How to stay on a limited diet


Last week I spoke with a lovely woman who was having a hard time sticking to her allergen-free limited diet.  She said she would do great for a while, start to feel healthy and then she would start to eat the things that make her feel bad again.  She  said she missed the carbs and craved breads so this is where she would cheat.

Does this sound familiar?  I personally went through this up and down roller coaster for years before I was able to stay on the diet I’m on now.  It is simply very hard living in a world that offers you food left and right that may taste good to you but will ultimately make you feel sick.

For me, I convinced myself that I could eat wheat and other foods in moderation and that I was okay with this model.  But in truth, I was pretty much in denial because I had a terrible mystery rash on my legs that wouldn’t go away as well as many other physical and emotional issues.

But to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to give up the things I loved to eat.  It seemed too hard, too restrictive and I just didn’t want to go there for a long period of time.  This continued until I came to the point where I either had to change or else go down a road that lead to a lot of misery.

I know this is a big struggle for many of us living with food allergies so I thought I’d make a list of things that help me to stay on the diet I’m on.  If you have more ideas to offer, I’d love to hear from you.

1.  Have a reality check: This is going to be different for you depending on if you’re just starting a limited diet or if you’ve been on one for a while.

Either way though, having a reality check is looking at your life, your body, and your overall well-being and happiness and seeing where you are, and where you’d like to be.  If you’re thinking about starting a limited diet at least for a short period of time, you can make a list of physical or emotional problems that you might hope would be helped by changing your diet.

If you’ve been on a limited diet for a while and it’s helping you feel better – but you find yourself cheating now and then which in turn makes you feel bad again, doing a “reality check” can help you focus on what you really want instead of what looks good in the moment – like, the bagel.

Before I have gone on any kind of limited diet, I have done a “reality check” so that I’m focused on what can improve from my diet change instead of how hard it is to give up certain foods.  I usually think about the problems I’m having – and then give myself a little pep talk about how my life might just get better if I am able to stick to the limited diet.

This works for me because it makes me want better health and happiness MORE than the muffin or bread.  So while I may come face to face with muffins and cereals everyday, when I see them, I tell myself, “That is only going to make me feel _____________ (fill in the blank) if I eat it.”  When I think about the consequence, it’s SO much easier to resist something that looks so tempting.

Of course, if you’re just starting out and don’t know what life is like on the “other side,” it’s a little harder to imagine how you might feel.  But if your doctor is recommending this diet, then they probably know that the diet change will make you feel better.

2.  Make a commitment to yourself and your health: This has to come from inside your heart and mind.  And if you don’t want a limited diet, but want better health and happiness, this is what you can focus on.  It’s a commitment that only you can give yourself.  No matter what your doctor is telling you to do, you still have to decide to do this crazy diet if you want to see if it will help you or not.

This may take time.  I spent over 13 years trying to convince myself that my problems were not that bad and that it wasn’t really the food and that I could eat wheat and gluten in moderation, la de dah de dah!

But you’ll know when you’re ready.  It might be at a very low point in your life where you realize that something has to change.  It was for me.  But unfortunately, sometimes it is because of the hard stuff in life that we are forced to change and take better care of ourselves.

But even if your issues are just mildly annoying to you right now, you can still make a commitment to change your diet.  Either way, you can simply do this internally or you can physically write down your commitment.  This may be helpful if you keep pushing off starting the diet.

So, mark the calendar of when you want to start.  Next to it write out your commitment to yourself to follow the diet and what you’d hope to change by doing it.

3.  Prepare!  Prepare!  Prepare! This is just as important as the reality check and the commitment process.  If you’re not prepared, you probably won’t last but a day on the diet.

If you live alone, going on a limited diet is MUCH easier than when you’re a mom or dad and cooking food for the whole family.  If you’re the only one on the limited diet, this is very difficult because you are around people all the time who are eating foods that you’re supposed to avoid.

However, here are some tips.

Organize your cupboards and fridge so that you create a space that has food that you can eat.  This is very important because once you start your diet, you will most likely be hungry and looking for something to eat.  But if you have an area in your fridge and pantry that has food you can eat, this will make things much easier for you.

Here are some “snacks” that may be helpful to have on hand:

Cook one meal for the whole family as much as possible. Even if your kids and spouse aren’t following your diet, you can still (most likely) cook meals that everyone can eat.  Of course this totally depends upon the degree of limitation of your diet.  But if you can, find recipes that everyone can eat to make cooking easier.

Bake goodies for yourself and your family. Yes, you’ll be craving bread and sweets and everything in between.  So get prepared.  Find recipes that work for your new diet and start baking.  This is the only way you’ll get through the first part of eliminating certain foods from your diet.  And most likely the only way you’re going to stay on the diet for the long run.

And even if you can’t eat dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs, nuts, grains, yeast, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, you can still most likely have baked goods.  Really?!  Yes!  But just be prepared to make them yourself!  If you’re looking for recipes, you can check out the different weekly menu planners I have available.  I am also more than happy to email recipes to people so if you’re looking for something specific, don’t hesitate to ask or contact me.

