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Elimination Diets: Principles and Guidelines


Food is definitely fuel.

If you had a diesel engine, would you put gas into it? No… you would put diesel into it!

Besides fuel for your body, food is also information for your body—information that can change how your genes are expressed and which genes are expressed (or not expressed). Some of this information can change how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Why would we call some foods “comfort foods” if they didn’t affect how we feel?

While food is fuel and information—not all food, even natural, organic and whole food—is always good for you as a unique individual. If you are experiencing digestive discomfort, mood swings, lack of energy or just want to find out which foods are best for you, an elimination diet could be for you. An elimination diet is cheap, relatively easy to do (relative to your own motivation, for the most part) and you get to be in charge because it will be YOUR responses that will determine any dietary changes that you choose to incorporate into your eating plan.

If you can, eliminating the most foods at the very beginning will allow you to most quickly determine what, if any, foods need to stay eliminated.

The “How To”

What to Eliminate

Start with removing as many foods on the following list as possible. The list includes the most common foods that cause sensitivity in most people. There can be other foods that cause you problems, but you are the only one who can add those.

  • Gluten-containing foods, wheat products including breads, pastries and pasta
  • Dairy foods
  • Soy-containing foods
  • Eggs
  • Corn
  • Meats (Pork, beef, foul)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nightshade vegetables
    • Tomatoes and tomatillos
    • Eggplant
    • Peppers
    • Potatoes
  • Citrus fruit
  • Coffee and green/black teas
  • Nuts

If you don’t eliminate all these foods at first, wait for 4 weeks and then eliminate some of the others from the list. If you only eliminate one class of foods, that is perfectly fine as well. It may take a longer time to determine any food sensitivities, but it is also much more flexible—and let’s be honest, easier to do. And, if easier means you will stick to it, then that is just fine as well.

The list may look extensive—but the foods you can eat can be just as extensive! For example, you can eat most fruit, except for the citrus fruit. You can eat almost all vegetables—and eat them raw, steamed, sautéed or roasted. You can eat sweet potatoes and yams—they are not nightshade vegetables. You can eat non-gluten and non-corn containing grains—this includes rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff and oats processed in a gluten-free facility. You can drink water and herbal teas as well as fruit juices. You can eat any sort of fish, duck, goose, lamb and wild game (you should be aware that lamb, duck and goose can be fatty—trim off all the excess fat). You can use milk substitutes like coconut, almond, and rice milk. You can also spice up your foods with herbs and spices to taste—you can include garlic, onions, black pepper, sea salt, dill, cumin, curry, ginger, oregano, basil, tarragon….well, you get the picture.

How Long?

Most elimination diets should last at least 4 weeks in adults. Many children only need about 2 weeks for you to see the benefits. If you eliminate the foods for a longer period, you may see gradual improvement that takes longer to manifest itself. For example, if you eliminate a food or foods that affect your mood, it may take longer than 4 weeks for you to be certain that you are feeling better.

How to Reintroduce Foods

In this phase, it is very important to reintroduce only one food at a time and for only one day. The order of reintroducing foods is not very important—though you should be aware that sometimes the very foods you love and maybe even crave are exactly the ones that you are sensitive too. Many people with gluten sensitivity just love fresh-baked bread … or is it knowing you shouldn’t have something cause you to crave it all the more???

After you reintroduce a food, monitor the appearance of any symptoms. Don’t overdo it—just eat a normal serving of that food. Symptoms are commonly digestive ones—gas, upset stomach, acid reflux etc, or congestive symptoms like sore throat, congestion, runny or stuffy nose etc. Other symptoms to watch for are insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, rashes, joint pain, headaches or itchiness.

Keep track of all reactions—sometimes, some people get a sort of “rebound energy” but that can be a hyper-response, so it is essentially a symptom and a clue that is a food to avoid.

  • After you reintroduce the food for one day, observe any reactions for 2-3 days.
  • After 2-3 days you will know if you can continue eating the food—if you had any reaction, eliminate that food again (you can try and reintroduce that food in 2-3 months)
  • You can then reintroduce the next food in the same way—eat a normal serving of that food and then observe for 2-3 days.
  • Keep on reintroducing foods, using your own response as an indicator.

Tips for Success

All elimination diets look much easier on paper or on the screen. Implementing these diets can be much more difficult. The following tips can help. As far as the foods that you don’t eliminate, remember that eating whole, organic foods also eliminates any possible pesticide or chemical sensitivity.

  • Plan and prepare your meals and snacks ahead of time, so you aren’t tempted to eat something you are eliminating.
  • Make sure you have enough of the foods that you are not eliminating—that way you will be less tempted to eat a food you are eliminating in a pinch.
  • The other side of this is to remove all foods that you are eliminating. Alternatively, have someone else hide them somewhere!
  • Write everything down—especially your responses to eliminating AND to re-introducing
  • Keep drinking lots and lots of water
  • Keep exercising and moving—this can help, especially if you are prone to food cravings
  • Remember, you can eat most fruits, vegetables, fish, lamb and game meat. You can use olive oil, various herbs and spices and even try new cooking techniques to keep your diet varied and interesting.

Once you have eliminated the foods you are sensitive to, continue to make good daily decisions to keep you on track and feeling great. Drink lots of clean water, consume more vegetables, get some daily exercise, a goodnights sleep and meditate for a few minutes each day. Remember, YOU have the power to transform your health … ONE healthy choice at a time!

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