This post is about how I got started on my elimination diet, what approach I took and why. I thought I could give some insight for people who have never heard of the elimination diet.
Forewarning: long post. Don’t even know how to begin tl:dr -ing this. Sorry!
For some background, I used to be on caveman regimen for three months. I have another blog here about that. It didn’t work for me, so I went back to regular old moisturizing and cleansing for several months before I decided that enough is enough. So I decided to do one of the more extreme things I’ve ever done for my skin which is complete diet overhaul.
What is the elimination diet? It is a diet for figuring out food intolerances, and it does so by very carefully and deliberately removing and adding back foods in the diet to track symptom changes.This is not a fad diet, nor is it for losing weight (thought you might find that you will lose some weight regardless).
I chose the elimination diet after reading online about how food intolerances can cause acne flare-ups and other skin issues like eczema. Let’s talk about food intolerance for a moment. Food intolerances are different from food allergies. Food allergies will cause immediate reactions that we are all familiar with; swollen face, swollen throat, hives etc. Food intolerances have delayed reactions of days to weeks. And the symptoms are not what we usually associate with food; migraines, lethargy, dandruff, lack of concentration, eczema and...acne. We’ve been told conflicting information about food and its effects on skin. Some resources will say food doesnt effect skin. Some will say it does. I have no medical training but my personal anecdotal experience has informed me that my diet does indeed have an effect on my skin. That might be different for you.
So once I decided to try the elimination diet to find food intolerances, I started looking for resources to help me plan my diet. I came across a brochure from University of Wisconsin-Madison that breaks down the different levels of the elimination diet. The different levels range from low restriction (cutting out a few foods), to high restriction (cutting out most foods). To sum it up, low level restriction is for people who have a good idea about what foods they are intolerant to. Maybe they’ve known all their lives that dairy can make them uncomfortable, and they’re just looking for confirmation. High level restriction is for people who really have no clue what their food intolerances are or if they even have an intolerance. Think about this; if you don’t know what foods you’re intolerant to, you have to test them all.
I went with the highest restriction because I have no idea what foods I could be reacting to. I’ve never paid attention to the relationship between my diet and acne, so I was totally in the dark. Now, high restriction is hard. And the brochure attached above acknowledges that. It has a high failure rate because it is so restrictive. The brochure tells you what foods you CAN eat on each level. And you’ll see that high restriction has very few, nutritionally incomplete foods. You’re only meant to eat those foods in the first 2-4 weeks of your diet—just long enough that your symptoms disappear. After you’re clear of your symptoms, you can begin reintroducing foods to TEST your body.
For the first two weeks, I STRICTLY ate cooked from fresh leafy greens and chicken. I ate steamed leafy veggies for breakfast, chicken and leafy veggies for both lunch and dinner. Only salt and pepper for seasoning which was so sad. After one week, my acne started to disappear. After two weeks, I had no active acne at all. Then and only then did I begin reintroduction.
Here’s how reintroduction works: every 3 days you add the purest form of the food you’re testing back into your diet. You’ll eat this new food for the first two days, then leave it out on the third day. Then, you test the next food for 3 days and so forth. You need to keep a meticulous log of your symptoms!! Otherwise, it’s useless.
Example: The other day I tested eggs. I had scrambled eggs and some vegetables. The scrambled eggs didn’t have anything else in them. No cream or butter (im not allowed to have these yet). I had a bit of scrambled egg in my breakfast and lunch for two days. On the third day, I left it out. And during this time, I paid attention to my skin; how it felt, how it looked, redness, dryness, new breakouts. I keep track and write all of this down in my food diary. I use an app called Carb Manager.
More on reintroduction of foods: I built my own reintroduction schedule. It looks something like this:
1. brown rice
2. coconut milk
I currently have almost 40 food items in my schedule. These items will be tested every 3 days in the order in which I ranked them.
Now, I chose to modify the elimination diet and my reintro schedule for my own purposes. Mostly because it felt damn miserable not to have certain foods, so I would sprinkle in foods that I missed closer to the top of the list. Do what you can to make this diet easier for yourself. You’ll increase your chances of success. Sit down and start making your own reintro schedule. I’ll give you some tips for doing that below. And don’t be afraid to change the order of your reintro schedule. Just be careful that you are always only testing 1 food item every 3 days. Also note that my reintro schedule has simple foods only. You will NOT find ‘chocolate chip cookies’ on my food reintro schedule. Cookies have multiple ingredients; flour, butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate chips etc. You will need to test all of these INDIVIDUALLY.
Making your reintro schedule: I personally chose to rank my list from the least problematic foods to most problematic foods. Brown rice is generally well-tolerated by people, so it is higher up. Soy, sugar and gluten are common problematic foods for a lot of people, so they are one of the last foods on my list. At this point, they will not be reintroduced for 4 months. I’ll try to give you an idea of what is least problematic and what is most problematic but there’s a lot of different ways to go about this ranking process and lots of sometimes conflicting information out there. So do your own research! This is just an example.
1. No problems at all: Leafy greens. Most people tolerate these well. I would actually include these starting from day 1 of your diet.
2: Least problematic, put these at the top of your list: low carb veggies, spices, garlic, onions.
3: Kind of problematic: nightshades such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. Also nuts, full fat no sugar greek yogurt, mushrooms and fruits.
4: Problematic: Soy, gluten, sugar, corn, other dairy.
Don’t forget to log your symptoms and keep track of when you start and end each reintroduction.
Sometimes you’ll have a breakout because you didn’t sleep well or you were very stressed out at work. If you feel like your symptoms could be muddled by something other than the food you’re testing, just re-test it.
I cant write this post without talking about self control. I did this diet in a household of people who eat whatever they want, whenever they want. There were a lot of muffins, candy, seasonings around that I couldn’t have. It. was. hard.
So I have some tips:
1. talk to someone supportive
2. Have snacks on hand. I have baby carrots, celery, deli turkey (with no additives besides salt)
3. Remember that your skin is worth it
4. You may not be able to eat something now but you will be able to in the future; its not permanent!
My results: I had no active acne by the end of the first two weeks. I tested brown rice first to get some carbs back in my diet (i was getting dizzy and tired without it). I felt a reaction almost immediately. The same day, my skin had this uncomfortable dryness. So dry it felt painful to smile, even with moisturizer. I removed brown rice after the 3-day testing period was over. My theory is that I have a problem with carbs and sugar. Brown rice is a high carb food that gets converted to sugar in your body. My family is prone to type 2 diabetes so I might have a problem with insulin resistance and insulin resistance causes a plethora of problems in your body, including skin. And it makes sense that I could never figure out why I broke out and why it never responded to treatment; it was breaking out bc of things I ate every. day (i love rice). And I never would have realized this theory, related it back to my genetics or saw how my past diet could have contributed to my acne problem without the elimination diet. As of now, my blood sugar theory is just a theory but now I have more information to help my doctor give me an informed diagnosis. And thats priceless.