Do you feel tired all the time even though you feel like you are eating well? Are you having unexplained digestive issues? Your skin feels itchy or you feel moody after eating certain foods? It may be time to try to learn how to do the elimination diet!
What is an elimination diet?
It’s when you eliminate all foods from your diet! Just kidding! So exactly, what is an elimination diet? It’s when you take out certain food triggers from your diet to help you see if you have any food intolerances or sensitivities. Surprisingly, it’s quite common to have a few without knowing it because they are much less obvious than a food allergy.
The difference between a food allergy and an intolerance
“A food allergy triggers an extreme and potentially life-threatening reaction” says Dr Amy Myers. An allergy will happen within just a few minutes and you can start having stomach cramps, hives or even anaphylaxis which makes it harder for you to breathe.
Whereas, a food sensitivity can take up to 72 hours for your body to show a symptom. But since you ate lots of different foods in this time range, you don’t know what was the issue. The symptoms are also different, here a few examples: headaches, digestive issues, fatigue, bloating, eczema, change in weight, joint pain.
How does the elimination diet work?
By removing specific foods for a determined time, usually about one month and then reintroducing one food at a time, you can easily see which ones your body tolerates or doesn’t. When you start eating in a way that doesn’t cause inflammation, sensitivities or nutrient malabsorption, you will see your health and your state of being change so much for the best!
What are the benefits of doing an elimination diet?
As you now know, the elimination diet permits you to see what foods you are intolerant to and get rid of a lot of annoying symptoms.
More specifically, it helps with different digestive issues such as “bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and nausea.” . It gives you more energy, mental clarity, clear skin. The elimination diet helps to detoxify your body, to be in a better mood, lose weight and to balance your immune system.
What to do before starting an elimination diet?
I advise you to take a week to prepare before starting. Don’t wait too long though, because you might procrastinate and never do it!
Write down a goal!
You need to find a goal that will push you to eat nutritious foods even when you just want to splurge on all the junk food you can get your hands on. Then write it down somewhere where you will see it a lot. You can make a beautiful sign, put it on your desk and look at it whenever you are in doubt.
Measure your body
Since inflammation makes it harder for the body to lose weight, maybe one of your goals is also to get rid of any foods triggering this inflammation.
If one of your goals is also to lose weight, then you can measure your body: stomach around the navel, around your waist, arms and thighs. Then, you can check how much you lose each month.
Why not also take a before picture, so that you can see your evolution. Put on your underwear or a sports bra with shorts and take that picture.
Buy a journal
Choose a journal to write down every day what you have eaten, what exercise you have done, if you were stressed, if you slept well, your symptoms and how do you feel in general. You can also put in there your doubts, your questions and your goals.
Get rid of temptation
If you have any foods that aren’t on your list, take this week to donate them, give them to your neighbor or secretly devour them!!!
If you live with someone who doesn’t want to eat this way, no problem. Instead of sticking your foods behind all the food temptation, define an area where you can stock all your food at. Same in the fridge, choose an area to put all your new veggies and kombucha!
This will make your life so much easier and it will make sure you have no excuses to not eat healthy! Plan what you would like to eat for the week, find recipes to try, make a grocery list and go the grocery store on Saturday. Then on Sunday, prep your food. Cut up and clean those veggies. Make big batches of several meals that you can just heat up. Separate your meals and veggies into glass containers so that you just need to heat them or put them in your plate. Do the same with your snacks.
Choose the right time
It’s important to not just jump into the elimination diet right away if you are in the middle of passing your exams or it’s Christmas. Choose the right time to start. You don’t want to be doing any other big lifestyle changes at the moment. This is a time to care for yourself and you don’t want to be going through any big stress at the same time. But try to choose a date and stick to that or not you may never do it.
How to do the elimination diet
For one month, you will take certain foods out of your diet and focus on others that are healing for the body. See the list of foods below.
I recommend already starting with the 9 cups of veggies in the Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls. You will already notice your body having more energy. Then, you can continue with it throughout the elimination diet. Variety is really important to get all the nutrients your body needs. At least for me, it made a huge difference. If you always eat cucumber and salad every day, your body will not receive the vitamins and minerals it needs to function.
Foods to temporarily discard
- Refined sugar (you can find some even in salad dressings!)
- Processed foods
- Spices: paprika, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cayenne, red pepper and curry
- Refined vegetable oils: corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil
Foods to enjoy!
