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How to Do an Elimination Diet (and how I’m doing it)

by Lisa on January 23, 2012

Over the years, I’ve assisted many people at doing elimination diets, and I’ve witnessed many people find revolutionary information about themselves. I’ve seen “diseases” cured, conditions improved, and quality of life shoot through the roof. I’ve also seen many people not stick with it (because it can be difficult), and miss out on the benefits. One of the most interesting phenomena with my clients is that they often prefer to wait for a doctor to diagnose them with something (hypothyroid, pre-diabetes, candida, anxiety…the list goes on forever) before they’ll do anything to address their symptoms nutritionally.

The great thing about an elimination diet is that is is:

1. not calorie-restricting (but people starting from a standard American diet may find themselves eating fewer calories)

2. healthy

3. something you can do on your own

 

I empathize with people who are frustrated with their healthcare experiences, and I have seen people who are un-diagnosable with any condition, yet they are clearly not as well as they could be—not thriving.

Over time, I have investigated and discovered many things about what foods work and don’t work for me. I started this with Dr. Hyman’s UltraSimple Diet (probably in 2006). We could discuss the Ins and Outs of why to do what in an elimination diet, but I want to focus more on how to do it. Check out Dr. Hyman’s site for tons of great functional medicine information, including elimination diets (he’s my hero). Also, check out the Precision Nutrition site about elimination diets as well.

Elimination Diet:

1. cut out potential trouble makers for a significant amount of time (enough time for it to be out of your system and for your system to have recovered)—like 3-4 weeks.

2. After 3-4 weeks, add one thing back in for one day, and see what happens!

3. If you have any reactions over the next 48 hours, document them. My advice is to take note of whether or not any of your symptoms return (if they disappeared when you began the elimination diet). PN recommends to: “monitor your sleep, mood, energy, digestion, bowel habits, etc….and [track] any physical, mental, or emotional signs and symptoms.”

4. If no reactions, add in a different thing for one day, and see what happens! (repeat step 3)

5. Continue this process with each food you initially eliminated, putting each in for one day and then removing it again. At the end, you’ll have a documented semi-scientific study on yourself and what foods make you feel better and worse (and what might be contributing to symptoms you’re having)!

 

So, what the heck do you do when you’re done and you have the log?

Review the findings. Sometimes it will be obvious—especially if it’s something like a skin rash that appears when you eat eggs. It can be very subtle though, and that’s why it’s important to track physical and mental/emotional symptoms. My advice? Grab a few highlighters, and highlight things in your journal that jump out at you!

Get help if you need it—doctors often don’t consider nutritional links to symptoms, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that most people will uncover something useful from an elimination diet.

Here are the top foods to eliminate, but also consider eliminating a food if you eat it every single day:

dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, corn, beef, pork, chicken, nuts, beans, lentils, coffee, citrus, and nightshade veggies

Note: the difference between an elimination diet and a cleanse or detox is that an elimination diet is not about weight loss (as a primary effect—many people find elimination diets help them uncover what is stalling their weight loss). It is not about reducing toxin load in the body (for example: you don’t have to eliminate alcohol unless you suspect it being a trouble maker). It is about finding out what foods are causing negative symptoms or reactions. I’ll save my opinions about doing a detox/cleanse for another day.

I have a few ideas of what my own elimination diet may uncover, just based on general observation…but I’m going to do the organized documented version because I want that kind of information! In my experience, doctors have been supremely unhelpful in this quest, but I do not believe all doctors are this way. If you can find a Functional Medicine Doctor, you will have better luck! Note: I do recommend having the help of a professional if you do an elimination diet, even if it’s just Dr. Hyman’s book or the Precision Nutrition site. PN has a great list of foods you can refer to as well!

