Why change your diet?
Change is hard – there’s a part of our brain that likes consistency & rebels, strongly, against even the hint of change. So what do you do when you have horrible allergies, or increasingly uncomfortable reactions to your favourite foods? The rational being way back in the deep dark recesses of your mind, KNOWS this is a good idea but everything seems too hard. Historically, this is not a new feeling with Roman poet philosopher Lucretius, lamenting “what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others”. So if your favourite food has become bitter poison to you, you’d think someone would have come up with an easy out by now. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? The truth is, if certain foods are causing you grief, continuing to include these offending items on your plate is only going to cause you extra inflammation, damage to your delicate insides & trigger more food sensitivities in the long run. The benefits are many, clearer skin, clearer mind, reduced bloating, more regular bowels & sparkling health. Around 25 % of Australians report suffering from a suspected food intolerance, so statistically, you’re in good company with others who report vague symptoms like increased headaches, bloating or mouth ulcers after eating certain foods. Cracking the code for your particular complaints gives you the power to control your symptoms & spend far more time enjoying your life & much less lying in a dark room nursing a migraine or blaming the dog for letting-off so outstandlingly!
The Elimination Diet
Doing an elimination diet is the best way to figure out which foods are contributing to your symptoms. This can seem hideously restrictive & you can end up wondering what you have left to eat if you don’t get good advice before you start.
Step 1: Do you need help identifying which foods you are intolerant to?
You may already have a pretty good idea which foods are causing you problems but if not, a visit to your nutritionist, naturopath or your GP is a good place to start. You may be asked to keep a diet diary & note down your mood & other symptoms to identify a pattern connected to what you eat. This can be tricky as symptoms of food intolerance are not usually immediate & relate more to the amount & frequency of a food or type of food than to the one time you ate parmesan cheese. However, the people who do this for a living will have experience with the most likely culprits depending on your symptoms & will be able to tell you which ones are the best to avoid with the help of a food diary.
Step 2: Start adding in alternatives – dig out your gluten, sugar & dairy-free recipes
Fortunately, we live in a time where recipes are more accessible than ever – Google has nearly 35 million hits for gluten-free blogs alone! Many more if you Get out there & check them out! Add more good stuff in before you cut out the bad. This way you may naturally crowd out the foods you are trying to avoid & it will give you good, safe, healthy alternatives along the way. Also if you know delicious alternatives to your regular diet, the move towards cutting out the foods that are causing you distress won’t be such a leap after all.
Step 3: Make sure your gluten, dairy or sugar-free diet has the right nutrition
The diet you have right now isn’t equip for nourishing you if you just take something out & you don’t have anything to replace it with. While not everyone has issues with dairy, this is a good example of a potential gap in nutrition. Up to 45% of the Australian population is at risk of being deficient in Calcium. This is without factoring in what happens if you remove dairy without knowing which foods are alternate sources of Calcium. This is something worth checking out. If you don’t feel confident sorting this out for yourself, this is another good reason to check in with your nutritionist, naturopath or GP – it can take a little planning to get the right nutrition from your diet but your body will thank you for making the effort!
Step 4: Make-over one meal at a time
Baby steps are all steps in the right direction. After you’ve mastered a few alternatives for breakfast, move on to lunch, snacks & then dinner. Filling your cupboards with foods that you feel happy about eating & meet the requirements of your elimination diet will make the next few weeks a whole lot easier.
Step 5: Testing out your suspected culprits – the food challenge
The elimination part of this process usually lasts about 3 weeks, with you feeling increasingly better & reporting less symptoms along the way. From here you start adding foods back in, keeping the ones that cause no drama & ditching the ones that trigger uncomfortable symptoms. Your health care practitioner may also recommend a probiotic & some supplements to help heal your digestive system along the way.
Cold-turkey or bust? Maybe not…
Without the proper preparation, a dietary change can be pretty stressful. Something I have learned the hard way! However, with a little planning you’ll be shining with health & making the most of all the healthy, nutritious food you’re eating! For, as our good friend Socrates said, ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new’. Look out for my next article in the series on dietary changes. Meanwhile, keep your eye out on my Facebook page for some tips on new tasty foods to start adding to your repertoire, and please feel free to post, if you find a recipe too good not to share!