8 Tips for Reintroducing Foods After an Elimination Diet
by Rinita Sen
September 22, 2019
An elimination diet is a restricted meal plan you follow for a stipulated period, intending to identify food triggers and rectify a chronic health condition. Some examples of an elimination diet include paleo, autoimmune paleo, and ketogenic diets. Removing common allergens such as gluten, dairy, corn, nuts, and soy is one of the common characteristics of an elimination diet, at least for 30 days, until you are ready to reintroduce them.
How to Ease the Reintroduction Process?
Once you have completed 30 days (or longer specific to your condition) and are prepared to welcome back eliminated items, you might encounter several difficulties. For one, at times it is hard to discern whether you are reacting to a particular food. At other times, the reactions might be so terrible that you wish you had never tried reintroducing the item. Either way, the process could cause mental fatigue. Fret not, because here are a few tips to smoothen the process.
1. Start Slow
When choosing an item to reintroduce, do not make an entire meal out of it. Instead, try small portions (3-4 spoons) and consume repeatedly at least twice or thrice a day. Not everyone reacts on the very first day. Hence, repeat the same portions for at least 3-4 days continuously to check if you react. If not, continue to eat that item. If you react, well, better luck with the next reintroduction.
Another important thing to note is that at times, you might not notice any reactions for the first 3-4 days of reintroducing a food, but might experience something being amiss later if you stop the food for a few days in between and restart. In that case, your body is telling you that the food is not okay to reintroduce yet. Stop right there.
2. Maintain Enough Gaps
Theoretically, if you have successfully reintroduced a food by testing it for 3 -4 days, you should be able to move on to the next item to try and reintroduce. However, looking at it practically, it is safer to maintain a sufficient gap between two reintroductions (ideally a month). The reason is that when you reintroduce an item, you are asking your body to adjust to new surroundings.
Don’t we all mentally need more time than 3 days to adapt to new environments? Similarly, your body might think initially that it was okay with the food, but go on to reject it later. If you did not wait long enough to try another reintroduction, this could make it difficult to relate a reaction to its source.
3. Record Your Experiences
It could be difficult to keep track of your reactions to different foods when you are knee-deep in the reintroduction process. After a while, you might not remember whether you had a headache after consuming eggs or it was after eating beans.
Keep it simpler by maintaining a reintroduction journal. Have the columns laid out to reflect the date of reintroduction, the food, reactions, if any (be as detailed as possible), and whether the reintroduction was a success or a failure. It is possible to have multiple reactions to the same food, hence, listing them in detail could help you understand your body better.
4. Do Not Push Yourself
Following an elimination could be hard, especially if you have events and holidays around the corner. You don’t want to feel isolated and upset that you cannot eat what everyone else is eating, because, after all, food forms a major component of all celebrations. In your wish to feel included, however, you might tend to rush through the reintroduction process, in turn, creating havoc in your body.
Regardless of the situation, stick to the gaps between reintroducing two items. Do not keep forcing yourself to reintroduce thinking that it will all work out. Be aware that there are things you could enjoy about events other than food. It might be a challenge, but not impossible.
5. Tiny Reactions Matter
Although it is not possible to identify every single reaction your body has, while reintroducing foods, you need to be aware of the slightest changes in yourself. Not all eliminated foods have a pronounced effect on your body, hence, always try to note the minutest reactions.
Is there a slight twitching of your muscles? Did you just have mild diarrhea? Is there a tiny bit of headache that is not bothering you? None of these are small enough when you are in the reintroduction process. It might be that the food did not cause any of these and they are indeed ignorable, but better be safe than sorry. Stop the food immediately. You could always try again later.
6. Maintain a Stable Environment
It is hard enough to go through reintroductions and to try and relate the symptoms to the food. On top of that, if your other environmental factors change, it might be impossible to pin down the exact cause of the reaction. To avoid that, try out eliminated foods only when you are in a controlled, stable environment.
For example, if you are in the middle of switching jobs, relocating your house, traveling for business or pleasure, or going through any kind of emotional crisis, take a break from the reintroduction process. Transitions could cause your body to react in a way similar to those of food-related allergies. Prevention is the best way out.
7. Do Not Write Off Any Food Yet
An elimination diet could be followed as a remedy for an illness or simply to stay healthy. In either scenario, reintroduction could be disheartening when you react to one of your favorite foods. However, if you reacted once, it does not mean that you would keep reacting to the food for the rest of your life. Particularly in the case of an illness, as your body hopefully heals over time, it should be able to tolerate a wider range of eliminated foods.
If a reintroduction fails, it is not the end of the world. Try again after six months. Note down the reactions. Go back to your journal to match the reactions. Are they the same? If yes, your body is still not ready for that food. If no, but you still have some reactions, try again in a month.
8. Stay Positive
An elimination diet is healing and hence, when you begin to feel great after following this diet for a while, you might have a fear of reintroduction, especially because it is sometimes hard to deal with the reactions. Do note that a lot of your digestive issues are in your attitude. Having a negative outlook towards a food item could as easily disrupt your system as the food itself. Keep practicing positive thoughts and seek the help of friends and family to feel uplifted about trying to reintroduce. You will be surprised how much you can speed up the process just by being positive about it.
Eat Well, Stay Healthy
No matter how hard following an elimination diet is, reintroducing foods could be doubly hard. Ease the process by taking it slow, but with a resolve to do better. Regardless of what the outcome of your reintroduction process is, remember that eating healthy is a lifetime goal, not just during the elimination and reintroduction phase. At the end of the day, staying well is what is crucial and it does not matter whether or not you can eat everything.