I recently tried the Elemental Diet to help ease the symptoms of my Ulcerative Colitis. I’ll start by saying I’m very glad I gave it a try. And, because I know many people struggle with gut health issues, I wanted to share my personal experience through a daily journal that I kept and provide some insights about the Elemental Diet and its benefits for improving chronic health issues.
What is the Elemental Diet?
The Elemental Diet is a diet that is comprised solely of nutritionally complete formulas in a ‘pre-digested’ format. These can be ready-to-drink liquids or powders (to be mixed with water) that a person drinks throughout the day, in replacement of traditional foods. When on this diet, you do not eat food. You can drink the formulas and add water or black coffee and sometimes a few other things (MCT oil, coconut oil, salt) as needed.
Most Elemental Diet formulas contain the protein, fat, and carbohydrates you need, broken down into their most basic form of amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars. There are also vitamins and minerals added to round out the nutritional value. The point of an Elemental Diet is to allow the body to receive the nutrition it needs while allowing your digestive system to rest and recover.
An Elemental Diet is not a viable way to lose weight, and I would never recommend this to a traditional weight-loss client. It can however be a part of the solution to severe digestive issues such as Crohn’s disease, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). I will add this, the Elemental Diet should *only* be used under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Again, this is not a weight loss plan.
Elemental Diet for Ulcerative Colitis
For nearly 10 years, I have been managing two chronic health issues, ulcerative colitis and hydrogen sulfide SIBO. In an effort to reduce the symptoms, which include severe stomach pain and frequent bathroom visits, among other things, my practitioner suggested we try the Elemental Diet to give my digestive system a break.
I used Physicians’ Elemental Formula (dextrose-free). The goal was to drink at least six scoops per day. At 150 calories each (grand total of 900 calories per day), there was no way in hell I was going to survive. I aimed for 10-12 scoops per day (mixed with water) and added MCT oil to each one (which was allowed on the diet), so I was getting over 2,000 calories each day. I was also allowed black coffee and salt, so I often mixed decaf with my morning shake. It was actually really tasty! I used a blender bottle/shaker to mix up my drinks.
I also kept a journal for the full eleven days of my diet. I thought it would be a good way to remember everything, so I could easily share with my practitioner. If you’re on any type of health protocol, I highly recommend writing down your daily experiences so that you can clearly communicate with your doctor. Sometimes we forget small details that are important for your doctor to know.
My 11-Day Elemental Diet Journal
- Day 1: I had the urge to eat all day, which made it a longggg day. I was definitely overwhelmed on day 1, not knowing if I could actually go without food for so long. I was pretty cranky late in the day. I went to bed early just because I wanted the day to end.
- Day 2: Surprisingly, I slept well and didn’t wake up that hungry. However, my hunger built as the day progressed. I didn’t have dinner with my family that night because watching them eat was so depressing. Again, I went to bed early.
- Day 3: Felt really discouraged… still had 11 more days to go. Symptoms were mostly still the same. I actually ended up crying because I wanted the Elemental Diet to work so badly and didn’t see even the smallest ounce of improvement. Again, I didn’t sit with my family at dinner. Instead, I watched TV solo and went to bed early.
- Day 4: Symptoms took a turn for the worse and visited bathroom 12 times with bloody diarrhea. I thought maybe I was experiencing some sort of die-off from the SIBO? I felt exhausted all day. There was more crying.
- Day 5: I woke up in a great mood with energy! I worked out and had a busy day of work, so I didn’t think all that much about the Elemental Diet. I even sat with my family while they ate dinner. Progress! Symptoms improved compared to the day before.
- Day 6: I woke up in a good mood again and had good energy all day. I felt like I was getting into a groove with the liquid diet. I still didn’t love it, but it was more tolerable. Symptoms were pretty much the same with 10 trips to the bathroom.
- Day 7: I felt really exhausted and weak, even lightheaded at times. I practiced yoga for 20 minutes, which definitely helped my mood. It made me feel more relaxed about the Elemental Diet.
- Day 8: Symptoms increased again with 15 trips to the bathroom, and I had no idea why! I was super dehydrated and thirsty all day, so added some salt to my water.
- Day 9: I felt a bit better symptom- and energy-wise, so I went to OPEX for a workout, but I felt terrible once I got there… weak, lightheaded, off balance. I ended up decreasing my weight on a number of exercises and decided to take a break from workouts for the foreseeable future.
- Day 10: Symptoms are still the same and really starting to give up hope that the Elemental Diet will work. I’m still going to the bathroom 10+ times per day. I feel especially hungry and discouraged.
- Day 11: Talked to my practitioner on the evening of day 11 and filled him in on my symptoms. We determined it was time to call it quits with the Elemental Diet. There was no point in dragging it out for 3 more days if my symptoms weren’t improving at all.
Elemental Diet Results
So, I made it a total of eleven days. My symptoms did not improve at all. Even at the end, I was still taking frequent trips to the bathroom and continued to see blood and mucus. I was grateful when my practitioner called it quits a few days early. It was frustrating to have my intake be so restricted and not feel better as a result.
I am, however, very glad that I did this diet during a pandemic when our social activities were zero. It would have been so tough if I had a social life! I can’t imagine going out and watching other people eat and drink freely while I sipped on an Elemental Diet shake. They’re not bad, but real food is so much better!
Overall, I’m glad I tried the Elemental Diet because now I know there’s likely something more going on than JUST what I’m eating. (We recently discovered a ton of MOLD on the mycotoxin test!) Even though I didn’t see improvements, I’m still hopeful that giving my system a break did something positive for my microbiome. Again, this is not a weight loss diet. However, if you are struggling with gut issues, the Elemental Diet might be something to consider discussing with your practitioner.