An elimination diet really isn’t that hard and for many it provides a great sense of relief when food allergies or intolerances are discovered. In truth, it’s deciding to do the diet and embracing your decision by fully planning and preparing for it, that’s the hardest.
Why an Elimination Diet?
After years of worsening eczema and unsuccessful attempts with multiple doctors to identify the triggers, I finally realized I could no longer put off an elimination diet for my son. It was time to figure out which foods were aggravating his eczema when allergy testing all came back negative. The best way to do that, according to many health professionals, in fact it’s considered the “gold standard” for food allergy diagnosis by many pediatricians, is by conducting a food challenge. A food challenge is when certain foods are consumed in small doses and then the individual is monitored very closely, in a physicians office is best, to determine if the food causes any reaction in the body.
Food challenges are the only 100% accurate way to prove a food allergy exists, other than a history of reactions with specific foods. Allergy testing is not usually reliable as false positives and false negatives, like was the case with my son, can frequently occur. In order to successfully conduct the food challenge, it’s best to remove the foods in question from the diet completely for a given amount of time in the form of an elimination diet.
Overwhelmed? Embrace the Diet and Plan, Plan, Plan.
When I finally decided to move forward with my son’s diet, the planning seemed very overwhelming. It’s best to work with a physician or nutritionist when planning the elimination diet to ensure all the proper foods are eliminated correctly AND to guarantee you’re not putting your or your child’s health in jeopardy. Removing nutritious foods from the diet means they need to be substituted with equally nutritious alternatives and this can be tricky if you’re not very well versed in a healthy eating and nutrition.
Not only is balancing nutrition hard, but it’s VERY difficult to remove staple foods from your diet. Many of the foods that should be eliminated have been in your or child’s diet since not long after you took your first bites of food as a baby. Perhaps, your body has been used to these foods for so long, that slowly over time a reaction has been building up (in the way of eczema or asthma. You don’t always consciously think about these foods because they’re part of you. You’ve never had to think about it before. So eliminating these foods is like learning a whole new language. You must become a thorough label reader, understand the confusing and misleading world of “may contain traces of,” recognize alternative names for foods (and there are many), and learn to cook with substitute ingredients.
Find the Right Resources
My mother-in-law is a super health food fanatic, so I relied much on her expertise. I also referenced “Dealing with Food Allergies in Babies and Children,” by Janice Vickerstaff Joneja, PhD, RDN. This is an EXCELLENT book that discusses food allergies in-depth and then offers detailed steps on how to conduct elimination diets for various ailments – one of which is eczema! Using Dr. Vickerstaff Joneja’s plan, made things much easier. Her book told me exactly what to eliminate and for how long. We followed her eczema elimination diet to the letter and it improved my son’s skin tremendously, within a matter of days. When it was time to add the eliminated foods back into his diet, by way of a food challenge, we immediately were able to identify which foods were triggering his eczema as he became very itchy after eating most of them, occasionally with hives. In some cases it took a few days of consuming the foods to see a reaction. In the end we identified the following as eczema triggers for my son: dairy, gluten, soy, and corn. We later also identified through trial and error that many tree nuts cause similar reactions for him.
I’m happy to say that through an elimination diet, we saw major improvements in my son’s skin! This was one of the biggest wins in his battle against eczema. I cannot recommend elimination diets enough.
Yes, it’s hard, but you CAN do it. Here’s how:
1) Embrace the decision 100%.
2) Arm yourself with the right resources: physician, nutritionist, books, friends for moral support, etc.
3) Identify the foods to avoid and ALL the alternative names for these foods.
4) Have recipes ready to go and your pantry stocked. Plan on spending a few hours at the grocery store carefully reading labels and finding new food substitutes.
5) Go for it! If you feel the need to cheat, think about why you want to cheat. Is it because you’re craving one of your favorite boxed/processed chocolate chip cookies that are no longer ok to eat? Then make some using alternative ingredients. Trust me, the alternatives are actually really good!
Here are some great bloggers featuring amazing, healthy recipes that are allergy free, some are top-8 allergy free. Prepare some of their recipes in advance and prevent the desperate need to cheat by having your favorite foods with alternative ingredients on hand and ready to go.
Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen – super healthy recipes from a nutritionist.
Gluten Free Goddess – most recipes are free of more than just gluten.
Grateful Foodie – practical recipes for the family.
Allergy Free Alaska – gluten and dairy-free.
Allergy Free Yumminess – check out my Pinterest board full of amazing allergy free recipe finds from around the blogosphere.
Looking for more info and tips on how to complete an elimination diet? Check out my guest post for ScratchMeNot “What’s an Elimination Diet Really Like?”
Have you tried an elimination diet? Did you see results?