Most people have tried a handful of these restrictions at one point or another, see varying results, only to inevitably return to old habits as the diets the experts have advocated prove to be unsustainable, or incompatible with any semblance of an enjoyable social life, or both.
The big problem with universally prescribed diets is that they assume that everyone is the same.
The fact is, if you are a 52 year old woman of Scandinavian descent, your body is probably going to react to certain ingredients in very different ways than a 23 year old man from Vietnam.
Of course, there have been some attempts to predict these differences. Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo created the blood type diet to try to use evolutionary trends as a means of determining the ideal diet for individuals with a similar bloodline, but to date no study has shown evidence to support his theory’s efficacy.
Ayurvedic medicine makes dietary recommendations depending on an individuals dominant Dosha (constitutional type), but while they can be effective in a general sense, these recommendations are often not specific enough for someone to determine exactly which foods are actually the best for their body.
Because we are all different, it is positively impossible to declare that one diet is the right one for everyone.
The only thing that is certain is that fresh, high quality, whole ingredients are always the best choice.
This means that most dishes are composed predominantly of fresh organic vegetables, with some grass-fed, hormone-free, ethically-raised meat, and/or whole grains, and occasional fruit and/or high-quality organic grass-fed dairy, and even more occasional less-than-nutritious treats.
Whether healthy choices specifically include tree nuts or nightshades or gluten or dairy or citrus fruit (or or or or or…) is really dependent on the individual who is eating them and their personal internal chemistry.
Understanding how your body reacts to different foods can have huge consequences on your health and life in general.
If you eat foods that are difficult for your body to process, you end up with chronic low-grade systemic inflammation.
When you eat these foods, you’ll end up with symptoms like gas, bloating, loose stools, constipation, as well as less obvious food related symptoms like asthma, mood swings, fatigue and malaise, mental illness, acne, psoriasis, insomnia, arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, muscle pains, headaches or migraines, sore throat, poor memory, etc.
Anyone with chronic symptoms of any kind, whether mild or severe, should do an elimination diet in order to rule out the possibility that their symptoms are caused by internal reactions to the food they are eating.
How to Find Your Ideal Diet
Now that you understand why there is no one ideal diet, you’re probably wondering how in the world you’re supposed to figure out the diet that is best for you, right?
The truth is, it’s going to take some discipline, curiosity, and patience to find out exactly which foods truly benefit your body and which don’t work as well.
To make matters even more complicated, the foods that are best for you will change slightly with the seasons. (Click these links to read past Della Terra articles on Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer health.)
The best way to find your ideal diet is by doing an elimination diet.
There are two kinds of elimination diets I recommend, the Anti-Inflammatory Elimination Diet and the Whole30® Paleolithic diet.
While these diets have a few key differences, what they do have in common is their experimental nature and the importance of the systematic process of reintroduction, which we’ll get into toward the end of the article.
Before you start your diet, make a list of all the symptoms that you experience on a weekly and/or daily basis. These might be the symptoms I listed above, or you might have other symptoms that bother you regularly. You might also want to record the time of day, frequency, consistency, and what you ate before your bowel movements.
Write this information down in a safe place so you can refer back to it later.
*A word of caution before we delve into the details. These diets are not a medical treatment and are not meant to diagnose disease in any way. Please consult your doctor before attempting either of these diets, especially if you are on any kind of prescribed medication as the dosage may need to be adjusted throughout the course of the diet.
The Anti-Inflammatory Elimination Diet
The anti-inflammatory elimination diet is specifically designed to help you determine which foods cause a negative reaction in your body. In it, you’ll eliminate some of the most statistically reactive foods from your diet.
Note though, that if you have a hunch that another food (like mushrooms or chicken, for example) might be the culprit behind your symptoms, you can always eliminate those as well to get an accurate understanding of how your own body works.
You’ll need about 5 weeks to complete the Anti-Inflammatory Elimination Diet, and you’ll need to be very disciplined if you want to get accurate results.
You’re most likely to be successful if you avoid temptation for these 5 weeks.
That means that unless you have the utmost confidence in your personal discipline when it comes to food, you won’t be going to parties, traveling, or eating out much during this time, so plan accordingly.
The Anti-Inflammatory Elimination Diet takes out all foods that could potentially cause an adverse reaction in your body.