Here’s my plan:

I’m eliminating everything listed above for 3 weeks starting tomorrow, except eggs. I honestly don’t think eggs are my problem, and I like them and don’t want to give them up. I won’t rule out testing egg-elimination at some point in the future if I think I need to. I am not going to promise I won’t drink coffee either. I drink organic fair trade coffee, usually half a cup a day. Same as eggs, I’ll try that later if I feel the need to.

I won’t post updates everyday, I promise :-)

But I will post periodically, because I have several clients who are looking forward to this information, and I want to provide information that could help someone else who is looking for this type of thing.

As for implementing this plan, it will surely take extra effort for me. I realize I need to plan more in advance for eating. So if you have any great veggie or bison recipes, please share!

I have a great story to share soon about how this has worked for someone I know. I just have to cross-check the details with the person first!

As for the rest of this week—I have some big plans! Ok, not really—I am working, visiting with friends, and doing more work…I got so much done today that I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week!

Have you ever done an elimination diet? Would you ever consider it?

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  • Susanna

    I’d like to try this..BUT I have a problem…I’m actually quite underweight and need to gain weight…although I’m not exercising, I figure I need about 2000 cals ++…and eliminating foods is mentally and physically tough. In the meantime, my gaining efforts are not going well. If you have any personal thoughts, please email me !!

  • http://thehealthybeehive.wordpress.com/ Jane

    I have!  And it did help me figure out what was bothering me.  Good luck!

  • http://mamasweeds.com/ Alison Spath

    I haven’t done an elimination diet, but I know this is helpful for breastfeeding moms dealing with possible allergies in their babies (unexplained crankiness, colicky, weird poo (sorry!) rashes, etc!)   It can be helpful for older babies and young children too who seem to suddenly develop a reaction to something mysterious.  

    My oldest had a reaction to cow’s milk (shocking!) and even though we had JUST introduced it, it took me a couple of days to realize it was milk that was causing her to break out into hives all over her body!Good luck on yours, hope you figure it out soon!

  • http://www.1970kikiproject.wordpress.com/ cathy@1970kikiproject

    this elimination diet fascinates me, lisa!! i would not mind if you posted updates every day – haha! i TOTALLY agree that food choices impact optimal health, and can “cure” people of a variety of physical and emotional ailments. i would love to read the case study that you mention, just to see how the elimiation diet impacted someone…and i will look forward to your own personal progress!
    i have not done a formal elimination diet. HOWEVER, i stopped drinking diet coke on january 8th, so i am two weeks “free,” now. i don’t feel a night and day difference…but i think my digestion is improved. i intend to blog about it at some point!
    glad you had such a productive day yesterday, and good luck with the rest of your week!

  • Anonymous

    I think I could really benefit from an elimination diet. I know there are some things I’m sensitive too, but never really got around to paying enough attention to it. I would definitely consider it, but not right now since I’m pregnant and a lot of those sources are protein. Is it hard to you to eat enough protein while on the elimination diet?

  • http://purplebirdblog.com Christin@purplebirdblog

    My elimination diet was paramount in giving me answers.  All that time I thought I had a dairy intolerance, when gluten was really the culprit!  I’m looking forward to hearing about your results. 

  • http://www.healthydiaries.com/ Maria@healthydiaries

    I loved reading about this elimination diet. I was supposed to do one after I had an allergy test, but couldn’t get myself to take out everything I tested positive for. As you know, I have been avoiding soy and gluten and am pretty positive I have an allergy to soy, and maybe the gluten too. 

    While I’m pretty certain I have an allergy to soy lecithin, I’m not sure if I’m allergic to soy in general. Would it be possible just to be allergic to the soy by product? 

