Sense* founder, Jonathan Ebsworth explains how to approach an elimination diet to identify foods that cause harm to your gut health. We accept that bloating, gas and discomfort are all part of life. But you don’t need to put up with them any longer.
Fixing your gut health problem with an elimination diet
Today, I am talking to all of you who, like me, have suffered from bloating, tummy turbulence, gut gurgling or worse.
Perhaps, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, SIBO or GERD.
Leading to constipation, diarrhoea or indigestion or worse. Where you often have to run for the loo at a moment’s notice!
Have you been there? We all have but when it is constant or, bad enough and catches you unawares, it can be mortifying.
Dying of embarressment
That said, taking up a point made by my Mum, we need to talk about this stuff. People have literally died of embarressment because of not being able to go to the doctor to talk about what is something we all do everyday.
We need to be aware of the symptoms and we need to be able to talk about them. Sometimes humour is best.
I know a lot of families that make a joke out of gas or farting. Let’s face it, it can be very amusing especially if you are not expecting it.
But the funny side can often be laughing at someone instead of with them. Because it is really embarrassing too. So try and laugh with them:)
My embarressing story
I am going to kick off with a highly embarrassing story that might make you laugh or cry with embarrassment.
Mixing a relaxing yoga exercises with a dodgy tummy. Don’t do this at home:)
Well not your tummy actually, a bit lower down in your abdomen.
Getting the terminology right
By the way, getting the terminology right is also important.
Lots of people call whatever is going on in the stomach or gut or colon, a tummy problem. But it is always good to remember that there are 3 distinct parts of your ‘tummy’.
Mouth, throat and stomach
No 1 – from your mouth down your throat into your stomach – food spends 45 minutes to an hour and half here getting broken down into mulch
No 2 – your small gut or intestines – food spends from 4 – 6 hours getting broken even further and nutrients removed
No 3 – your large or long gut/intestines – where everything leftover hangs about for another 24-36 hours or longer if you are constipated.
The reason that large quantities of meat are bad for you because it putrefies in your large intestines because it takes so long to go through it.
Back to the yoga…I had a very embarrassing moment doing relaxation exercises in bed when I hadn’t really discovered what was going on with my insides.
I was bloating every day, getting really uncomfortable. And every now and then would get terrible diarrhoea.
There I was letting all my leg muscles, stomach muscles and back muscles relax. Drifting off listening to a teacher on my headphones.
Let yourself go
“Let yourself go. Don’t hold back. Drift into space, float and let yourself go” .
My body took the teacher a little too literally and all of a sudden, I realised that I was “going”.
Not always under control
Because when you have a gut problem, it isn’t always under control. And when it happens, it might be funny thinking about it afterwards but it isn’t at the time.
You panic, if you are at home then you fly to the bathroom. But if you are out then your panic can turn to terror.
Always on your guard
So you are always on your guard making sure where the nearest loo is.
So what can you do about it. I suppose that depends on where you have got to with your gut.
How serious are your symptoms
Gut issues can be an early warning sign that something is going seriously wrong. As a result of the western diet bowel cancer is rife and this will often manifest itself as IBS or IBD.
And if your symptoms are serious, you need to get yourself off to your GP and get some tests done. Don’t be embarrassed, just do it!
Don’t get fobbed off
And don’t be fobbed off with some pills that are only designed to hide the symptoms. If you wanted to hide the symptoms, you would be putting up with them and not going to the doctors.
Don’t need the doctor?
But if you don’t think the symptoms are serious enough for the doctor, then the next thing you need to do is identify where they are coming from.
And potentially what is causing them.
If they are consistent, you will need to think about diet and also lifestyle factors such as stress and drinking alcohol or smoking.
Identifying your problem foods
Today, I want to turn the spotlight on how to identify what’s causing your discomfort, looking at diet in particular.
And there is only one tried and trusted way of doing this, an elimination diet.
What is this elimination about? Basically, you eliminate certain foods from your diet to see if there is one or two identifiable causes.
But you can do this either from the top down or the bottom up (excuse the pun:)
Top down or bottom up elimination diet
You need to eliminate specific foods one by one (top down approach) or simply stop all processed food (bottom up approach).
Top down causes the least disruption but will give you a pretty good idea what’s causing the problem. But if you can’t identify the cause this way then you need to go for the bottom up approach.
You will have a good idea of what upsets your tummy already. But you need to look at it through a different lens.
Where is it coming from?
First, where is it coming from? Stomach, small intestine or large intestine (which includes the colon and rectum).
Stomach and throat
If it is the area between your rib-cage, the triangle with the point where your ribs join at the top or above. Then it will be your stomach, throat or mouth.
