The Failsafe-ish Diet: Day 5 or “Why Laxatives in Elimination Diets Defy the Scientific Method”

I’ve been on this new diet for four and a half days now.  Long enough to know if it’s working?  Not really, no.  Some practitioners advise four to six weeks on an elimination diet before you start assessing its impact and even the most casual would proscribe two weeks as a minimum.  The reason being of course, if you’re intolerant to something you’ve been eating say, every day or so, for the last year, the residual effect of it is going to linger in your body for some time before the new clean eating approach allows you to flush it out.  Put short: you need to give it time.

But what if you feel worse?  Well, again, this is no indication of the diet’s long term impact.  With dietary changes, especially those designed to help kill off fungus or parasites, you’re probably going to feel a bit worse at first!  In addition of course, your body is most likely in a bit of withdrawal too if you’ve just given up sugar, alcohol, dairy or gluten, all of which are known to have addictive properties.

Anyway, enough rambling.  I feel… well… ok.  Not much has changed yet, I’m still plagued by the same old daily abdominal pains, reflux and assorted ailments.  My back hasn’t hurt much, but this is intermittent and it’s not uncommon for me to go weeks before the spasms resurge.  One difference I have noticed is today’s bowel movement.  It was… er… different to usual.  Much softer.  Sorry for the graphic description, but the source of so many illnesses is the gut and I feel confident in saying that constipation is a major, if not the only contributor to my ongoing illness.


Before you get your flags waving in joy (what kind of flags would you wave to celebrate faeces?  Brown ones, I suppose.  Let’s not think about emblems.) there’s a catch.  The naturopath put me on laxatives.  Two scoops nightly of “Osmolax” a gentle laxative that works via osmosis, drawing water into the bowel to soften the stool naturally.  Clearly it works, but this is the problem.  If constipation is the sole cause of my problem and the constipation is caused by my dietary intolerances, how are we to isolate which foods I am intolerant to by elimination diet if my body is not allowed to display its natural responses?  Or, to be more concise, how do I know if it’s the diet helping me or the laxatives?

This is of course the exact same conundrum I found myself facing with the GAPS Diet with the sole exception that GAPS prohibited any kind of laxative other than an enema and my enema experiences were so negative that I point blank refused to do them.  Three months into GAPS and I was still terribly blocked up and experiencing as many symptoms as ever.  Maybe if I’d had the darned enemas I’d have felt better, but then would that be as a result of the diet or the enema?

The Scientific Method

All of this comes down to the magic of the scientific method.  Some of you may remember this from high school.

  1. Hypothesis

First, you make a hypothesis, for example, my constipation is caused by dairy.

  1. Experiment

Then, you construct an experiment and guess at what will occur, eg. “I will abstain from consuming dairy for two months and I expect at the end of this time, my constipation will have alleviated itself”.  You then remove as many variables form the experiment as possible, such as other dietary changes, laxatives, enemas and medications, and perform the test, taking careful notes.

  1. Analysis & Conclusion

After performing the test you examine your notes and draw what conclusion you can.  If you have not eliminated all variables, you have not achieved a conclusive result.  In real life, if you want to prove a theory, an experiment must be able to achieve the same results when performed multiple times.  How do you know that will happen if you haven’t removed the variables?  You don’t.  You might spend a year off dairy and say, “

This is why laxatives are not the cleverest thing to use whilst performing an elimination diet.

What Should I Do Then??

The thing is, your body is not a science experiment.  While it is great to be as scientific as possible when testing these cures to prevent yourself buying a year’s supply of snake oil, it does not mean you should always adhere to the method stringently.  If you’ve been unwell for a long time, you just want to feel better and sometimes it’s good to mount a multi-pronged attack.  The Failsafe diet does this by eliminating most known allergens and irritants and then gradually re-introducing them after the patient begins to feel improvements.  There’s nothing wrong with this approach, it’s still quite scientific, just performed sort of in reverse.  Try everything all at once and keep doing it until you feel better.  Then, when you’re sure you’ve improved, try gradually re-introducing all the potential nasties, one by one.  Or indeed, try going off the laxatives whilst maintaining the diet and see what happens.

I’m putting myself in the hands of my naturopath right now to see what magic she can work but if the answer is long term laxative use, well, that’s no answer at all.



  1. Dee said,

    March 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I have all the same problems you do for the most part. I’m really fed up with what I’m learning MTHFR scares me. I’m desperate now. So I saw the documentary- fat sick and nearly dead and Gonna try something similar to that to see if I can get rid of whatever in in my digestive tract. I’m a food addict but now I’m really really desperate. I’m 43 with the nengry and digestive tract of an 85 year old. Have you been able to fix your gi problems yet. your silver bullet probably be mine as well.

  2. Anon said,

    April 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Have you ever looked into whether something like thyroid problems could be causing your symptoms? A simple thyroid blood test is NOT sufficient to tell if you have a thyroid problem. Anxiety and constipation can both be hypothyroid symptoms. If you have some of the other common hypothyroid symptoms it could be something to look into! See this fantastic website (saved my quality of life for sure!) This is the list of common symptoms, but then if you go to the home page to read about why thyroid problems are often misdiagnosed , and a whole lot of other great info.

    • April 21, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks “Anon”! Funnily enough, I’m actually asking my GP for a referral to an endocrinologist tomorrow as my mother was just diagnosed with hypothyroidism this month! Your timing is impeccible. 🙂

  3. Deb said,

    May 18, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Hi, I know you have moved on from GAPS but just wanted to share this blog post I randomly found while searching for GAPS + Chronic Constipation:

  4. anon said,

    May 25, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I really enjoy reading a logical person’s take on analysing sickness, and the foray into alternative medicine. But sometimes you confuse me!! 🙂

    If you achieved an alleviation of symptoms by taking laxatives, or even a “natural” alternative like prunes wouldn’t that be better – more convenient, more reliable, more enjoyable and potentially more healthy than following a restrictive diet?

    • May 30, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      What I’m trying to get at (and perhaps not very clearly!) in this article is that while laxatives can provide relief, they are not helpful if you are on an elimination diet to try and discover the source of your constipation. The point of the elimination diet is to “eliminate” as many potential irritants from your diet for a short time so you can see if your symptoms go away- I am definitely not recommending anyone stay on a restrictive diet for a long time! If you are taking a laxative as well during this time, it is impossible to know if any improvements are caused by the elimination diet or the laxative itself.

      Synthetic laxatives are, on the whole, not recommended by doctors for long term use. I believe they can actually make you worse.

      As to natural laxatives, sadly none of these has yet to work for me and I am utilising the elimination diet to ascertain if my problems are due to a food intolerance. But you are quite right, if constipation is your only symptom and you’ve found a natural solution (like prunes) that alleviates it, then go for it- there’s no reason to do anything else!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: