The Elimination Diet: How to Start
An elimination diet is a short-term eating strategy designed to teach you through experience how foods affect your health. First you eliminate specific foods from your diet for a set amount of time, giving your gut a chance to heal from the inflammation they’ve provoked. Then you reintroduce the foods one by one to see which foods really work for you and which don’t. It’s the gold standard for determining food sensitivities.
Who would do this to themselves?
Anyone who wants to learn more about their relationship with food, feels their diet needs an overhaul, or is suffering from chronic disease could benefit from an elimination diet. As long as you maintain your nutrient intake, it’s a very safe way to learn a lot about yourself. Not only will you learn what makes you feel great and what make you feel like crap, but you’ll also have lots of opportunities to see how you use food emotionally, e.g. is that physical hunger or emotional hunger? This was such a huge benefit to me.
There are a couple different kinds of people I would not recommend this diet for. If you suffer from disordered eating or have significant emotional issues surrounding food, the restriction and control required for this diet may do you more harm than good. Also, if you are suffering with advanced chronic disease or have a lot of symptoms you’re struggling with, I’d recommend bringing in a professional to assist you through the process.
When should I do it?
Any time will do, but the spring is a natural time to detoxify the body. Spring cleaning inside and out! This can be an excellent practice to hold annually as a regular tune-in and tune-up. Some will learn through elimination diets that certain foods just make their lives worse, so they permanently eliminate those foods.
Which foods should I eliminate?
Your elimination diet should be tailored to you. Though it’s not easy, you can totally do this yourself. I recommend taking the time to learn about the foundations of nutrition so that you can proceed with confidence that you’ve got your basic nutrients covered, for this diet and for your life! If you are in the driver’s seat the car will be much easier to drive. That said, I recommend having a practitioner in mind to call for support in case you get overwhelmed by the process.
To get you started I recommend eliminating the following foods, as this will really clean up your consumption and give you a chance to heal:
Wheat (and other gluten foods)
Packaged or fast foods
From here you can take it about a billion different directions. You can select more foods to eliminate if you like. Here are my suggestions for how to choose:
1. What you know from experience you don’t digest well.
2. What you intuit may be a problem for you.
3. What your doctor, nutritionist, or trusted source recommends eliminating.
4. Whatever new diet the internet says works. (I’M KIDDING PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.)
Well then what am I supposed to eat?
With all the money you’re going to save by eating out less and dropping your booze habit, you can invest in high quality foods that are organic and non-GMO. This matters! This leaves wide open for your eating pleasure the wonderful world of vegetables, meats, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and oils. That’s so many things to create some delish dishes. If you’re not used to cooking at home there is a learning curve for sure, but it’s a wonderful habit to build into your life.
Keep it simple by keeping in mind Michael Pollan’s great axiom:
HOT TIP! I love this app for meal planning: Meal Lime
How long should I eliminate for?
I recommend 4 weeks minimum, because the antibodies associated with food intolerances are believed to be active in your blood stream for around 3 weeks. (1) You’ll want to give your body plenty of time to clear these, so you’ll be starting with a clean slate when you reintroduce. If you like your life with the eliminated foods out of your diet, by all means keep going as long as you like! If you suspect you’ve got some real gut healing on your horizon then I’d give this up to 3 months.
Tips to Set up for Success
Take an inventory of your symptoms before you start. Then you can really know what’s changed when it’s all over.
Take time to select the foods you’ll eliminate, then stockpile recipes that are free of them. Don’t wait till your hangry to figure out what to make!
Prepare your kitchen for the meals you intend to make. Tools like a blender, pressure cooker, or a mandolin might make your life a whole lot easier.
Prepare yourself for feelings! Many of us use food and alcohol to soothe ourselves. Without these you’ll have to find new coping mechanisms. A mindfulness practice like meditation, yoga, or regular exercise can be a great support.
Ease into it. If going cold turkey seems overwhelming, consider taking out the foods you plan to eliminate one week at a time until they’re all gone.
I’m actually in week 4 of an elimination diet as I right this, so please comment with your questions or two cents!
I have 2 more blogs in mind for this series … I’ll talk about what “detox symptoms” might look like for you, and then tell you all about reintroduction. Subscribe below if you want to be notified when I publish them!