Why personalized nutrition starts with elimination
By Erica Matluck, Tia Director of Wellbeing, ND, NP
Figuring out what to eat for your own body, health and life can be exhausting. While there always seems to be a new fad diet or nutrition trend that’s all the rage, what’s right for one person might not be right for you. And knowing what to eat is as important as knowing what not to eat. As an integrative practitioner who believes that food is medicine, and gut health is a foundational pillar of our greater health and wellbeing, I have guided thousands of people through therapeutic diets in service of building a healthy eating program individualized to patients’ bodies and lives. And while it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways of getting to that personalized nutrition program is to start with an elimination diet. Here’s why.
Diet is not one-size-fits-all
When it comes to diet, one size does not fit all (or even most!). While intermittent fasting or Keto may be a game-changer for your friend, it could be a disaster for you. Moreover, following a strict protocol is not easy, so it’s frustrating when you’re doing the hard work of sticking to a diet that seems to be making everyone on the Internet feel amazing and you are just not feeling it.
People turn to therapeutic diets for a variety of reasons, from irritable bowel syndrome, to fatigue, to weight loss. Yet, most dietary approaches out there don’t offer much guidance on how they can be customized to meet individual’s needs and make them sustainable. Regardless of the goal, dietary changes don’t happen overnight, so having the ability to modify the plan with ease and support adherence to it is critical. This is why I love the elimination diet.
The elimination diet has two phases — the first involves dietary restriction and the second is a reintroduction period. Most people think the elimination phase is the most important part, but it is actually phase two of the experience that provides the information we’re looking for — what to eat! During the elimination phase, we avoid a long list of common inflammatory foods — gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, nightshade veggies, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol — for 30 days. Yeah, it’s not easy… especially in New York City, but it’s worth it to finding a sustainable food program that makes you feel great.
Most people feel a change in their body within two weeks of elimination and may see continued improvement for up to a full three months- well beyond the elimination phase. After the 30 day period is complete, we begin the process of reintroducing foods or groups of foods one at a time, with a 48 hour window following each reintroduction. Rebuilding the diet slowly and systematically allows us to get feedback from the body about how each individual food affects the way we feel. The reintroduction process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the frequency and severity of food reactions and whether one chooses to reintroduce single foods or groups of foods. I usually encourage people to start with the foods they are least suspicious of to get the diet as varied as possible as quickly as possible. Once we have identified which foods aggravate or cause undesirable symptoms, I encourage staying off those foods only for a minimum of three months. After 3–6 months, most people are able to tolerate those foods in moderation again.
How to survive an elimination diet
#1: Schedule wisely
There is never a good time to do an elimination diet. It seems there is always a birthday, a bachelorette, a vacation or a holiday. Yet the first key to success is choosing the right time. It’s important to check your calendar before starting an elimination diet and to select a week to start that does not have a slew of social obligations that require eating and drinking.
#2: Plan. Plan. Plan.
Planning ahead is key. If you spend the weekend before you start shopping and meal prepping it will be a lot easier to keep yourself satiated and satisfied. For those who like to cook, this is a great way to discover new recipes and new ingredients to work with. If cooking is not your thing, check out local meal delivery services and healthy restaurants, read through menus and plan out what you will order and where you can eat in advance. Find three places near work and three places near home so you don’t have to think about it when you’re hangry!
#3: Find a buddy
For some of us, social life revolves around eating and drinking so doing an elimination diet can be lonely. If you have a friend or partner that wants to join you, this experiment is a great bonding experience, and the accountability helps ensure you won’t fall off the wagon! Plan to cook together, share recipes and meals together. Support just may be the secret to your success.
And if you’re eager to experiment with this with the support of a practitioner and a community of women, check out Tia’s Optimizing Gut Health workshop that kicks off Tuesday, March 26th at the Tia Clinic. We’ll dive into the science behind gut health, and guide you through an elimination diet with the support and guidance of myself and a community of women!
The NYC Tia Clinic is now open! Join today to sign up for Tia’s first 8-week Wellness Workshop: Optimizing Your Gut Health.