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A Gentle Guide to Reintroducing Foods After An Elimination Diet for Food Sensitivities

An image of someone rejecting a platter of foodDo you have food sensitivities that have caused you to restrict your diet? Food sensitivities can cause a variety of symptoms, from digestive upsets to headaches, and they can be hard to identify. If you feel sick after your meals, then it may be worth eliminating foods from your diet to see if that makes a difference in your symptoms. But how do you know which foods are causing your symptoms and which are safe to eat? To answer this question, you need to start reintroducing foods and see how your body reacts.

But doing this wrong could waste months of careful elimination dieting and could even be dangerous in some cases. So let’s take a look at how to safely and gently reintroduce foods so that you can get a better idea of what you can and can’t eat.

Food Intolerances and an Elimination Diet

Many people suffer from digestive issues, resulting in symptoms like bloating, rashes, stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, mouth ulcers, hives, and headaches. And many conditions can cause digestive issues, with food intolerances one of the major ones.

A food intolerance isn’t the same thing as an allergy. Instead, it means that your body can’t properly digest certain foods or that foods are irritating your digestive system. But if you eat a varied diet, which is healthy, then it can be difficult to identify which foods are actually causing your symptoms.

An elimination diet can help solve this issue. In an elimination diet, you stop eating all the foods that you think may be causing your symptoms for a period of time. If you eliminate the foods that you’re intolerant to, then your symptoms will go away once you do this.

The most common foods that cause intolerances are:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Peanuts
  • Starches
  • Nightshades
  • Eggs
  • Pork
  • Peas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sweeteners
  • Added sugars
  • Raw fruits
  • Cruciferous vegetables

If you’re considering an elimination diet, you should consider eliminating these foods first unless told otherwise by a health care practitioner.

The Dangers of Elimination Diets

Even if you feel good on your elimination diet, however, it’s important that you don’t maintain it over the long term. Here’s why:

  • Food variety is absolutely essential for the health of your gut and your overall health.
  • Restrictive diets are very hard to maintain over the long term.
  • You may only be sensitive to one or a few foods rather than all the foods that you’ve eliminated.
  • It’s very hard to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies on a restricted diet.
  • Eating this way can get very boring very quickly, making this diet hard to maintain.

So, since you can’t and shouldn’t stay on your elimination diet over the long term, here's how to begin reintroducing foods.

Digestive Issues when Reintroducing Foods

Reintroducing foods can bring on a range of digestive issues. In some cases, these reactions are because of intolerances, but often it seems more like the body has ‘forgotten’ how to digest the foods. This may sound strange, but it’s pretty common and can cause symptoms such as:

  • An image of a woman holding her stomach at the toiletConstipation
  • Loose stools
  • General discomfort

If you experience these reactions, then the digestive issues that appear after you reintroduce a new food may only be temporary. However, it’s too easy to mistake these issues for signs of intolerance and to eliminate the offending foods from your diet permanently.

This can leave you with very few foods that you can actually eat, even though you may not truly be intolerant to those foods. Instead, the best thing you can do is to reintroduce the foods slowly and carefully and monitor your response for a few days until your body relearns how to deal with them.

Reintroducing foods to your diet can bring on digestive issues, but this may not be the only reason that you’re experiencing these symptoms. Putting aside medical causes of digestive problems, stress and your mental state are both strongly linked to your digestive health.

Stress is an incredibly common cause of digestive problems. So, if you’re experiencing symptoms, then ask yourself if you’ve been under stress recently rather than simply attributing your symptoms to eating certain foods.

Another issue that can bring on or worsen digestive symptoms is general bodily discomfort. Food can be an incredibly fraught issue for many people and body dissatisfaction can often be at the root of eating and digestive issues. If you believe that the way you see your body is negatively impacting your digestion or your mood, it's important to seek out professional help so you can start to see your body in a different light.

Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress-related digestive issues are also closely related to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue occurs when you’re under ongoing stress over a prolonged period and can develop into Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). AFS is the non-Addison's form of adrenal dysfunction, where the body's stress response cannot keep up with life's chronic stressors. Just be aware that everyone’s stress tolerance is different, so your ability to withstand ongoing stress will be different from everyone else’s.

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which makes numerous changes throughout your body to help you survive the cause of the stress. This stress response developed in humans a long time ago, so, for example, it helps you run faster for longer and minimizes damage in case of injury. This obviously isn’t as helpful in the modern world, where stress is usually more abstract and constant.

Unfortunately, this often means that you’re stressed for a long time, even in small amounts. And this ongoing, high demand for cortisol can not only cause the adrenal glands to fatigue, it can also cause imbalances in the body’s organ systems. There are six circuits in the body, each composed of related organ systems. These circuits work together to help you cope with stress. But when they remain in the stressed state for too long, they can become dysfunctional. This can result in general poor health, specific symptoms, and a loss or slow down of certain bodily functions such as reproduction or digestion, which generally isn’t seen as important during stressful periods.

