Food intolerance : how to do an exclusion diet

Régime d'exclusion - comic

This follows up on a previous article: “How to know if you are food intolerant?“.  In the latter I explain what food intolerance is. I also explain that sadly, we don’t know much about it. Especially around diagnosis. Symptoms may vary a lot, they can appear sooner or later after the meal… Trying an exclusion diet is the best way to learn about yourself and discover your food intolerances or allergies, and try to understand your messy gut.

What is an exclusion diet?

This diet is about suppressing a food, or a group of foods, and then see what happens. How will your body react? Are you still experiencing the same fatigue or is it a relief? Here is an example of food groups you may want to test:

  • Eggs (it’s in everything)
  • Dairy products (it’s also in everything)
  • Gluten (idem. If your gluten test happens to be positive, you may want to compare wheat to other sources of gluten)
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Sea food (that one should be easy)
  • Actually, depending on what you are used to eating, you can try anything…

exlusion diet eggs - comic

The exclusion duration must be a minimum of two weeks. Yep, that’s quite long! If after two weeks you only experience a very light feeling of relief, you may want to consider trying a bit longer. On a shorter period, it’s usually more difficult to conclude. Especially, you could feel better for another reason. That’s up to you. And if you are 100% sure that you are much better after only 5 days of exclusion, good for you!

Gluten, milk, eggs… where do we find those?

Unfortunately, those three can be found in about everything, and are consequently the most difficult to exclude. You’ll have to read all the ingredients before buying anything. It’s hard work, but something positive comes out of it: this forces you to become aware of all the ingredients of the industrial products (look at the additives and preservatives, it’s really not good…). Some food will be much more difficult to exclude than others.

For some of us, it can be extremely difficult. Everything is meant to make you fail. First, your fridge: ensure that no tentation lies within easy reach. A moment of weakness can happen very quickly. If you have to move out of your place to buy what you crave for, the greater chances are  that you will change your mind on the way. Involve your husband/spouse and/or your family so that you get some support and that yours temptations diminish. And it will make you commit it!

But the worst is not your fridge. The worst is all the rest: the nice bakeries in the street, the restaurants, the nights out, the family dinners, and even at work. Temptations are all around! Just don’t start an exclusion diet before celebrations, that would be suicidal. And if that wasn’t enough, you will also have to justify yourself all the time, to people that might look at you like you’re a freak. Reducing the nights out to what’s only needed is the best way to increase your chances! Before starting your two weeks session, open your calendar and choose the more suitable moment.

That’s seems too difficult, let’s not do that

For some, exclusion diet is an evidence. They know that something is wrong in what they eat and they want to find out what it is.

For others, it seems like too many constraints. Especially if you’re not convinced about what you’re doing. If you belong to that second category, here is what you can do: for two days only, stop eating. That may seem very difficult. Don’t hesitate to drink teas or infusions to distract your hunger. If you can’t, you can also eat very light.

After those two days, you might feel a bit weak. But beyond that weakness, do you feel much lighter? How did your symptoms evolve? If you experience a relief, even light, there might be a problem with your digesting system. You should then go for the exclusion diet. You can get extensive benefits.

And when you’re done?

If you didn’t experience any change after two weeks, just plan the next exclusion. If you think you found the culprit, you can try to eat that food again and see if that confirm your hypothesis: if the symptoms come back, that was it.

It’s also possible that you find a culprit but you still don’t feel completely relieved. In that case, you may want to continue investigating the other possible intolerances. I published recently an article about the book : Diary of a food intolerant (French) by Margot Montpezat where she can’t digest gluten, eggs and milk!

Once that the intolerances are identified (if any), no need to tell you (well, I still do because I’m not sure how clever you are): you must not consume it anymore!

If you want to succeed the exclusion diet, you need rigor

Yup, rigor. Not only in the diet itself, but also in your whole approach: write down the composition of your meals, and write every day the evolution of your symptoms.

If your symptoms change very slightly, you may not even pay attention to that. So ask yourself every day. And also, if you happen to realize after a couple of days that the cake of granny was full of milk, that could be the reason why you were experiencing those symptoms on the next day.

I know, it’s a pain in the ass to write down everything. The first day, it’s easy, but then you’re fed up and not so convinced about the whole thing. That’s when you’re tempted to stop the process. Be strong, put some reminders, and do it. For real.

Where to start?

Trust your feelings. The symptoms are usually not specific enough to spot any particular kind of food, but you might already suspect one or two.

Still, here are some symptoms examples and the cases in which they may appear: Food Hypersensitivities1

For example, if you have head aches and diarrhea, it can be any kind of allergy or intolerance… Well, it’s a track, but not a very precise one.

As for me, I know that I have a chronic fatigue and I’m often exhausted after the meal. According to the cart, that corresponds to an IgG food allergy. In that case I can narrow the field of research: lactose, fructose and histamine may not be the reason I’m tired.

Congratulate yourself!

congratulate yourself

At the end of every exclusion session (2 weeks or more), congratulate yourself! If you found something, that’s great news. And if you didn’t, that means you can remove it from the list of the possible culprits. You move forward, and that’s great!

No one can do that job for you. So get to work and fix yourself!

Do not hesitate to share your experiences and leave the results of your exclusions diets in the comments!


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