Make a list of foods you CAN eat: This is also a vital step.  This will help you immensely when it comes to meal planning.  If you’re focused on the foods you can’t eat, you won’t get very far.  But if you focus on the vast array of food that is available, your options begin to show themselves to you.

I personally have an Excel sheet with almost every kind of (“common”) food available.  Then I check off all the things that I can’t eat so that I’m left with the foods I can eat.  From there, I can search for recipes that include those ingredients which I can eat.

If everyone in your family has different limitations, it will be important to make a chart that shows who can eat what.  Then make a master list of what EVERYONE can eat and try to create as many menu options with these as possible.  This way you’ll cut down on the cooking and you won’t have as many foods around the house that you can’t eat.

Look for recipes and experiment:  Before you fully commit to the diet, just start doing some research by finding some recipes that work for you.  You can use your list of “CAN” foods for you and your family and start brainstorming some ideas.  If you’re still stuck, you can check out one of menu planners.  You can also search for recipes through all of the great cooking websites available these days to find recipes that work for your diet.

Once you have a list of recipes that you think will work for you and/or the family, go shopping.  Then start cooking some foods and recipes that may be new to you.  You should do this before your “commitment date” so that you have already started experimenting with new foods before you start.

Menu plan: Once you have made a few new recipes, you will want to plan for an entire week of meals so that you don’t start your diet not knowing what you will eat during the week.  You probably already have some ideas from your experimenting stage.  So add to the list and create at least 5 meals for the week for dinners and possibly breakfast and lunch ideas if these are needed as well.  Make a shopping list too, so that it’s easy to do the shopping when you’re ready.

It’s also very helpful to print or copy all the recipes you plan to use for the week and put them in a folder in the kitchen.  Also print your menu plan so that you know what you’re making during the week.

4.  Take your time and ease into the diet: Once you have done all of the above steps, it would seem obvious to start the diet cold turkey.  But what if this new diet is free of so many foods that you’re used to eating everyday?

The best way I find to go on a very limited diet is to take it in steps.  If you eliminate everything, you will shock your system, probably have a lot of die-off, feel miserable and then want to go back to eating what you ate before – because you actually felt “better” before this crazy diet!

What is die-off? This is the process of the overgrowth of yeasts in our bodies “dying off.”  It’s a good thing and happens when you go on an elimination diet, eat coconut oil, take probiotics or other lacto-fermented foods.  But what can happen is your body is trying to get rid of the toxins faster than it is able to.  So, for a brief time – or up to a few days – you can have symptoms come back stronger than before and you can feel pretty awful.  But this is a GOOD sign!  This is not a sign that you’re doing something wrong.  But it may be a sign to slow down on the probiotics or on your diet.

So in order to avoid incredible periods of feeling miserable from die-off, you can take things slow and at your own pace.  For me, I was on a gluten and dairy free diet.  Then I was introduced to GAPS and slowly eliminated grains.  Then I eliminated all starches and sugars.  Eventually I eliminated eggs, and I am finally gearing up to do the “Intro” diet for GAPS.  This is meant to be done at the beginning of the diet, but for me, it wasn’t the right time yet.  I also feel that I won’t have as much die-off this way since I’ve been eating Full GAPS for almost a year now.

5.  Focus on the positive and seek support: I may have touched on this before, but I’ll say it again because it’s important – focus on the postitive.  Even if you’re feeling awful when you first start, try to stay focused on the fact that you will start to feel better in time.  Everyone is different so I can’t say what will happen for you.  But for many, once they get through the initial detox period, they do start to feel better by being on a limited diet.

The other really important aspect is seeking support from other people.  These can be your family, friends, or people you don’t know who are on the same diet as you.  One resource for people doing the GAPS diet is the GAPS Yahoo support group.  It is very supportive and if you have questions, it is a great place to find answers.

There are also a lot of forums out there for specific diets, so you can try doing a search for you specific diet plus forum.

I think that is it for now.  I’d love to hear from you if you need help with your limited diet or if you have any other helpful suggestions for people on limited and allergen-free diets.

Have a great day!

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  1. Sarah, thanks for the little pep-talk! It seems like I’m struggling with different food issues and I’ll pop onto your blog to find you’ve written something that has encouraged me! 🙂 I was just thinking that since summer is over, it’s the perfect time to fine-tune my diet again. I hate to admit this, but I usually gorge myself on the food I’m giving up. Two reasons: First, it’s like a last “good-bye” to last food. Secondly, it is easier for me to tell if that food really was bothering me. I hope that helps someone else. Thanks again for your blog!

  2. Hi Sarah! What a great post. Thank you do much for it, it is perfect timing for me! Any chance I could get a copy of the excel sheet with most “common” foods on it….? Is it available online somewhere? I was just thinking why re-enter all those if someone else has already done it. 🙂


  1. […] How to Stay on a Limited Diet and Life Before and After the GAPS Diet – from Sarah at Heart of Cooking […]

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