How To Do An Elimination Diet (and uncover hidden food allergies)

Earlier this week, we talked about the importance of uncovering food allergies and sensitivities. The least expensive way to go about this is an elimination diet, but this can be tricky. Here, we’ve learned about why pin-pointing food sensitivities is key, so in this article, we’ll dig into the how.

The Elimination Diet is a dietary protocol in which you will be working to clear the body of toxins, and figure out which specific foods you are allergic or sensitive to. While this is not a detox diet or cleanse per-say, you will be supporting the body’s ability to process and eliminate toxins. Various factors that add to sluggish or inefficient detoxification include toxic foods, alcohol and drugs, cigarettes, and chronic stress.

This diet is called an “Elimination Diet” because you will be removing certain foods, and food categories, from your diet.

 What Does An Elimination Diet Entail?

Instead of investing in food-allergy testing that can sometimes be inconclusive or result in false-negatives, an elimination diet is a fun, at-home experiment (well, fun if you’re a nutrition-geek like me) that allows you to uncover food allergies and sensitivities by simply playing around with your diet.

There are two main stages to an effective elimination diet:

  1. Elimination phase: Elimination of all commonly allergenic and inflammatory foods, which allows the body to clear toxins and the immune system to reset itself.
  2.  Reintroduction/provocation phase: Reintroduction of foods one at a time, in a specific manner. This allows us to learn which foods provoke symptoms, and which we are sensitive or allergic to.

Remember, the main goals of a successful elimination diet are uncovering food allergies and sensitivities, and allowing the gut time to heal by cooling systemic (internal) inflammation. You will do this by eating nutrient-rich, hypoallergenic foods for a period of no less than one month (and ideally, two).

 One last note before we get into specifics, is that the not all of the foods eliminated on this diet are inherently unhealthy. They are simply foods that can be problematic and inflammatory for many people, and thus are included in foods to avoid in order to learn whether they are irritating to you or not.

Foods To Avoid Completely (no exceptions):

Foods To Include:

  •  Protein (grass-fed and organic meats, wild fish)
  •  Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish (Alaskan Wild Salmon is excellent)
  • Sardines and Wild Tuna

Vegetables

  •  All vegetables except for those in the nightshade family as described above

Fruits

  •  All fruits are acceptable, preferably organic and in-season. Be sure to eat more vegetables than fruit (limit to three servings per day).

Extras

  •  Homemade bone and mineral broth
  • Approximately 60 oz. per day of clean water
  • Herbal tea (ginger and peppermint are great for digestion)

What To Expect

Anytime you change your diet significantly, you may experience such symptoms as fatigue, headache, or muscle aches for a few days. Foods can be highly addictive, and the body is actually withdrawing from junk food. In fact, studies show that food addiction can be biochemically just as serious as any alcohol or drug addiction.[1] These symptoms are most common within the first week.

How To Reintroduce After 4-8 Weeks

The good news is, this restrictive diet is only temporary (and well worth it). So as not to undermine your hard work, getting the reintroduction phase right is key. Here are step by step instructions:

  • After at least 4 weeks, choose the first food you wish to reintroduce. For one day, eat this food with all 3 meals along with the other foods you have already been eating during the elimination diet. Then, do not eat this or ANY OTHER eliminated food for 3 days (72 hours from the morning of reintroduction). Believe it or not, sometimes it takes 3 whole days for food reactions to occur. If you notice no symptoms during this time, this means you are not sensitive, and can continue including this food.
  • If you did experience a reaction, omit this food for good. After all symptoms clear up, move on to the next food you wish to reintroduce, and repeat the process.
  • In general, it is best to permanently eliminate foods such as processed soy, commercial dairy, or refined flour and sugar. This elimination diet can be a great catalyst for long-term, positive change.
  • Note connections to how you feel in terms of energy level, sleep, mood, bloating, digestive distress, mental alertness (brain fog), and any other physical, mental, or emotional symptoms you experience. Keeping a journal can help.

Meal and Snack Ideas

Breakfast
  • Smoothie including 1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk, 1 piece of fruit, 1 tbsp flax seeds, 2 big handfuls leafy greens (spinach, kale, whatever you have around), ice and water as desired for consistency.
  • Smoked salmon with avocado.
  • Leftovers from dinner
  • 3-5 oz. organic chicken with veggies of your choice
Lunch and Dinner
  •  Big salad with protein, think lots of different veggies, protein sources such as chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish, top with olive oil and vinegar.
  • Ground beef, turkey, chicken or lamb burger served with a salad.
  • Baked fish with a side salad or steamed or sautéed veggies of your choice.
  • 1 can wild salmon with olives, fresh squeezed lemon juice, tomato, other veggies if desired.
  • Applegate organics pre-sliced turkey or chicken, tomato, lettuce, avocado, spread with mustard if desired. Wrap in lettuce and enjoy as a wrap.
  • 1 can wild sardines on a salad of mixed greens, sliced apple or pear, walnuts, dressing made of olive oil and balsamic or raw apple cider vinegar.
 Snacks
  •  1 piece of fresh fruit
  • Sliced veggies
  • Organic beef (or other like salmon) jerky
  • Avocado sprinkled with sea salt and pepper
  • Smoked salmon
  • Unsweetened, dried coconut flakes

Last Important Notes

 First, do not underestimate the importance of chewing your food! This simple yet often-neglected habit makes a huge difference is nutrient absorption and digestibility of foods.

Second, center yourself before eating by taking 5 deep belly breaths slowly in through the nose, and out through your mouth. Try closing your eyes. This puts your nervous system into the parasympathetic state, which is what allows blood circulation to focus on digestion instead of being sent to other organs/systems in the body (otherwise known as ‘rest and digest’ mode). Without being in this relaxed nervous state, it is very difficult to digest foods.

Third, practice restorative exercise during your elimination diet such as yin yoga and walking.

Remember, this can be a somewhat complicated process, so seek out the advice of a knowledgeable Nutritionist if you run into problems.

References:
  1. [1] https://journals.lww.com/co-clinicalnutrition/Abstract/2010/07000/Neurobiology_of_food_addiction.3.aspx. Retrieved February 17, 2016.

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