How (and Why) to Do an Elimination Diet
Do you struggle with food sensitivities or intolerances, and can't quite pinpoint which foods are causing your digestive distress?
If that sounds like your experience, you'll definitely want to keep reading.
An elimination diet is where you temporarily remove common food-triggers from your diet, and slowly reintroduce them over time, to pinpoint which foods are causing digestive distress, and which ones aren't.
To be totally frank, it's definitely not easy, but it's a worthwhile experiment to get a better idea of what your body does and doesn't agree with.
This article is going to cover why you might want to try an elimination diet, and then provide you with the exact steps you'll need to do this from home.
Why follow an elimination diet?
If you believe you’re having food reactions, or struggle with reacting to all-of-the-foods, an elimination diet could be a great tool for you to help pinpoint what foods don't agree with you.
During an elimination diet, you will remove foods known to be common triggers for allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance reactions. To learn more about the difference between these three reactions, check out this article here.
An elimination diet is involved, and definitely requires a lot of work and commitment, but it can provide extremely helpful insight for you and any health professionals you might have on your team as you work through whatever health symptoms you may be experiencing.
For 21 days, you will remove foods from your diet that are known to be reactive in sensitive individuals.
It is very important that during these 21 days you start to feel better. If by the end of the 21 days you are still having symptoms, it means the foods you eliminated are not the issue and it’s time to seek a professional’s help. A trained professional can provide next steps to uncover the root of what’s going on.
What foods are removed during the elimination diet?
During the elimination phase (for 21 days), avoid the following foods:
All grains (oats, quinoa, rice, wheat, etc.)
Dairy products (including butter and ghee, even from sheep/goat sources)
Eggs (chicken, duck, quail)
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soy)
Nightshade vegetables (tomato, eggplant, white potato, peppers and spices that contain them)
Nuts/seeds and their butters, flours, and oils (almond, cashew, sunflower seed, chia, etc.)
All foods on the Gut-Damaging Food List (see below)
It can be really helpful to sit down and make a plan for your time doing the elimination diet. Jotting down recipe ideas, or gathering inspiration online can be helpful for those moments if you find yourself stumped on what you're able to eat within these guidelines.
Planning ahead can definitely make for a more successful, easeful experience with this!
The Gut-Damaging Food List
While diversity and moderation are key aspects of a gut-friendly diet, there are certain foods that are best limited to rare occasions. As you eat more gut-loving foods (like lots of fruits and veggies, and good quality protein and fats), you will notice how these inflammatory foods make you feel and it will become easy to choose more nutrient-dense options the majority of the time.
In general, you are good to go with most whole foods that are close to their natural form. Foods made in a lab offer less support for your gut health and microbiome and can actually damage them in some cases. Emerging research shows that highly processed foods have the power to alter the microbiome and feed the less-friendly gut bacteria.
The following is a list of inflammatory foods to limit for extra gut support:
Emulsifiers such as Polysorbate 80, Carboxymethylcellulose (cellulose gum)
Highly refined sugars (high fructose corn syrup, white sugar from GMO beets, agave nectar)
Non-organic wheat and oat products (non-organic flour, bread, pasta)
Vegetable oils (canola, vegetable, safflower, rapeseed, sunflower, corn, soybean)
Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin/Sweet ‘n Low, sucralose/Splenda)
Processed/cured meats with added nitrites
Non-organic cow dairy from factory farms
Alcohol intake above one or two servings per week
Coffee intake above one cup per day
After 21 days, you can start reintroducing foods. This is the most important part of the process. Even if you feel better on the elimination diet, it should not be followed long-term as it is very restrictive and eliminates healthy foods that keep your microbiome diverse. Absolutely do not skip this phase, no matter how good you are feeling.
In order to reintroduce foods and identify reactions, you will need to keep a detailed journal with your reintroduction notes. Remember that food sensitivity reactions can be delayed up to three days.
Here is the exact process for reintroducing foods:
Pick a single food to reintroduce.
Plan to include a serving of that food once or twice per day for three days.
During those three days, do not change anything else in your diet or lifestyle. You want this to be the only variable. The rest of your diet, routines, sleep habits, stress levels, etc. should be what your body is used to.
Each day that you are eating the food, journal how you are feeling. Look for the following: changes in digestion or bowel movements, gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, skin reactions (like rashes, breakouts or eczema flare-ups), brain fog, fatigue, headaches, and anything else that is out of the ordinary for you.
If you do not have any negative reactions, the food is now a part of your usual diet and you can move on to reintroduce the next food. If you do have a reaction, stop eating the food. Wait at least three days until the reaction ends before moving onto the next reintroduction.
With this process, you are reintroducing two new foods per week unless you have a reaction.
You can introduce foods in whatever order you’re most excited about and want to eat as a regular part of your diet. For example, if you are really missing grains, start with them.
For maximum clarity, I do recommend testing out one category at a time, rather than jumping between categories. Choose the foods you like most from each category so you have a few options.
Here is a sample reintroduction schedule:
Week 1: gluten-free oats and rice
Week 2: quinoa and lentils
Week 3: chickpeas and your black beans
Week 4: goat cheese and sheep yogurt
Week 5: tomatoes and bell peppers
As time goes on you will get to know what foods your body feels best with. When a food causes a reaction when you reintroduce it, it doesn’t mean you can never have that food again. Try again in three months time.
As your digestive system heals, you should be able to tolerate more and more foods.
The goal is to move from the elimination diet into as much diversity as possible in your diet, with the exception of the foods that your body reacts to, as discovered in this process.
For further support with following something like the elimination diet to discover which foods your body doesn't agree with, OR to dig deeper into underlying causes of your digestive symptoms, check out my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive for more 1:1 support options.