Not that I am a fan of being overly restricted with the foods you eat. In fact, much of my work as a coach focuses on ‘undoing’ years of chronic dieting mentality, so to post an article about restriction has be a little uneasy.
Nonetheless, there are some situations in which a short term food restriction can help problem solve what foods may be causing you more harm than good.
What is an Elimination Diet?
The elimination diet is not about cutting calories and losing weight. Instead, the goal of the elimination diet is to pinpoint foods that you might be sensitive or allergic to. In fact, it’s the gold standard in identifying what you are sensitive to.
An elimination diet involves removing foods from your diet that you suspect your body can’t tolerate well. The foods are later reintroduced, one at a time, while you look for symptoms that show a reaction. It only last 2-3 weeks (possibly more) and works to alleviate symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea.
Once you have successfully identified a food your body can’t tolerate well, you can remove it from your diet to prevent any uncomfortable symptoms in the future.
Why You Should Consider an Elimination Diet
Adrenal and thyroid issues are extremely common in about 75% of the clients I work with. That means if you are reading this, you probably have a hunch that something is not right under the hood.
These issues usually creep up because the body has been chronically stressed. This stress can come from emotional/psychological stress (think traumatic childhood, living with an abusive partner, hating your job/boss, overloading your schedule) and it can also come from physical stress (not exercising enough, exercising too much), and finally internal stress (chronic infections, illnesses, gut microbiome dysbiosis, insulin resistance, food sensitivities, etc).
So by doing the elimination diet, you can rule out any food intolerances you might have and begin fixing any imbalances in your gut. We have seen a surprising number of cases involving leaky gut, food sensitivities, and chronic inflammation – so it would be no surprise if you found something going on with you as well.
What I recommend is playing around with replacing your normal foods with less inflammatory foods and then officially start the elimination diet the following week. That way you can ease into it without the pressure to be perfect.
We could do a food allergy and sensitivity test, but a cheaper, more effective way to determine what foods are causing your leaky gut and thus inflammation, is by removing the top inflammatory foods for 10 days and then reintroduce the ones you can’t live without and see if you have a negative reaction to them (it’s very effective and often results in people removing these foods for a lifetime). If you end up needing an more comprehensive testing for foods you are sensitive to, I included the leading brands that offer testing towards the bottom of the article.
How to do an Elimination Diet
You will avoid the following foods/ingredients for 10 days:
- Gluten (all forms) (click here for a guide to going gluten free)
- Dairy (click here for a guide to going gluten free)
- Food colorings (yellow #6, red #40, etc.), food additives, and preservatives
- Processed Sugar
- Genetically modified foods : corn, soy, sugar beets, canola oil, cottonseed oil, alfafa, zucchini and yellow squash and papaya (from China and Hawaii) by choosing organic.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, which are known to be neuro-excititory (i.e. making it difficult to sleep and creating anxiety). Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Splenda (sucralose), Sweet-N-Low, and high fructose corn syrup disrupt healthy gut flora, allowing bad bacteria to take over. They can lead to serious digestive problems too).
What will you eat?
- Grass-fed meat
- Wild-caught fish
- Organic poultry
- Fruit (berries and green apples are best)
- Lots of vegetables
- Organic rice
- Legumes (except peanuts)
- Nuts and seeds
- “Non-gluten” grains, like millet, quinoa, and amaranth
Sample Meal Plan
You’ll likely be eating very differently than normal, so here is a sample meal plan of how to structure your meals across the day. You’ll see that each meal is comprised of a protein source, starchy carb, vegetable/fruit, and fat. Some of the meats have more fat in them, so you won’t have to add more fat to the meal (like breakfast, for example). The idea is to make sure you eat right when you wakeup and every 3-4 hrs to keep your blood sugar stable. When blood sugar is all over the place, we can have symptoms of cravings, anxiety, irritability, etc which may compromise any symptoms coming from the food itself.
white potato hash browns
organic chicken sausage
Spring mix lettuce and spinach
beans or sweet potato cubes
Olive oil balsamic dressing
organic sliced turkey breast
grass-fed ground beef
broccoli or asparagus
clarified butter (ghee)
Hopefully with an idea on how to eat throughout the day, you’ll have less error in skipping meals or waiting too long to eat, which can have a negative effect on blood sugar and cause more negative symptoms than necessary.