For the first three weeks of the diet, you need to eliminate every trace of the following ingredients:
Soy (including lecithin and Vitamin E supplements)
Dairy (from all animals, lactose, and milk proteins like casein and whey are also to be avoided, but clarified butter/ghee is okay)
Gluten (the most common glutenous grains include barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt)
Nightshades (eggplant, tomato, potato, peppers, and yams. Exceptions include black pepper and sweet potatoes)
Caffeinated beverages (and decaffeinated beverages, which still contain some caffeine)
Artificial food coloring
This might seem impossible, but it’s only three weeks, and if you cook at home it’s not too hard to do.
I recommend focusing on one or two vegetables for every meal, and rotating chicken, turkey, and fish for protein, spruce up some rice, quinoa, millet, or amaranth dishes with different kinds of fresh herbs, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes, spices, and cooking methods for variety.
The Whole 30 Paleolithic Diet
The Whole 30 Paleolithic Diet is the brilliant creation of Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Their New York Times bestselling book, It Starts with Food, and their website, Whole30 , provide you with all the information you need to get you started, so I won’t go into too much detail here.
What I like best about these guys is that they focus on what you can eat and why you should be eating it, rather than making you feel deprived of what you can’t have on the diet.
In fact, the Hartwigs have framed their program in such a way that after the more disciplined Whole30, it transforms into a lifestyle focused on real food and individual choice (Whole9Life), rather than a restrictive and ephemeral diet.
Moreover, they acknowledge the immense psychological impact food can have on us, and provide a plethora of strategies, resources, information and motivation to help you get through the tough moments.
The one criticism I have of their program is that while they touch on the reintroduction process, they don’t emphasize it strongly enough. Meanwhile, the reintroduction phase can be a pivotal opportunity for people to discover how their body reacts to certain foods.
The Reintroduction Phase
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that this phase is of utmost importance, I’m finally going to give you the details on how to do it properly.
Whether you choose to do the Anti-Inflammatory Elimination Diet, or you jump on the Whole30 bandwagon, your body is going to clear itself of a lot of the chronic inflammation that it piled on from your diet before.
Consequently, you should notice a reduction in the symptoms that bothered you before your 3 weeks-30 days of clean eating.
Although it’s tempting to eat a giant bowl of ice-cream followed by a big back of potato chips on the morning after the designated time is up, you won’t ever know what ingredients your body specifically reacts to negatively if you don’t do the reintroduction phase systematically.
So on Day 1 after your 3 weeks/30 days are up, choose just ONE food group to reintroduce, and reintroduce it heavily for just one day.
For example, I might choose to reintroduce dairy first.
So on Day 1 post-diet, I would eat a cup of yogurt or cottage cheese with my breakfast, cover my veggie-fried-rice with cheddar cheese for lunch, and enjoy a glass of milk after dinner.
In other words, the only difference between Day 1 post-diet and the last day of the diet is the addition of one pro-inflammatory ingredient (in this case, dairy).
By isolating each pro-inflammatory ingredient and testing it out heavily for one day, I can then accurately determine if my body reacts to it in any outstanding ways.
Then on Day 2 post-diet I would go back to the diet without the ingredient I am testing (in this example, dairy), and record any symptoms that may come up, just like I did before the diet started.
If I had no symptoms after piling on the dairy products, then I can continue eating dairy without any worries.
If, on the other hand, I noticed that my nose started running or that I suddenly became constipated (or any other extraordinary symptoms appeared,) then I would continue to eliminate dairy until I had tested all the remaining ingredients on my elimination list.
On Day 3 post-diet, I then might move on to gluten, and eat as much gluten as I can for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
On Day 4 post-diet I again eliminate gluten and monitor my symptoms to see if anything comes up. If everything is normal, I can keep eating gluten. If symptoms show up, I’ll avoid gluten until I’ve tested all the remaining ingredients.
And so on.
The whole reintroduction phase should last about 2-3 weeks.
Chances are you won’t react to most of the pro-inflammatory ingredients, but if you do you’ll be able to make the conscious choice whether or not to eat it in the future, with an increased awareness of how you’ll be affected.
And once you know which foods your body reacts to, you’ll have a better idea of your personal ideal diet.