'Tips from an RD' Blog Series: by Taylor Silver, RD, IBCLC
Hello everyone, it’s Taylor here! If we haven’t met yet, I’m a Registered Dietitian (RD), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and one of the Allergy Experts here at Free to Feed. I’m incredibly passionate about helping families navigate infant food allergies. I have supported hundreds of families through this challenging journey, and I am a food allergy warrior myself. You can read more about my background here.
Below you’ll learn:
What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is a process of removing specific foods from your diet to identify if they may be causing allergic reactions. By eliminating certain foods from your diet when you are breastfeeding, you should see your baby’s symptoms improve, then eventually resolve completely. We like to call the point at which baby’s symptoms resolve completely ‘baseline’. When baseline is achieved, reintroductions can test for tolerance and confirm which foods are triggers for your child.
Who is an elimination diet for?
Elimination diets are often recommended for those breastfeeding infants who have food allergies or sensitivities. Common infant food allergens include cow's milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts as well as foods like rice and oats. It's important to note that an elimination diet should only be done under the guidance of a professional to ensure that you're still getting the necessary nutrients for both you and your baby (that’s where I come in!).
This article is for anyone about to embark on an elimination diet. Not sure if an elimination diet is right for you? This article is a great place to start.
Common elimination diet mistakes (and how to avoid them)
Before we dive into my top tips for a successful elimination diet, I want to quickly cover the elimination diet mistakes I see most often, so you can avoid them! Eliminating any food that is a household staple is going to be a challenge. We so often jump into an elimination diet desperate to ease our baby’s inconsolable crying, crazy diapers, sleepless nights, etc. However, if we dive in with nothing in our house that we can eat, everyone will suffer. As well as our bodies and mental health.
The first common mistake I see is jumping into an elimination diet on your own, without any expert support or guidance. You should not do an elimination diet without the advice and guidance of a professional. Whether that’s your pediatrician or a Free to Feed Allergy Expert (we provide 1:1 consults for exactly this, to create a personalized plan for you!), you will likely encounter a ton of challenges if you try to tackle this on your own.
Another common mistake I see is not planning and prepping food for the week ahead. Preparing nutrient-dense safe food ahead of time can make nourishing your body during the elimination trial so much doable.
Lastly, it is so easy to get comfortable with a handful of known safe foods and never want to leave that symptom-free happy place. Remember, an elimination diet is often meant to be temporary and short-term, just until we see resolve your baby’s symptoms. Once that is reached, the goal is to continue to move onward and upward by adding foods back into your diet to test for tolerance. The lack of variety and elimination of major food groups for an extended period of time can often lead to nutritional deficiencies. This is especially important for lactating individuals.
8 Tips for a Successful Elimination Diet
Here at Free to Feed, our goal is to make the often challenging process of an elimination diet easier for YOU by providing convenient and nutritious recipes, safe product recommendations, and not only foods to avoid, but also lists of foods that you can safely eat! Let’s dive into my top 8 tips for a successful elimination diet below:
Go into it with an elimination strategy. I recommend booking a 1:1 consult with a Free to Feed Allergy Expert first to confirm an elimination diet is the best next step for you, and second, to create a personalized elimination diet plan for your situation. If you try to navigate this on your own you might end up cutting out way more food than you need to, leading to a very restrictive diet and potential negative health complications. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, and reach out for expert guidance BEFORE you start an elimination diet.
Keep it simple, wholesome and minimally processed. There may be some convenience food items that fit with your specific diet and yes, when you find those gems, buy them! However, when avoiding hidden sources of things like dairy, soy, and corn, you will quickly discover how many ingredients are actually in our food that conveniently come in a box or a bag. To be on the safe side, choosing single-ingredient whole food is a good way to go! And you will limit losing your mind over label reading. Remember, meals don’t need to be elaborate to be nutritious. I will say it again, keep it simple.
Plan on grocery trips talking a bit longer than usual. Your first trip to the store with a long list of things to avoid should not be rushed in between dance and soccer practice with the baby and toddler. Try to find a time (and yes this may be late at night) to go alone so you have time to double check labels and discover new foods. I highly recommend going with a shopping list in hand to give you direction. You can also order groceries online to be delivered or opt. for grocery pick up to save some time. As with anything, at the start of an elimination diet there will be a learning curve as you learn how to read ingredient labels and what to look out for. To make things a bit easier on you, we’ve compiled a Food Allergy Essentials List on Amazon where you can shop our favorite allergy friendly food, baking ingredients, snacks, and more, all inspired by Dr. Trill’s cookbook.