What Bio-Feedback to Look for During the Diet
You may experience many symptoms over the course of the 10 days, so it is important to document these feelings along with what you are eating (or not eating) and see if you can make any connections. You will want to start a food diary to document these relationships. Here is how to do that…
The food diary is a powerful tool to bring awareness to your eating patterns. Testing yourself to see the effect different foods have on your energy levels and mood will allow you to start understanding your body’s relationship with specific foods. By determining how your body reacts to certain foods will help you to see the relationship between what you eat, what’s the physiological reaction, and how it makes you feel.
Here’s how it works: After eating, make notes on what you ate, how you felt physically and emotionally right after eating and how you felt two hours later.
For example, did you feel sleepy soon after eating? Were you focused or foggy? Did you have more or less energy that day than usual?
Nicole Jardim suggests that we can feel both physical and emotional symptoms from eating certain foods…
“Physical symptoms are bodily sensations.
- Clues for imbalance: headaches, stomach pain, muscle cramps, coughing, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, shakiness, muscle weakness, poor concentration, pallor
- Clues for balance: bright eyes, hunger, stamina, natural deep breathing, high energy, restful sleep, focus, alertness, strength, good attention span, good color
Emotional symptoms may be a little harder to notice.
- Clues for imbalance: anxious, bored, scared, mad, depressed, scattered, restless, irritable, agitated
- Clues for balance: confident, excited, energized, happy, interested, focused, calm, relaxed, patient
A food diary process is designed to be easy and informative. Stay free of negative judgments. If negative feelings arise, or if you feel guilty for eating something “bad,” remember that recording this information will help you to see the connection between what you eat and how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. This is the beginning of learning exactly how your body works and responds to food. The more aware you become of choosing foods that work for your body the better you will be at creating the life you want.
If you forget to write down a meal, just keep going. It’s fine. Just continue where you left off.”
What to do About Cravings?
There’s no doubt that you’ll experience some cravings for the foods you recently took out. For me it was chocolate, coffee creamer, and ice cream. But here are some things that Nciole Jardim suggests you can do when a craving surfaces:
- Identify a strong craving you have and write it down.
- Begin to deconstruct the craving by identifying both its physical and emotional components:
- Physical: A physical craving is one that doesn’t go away if you wait a few minutes or try another activity. In fact, it will increase as time goes on and will only go away once you’ve eaten the food you’re craving. This is true physiological hunger. Physical cravings usually take place when we haven’t been eating properly balanced meals and when our blood sugar levels are low, which is what can happen if we don’t eat at regularly spaced intervals.
- Emotional: An emotional craving on the other hand is one in which no actual feelings of physiological hunger exist. This type of hunger doesn’t increase if you wait a few minutes or turn your attention to another activity, but the underlying emotion behind your hunger does increase. This type of hunger usually goes away if you satisfy what the real need behind your food craving is, whether it’s taking a short nap to re-energize or doing something you love to do.
**It is important to make a distinction between your emotional state and food in order to effectively address and cope with the true problems in your life. Focus on what your body is really craving. Once you start feeding the real voids in your life, most of your food cravings will melt away like unwanted ice cream!**
- Write down three small action steps you can take consistently this week to help you reduce or eliminate your craving? When will you begin? For example, perhaps you realized that you craved sugar when you skipped breakfast, drank an extra cup of coffee, or skimped on your 8hrs of sleep last night. You can eliminate this craving by changing your daily habits.
- Write down any changes that you notice, no matter how small they may seem.