The Inflammation Circuit in Adrenal Fatigue

An image of a man holding his inflammed gutThe Inflammation circuit can play a vital role in digestive issues because this circuit includes the gut as well as the immune system and the microbiome. The components in this circuit work to create inflammation to help protect your body in case of injury or illness. But when that inflammation becomes chronic, it can be very dangerous, leading to everything from obesity to cancer or heart attack.

Food sensitivities can severely affect the health and functioning of your gut and the balance of your microbiome, or the bacteria in your gut. When you eat foods that you’re sensitive to, the symptoms of bloating, constipation, and diarrhea that you experience will encourage the Inflammation circuit to produce inflammation. It will also cause the microbiome to become unbalanced, often resulting in the overgrowth of bad bacteria. This can lead to a condition called leaky gut, where food particles from the gut are released into the bloodstream where they don't belong.

All of these issues will further activate the immune system and produce more inflammation. If the Inflammation circuit is already unbalanced because of AFS, this will worsen symptoms.

That’s why it’s so important that you address food sensitivities as soon as possible. By eliminating any foods that you’re sensitive to, you can give your gut the space it needs to heal and rebalance itself. And this, in turn, will improve the health of the Inflammation circuit and any adrenal fatigue at the same time.

A Guide to Reintroducing Foods Safely

Reintroducing foods doesn’t have to be drastic. Here’s how to do it safely and gently:

Limit Your Elimination Diet

You should not do an elimination diet for more than 90 days. It takes a minimum of 30 days to reset your gut and give it time to adjust to being free of the trigger foods, so your period of eliminating foods should last between 30 and 90 days.

Keep a Journal

You might think that you’ll remember all the details of your elimination diet, but the truth is that no one is perfect. The smallest detail or symptom can give you a unique look into what’s happening in your digestion, so keep a journal and record:

  • What you eliminate
  • What and when you reintroduce foods
  • How you feel mentally and physically
  • Hunger cues
  • Elimination patterns
  • Energy levels
  • Any slip-ups

Reintroduce Foods One at a Time

You should only reintroduce one food at a time so you can see how it affects your body. Each food should take 4-7 days to reintroduce. Here’s how to do this gently and safely:

  • Eat a small amount of the potential trigger food alone and in a small amount on the first day.
  • On the second day, eat a small serving with a meal.
  • Eat a full serving of your food on the third day.
  • Stop and reassess if you notice negative symptoms.
  • Record everything you experience in your journal.

Listen to Your Body

It’s absolutely essential that you listen to your body throughout this process. If you notice any symptoms after eating something, then it may be a sign that your body can’t handle this food. Symptoms to look out for are:

  • Allergies
  • Stomach cramps
  • Gas
  • Skin breakouts
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating

These aren’t necessarily signs of an intolerance, but they’re certainly a warning that you may not be able to handle a certain food.

Support Healthy Digestion

An image of a man smiling with his hand on his stomachYou can also take steps to support healthy digestion throughout this process. Just remember that if you’re going to take supplements, it’s vital that you talk to a healthcare practitioner first, to ensure that you’re getting what your body needs without causing additional stress.

A general supplement for digestive health such as Dr. Lam's Diazyme can be a valuable tool here. Diazyme contains a comprehensive blend of vegetarian enzymes and is GMO-free, soy-free, and vegan. It helps support good digestion and the faster, more efficient breakdown of food particles, so you get the nourishment you need quickly and with fewer digestive problems.

You can also try a range of other strategies and supplements for better digestion. For constipation try:

And for bloating, try:

  • Digestive enzymes
  • Digestive bitters
  • Apple cider vinegar

Reintroducing Foods: The Takeaway

An elimination diet can be a safe and effective way to identify foods that are causing you the painful and distressing symptoms of food intolerances. However, they can't last forever. Reintroducing foods is an essential part of these diets and yet it must be done gently if you want to avoid getting sick again.

Here’s how to reintroduce foods safely and gently so that you don’t undo all of your hard work:

  1. Add foods back one at a time, slowly over about a week, and give your body a few days to adjust.
  2. Don’t immediately assume that any symptoms you experience are due to intolerance; look for other causes.
  3. Talk to a healthcare practitioner if you’re concerned or want guidance during this period.

For help with your elimination diet or more information on symptoms related to food intolerance, Dr. Lam's Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Program provides comprehensive guidance on addressing different stages of adrenal fatigue. It offers advice on how to effectively use supplements, recommends beneficial foods, and suggests exercises that aid in recovery. Throughout this course, participants can learn to sidestep the challenges that Dr. Lam encountered during his own journey to recovery.

Ease the process of reintroducing foods with Diazyme.

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Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Reintroducing foods too quickly or incorrectly after an elimination diet can leave you feeling even worse than you felt before, but that's not necessarily a sign you're sensitive to those foods. Here’s why this happens and how you can start eating your favorite foods again slowly and without side effects.

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