Why extremely restrictive diets can completely backfire and worsen your autoimmune symptoms

I'm Anindita!

I am a Functional Medicine certified Health Coach and AFMC Practitioner. I help women with autoimmune conditions I help women with autoimmune conditions reverse their symptoms with their body as their guide

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If we are not mindful of each person’s unique requirements, dietary restrictions can become excessive and cause more harm than good.

This is what happened to a client of mine. She had tried going off gluten, dairy and grains without getting any proper guidance as to what to actually eat instead. She started losing her hair, her energy levels plummeted and she was feeling worse than before.

When we started working together, I added back some grains, plenty of plant based foods and healthy proteins and fats for every meal. This and other forms of support to improve her digestion slowly helped her body to improve her energy levels and feel much better overall.

If you live with an autoimmune disease, chances are you’ve experimented with eliminating trigger foods. Gluten, dairy, corn, and eggs often end up being the first set of foods that are eliminated. And initially, you may feel some relief by cutting them out.

But then why do many people end up feeling worse on overly limited diets long-term, with symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, and gut issues?

The truth lies in what elimination takes away. Restrictive diets may mean missing out on the key nutrients your body requires to function optimally. This can end up creating nutrient deficiencies leading to an imbalanced immune response and exacerbating the autoimmune response.

If you would like to know more about this you can listen to my latest episode below.

The danger of malnourishment and malnutrition

This is not to say that we shouldn’t eliminate certain inflammatory or trigger foods like gluten, dairy, and corn.

In my daughter’s case, I had removed all the foods for almost two years in order to help heal her gut and bring her severe eczema under control. Eventually, I was able to get her back onto most of the foods apart from gluten. By removing these foods and with the help other interventions, her immune system was able to calm down and her inflammation and eczema came under control.

But I remember that what worried me the most at the time was the danger of malnourishment. This was especially because she was a growing child. So I made sure that I put an equal amount of energy and focus on what she actually needed to eat as well! This was in terms of whole unprocessed foods such as grain, fruits and vegetables, proteins and healthy fats.

I knew that it was very important that her body got all the nourishment it needed in order to heal and thrive.

However, this is the area that most people falter when they are following a restrictive diet or eliminating certain foods. I have written about this in an earlier post.

What most people don’t realise that removing problem foods is merely step one.
To properly manage autoimmune conditions, you need a more holistic and personalized approach to identify and provide what your body specifically requires to heal.

Why elimination diets fall short

Eliminating trigger foods can help calm things down temporarily by taking away irritants. But it doesn’t resolve the underlying drivers of autoimmunity unless you are also taking care of customising your diet to ensure you are nourishing your body with alternative foods and food substitutes.

Infact, some major downsides of overly restrictive diets include:

Nutrient Deficiencies: Key vitamins and minerals may also get eliminated too which can stress the body further. Examples are calcium, Vitamin D, B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium.

Gut Imbalance: Elimination diets don’t actively support digestive health through gut-friendly foods and supplements which impairs nutrient absorption.

Inflammation: A chronic lack of nutrients can cause more oxidative damage and inflammation, perpetuating the immune response.

Stress Hormones: Extreme limitations can also increase cortisol and adrenaline, also worsening inflammation.

Lifestyle Rigidity: An inflexible list of forbidden foods heightens stress and makes socializing around food challenging.

In fact I find that the last one is the most common downside of following a restrictive diet that doesn’t take into account personal tastes and preferences as well. In fact, the

In essence, elimination diets don’t resolve the root causes of autoimmunity – they just take away potential irritants. But the body still doesn’t get what it truly needs to calm inflammation and facilitate healing.

So you see, it’s really about customising the diet for your unique body’s requirements and making sure that you make these changes in a way that your body can handle.

too many dietary restrictions result in an empty plate

There is a better way

Many people believe that more restrictions equals more healing when it comes to autoimmunity. But extremely limited diets often backfire by creating nutrient deficiencies and gut issues that drive inflammation. There is a better way.

In my coaching programme, I take my clients through a S.I.M.P.L.E model that is a part of the 3 pillar “BODY WISE HEALING” framework that the programme is based on.

