It can feel overwhelming to reintroduce foods you have avoided for months and sometimes even years. Mentally, you may worry that you are going to react when you add in a former trigger food. Physically, you may experience symptoms when you try to add foods back in.
These hurdles can leave you feeling stuck on a restrictive diet that comes with its own stresses and may not be supplying you with the nutrients that you need. As my grandma always says, “you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
I know this struggle all too well. I stayed on a very restrictive diet for too long because I struggled with food fears and still had some digestive symptoms that held me back. Like many others in the SIBO world, I tended to assume if I was still having symptoms, I needed to restrict further. It never crossed my mind that my restrictive diet may have been creating a it’s own set of symptoms.
I was losing weight. My hormones were continuing to unravel. I was developing nutrient deficiencies from my narrow diet. I also started to develop more imbalance in my large intestines from lack of fermentable fibers in my diet. My health was unraveling, yet I mentally struggled to add foods back in.
I reached a breaking point. The restriction was not helping at all anymore, so I started adding foods back in and eating more carbs. Gradually, I started to feel more energy and to gain weight. It wasn’t a smooth transition. But, I pushed through through the adjustment phase and was way better off eating a diverse array of whole foods versus continued restriction.
Reintroducing foods can be scary! Once you overcome the mental hurdle of adding new foods in, there is also a period of adjustment that your body must move through that can also freak you out and test your patience.
In this post, I want to give you some tips to reintroduce foods. Let’s dive in!
Have a plan to reintroduce
While you are on a SIBO diet, you should always intend to reincorporate foods. Many with SIBO make the mistake of staying on restrictive diets like low FODMAP for too long. The Low FODMAP diet was not designed to be on long term.
These diets can help manage symptoms, but they won’t fix root causal issues. Unnecessary restriction is not helpful and could make root causes worse. You can develop large intestine imbalances, hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, weight instability and other issues if these diets are continued long term.
But, there isn’t anything wrong with trying a short term low fermentable fiber diet to see if it helps control symptoms. Just have a plan from the beginning if possible when you are going to introduce. Work with a practitioner to set a time frame for re-introduction, what to introduce first and how to introduce.
Remind yourself that restricting didn’t help
Also, don’t be afraid to expand the diet if you don’t get relief from a restrictive diet. Unnecessary restriction will just make your life harder with little to no benefit.
There is a myth in the SIBO world that you can starve the SIBO with a restrictive SIBO diet. You may be able to lower the bacterial load, but you can’t starve the SIBO (unless you were doing an elemental diet).
This belief can fuel the fear that you will feed the SIBO if you reintroduce. Food fear can hinder your ability to listen to what is working for your body and what is not. You may be eating a food that you are reacting to because it is on a list of yes foods or avoiding foods that you would do fine eating.
You may feel worse on the SIBO diet, but your fears rationalize why you are feeling worse. I see many people attributing their symptoms to die off, but in a lot of cases their symptoms are being driven by undereating and poor nutrition.
One simple tool you can use to help get into the mindset of re-introducing is to remind yourself that your restrictive diet didn’t help. Also, remind yourself that you can not starve the SIBO.
Pick a day when you are more relaxed and not rushed
Plan to reintroduce on days that you are relaxed. Take your time to smell and chew your food well. Stress can negatively effect your digestion. It is best to reintroduce when you are relaxed. Weekends can be great.
Check in on your mental state before reintroducing
If you are anxious at all about reintroducing the foods, try reintroduction on a different day. Food fears and doubts can cause reactions and poor digestion. Food fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because your beliefs can control your biology. I discuss this in-depth in this post.
Finding the right headspace prior to food re-introduction is key for a successful re-introduction. You should feel excited to try the new food with no doubts. One strategy that you could use for this is to visualize how well you will digest the food. You can also look up the health benefits of new foods to remove negative associations created by the restrictive diet.
A mild increase in symptoms is normal when re-introducing foods
You could too quickly abandon food reintroduction if you are not mentally prepared for some mild symptoms during food reintroduction.
I used to hyper analyze any change when I was reintroducing. I was often scared away from many foods because of mild symptoms. This fear kept me stuck in a diet rut.
Any change in diet will usually have an adjustment period that you will need to push through to see benefits. If you are introducing more fermentable fibers that you were restricting, your microbiome will also need some time to rebalance and adjust to the increase in fiber.
While mild symptoms are to be expected, you don’t want to ignore more severe discomfort or pain when you are reintroducing. In these cases, you should table the culprit food for a later date. You’re body might not be quite ready for that food yet.
Start low and slow
Your gut will need time to adjust to new foods, especially when adding more carbs and fiber rich foods. Start with ¼ or less of a serving size of the new food you are trying. If this is tolerated with minimal symptoms, you can gradually increase the amount each time you eat a new food.
When you do add a new food, don’t try anything new that day or the day after. This period allows you to control for other variables. If you were adding in lots of new foods on the same day, you wouldn’t be able to know what you were tolerating and what you weren’t.
Start with foods that you don’t remember being reactive to in the past
When re-introducing, start with foods that you did ok eating in the past. There are usually foods that you avoided because they were on a list of “no” foods, but you may tolerate these foods just fine. It is less scary to start with foods that you don’t remember being super reactive to.
Making a list of these foods can give you a good starting place for reintroduction. From this list, you could start with foods that you are most excited to add back in.
Extra digestive support can help
Adding in new foods can be an adjustment for your digestion (even for a healthy person). While you are reintroducing, you may benefit from some extra digestive support.
Bitters can be a great way to increase the flow of digestive juices like saliva, stomach acid and bile to help give you extra support during the adjustment period. Digestive enzymes can also be helpful.
Meditation and/or gratitude prior to meals
You will not digest well if you are stuck in fight or flight. That’s why I mentioned that it is best to introduce new foods on days when you are relaxed. You can also use meditation and mindfulness strategies to get into more of a rest and digest state prior to meals. Even working on slow steady diaphragmic breathing prior to meals can help.
You can also say pray or give thanks prior to eating. Pre-meal rituals can help prime digestion. I would recommend playing around with these strategies to find out what works well for you.
Work with someone
It can be hard to work through the mental and physical aspects of food re-introduction alone. Working with a practitioner who can help support you through this scary transition is helpful.
You can not restrict forever. You will need to go through a re-introduction phase at some point to re-incorporate foods that you have cut out. The tips in this post can help with that process.