  • http://www.pure2raw.com/ Pure2raw Twins

    good luck with your elimination plan! we did ours a few months ago, and got some good insight from it but not 100% fixed. we might try to do it again one day. right now we are doing a little mini cleanse, just avoiding certain foods that we felt were causing some inflammation and such. 
    HUGS

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    You ladies definitely inspired me to get on top of this :-)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Yes, you definitely can be sensitive or allergic to one soy product and not another. I’m not a big fan of soy in general (due to the phytoestrogens), but in addition to that, I think today’s overexploitation and usage of soy in products is probably a contributor to the increase in people being sensitive to it!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I’m really hoping I do not have an issue with dairy (I can easily give up the gluten…but I do love to eat cheese and yogurt sometimes!). When I wanna cheat, I will think about you and how helpful this process was for you :-)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I don’t have trouble with protein…because I can just sub in seafood, bison, and more eggs for the chicken, beef, etc. (since I’m not cutting eggs). It also encourages me to eat more veggies, and lots of veg are high in protein (like, ounce for ounce, broccoli has more protein than steak!). I also use Jay Robb protein powder (which I discovered has soy lecithin in it…but at this point I’m not going to cut it out. It’s too yummy!). I think it would be possible to safely do an elimination diet while preg (with very close tabs on nutrient/calorie intake), but I’d only recommend it if you were having some significant symptoms that aren’t just preg symptoms…and also with close involvement with a doctor who knows what they’re doing!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I’ll be fascinated to read your account of dropping the diet coke!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Yes, I had a friend who ended up cutting out dairy while breastfeeding due to baby’s reactions to it. She was sad to give up cheese, but happy to make her baby feel great!

  • http://purplebirdblog.com Christin@purplebirdblog

    If only I could maintain the not cheating aspect now!  I’m really making a valiant effort… I’m tired of making myself feel bad.  “Wheat Belly” just came in the mail yesterday and I look forward to reading it.  I was proud of myself yesterday – passing up cookies at the office and giving a bag of peanut butter filled pretzels that came in the mail to the boyfriend instead of eating them.  I’m trying to be strong.  :)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Thanks—I am very motivated to get a little better handle on this!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Hi Susanna, This is definitely a very strategic thing to do. The only recommendation I can really make is to find a doctor or someone to help you plan and then track your intake. One thing I’ve learned with my clients (and myself) is that when you cut out things that are generally a part of your diet, it takes a lot more planning ahead of time‹so you have things you need to eat and avoid being tempted by things you’re trying to cut out. This often makes people try new foods, so although many “normal” foods are not being eaten, the variety of foods you eat may actually increase! Good luck if you decide to try it :-)

  • Mel

    I am considering an elimination diet as my GI tract has been very inflamed the last couple months.  Can you post some of the meals that you eat on the elimination diet? 

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Sure! I will definitely do that. I try to keep it as simple as possible (but I eat more cooked veggies and try to use recipes so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing over and over). Are you a vegetarian/vegan? Most of my meals are veg plus animal product (lots of eggs—since I didn’t cut them out based on past experience with them and not thinking they are my problem).

  • http://caitplusate.com/ Caitlin

    This is gonna be so very helpful to so many! It’s awesome how much knowledge you have and that you share it with all of us. Good luck on your plan and I’m sure you’ll let us know how it goes. Can’t wait to hear the story about how the plan helped someone you know!

  • Mel

    Thanks!  My diet is unique…I eat poultry and seafood some days during the week and eat vegetarian the rest of the week.  I eat eggs most days during the week.  I don’t think they cause a problem with me either.  Do you have any information on anti-inflammatory foods?  I keep forgetting to look up articles on pubmed at work…

  • AF

    Nourishingmeals.com says that lentils, adzuki beans, and mung beans are ok to eat on an elimination diet. How come you say lentils are not alright to eat?

  • http://www.thrive-style.com/ Lisakthrives

    The no beans, lentils etc. part of my elimination diet was just a way I tailored it for myself—those are not part of the standard foods to remove, I just don’t eat them often anyway so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t adding things in during that time that my body wasn’t used to digesting. Sorry—I should have explained that a little more! If you’re doing an elimination diet…good luck! :-)
    On Fri 28/12/12 23:26 , “Disqus” notifications@disqus.net sent:

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