Guest Post: When Elimination Diets Can Cause More Harm Than Good, Aglaée Jacob + Book Giveaway!

We’ve got an awesome guest post today, from Aglaée of Radicata Nutrition. Are you doing an elimination diet, but found that you’re still not feeling “normal”? Well, Aglaee is going to help you sort out what could be going wrong! Plus someone will win a copy of her brand new book, Digestive Health with REAL Food (see below for details).

When elimination diets can cause more harm than good…

How many of these 5 barriers are keeping you stuck on your healing journey? (even if your diet is ~100% perfect!)

AIP, low-FODMAP, gluten-free, SCD, Paleo… these are all forms of elimination diets that can be life-changing for so many people suffering from anything from digestive issues, autoimmune conditions, skin problems, low energy levels, hormonal imbalances, or anything in between.

The purpose of a well-designed elimination diet is to avoid any potentially problematic foods for a few weeks to “reset” the body before reintroducing the eliminated foods, one at a time, to identify your food sensitivities and build your own optimal diet with the safest food options that work for your body.

That’s how I personally healed my gut issues, balanced my hormones, and managed to find the best way to eat for me in the last decade or so. And that’s also how I helped hundreds of people do the same.

Elimination diets can be a potent form of medicine for many people committed to their health and dedicated to regaining it the natural way. But sometimes, elimination diets can actually cause more harm than good.

Here are the 5 barriers you could stumble upon on your elimination diet. Let’s see how many of them are keeping you stuck on your healing journey so you can remove them and be on your way to feel like yourself again.

1. Over-eliminating

This first barrier is so common and such an easy fix. It’s pretty obvious that elimination diets come with the elimination of many foods but you still need to eat something! The digestive system, immune system, adrenal glands, brain, and your whole body require enough energy and nutrients to function optimally… and healing takes extra energy too!

Under-eating on your elimination diet can be like taking one step forward followed by one step backward. Even if you feel like you have extra weight to lose, the focus really needs to be on getting healthier first. It’s worth repeating that healing does take extra energy and nutrients!

Under-eating is a form of stress for your body and any stress could really slow you down, if not get you completely stuck, on your healing journey. We can’t eliminate all stress but the chronic stress of under-eating at every meal is an easy one to fix. It’s usually a bit harder for people to understand how much they need to eat on a real food-based diet, but the bottom line is that it’s usually a lot more than you think.

For most people, eating enough should look like this
(although it can be more for some):

3-6 oz of quality protein + 1-3 tbsp of healthy fats + veggies as tolerated
+ 0-2 cups of carbs if fruits and starches are part of your elimination diet.

Pictures from AJ’s book “Digestive Health with REAL Food” (2nd edition)
Photo credit: Savannah Wishart

2. Feeling deprived

Now that we talked about the physical stress of undereating, it’s time to talk about the psychological deprivation that comes hand in hand with most elimination diets, whether you undereat or eat enough calories.

Feeling deprived can actually become a big source of psychological stress that could affect you on the physical level be keeping you stuck on your healing journey. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system – fight-or-flight-or-freeze – instead of the parasympathetic nervous system – rest-and-digest-and-heal – that you need to get your health back. Stress is probably one of the BIGGEST barriers to healing, even if your diet is ~100% perfect!

It’s not easy to say goodbye to your favorite foods, especially if you keep seeing people around you eating them all the time. If you feel like you’re constantly being reminded of all the foods you are being deprived of, feel like you’re missing out, feel like a victim or feel resentful for having to follow a restrictive diet, your elimination diet could actually be causing more harm than good.

If you’re feeling like you’re constantly thinking about food, or rather constantly thinking about the foods you cannot eat, don’t dismiss that red flag.

It’s a sign that you need to step back with your elimination diet and adopt a more gentle (read less restrictive) approach and work on your mindset by repeating mantras like “I trust the process”, “I am healing” or anything else that feels good as often as you can and every single time you feel deprived.

3. Over-focus on food

Don’t get me wrong here. Food is important. After all, I’m a dietitian, I wrote a book about healing your gut with food, and that’s what I do every day with my clients. But food is not everything.

“There’s more to health than food, and there’s more to life than health.”
~ Chris Kresser

We’ll address the former part of this powerful quote now and we’ll touch on the latter in a bit. So yes, there is more to health than food and overfocusing on food and all of the different rules of your elimination diet could make you forget about all the other important factors that can contribute to your healing and physical well-being.

Let’s look at the 3 most important non-food factors that can make the biggest impact on your health when used alongside a well-designed elimination diet.

Number one should be prioritizing your sleep by implementing a bedtime ritual, making your bedroom as dark as possible, and getting the right amount of sleep for your body, which is a minimum of 7-8 hours, if not more, for most people, especially if facing health issues.

Number two is to look at the different sources of stress in your life to reduce it as much as possible… without stressing out about reducing stress in your life! Of course, it isn’t possible to completely eliminate all stress but you can better support your nervous system by adding breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga.

