can be a frustrating period of time, and she/he can help you know what to expect.
3. Adding foods back to your intake should be slow and systematic. It is important to introduce one gluten-containing food at a time, in a small amount. If that does not cause problems, you can increase it to what you consider a normal serving size the next day. Some practitioners say to add something new every two days, but I recommend (and used myself) a more cautious and informative approach: add back one gluten-containing food (let’s say one piece of wheat bread) and otherwise follow your elimination diet. If you feel old symptoms returning (I felt bloated and brain fog in just a few hours), spend the next day on your full elimination diet again then add the bread again on the third day. This helps make sure you are not having a placebo effect or imagining the symptoms. It can be tricky and it really does help to work with someone.
The key to this phase of your health journey is patience.
And of course knowledge. How do you know what to eliminate? Let’s start here…
What and Where is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten is also often found in oats. While oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated during production with wheat, barley or rye. Oats and oat products labeled gluten-free have not been cross-contaminated. Some people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, however, cannot tolerate the gluten-free-labeled oats, so avoid them for now.
There are different names for wheat flour depending on how it is processed, so look for and avoid these:
There are also other varieties of wheat to know and avoid:
Lastly, many processed foods and drinks contain gluten (even foods you don’t really think of as processed). some to watch for and carefully read labels on:
I know it is a long list. The easiest way to start an elimination diet is to stick to naturally
gluten-free foods! This list is pretty great – lots of variety, color, and nutrients. I found it satisfying and sufficient for my four week trial:
My first week, I admit to looking for gluten-free breakfast cereals, snack foods, and baked goods; just knowing I couldn’t have gluten made me crave carbs. But I soon found I didn’t feel great because they ended up giving me more sugar and less fiber than I was used to. So here is what I ate…
*some nuts and seeds are processed with flour so check the label to make sure it says gluten free. Imagine my surprise when I felt great until I ate a handful of store brand peanuts; not good!
**most cottage cheese if safe but some are processed with modified food starch.
Do you love cheese and want more information? I love this website: Beyond Celiac.
Up next... Hidden Sources Of Gluten: Improving Your Elimination Diet
What does a dietitian, nutritionist, and health professional do when she discovers she has to avoid gluten? I mean, avoid it to prevent painful symptoms, not to follow a trend!