The S.I.M.P.L.E model provides a framework for true healing by working with your body’s wisdom, not against it.

S – Strengthen Energy Production
Supporting metabolism and cell function reduces fatigue and brain fog.

I – Increase Body Awareness
Tuning into your body’s signals shapes an intuitive healing approach.

M – Maximize Nutrient Absorption
Optimizing digestion heals gut issues and allows nutrients to nourish cells.

P – Prioritize What Nourishes You
Personalized food and lifestyle factors make the biggest impact.

L – Lighten Toxic Load
Reducing exposures allows the body to direct energy towards healing.

E – Enrich Life with Compassion
Self-care and community support speed the healing process.

The S.I.M.P.L.E model works because it resolves root issues through foundational pillars of health instead of isolated symptom fixes.

The benefits of a customised, elimination diet

When it comes to modern chronic illnesses such as autoimmune conditions, we often turn to the latest medical developments and “magic bullet” pharmaceuticals. But study after study demonstrates that food itself holds the most profound power to prevent, treat, and even reverse conditions like heart disease to Alzheimer’s.

According to Dr Mark Hyman,

Mounting research shows that there is no magic bullet to treat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, allergies, digestive disorders, headaches, fatigue, or any of the myriad problems we suffer from in the 21st century.

But increasing evidence also shows us something else. It shows that food is the most powerful “drug” we have not just to prevent, but also treat, cure, and reverse most chronic illnesses. Food contains information that speaks to our genes, not just calories for energy.

What you eat programs your body with messages of health or illness. We are learning from research in the field of nutrigenomics, that food “talks” to our DNA switching on or off genes that lead to health or disease.

This means that the food that your focus needs to expand beyond simply focusing on following a particular “diet”. And every bite of food that you take can make you either free from suffering or move you toward pain. Food is indeed the most powerful drug on this planet!

Following a particular type of diet is NOT the solution, finding out what your unique body’s nutrient requirements are and then supporting it is.

Healthy food assortment on light background. Diet concept. Top view, flat lay, copy space

The 4 things to focus on instead

So here’s where I want you to start!

Rather than extreme elimination without customisation or adequate support, managing autoimmune conditions effectively requires a four pillar approach:

  1. Remove Problem Foods: Take away gluten, dairy, and other foods you are sensitive to based on unique intolerances but don’t be overly restrictive across the board.
  2. Support Digestion and Absorption: Repair gut health through probiotic foods, bone broth, zinc/glutamine supplements.
  3. Eat Nutrient Dense Foods: Emphasize anti-inflammatory whole foods high in vitamins/minerals like fruits, vegetables, quality proteins and fats.
  4. Personalize Your Plan: Get testing to determine specific nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities and customize supplementation.

This approach eliminates trigger foods while also giving your body back what it’s missing to function optimally. It also means that you may need to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner or a Health Coach to guide and support you on this journey.

It’s about working with your body, not against it!

The Takeaway: Nourish your body, don’t punish it

The takeaway is clear – extremely limited diets tend to backfire over time by creating nutritional deficits. Yet many people still believe that more restrictions automatically equal more healing. And many others fall prey to “diet fatigue” and give up finding a solution altogether!

The solution actually lies in a personalized, holistic approach tailored to your unique needs – not just blanket elimination.

Get the insights you need by working with a Functional Medicine practitioner or a Health Coach to identify and resolve the root causes of autoimmunity rather than just chasing symptoms. Support foundational pillars of your health through the S.I.M.P.L.E model instead of isolated fixes.

In this way, you will be able to feed your body the nutrients it requires to function optimally.

Your body has immense healing wisdom when given what it needs to thrive. Make it your friend and partner with it by simplifying and providing, not punishing and depriving. True healing awaits!

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Health Coach, author, blogger, podcaster, mom of two and avid reader

Before you get any further....
Hi, I'm Anindita!

I am a Functional Medicine certified Health Coach and AFMC practitioner. I help women with autoimmune conditions reverse their symptoms with their body as their guide

I work with women who want to go beyond symptom management, reconnect with their bodies and learn how to get well and stay well by tuning into their body's wisdom 

Learn more


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