Indigestion, bloating, acid reflux, GERD are all disorders emanating from here.
Small intestines or gut
A bit further down nearer your belly button, then you are into the area covered by your small intestine.
Discomfort, bloating, bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome can all emanate from here.
Large or long intestine
If it is constipation or diarrhoea then the large intestine will be primarily responsible.
So your problems or discomfort will lie in your abdomen, going through you to your back passage (colon/rectum).
It is very important to find out out where your discomfort is coming from because you will need different treatments for each one.
How long does it take through each one?
But also be aware of the time it takes for food to pass through each one because only then can you track the symptoms that specific foods give you.
For example, only very rarely will what you’ve eaten today end up giving you constipation or diarrhoea immediately.
Nasty gastro bugs
If it is a nasty gastro bug or virus then you will get such a reaction and it will be a one-off. You will end up being sick too since your stomach will try to reject it.
I once swam a 3k race down the Thames at Windsor on a Sunday after having done an hour and half training in Dover harbour the day before.
I am not the fastest swimmer in the world but I was also knackered and treating it purely as a training swim so I was a long way last.
So much so I had my own official canoe by my side tracking me home.
I was so pleased to see the finish line, I lifted my head and accidentally took a huge gulp of Thames water.
I should have immediately followed that up with a can of coke afterwards to kill any bugs but I forgot. I was off to a posh 80th birthday party for Auntie Beryl.
I wish I’d had the coke because later that day green/grey stuff was coming out of both ends of me.
There was obviously something really nasty, lurking in the Thames (there ‘s a surprise). And my whole body was trying to get rid of it from whatever orifice it could for about 12 hours.
Top down elimination diet
Once you’ve worked out where your issue is coming from and the timings of how long it spends there (see above), you can start.
With the top down approach, the idea is to stop one food group at a time and see which was causing the symptoms.
If you stop eating it and your problem goes away or improves then you have your culprit.
Remove the usual suspects first:
– eliminate dairy for at least a week, two weeks to be certain
– if nothing changes, continue to leave out the dairy and
remove gluten for the same amount of time, 2-3 weeks
if nothing changes, continue to leave out dairy and gluten but remove sugar too and add to your list of eliminated foods.
Putting it back into your diet
If you identify the food group that is causing the problem, because the problem disappears then fantastic, you need to avoid that food for at least 6 months.
After this amount of time, start having the food again (if you want to) in small amounts with gaps in between to recover.
Stop if you get the same problem recurring.
Cannot identify the problem
If you don’t identify the problem, then you need to start the bottom up approach by then eliminating all other processed foods from your diet.
Eliminate all processed food (bottom up)
List them out but don’t buy them. If your problem then goes away, you know that your problem is in the processed foods you’ve just given up.
Test one by one
To identify which one, you start putting back into your diet each one on your list, one by one. Giving each one 1 week to see if it disrupts your gut health.
Beware processed food
If it doesn’t carry on with the next one. But remember, processed food is not good for you. We were never meant to eat food in this way.
So don’t go back to eating the same processed food regulalry. Look upon it as a treat to have only once in a while.
Eliminating all processed food doesn’t work
However, if your gut health is still troubling you then you need to think about what is going on inside you.
You may have dysbiosis of the microbiome or a bacterial over-growth. Again consider going to the doctors or a functional medicine specialist (see above).
Narrowing down the culprits
Some symptoms can be fed by certain natural foods that are not being digested properly and being fermented in the small or large intestine.
At that point, you may need to look at something like the FODMAP diet. This diet takes out a number of otherwise healthy foods that ferment inside you and cause problems.
The FODMAP diet is a whole book on itself but it does work if you are prepared to work on it in return.
Other specific action
Sometimes, it may not just be one food that is causing the issue and you will need to take specific action.
Either to heal a diagnosed issue or to kill bad bacteria generally. Replacing it and feeding your microbiome with good bacteria.
At the end of the day you will need a healthy microbiome.
You can read about the different specific actions to take here.
The sense* approach
At sense* we try and step in at this stage.
When you are looking for a solution that deals with your symptoms, healing your gut microbiome with all the micro-nutrients that you need (Total nutrition).
Each ingredient we use is targeted at a specific problem (Targeted nutrition) and in a form that is easy to absorb (bio-available or absorption).
We call it …Total…Targeted…absorbed nutrition.
Hopefully, you will find the cause of your discomfort but it can be a long process so we are here to support you along the way with an expertly designed product, advice and information.
Having been through the process from start to finish myself, sense* for gut health has been designed to give your microbiome help where it needs it.
Food supplement capsules (30s)
Superfood supplement powders (150g-monthly)
Superfood supplement powders (35g-weekly)