- Leafy greens (the darker, the better): spinach, kale, bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, arugula
- Colorful fruit and vegetables:
- Green: avocado, celery, kiwi, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini with skin,…
- Red: beets, rhubarb, red cabbage, pomegranate, raspberries, strawberries,…
- Blue/purple/black: blackberries, blueberries, black or purple grapes, purple kale, black olives, prunes, purple kale, purple sweet potato, …
- Yellow/orange: carrots, lemon, pumpkin, sweet potato, oranges, grapefruit, mango, …
- Sulfur rich vegetables: kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabaga, radishes, onion, garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, mushrooms
- Seaweed: nori, kombu, wakame, dulse, spirulina (for only the spirulina: brings a lot of iron, though I would avoid with an autoimmune issue)
- Herbs and spices: rosemary, parsley, ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, basilic, coriander, oregano, peppermint, thyme, curcuma
- Healthy fats: avocado oil, avocados, coconut oil, sesame oil, cold pressed olive oil (nuts such as walnuts, almonds, …)
- Fermented foods: kombucha, water or fruit kefir, non-pasteurized fermented vegetables, coconut yogurt
- Salt: sea salt or Himalayan salt
- Foods with natural sugar in them in controlled quantities: honey and fruits (prefer berries and citrus fruits)
- Fish (organic)
- Meat: if possible grassfed and organic
- Bone broth
- Rice, quinoa and gluten-free grains: soak them overnight and rinse before cooking. (If you have an auto-immune disease, you will take these out)
- Legumes: (besides soy), soak them in water overnight or better yet sprout them. (If you have an autoimmune disease, you will avoid these too)
- Nuts and seeds: to lower the acid phytic in nuts and seeds, which prevents your body from absorbing nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, you can sprout them or soak them in water overnight with one tablespoon of sea salt and then you let them dry. ( Again sorry if you also have an autoimmune disease, you will take these out temporarily)
- Lots of water !
- A glass of kombucha
- A glass of water or fruit kefir
- Infuse pieces of ginger or a cinnamon stick in some hot water
- Put some berries or some cucumber with some menthe leaves in water for a few hours
What to be careful with
Nuts are often a food that people are intolerant to, so if you don’t see your body getting any better, try taking these out.
Dr Amy Myers advises also to take out gluten free grains and legumes during the elimination diet. I left them in the ok list because I understand that if you are vegetarian that may be difficult to do without them. But if you decide to eat them, it’s important to soak them in water. Here, you can read about the hours you need to soak grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
If you suspect that you might have any food allergies, check in with your doctor before trying it. You also might want to check in with your doctor if you have had any eating disorders or food anxiety in the past.
Beware of healthy foods
Even with the foods to enjoy list, you can have intolerances or allergies. Naturally, if you have any that you know about, do not eat them. When I started getting better while following the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol = an elimination diet if you have a chronic illness or an autoimmune disease), I still noticed that on certain days, my stomach wasn’t doing so well. So, I checked what I was eating those days and found a common food. When I got rid of that one, I was doing much better.
Each food needs 5-6 days of reintroduction before going to the next one. Dr Sarah Ballantyne aka the Paleo mom suggests to choose one food and eat a very small quantity like a half a teaspsoon of it, then wait 15 minutes. If you have a reaction, such as a stomach-ache, digestive issues, fatigue, headache, runny nose, itchiness, aches and pains, feeling moody, then don’t continue eating.
If you didn’t get any reaction, eat a little more. Now, wait another 15 minutes. One last time, try a little more and wait to see how your body reacts. After, this, wait a few hours.
Still no reaction? Then you can try eating a normal portion with your next meal.
Don’t continue eating that food for the next few days and see how your body reacts. Remember to continue writing down how you feel during those next few day. If you still feel good, you can reintroduce it into your meals.
If you did get a reaction, give your body a rest for a few days and try again the food, if the symptoms come back, you know there is an issue.
Even if there is a food that you don’t tolerate right now, that doesn’t mean that it will be forever. I know several people, including myself, who couldn’t tolerate a food for a long time and then we tried it a few years later and we didn’t have a reaction. This is not the case for allergies though.
There are certain foods, I just can’t eat them, like chili pepper, it burns my tongue and lips to the point that it’s actually painful. I get a runny nose. My lips get swollen and it hurts my stomach. Or lentils! They make me have pain in my body. Some foods make me super tired and cranky too.
But other foods, I have discovered that if I have them every so often a little bit, I can eat them. It’s just when I try to eat too much or too often that I get a reaction, so I have my guilty pleasures.
Go on a healthy adventure
Take this opportunity to get back on the right track. Once you will figure out what foods make you feel good, super energetic and healthy, you will probably be naturally making healthier choices in the long term. Since, you will have gotten rid of the toxins and addictive foods for a while, on top of discovering new amazing tastes and healing foods, it will be easier to continue this journey.
Remember that you know your body better than anyone. You just need to listen to it!
If you already have tried the elimination diet or are following it now, share your experience in the commentaries!