Number three is moving your body in the right way for you. Too often, I see people trying to do too much and overtrain while they’re on an elimination diet. You can’t do everything at once and if your priority is to heal, overexercising could set you back. So move slowly, be gentle with yourself, and make sure your body is able to recover properly between sessions. And if your body seems to be asking for a break, listen and do just that. It’s okay. You can always go back to your routine later when your body is ready.

Food is important, but so is improving your sleep, reducing you stress, and moving your body without overdoing it. Please don’t make the mistake of overfocusing on only one of the keys to healing and forgetting about the rest.

4. Isolation as a nutritional deficiency

I get it. When you go on an elimination diet, it feels like EVERYTHING revolves around food. Meals with family, popcorn at movies, alcohol with friends … and the easiest solution is often to simply stay home. Of course, that helps with the barrier #2 we talked about earlier (feeling deprived) but it could actually be causing something similar to a nutritional deficiency that could keep you stuck on your healing journey.

Healthy social connections are associated with a 50% increase in longevity by benefiting the immune system, decreasing inflammation at the cellular level, lowering depression and anxiety, and reducing overall stress levels.

Can you see how isolating yourself could be like suffering from a nutritional deficiency?

AJ, her then 3-mo son, and her friends connecting
with Stacy Toth and Sarah Ballantyne in Toronto!

If you’ve been avoiding doing things with the people you love, find other ways to connect with them that are not centered around food. And even if food is involved, bring your focus away from the foods you cannot eat with them and towards all of the many blessings your friends and family are bringing you.

And if you feel like there isn’t anyone in your life you truly feel connected to, it’s time to find someone! Check out some local meetup groups or find a good therapist or coach that will allow you to generate the same feeling of connectedness that is so vital to your health.

5. Pause on life

Do you remember the quote from Chris Kresser I shared when discussing barrier #3 earlier? “There’s more to health than food, and there’s more to life than health.” Many of the people I meet struggling with any kind of health issues unfortunately often feel like they have put their life on hold.

It makes sense because when you feel unwell, you want to do everything you can to feel well again. That’s why so many people spend hours and hours researching, reading books, listening to podcasts, analyzing their health history, and consulting different practitioners… I get it. I did it too.

But at some point, it’s important to realize that health is more than your body and that true holistic healing needs to take your whole self into consideration: your body (physical health) + your mind (mental health) + your heart (emotional health) + your soul (spiritual health). And to nourish all of these parts of your self, you need to go back to living your life.

The mind needs presence, spaciousness, and stillness instead of constantly overthinking, re-living the past, or being anxious about the future and all of the what ifs. Breathing, meditation, and anything that helps you slow down and practice presence can make a huge difference here.

The heart needs to feel loved, safe and supported, which in line with what we’ve discussed regarding the importance of healthy social connections. Love can, and should, also come from within (through self-care and more positive self-talk) as well as from a Higher Power (Source, the Universe, or God depending on what you’re comfortable with).

The soul needs joy, beauty, and rituals to feel nourished. Have you stopped doing the things that used to bring you joy? If so, it’s time to get back to them. Make a list of all of the things that feed your soul, your “soul candies,” and add them back to your life starting today! It could be as simple as spending time in nature, yoga, playing with little people or pets, bringing beautiful flowers into your space, dancing, allowing yourself to dream again, starting a gratitude journal, or practicing mantras that resonate with you.

AJ spending time in stillness in nature.

This is your life. It is not a rehearsal. I know your health is not where you want it to be right now, but make sure that you don’t pause your life and forget about all of the other important ways your whole self (body + mind + heart + soul) needs to be nourished every day for true holistic healing.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you don’t have to add a ton of new items to your probably already long to-do list… but how can you make your life more aligned with your true heart & soul desires starting today? What is one simple step you could take right now? Prescribe it to yourself and it will be like medicine for you wherever you are on your healing journey.

Wishing you a transformative and holistic healing experience!


About the author:
Aglaée Jacob (AJ), MS, RD, author is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with over 12+ years of experience, and the author of Digestive Health with REAL Food. As someone who has dealt with her fair share of digestive and hormonal issues, including IBS, SIBO, and PCOS, she learned to heal her digestive issues by developing her own natural and holistic protocol, which she outlines in her book.  In addition to these health issues, Aglaée overcame nearly two decades of disordered eating and poor body image and has now recovered from binge eating disorder.  Today, Aglaée is passionate about helping people struggling with health issues and helping women heal their relationship with food and their bodies—and the space where those two problems converge. Now that she healed herself, she loves eating (chocolate, plantains and cheese are her favorite foods!), yoga, traveling, practicing her Spanish and spending time in nature 

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Would you like to win Aglaee’s book? Here is your opportunity! To enter, comment with what you want to learn from this book. We will pick a winner on July 5th, 2018.

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