Part 5: Who shouldn’t do the Elemental Diet

Research has shown that the Elemental Diet is one of the most effective treatments for SIBO. Some patients experience up to 150 parts per million reductions in gas numbers after one round of treatment. A study also showed that it has an 80-84% success rate in eradicating SIBO.

However, it’s important to remember that the Elemental Diet is not for everyone. This treatment may not be suitable for some people. It is very restrictive, you don’t eat anything for 14 to 21 days and it can be too overwhelming for some people. You also need to make sure that you are physically and mentally capable before commencing it.

If you’re thinking about doing the Elemental Diet to treat your SIBO, I share some considerations on why you shouldn’t do the Elemental Diet below, and how to determine if this is the correct treatment for you.

When the Elemental Diet might not be appropriate for you

The Elemental Diet Part 5 Body Image 1

If you have a history of an eating disorder

The treatment itself and the food reintroduction phase can be very triggering for people with a history of, or susceptible to developing an eating disorder. 

If you’ve ever had an eating disorder, it’s important to talk with your practitioner and discuss whether this is appropriate for you, and how you will be monitored to ensure it doesn’t trigger your condition. Your doctor might recommend doing a partial Elemental Diet (where you eat simple protein meals in conjunction with the Elemental Diet drinks) or avoiding the treatment completely and using antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials instead.

It’s also important that you are in a good place psychologically. You need to be capable of dealing with the emotional toll the Elemental Diet may put on you. Even if you are feeling great now, the process of eliminating food can cause a recurrence of your past condition.

So work closely with your practitioner and psychologist in creating clear strategies to manage the physical and emotional effects of the treatment. This will help you start the Elemental Diet prepared and informed on what to do if it triggers past conditions.

SIBOers with candida overgrowth

The Elemental Diet is not recommended for people who have a yeast (candida) overgrowth. The treatment itself can knock the delicate balance of bacteria and yeast out of whack and leave you with a yeast overgrowth when your bacteria overgrowth is reduced. 

Some practitioners work with their patients to clear the yeast overgrowth prior to commencing the Elemental Diet. But if you’re really determined to start the treatment, your practitioner may advise incorporating antifungal medication to help manage it. It’s also suggested to take a maltodextrin-based formula as your gut will absorb it slower.

If you have diabetes or are undergoing dialysis treatment

Simple sugars in the Elemental Diet are not suitable for people with diabetes or kidney disease, especially if you’re undergoing dialysis. The formula in Elemental Diet shakes is high in carbohydrates (the commercial versions may contain up to 80% carbohydrates) which may cause blood sugar spikes.

A maltodextrin version of the Elemental Diet shake is also preferred instead of the glucose variants if you have these conditions, due to the slower absorption rate.

Underweight patients 

If SIBO has left you underweight, your priority will be to absorb enough nutrients so you don’t lose more weight. Some SIBOers enjoy finally gaining weight due to the Elemental Diet formula being quickly absorbed and providing their body with some much-needed nutrients. 

However, some people lose additional weight because they tend to under-consume the volume required to maintain weight. This can be due to an aversion to the taste, side effects such as die-off or a resumption of an eating disorder.

Your daily caloric intake will be calculated by your practitioner before commencing the Elemental Diet. If you’re underweight, you may also need to weigh yourself daily and report any weight loss to your practitioner so they can closely monitor your condition.

Patients who have extremely physically demanding jobs or activity levels

Doing the Elemental Diet means you need to give your body time to repair and heal. If you have major work commitments or lead a very busy lifestyle, this treatment may not provide the nutritional sustenance you require.

You may still opt for a partial Elemental Diet, where you eat simple proteins such as lean chicken or beef, in addition to drinking the Elemental Diet formula. But if you think this treatment is not really suitable for your lifestyle at the moment, work with your practitioner and explore other treatment options such as antimicrobials or antibiotics. 

If you don’t have time for it

If you’re very busy at work or you have a lot of things going on, it’s probably not the best time to undertake the Elemental Diet. You need to think of this treatment as a healing process or a retreat. Use this time to focus on yourself, the treatment and nothing else.

Things to the remember

  • Before doing the Elemental Diet, it’s highly recommended you work with your practitioner to determine if this is the correct treatment for you. 
  • It’s also essential to work with someone who has experience with the Elemental Diet and its potential side effects. They will help you understand the pros and cons of the treatment and plan how to reincorporate foods back into your diet post-Elemental Diet.
  • Although many SIBOers have found success reducing their SIBO after the Elemental Diet, remember that it’s not 100% effective. It can also worsen other conditions or food sensitivities in some patients. So make sure you’re clear on your expectations.

If you think the Elemental Diet is not suitable for you, don’t worry. It’s not the end of your journey. There are other treatment options you can explore that will help you live well with SIBO and beyond.

If you want to know more about my Elemental Diet journey, you can watch my YouTube vlog series here. Check out my Live Well With SIBO: 5 Week Challenge (On Demand) program if you’re also interested in learning more about the other SIBO treatment options. \

This article is the last part of a five-part series on the Elemental Diet. Read the first, second, third and fourth articles if you haven’t seen them yet. 

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