How to Make an Elimination Diet Plan
New Years Day: widely recognized for its hangovers, its masses of confetti and its promises to start something new. To be different than last year. To change.
Maybe this is the year you offer your body a little reset in earnest, to jump into 2018 on a different foot. Committing to an elimination diet plan—that is, temporarily removing certain foods from your routine—is a good chance to experience what it feels like to be without often addictive, habit-forming, perhaps less-than-good-for-you foods.
When it comes to taking on an elimination diet, January is really an arbitrary place to start, but it can be a motivator to mix things up, when everyone else is jumping on the Resolutions bandwagon. And if it turns out you like what you experience, we have good news: by doing a reset, you may actively remove old habits and train in new ones, meaning you’ll have a better shot in the year ahead of sticking to what you’ve created.
Why Many Diet Resolutions Fail — And How to Start in the Right Mindset
Habits are the basis for much of our decision-making. They provide structure and predictability, and that’s comforting for a brain and body that prefer things to be as stress-less as possible. While this can often be a good thing—like putting on a seatbelt when you get in a car or packing your gym bag the night before—habits can also be detrimental, like always grabbing a handful of cookies from the office cookie jar on your way to the photocopier.
Food habits are some of the toughest to break. When the body is reliant on certain foods (candy, baked goods) or certain food behaviors (eating while watching TV, always picking up dressed-up coffee before work), making a switch to implement other foods or behaviors can be tricky.
The key is making small, measurable changes and having alternatives available to make the change seem manageable, easy and worth doing. You can’t build a habit around not doing something, so implementing something in an old habit’s place is essential to being able to keep it up long-term.
If you’re considering doing a January elimination diet, get clear with yourself on why you’re doing it. A strong motivation is essential to sticking with a new habit, even during its experimental phase. Most importantly, it should be a goal you’re setting for yourself, not for someone else’s benefit or at their urging.
According to the Center for Disease Control, developing new eating habits (the basis for your elimination experiment) happens in three steps: reflection, replacement and reinforcement. Before you begin your elimination, reflect on your current eating habits and your triggers for unhealthy eating, like environmental cues that make those foods particularly appealing.
Identify new foods or behaviors to take the place of these, then reinforce your new choices by setting yourself up for success: plan your meals, grocery shop for healthy ingredients, remove problematic foods from your pantry and research menus in advance to help yourself make nourishing choices when you’re dining out. This last phase of reinforcement is also called “stability” when the habit is deeply ingrained enough to be practiced in a lasting way with minimal effort.
Ready? Let’s Build Your Elimination Diet Plan
This January, should you decide to make an experiment of breaking up with your trigger foods or simply reducing your sugar intake to give your pancreas a break post-holidays, here’s a simple breakdown to get started:
- Decide which foods you would like to consume less of (sugar, dairy, refined starches, alcohol, meat and poultry?). This list of these foods is different for everyone, but what you choose to leave in or take out is up to you. The best way to approach this might be to think about foods you have a hard time saying no to, especially if they are ones that leave you feeling lethargic, bloated, unhappy or unwell.
- Assign a time frame to this goal, such as ‘all of January’ or ‘the next three weeks.’
- Identify which foods you would like to take the place of your trigger foods (green veggies, orange veggies, whole grains, natural sweeteners, beans and legumes?) and give focus to doing more of the desired thing, rather than focusing on not being able to do the “bad” thing. Focusing on deprivation will set you up for failure, so set your mind to appreciate the variety of new foods you’ve created space for in your life.
- Create an action plan that you can do on a daily basis to make sticking to your new habits a little easier and more joyful. This might mean grocery shopping, prepping your meals, drinking more smoothies, making lunch at home instead of buying it, or having nourishing treats at your desk to help you avoid the cookie stash. Think about when and where will these things take place and how much time and resources will you need to dedicate to them. Keep in mind that creating a stable, consistent time frame for this portion is key. For example, ‘At lunchtime, I will eat a meal that is 80% veggies and 20% protein’ or ‘I will prep my dinners in advance by making one slow cooker meal each week.’
- Each day, do the thing you set out to do. If it’s helpful, record your progress on a tracking sheet. A star chart, a la elementary school, is effective for a reason!
- At the end of the designated time period, consider adding back in the old food or habit and see how you feel. You might be surprised to discover that your old ways aren’t as appealing anymore, or you may discover that there’s room in your life for a cookie now and then.
A January reset can be a great time to experiment: perhaps there are foods or food behaviors getting in your way, or perhaps your digestive tract could use a little break after a season of heavy meals and more drinking than usual. Either way, you may wish to use the momentum of those around you taking on resolutions left and right to try something new. Stay curious throughout: it might be the start of a new year and a new you.
– Amy Height