Meal prep is essential! There is nothing better than making it to the end of a long day, not feeling like cooking and remembering you have a tasty, safe, homemade meal in the freezer that will be ready to eat with a quick trip in the oven. Setting aside some time on the weekend (or whenever is convenient) to make and prep some snack combos and meals ahead of time can really make a difference when you feel that hunger strike during a busy day. BONUS TIP: I highly recommend doubling or tripling a recipe when you are meal prepping. This will make your valuable time spent meal prepping even more worthwhile, and ultimately give you more convenient meals to enjoy! Be sure to label the containers with the date that it was made and the instructions for cooking and preparation before you pop those extras into the freezer.
Plan ahead. When going to social events or eating out, plan ahead. Most chain restaurants contain allergen information on their website. If going to a local restaurant, call ahead and ask all the things, or review their menu online. This way you will know what you can eat and not have to make it a big deal when with friends. You will quickly learn where your new favorite restaurants are and can suggest those safe places when asked about where to eat.
Get creative! Find ways to alter your favorite recipes rather than completely starting over. You might be surprised how many easy cooking swaps you can make with allergy friendly staples, providing a very similar result. You might find our Elimination Diet Easy Food Swap Tips article helpful! Getting more confident in the kitchen can be liberating and fun. Find a cooking buddy to experiment with!
It takes a village, really. Preparing for an elimination diet requires quite a bit of extra effort. The fourth trimester is already enough of a challenge in many ways. Reach out to your support system. You will be surprised how many people around you are willing to help. Helping out with other kiddos, daily chores, meal prep, making a freezer meal, or picking up your grocery order are all things that can really help take the immense load off your shoulders. Friends and family often want to help out but simply don’t know how. Check out our How Your Loved Ones Can Help You Succeed Breastfeeding Your Baby With Food Allergies article for some ideas on how to pull in help from those around you to reach your feeding goals. BONUS TIP: I find making a to-do list, either in the notes in my phone, or written on paper, helps a ton. I can easily reference it when someone asks “how can I help?”. You will likely be sleep deprived those first few weeks and months, so having household tasks written down helps avoid the inevitable mind blanks I surely experienced during my fourth trimester.
Meal planning can help ensure more balance in your diet. Planning out a menu for the week can feel like a ton of work, but it doesn’t have to be so daunting! It can be as simple or detailed as you want, but it needs to be made a priority. Plus, the benefits of increased variety, more satisfying meal options and cost savings really make it worth it. The more colorful the plate, the more nutrient variety you have! Avoid getting caught in the (understandable) loop of eating the same few safe foods every day and write down your menu to see where you could create more balance. If you are needing a good place to start, I recommend grabbing a copy of Dr. Trill’s Plate e-Cookbook: 7 Days of Nutrient Rich Allergy Friendly Meals. I also created a helpful weekly meal plan template for you to use as you prepare for your elimination diet - grab yours by clicking below, print and fill out to plan for the week ahead. There are two versions included, one for parents with babies younger than 6 months, and one for those with babies 6 months and older that have started solids.
You can do this! Elimination diets are restrictive, challenging, and can feel downright overwhelming at times. Many days you will want to throw in the towel, but with the support of those around you, the guidance from Allergy Experts that have successfully navigated the challenges your facing, you CAN do this (with less pain and tears). It is possible to feel nourished, satisfied and healthy during an elimination diet, but it takes a bit of planning and preparation. Remember, this is only a temporary chapter. You will get through this.
If you are struggling to thrive, feeling constantly hungry or not sure how to manage all of this alone, please reach out. We are here to support you. We are here to cheer you on, problem solve with you and find ways that can make this more doable for your unique circumstances. I recommend you lean on an Allergy Expert (like me!) who has been through the challenges you are currently facing, and can relate to what you are feeling. Not only do our Allergy Experts have first-hand experience navigating infant food allergies in our own families, we’ve directly helped over 5,000 families find success with our consultations. Book a personalized 1:1 consult here.
You got this! I believe in you, and I’m here to support you in reaching your goals!
Bye for now,