In the second part of my Elemental Diet blog series, I shared with you some tips on how to cope with the treatment, how to consume it correctly and what signs you need to look out for.
Now, let’s talk about how to come off the Elemental Diet and the things you need to consider before reintroducing foods.
Game plan for coming off the Elemental Diet
Did you know that doing the Elemental Diet switches your gut off by approximately 80%? And it can actually take up to 6 weeks to fully reintroduce foods back into your diet after the treatment.
Think of it like a fire that has died right down and only has a few embers left. You need to rebuild it by adding kindling, then small sticks and logs to get the fire going again.
Reintroducing food after weeks of not eating anything can be exciting and challenging at the same time. This is why you need to prepare for success. To help you get started, here are some proven techniques you can do to help your gut digest and absorb foods well after the Elemental Diet.
- Take big deep breaths to switch into the rest and digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system). This practice is very helpful to get your digestive system ready to accept food.
- Stretch and do gentle exercises to help open up your digestive tract. It can also help calm your nervous system and support your parasympathetic state.
- Visualise what the food tastes like, how you will digest and absorb it, and how it can help heal your body. This conscious visualisation helps your brain send signals to your stomach that it needs plenty of digestive enzymes to process the food you’re eating.
- Eat when you’re calm and not when you’re rushed, stressed or anxious. Always give yourself an ample amount of time to eat, approximately 20 minutes per meal.
- Take digestive enzymes, bitters or hydrochloric acid before a meal to help with the digestive process. You can also take a prokinetic before or after a meal to help support the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC).
- Always chew every mouthful slowly, even soups and purées. This is extremely important when transitioning after the Elemental Diet. Chewing stimulates your body’s own digestive enzymes and secretions. The more you chew, the more you tell your brain to switch the gut on and process your food.
- Avoid speed eating by putting your utensils down between each mouthful.
- Do some breathing techniques while eating if you feel you are rushing or anxious.
- Avoid distractions. Turn the TV off, put your phone down and don’t look at your electronic devices. Just focus on eating so the brain-gut connection can work properly.
- Do some stress reduction exercises if you feel like stress or anxiety is creeping back in. Eating food is the first step in the digestive process so your body needs to remain in a calm state after eating to support digestion and absorption.
- Take note that it takes several hours to digest a meal. So you need to stay in 'rest and digest’ mode to support proper digestion.
Other activities that may help you
Food reintroduction is an important part of your treatment. However, this step can be stress-inducing as well. Aside from the tips I shared above, here are other activities I did during my food reintroduction phase which can also help you on your Elemental Diet journey.
Deep breathing exercises
When reintroducing foods to your system, it’s important to give your body a chance to prepare itself. You can do this through some simple breathing, visualisation and mindset exercises.
Have you ever tried to eat a meal when you’re stressed and it ends up sitting like a rock in your stomach? If you haven’t prepared your body for food, it can impair the digestion process. A very simple technique is to breathe. Big belly breaths help switch our nervous system into rest and digest mode, which is where you need to be for optimal digestion.
Give yourself a chance to take several deep, lung filling breaths and slowly exhale. Repeat this step until you feel calmer. This may take 3 breaths or 15, and may change day to day. Tune into your body and breath until you feel ready to eat.
Movement is a critical part of our digestion process. It helps strengthen our bodily functions used to pass food and other matter through our gut. Studies have also shown that exercise may actually alter the bacterial composition of our digestive system, leading to a balanced and healthy gut microbiome.
However, not all exercises are created equal. That’s why it’s important to find one that is appropriate for your current health. As you start reintroducing foods again, try gentle exercises like yoga at least once a week. Yoga can be useful for massaging the gut during bends and twists. Walking is also a good low-impact exercise that can help improve the movement of food through the gut. Gentle belly rubs are also great in relieving tension and aiding your digestion.
One of the most important supplements to take when coming off the Elemental Diet is a prokinetic. Prokinetics are used to support the MMC, which is the sweeper wave pushing food and matter through the small intestine, down to the large intestine.
There are herbal and pharmaceutical prokinetics that can be taken, depending on your requirements and sensitivities. Dr Allison Siebecker has a handy list on her website that you might want to check out.
The most important time to take a prokinetic is at bedtime, as the prokinetic can take effect when you are in your longest fasting state - while you are asleep. However, many people need extra support after coming off the Elemental Diet, so they take additional dosages either before or after a meal. You may need to experiment with what works best for you.
Some prokinetics Dr Allison Siebecker recommends are:
- Herbal: MotilPro, Prokine, Iberogast, Motility Activator, ginger
- Pharmaceutical: Low dose naltrexone, low dose erythromycin, prucalopride
Experiencing symptoms is very normal when we reintroduce food after an extended break. You can expect gurgling, bloating, gas, fatigue, constipation and/or diarrhoea, and many more.
If you want to track your symptoms during this phase, I recommend you use my Food and Mood Diary. This is a handy tool that can help you tune in with your body and track how you feel.
By tracking your symptoms, you may find patterns in the foods you are reacting to. If your body doesn’t cope with certain foods right now, come back to them. Remember, this is not a race - the slower you reintroduce foods the more success you can have with them.
If you need to go back to eating purées and soups for a day or two to let your gut calm down, that’s totally okay. However, if you can’t get past soups and purées, you need to work with your practitioner to identify if something else is going on in your gut that needs treatment.
Dr Allison Siebecker has a handy symptomatic relief guide on her website which you might find helpful.
Your practitioner might ask you to retest on the final day of the Elemental Diet or on day 14. Some people wait until they have completely reincorporated foods to see their ‘normal’ gut position after the Elemental Diet.
If your breath test shows that you still have SIBO after 14 days of doing the Elemental Diet, you may like to continue to 21 days to reduce the overgrowth even further. However, some people feel that they can’t continue another day on it and move on to antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials if they still have work to do.
In some cases, people don’t clear their SIBO after undertaking the Elemental Diet and for an unlucky few, their numbers go up rather than down.
I know that this can be incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking, as undertaking the Elemental Diet is no mean feat. But keep in mind that this is not the end of your journey. What it is telling you is there’s more work to do and more investigations are needed to be done to know why your gut is not responding to the treatment.
Talk to your practitioner and work out what else needs to be uncovered to help your body make progress. You can also reach out to SIBO support groups online and talk to people who are going through a similar journey as you.
If you want to know more about my Elemental Diet experience and how I came off the treatment, you can watch my YouTube vlog series here. If you would like to learn more about other SIBO treatment options, check out my Live Well With SIBO: 5 Week Challenge (On Demand) program.