How to Survive an Elimination Diet
Elimination diets can seem incredibly daunting. Here are six tips on how to set yourself up for success and survive an elimination diet.
1. Focus on what you CAN eat.
As soon as you start to consider doing an elimination diet, it's natural to automatically start focusing on all of the things you won't be able to eat. I'm totally guilty of that. But you know what? That's not super useful.
I could list all of the foods that are staples in my everyday routine that I'm going to miss. And to be honest, I just did and then realized that's not the point and deleted it. When you start going down that woe-is-me road it's easy to rapidly feel overwhelmed and a bit depressed.
BUT! Regardless of the elimination diet there are foods that you do get to enjoy. And those foods are likely super nourishing and going to do amazing things for your body and mind. Because I'm a nutrition nerd, I like to think about all the goodness that the ingredients I consume are doing for my body. Blueberries? Little powerhouses for your brain. Salmon? Delivering an amazing dose of omega-3's to fight inflammation throughout your body. Broccoli? I might lose you if I list all the benefits, plus they look like small trees so that's fun. When you start thinking about what amazing fuel you're giving to your body it helps distract from what you're missing.
2. Experiment with new recipes.
Doing an elimination diet is likely going to make you part from many of your go-to meals and snacks. But this is an awesome time to stay open minded, curious, and experiment! My first Whole30 helped me get out of the rut of repetitive meals. Matt and I ended up discovering a lot of new recipes that we loved. It also totally transformed my go-to snacks, because I found that nuts or amazeballs fueled me better than what I was eating before. Matt discovered that sunflower seeds and raisins create the perfect sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy snack combo (and inspired these). And it totally changed my perspective on the definition of breakfast foods.
Elimination diets are also an opportunity to try new foods and techniques! Have you tried adding frozen cauliflower to a smoothie (it makes it creamy!), using cauliflower rice in place of grains, or creating faux mashed potatoes? Many of my go-to sauces and dressings are a no-go for the next couple of months. But that means I'm looking forward to creating some new recipes and experimenting with new spices and herbs.
3. Get rid of temptations.
Elimination diets are enough of a challenge without ice cream or your favorite chips constantly taunting you. A few days before you start, take some time to clear out your fridge and pantry of off-limit items. Matt's not joining me in my endeavor and likely wouldn't appreciate me ridding the house of all his snacks, so I did some re-arranging. I arranged the items I usually reach for when I open the pantry out of eye sight. In our fridge, I put prepped veggies and other foods I can enjoy right up front in appealing clear containers. When I open the fridge it looks healthy, fresh, and motivating.
4. Do some prep work.
A little preparation can go a long way. I'm not super into meal planning and meal prepping, but even just a few minutes of prep here and there can help to set you up for success.
If you enjoy meal planning, this is a great time to research some new recipes and to come up with a game plan for the week. While I enjoy that concept, I prefer to see what I'm in the mood for each day and I don't enjoy spending an entire Sunday planning and cooking. Instead, I take a more general approach by thinking about the things I'll need for meals (veggies + starch + healthy fat + protein + flavor).
I'll be sharing another post on my formula for creating quick, healthy lunches, but when grocery shopping I make sure that I have a few options that fall under each of those categories for the week. When I prep vegetables, I make more than I'll eat. For example, I'll roast a giant batch of vegetables in the Ninja Foodi or spiralize multiple zucchini at one time. The extra time spent prepping a larger batch is nominal but saves me a lot of time during the week. When we're cooking things like fish or chicken, we always cook more than we'll eat so we can use it for lunches or repurpose it for another dinner later in the week.
I think the most important approach is to think about what's going to be the most challenging and to prep ahead for that (whether that's mentally or physically). Do you need a go-to breakfast you can just grab and go? Focus on finding an appealing option that you can prep ahead of time. Are you going out with friends later in the week? Try to find where you're going ahead of time to look at the menu or mentally prepare what you'll order to drink if everyone's ordering a cocktail.
In my case my go-to snacks are all going to be off-limits. Taking the time to brainstorm some appropriate swaps helped to calm my initial concern that I'd be starving in the afternoon with nothing to eat (mild over reaction but hanger is for real).
5. Keep your eye on the prize.
Why are you doing this elimination diet? If you're considering making a pretty drastic change to your diet there must be a pretty strong motivator behind it. Are you tired of feeling bloated or dealing with brain fog? Do you have constant acne or inflamed skin that you can't control? Are sugar cravings controlling you? If you've been dealing with these things for months or years, one or two months of a diet change is really just a drop in the bucket if it means finally achieving relief or your wellness goals.
You're going to have difficult days during an elimination diet when you want to quit early. Help Future You out by setting up visual reminders. Is there a certain time of day you find the hardest? Set up an alert on your phone that pops up reminding you why this will be totally worth it in the end. Hang up a note on your bathroom mirror to start the day in a positive frame of mind. Tell your friends and family why you're doing it so they can give you reminders during moments of weakness.
6. Find a support group.
Speaking of friends and family...I highly recommend having a support group or comrade joining you in this adventure. If you can't convince a friend or family member to join you in this potentially life changing opportunity to super charge your health (that's how I'd recommend selling it ;-)), I can guarantee you can find an online support group where others share recipes, challenges, and cheer each other on. If you have a group of long-distance friends who want to join you create a Facebook group or text thread where you can stay connected.
If you're considering an elimination diet but aren't sure where to start, I offer 1-on-1 high performance coaching. Sign up for a complimentary 50-minute health consultation where we can discuss your specific goals and how I can support you through the process to optimize your health, happiness, and success.
If you and your friends or family are interested in making healthy changes but want some guidance in a group setting, I'd love to hear from you. Please reach out by email or send me a message on Facebook or Instagram to get in touch.