Possible Negative Side-Effects
Many people expect that when they go on an elimination diet, they will instantly feel better. Some do, but some do not. Here’s the thing, if you’ve regularly been consuming reactive foods and eliminate them cold-turkey, you can experience withdrawal symptoms. Essentially, your body has adapted to this regular onslaught of inflammation and either up-regulated or down-regulated certain pathways to help clear out problematic food antigens and other inflammatory mediators.
When you remove the trigger, it takes time for those mechanisms to find a new equilibrium. It’s somewhat akin to an alcoholic going through withdrawal when they enter rehab, though usually less severe symptom-wise. Sometimes this period of adjustment can last for two weeks, leaving you to scratch your head over why you’re fatigued, experiencing headaches, or having strange bowel movements.
Unfortunately, if you are not aware of this, you may assume that the foods included in your elimination diet are causing your symptoms to get worse. This can lead you to eliminate even more foods from your diet – and they may very well be the foods your body needs to heal. If you continue to feel this way, though. We may need to do a food sensitivity test to dial in what foods are reactive to YOU.
And remember! Just because eliminating a food at one time helped you heal doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way forever. Our bodies are constantly changing, life is constantly changing, our stress levels are constantly changing, so to assume that a food may be off limits forever is nonsensical.
Yes, there may be certain foods that you choose to avoid long-term. For example, if you have an autoimmune disease, you’ll likely want to stay gluten-free. (And yes, there’s no point in adding back in processed junk food. Sorry to burst your bubble.)
But as your gut heals and inflammation subsides, some people will regain the ability to digest and assimilate a wider variety of foods. So don’t throw out that possibility and feel doomed to a life of limited food options. Keep your focus on including (and enjoying) as much nutrient-dense real food in your diet as possible.
Here is how the reintroduction process looks at the end of the 10 days…
Order of Reintroduction:
- Corn (must be organic or non-GMO certified)
- Peanuts (unless you have a known allergy to peanuts or mold)
- Eggs (preferably free-range, organic)
- Soy (fermented organic soy like natto, tempeh, miso. Skip if you don’t enjoy these foods)
- Dairy (Organic. Grass-fed if possible)
- Gluten (unless an autoimmune condition is present)
Note: The reintroduction of colorings, additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and GMO’s is not recommended. It is also recommended to keep alcohol, gluten and dairy on a limited intake as these are know inflammatory foods.
After 10 days you will begin to re-introduce the foods that you removed from your diet.
Reintroduce one food at a time into the diet by ingesting two servings – one serving for breakfast and one serving for lunch starting on day eleven, so that by the end of the day at least a typical amount of the food has been eaten.
Use a food diary (see above) to record the results over the course of three days. If you don’t experience any symptoms you may continue to include that food in your daily diet.
If you experience any symptoms as you re-introduce the food, stop eating the food, wait three days and then continue to re-introduce the remaining foods.
A new food is introduced (or tested) every three days and you will record the results again for each one before introducing the next food.
Oftentimes, people have said they had “no issues” with a particular food only to find out after further questioning that symptoms did show up. Cheese seems to be the #1 food that falls into the “I feel fine, except for a little stuffiness and maybe some constipation” category.
These are symptoms and should be considered a food reaction worth noting.
Life After the Elimination Diet
Still having symptoms of bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, etc? You may need to invest in a comprehensive food sensitivity and stool test to check for sneaky foods that are still causing inflammation or perhaps parasites, pathogens, and bacteria that are overgrowing and causing undo stress.
Great food sensitivity tests:
If the negative side-effects continue past 10 days, however, we may want to do a food sensitivity test to further see where we are hung up. Here are the top 2 most reputable:
I hope this gives you some insight on what an elimination diet consists of and if you may need to try one. Of course, we recommend always working with a nutritionist or dietitian when making drastic changes like this and perhaps hiring a nutrition coach to guide you through the process. Good luck and we hope you feel better!