Navigating an Elimination Diet

If you have any interest in food as it relates to health, you’ve probably heard of elimination diets. Unlike most diets or cleanses, the purpose of an elimination diet is not to lose weight (although that may be one of the effects), but rather to find out what foods are causing specific symptoms in the body. The premise is fairly straightforward: you eliminate specific foods from your diet for a period of time–usually for several weeks–then slowly reintroduce one food at a time to determine which specific food is causing you trouble. Easy, right?

Not so fast! Before you embark on something like an elimination diet, bear in mind that the body is incredibly complex. Self-diagnosis through an elimination diet is not a substitute for sound medical advice or healthcare. An elimination diet may help you zero in on something that is bothering you, but allergies and sensitivities can be tricky. What’s more, something like stress can cause symptoms that may be mistaken for sensitivities. If you decide to do an elimination diet, talk to your doctor first, and get their advice.

Most elimination diets focus on the big offenders: wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. But a good elimination diet should take even more foods into account. The more foods you remove from your diet, the easier it will be to pinpoint what is causing your symptoms. Almost all grains should be eliminated along with nightshade vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, tomatillos), citrus fruits, all beans and lentils, beef, chicken, pork, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed oils, dairy and dairy substitutes made from nuts or seeds.

That’s a lot to think about! If you want to proceed with an elimination diet, take some time to plan and strategize to make things a little easier. Go through your pantry and take stock of what you have. Anything that will be off-limits during the elimination phase should be moved to a bin where they can be out of sight or purchase a roll of blue painter’s tape and put a little piece on items you need to stay away from.

Here’s a list of staples for everyday eating that you’ll need to keep around:

1. Have extra-virgin olive oil on hand as well as an oil, such as unrefined coconut oil, for higher heat cooking.

2. Coconut milk is generally acceptable on an elimination diet as a dairy substitute.

3. Rice and rice milk are also considered to be okay.

4. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you will want to include some legumes, such as beans and lentils, for protein, but avoid soy products.

5. If you are not a vegetarian, fish, turkey, game, and lamb are acceptable.

In general, stay away from any and all processed foods, and stick with whole fruits and vegetables. Make sure to have on hand a wide variety of foods to choose from. Going on an elimination diet may also require you to put a little more forethought into your meals. A good strategy is to prep plenty of food on the weekend to help you get through the week.

Typically, adults need to eliminate the foods listed above for around 3 to 4 weeks before reintroducing anything. After the elimination period, you will choose a food to reintroduce into your diet. For example, perhaps you choose citrus fruits. You might drink a glass of orange juice in the morning, have half a grapefruit with lunch, and eat a couple satsumas after dinner. Then for the next few days, return to the elimination diet to see if you experience any symptoms.

If you do not experience any symptoms, you can try reintroducing another food for a day, then return to the elimination diet for another 2 to 3 days. Repeat this process until you have reintroduced all the foods you eliminated and have found which ones result in symptoms. It is important that you only reintroduce one food at a time. And for a large food group, such as grains, do not reintroduce oats, for example, and wheat at the same time.

As you reintroduce foods, keep a detailed journal of what you ate and how you feel for the following few days. Record symptoms of any kinds, whether they seem good or bad. Most importantly, share your symptoms with your doctor. When executed properly and with medical supervision, an elimination diet can be the most straightforward way to help you pinpoint problem foods and thrive.

January is the perfect time to execute an elimination diet as you’ll likely be surrounded by friends and family who are also making deliberate decisions about their health. So put your planning cap on and eliminate away!