Dietary Changes: The Stages of Grief and How To Stay Sane Through the Transition

Do beans give you gas? Corn makes you itchy? Does dairy give you an 8 months pregnant look? If so, there’s a good chance you could be dealing with some food sensitivities. For many, diet change is never given thought unless: 1) A medical diagnosis knocks you off your rocker and forces you to think about life and diet differently, or 2) You want to lose weight.

I think it's safe to say that unless something is obviously "wrong" with our health, we don't think about the foods we're putting in our bodies on a daily basis. The sad truth is that dysfunction can present in many different ways (skin irritations, chronic digestive issues, headaches, brain fog, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, etc), long before something as drastic as diabetes or obesity kicks in. Often, we don't think about these sometimes small, irritating inconveniences until they snowball into something much bigger and much more difficult to ignore. 

Our eating habits become so ingrained in who we are, starting at a young age (Sunday dinners, Friday night pizza, ice cream rewards, sugar laden birthday parties, holidays, etc), and solidifying with years of family traditions and outings with friends and loved ones. We obviously have to eat, and sometimes it can become as thoughtlessly second nature as pulling into the drive thru at your favorite fast food joint or immediately heading to the freezer for that pint of instant comfort food after a hard day at life. We become removed from the things we eat, and subsequently removed from the warning signs and symptoms our bodies give to alert us that things are off.

When we come face to face with the need to change our diet, how do we do it? How do we stay sane during the food elimination process, or muster up the gumption to even begin? I’ll be brutally honest: it’s difficult. It requires dedication, lifestyle shifts, and creativity. But knowing that it’s just a part of the process can ease the transition. Let me share with you the progression that tends to take place when making these changes:


1. Shock & Denial. “Do I really need to remove these foods from my diet?” “But they’re healthy foods!” “Are they reeeeally impacting me that much?” “Maybe I could get by with just having it sometimes.” “If I can’t eat _________, what on earth am I going to eat?!” “I know, I’ll have this just once a week as a treat!” “I can’t possibly be sensitive to that, I eat it every day!”

If you discover or even just suspect that a particular food isn’t suiting you, the best thing you can do for your health is remove it and give your body time to heal from the inflammation. Unfortunately, the foods we eat on a daily basis are the ones we’re most apt to become sensitive to. When we continue to inundate ourselves with foods that aren’t suiting us, our bodies will find a way to deal with it in the form of inflammation, whether internally (like increased gut permeability), or externally (think acne and other skin irritations). It’s easy to think that being sensitive to a food has to mean some type of drastic, immediate response, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our bodies are hardwired to find an avenue that can handle that inflammation, and left unchecked it can lead to greater dysfunction and disease.


2. Grief & Disbelief. Once we get over the denial component of how we need to change our dietary habits, the grief of loss inevitably sets in. Food carries strong emotional ties, so this process really can come with a season of mourning. Perhaps it’s that ritual morning cup of coffee (or several), or the bucket of popcorn at the movies, or even a special family favorite treat. We all have our things, and saying goodbye to them for any stretch of time is bound to feel like a tragedy.

Here’s the good news: an elimination diet doesn’t have to be forever. The food, the way your body is reacting to it, and the status of your intestinal environment will all factor into the timeframe for removing and reintroducing certain things. I’ll be frank: there are some foods that I absolutely believe should be removed forever (here’s lookin’ at you, gluten), as they don’t benefit anyone nutritionally, and can cause more harm than good. But in general, if you give your body the time and nutrients to heal, it will repair itself.


3. Overwhelm. Where do I start? What do I even eat now? There go all my favorite foods. When faced with the need to remove various foods from our diet, it becomes incredibly overwhelming, especially when many of those foods may inevitably be things we consume daily. Looking at all the “can’t haves” is daunting, and the frustration is undeniable.

This is also the part where you get to really exercise that brain of yours and come up with new foods to try and unique ways to enjoy them. Rather than focusing solely on the foods you have to avoid, start first with all the foods you can have. Look up new ways to prepare your favorite dishes with different ingredients, search for new foods and flavors that you’ve never tried before, and really pat yourself on the back for getting creative in the process and doing something so truly great for your health.


4Acceptance. While these changes will absolutely be difficult to start, your new dietary habits will become the norm. As with any habit change, it just takes time and dedication. When you start by mapping out all the things you can have, the task loses the shock and overwhelm and becomes so much less daunting. This can spark more creativity in the kitchen through trying new foods and recipes. Before you know it, this new set of dietary habits is second nature to you--and it also invariably brings with it a new level of health and feeling great that you didn't know was even possible. 


Friends, I’ve been on this journey myself, more than once. I’ve cleared up my own chronic skin issue and kept my autoimmune disease at bay with the healing power of food. Recently, I did some food sensitivity and gut health testing, and had to once again revamp my diet and make some changes. I journeyed through every single one of these stages (and back again!). It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but knowing that there is light at the end will motivate you through it. As I mentioned before, with food eliminations the goal is to give your body time to heal, not necessarily to restrict your diet forever. While I do think that some foods are best left out of the diet for good, the best diet is one that is full of variety. Let me just recap the key things during this process that will make it run a little more smoothly:

  • Start with what you CAN have.
  • Get creative with sourcing and trying new things.
  • Remember that it’s not necessarily a forever thing.
  • Use the time to really get in tune with your body and how you can determine what it’s telling you long before it’s too late.

If you’d like to learn more about determining your own food sensitivities and figuring out the current terrain of your gut, please get in touch with me here. I would love to encourage you along the path to finding your best health.