Detox Diary: Should You Try an Elimination Diet?

If you’re a longtime LC.com reader, then you know that we believe in the power of healthy diet. Whether you’re trying to fight acne or make your hair more lustrous, what you eat plays a big role in helping you look and feel your best. But what happens when you’re not feeling your best and brightest, but you’re having trouble identifying the cause? If you think that a food sensitivity could be the source of your discomfort, then it might be time to try an elimination diet.

What is an elimination diet?

Elimination diets are used to identify food allergies and sensitivities. Someone with a food sensitivity might be experiencing symptoms like migraines, chronic fatigue, breakouts, or stomachaches, but have trouble figuring out which food is making them feel that way. Doing an elimination diet is like playing diet detective; you eliminate all possible causes of your discomfort and then slowly add them back in to identify the culprit.

If an elimination diet sounds like something that you could benefit from, I’m about to tell you how to do one. But before I go on, one quick note: Like any diet, it is important to do an elimination diet safely and make sure you are still getting adequate nutrition. Before you begin, it’s best to meet with a registered dietician or nutritionist to guide you through the process. And unless you truly suspect a food sensitivity issue, there’s no reason to torture yourself with such a restrictive diet.

How to do an elimination diet:

Step One: Research what foods are the most likely to contribute to your condition, and then cut them all out of your diet. Generally speaking, it is very common to have sensitivities to soy, dairy, wheat (gluten), eggs, nuts, corn, seafood (especially shellfish), red meat, fried foods, and spicy food. But depending on your individual symptoms, you may want to eliminate even more possible allergens at the onset. The very strictest elimination diets have you eat nothing but potatoes, rice, turkey, pears, and squash at first.

Step Two: Give yourself at least two weeks to detox and let your body adjust. Use a food diary app (or a good old-fashioned notebook!) to track how you are feeling each day and at the end of the two weeks. If you do indeed feel an improvement, it’s time to see which food groups were to blame for the sensitivities you were experiencing before.

Step Three: Starting with whatever food you miss the most, you can now add the eliminated food groups back into your diet one-by-one, carefully monitoring and recording how each one makes you feel. Give yourself at least four days in between reintroducing each food so that you can isolate each one and any associated symptoms. Hopefully you will find that you were only actually sensitive to one or two of the eliminated foods groups, and can resume eating the others without issue.

It might seem like a long list of foods you can’t eat at the beginning, but there are plenty of tasty meals and satisfying snacks you can still enjoy. You just have to get a little creative! I am a vegetarian, which made my elimination diet a bit harder, but still not impossible. Here are a few elimination-friendly meal suggestions:

  • butter lettuce salad with sliced beets, lentils, capers, olive oil, salt and pepper
  • vegetarian or turkey chili
  • baked potato loaded with spinach, Daiya cheese, and shredded chicken
  • split pea soup
  • butternut squash soup
  • roasted root vegetables and brown rice
  • rice, beans, and guacamole
  • half a ripe avocado on rice crackers
  • brown rice pasta tossed with artichoke hearts, capers, and olive oil
  • apple slices or banana chips with sunflower seed butter
  • carrot sticks and hummus
  • plain oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup and sliced banana
  • rice cereal (i.e. Chex) with rice milk
  • gluten- and egg-free sandwich bread with hummus, spinach, shredded carrots, avocado, Daiya cheese, and sliced turkey breast

I had to try an elimination diet recently, and I thought I would be starving all the time when I first heard how many foods I had to cut out. While it was definitely a challenge, I actually ended up having more energy and clearer skin. If you’re not feeling so hot, an elimination diet can be a great way to set the reset button on your diet.

Are you doing any type of detox for the new year?

Share your own experience in the comments below.

xo Ilana

Team LC

Photo: Bon Appetit
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  • Dr. Kimberley @HealthyLifeRede

    Hi! I just came across this article, and although this is an older post I wanted to share some of my own experience. I’m a naturopathic doctor and guide my patients through elimination diets daily as part of my practice. It’s hands down the most effective tool to enable my patients to identify the root cause of their health concerns. Symptoms like bloating, fatigue, headaches, joint pain, acne and eczema (in addition to many others) are so often caused or exacerbated by food! While the dietary suggestions provided in this article are a good start, I suggest people also avoid legumes, rice and potatoes during the Elimination Diet. These are also very common food sensitivities. I compare having food sensitivities to having stones stuck in your shoe….if you remove one or two of them but accidentally miss a couple of others you will still experience pain in your foot from the stones (or you will still experience a few of your symptoms caused by the remaining food sensitivities). It’s best to be thorough so it’s a process that only ever needs to be done once and you get the most accurate information possible!
    I have free ebooks available on my website at http://www.healthyliferedesign.com that outline my recommended process as well as a comprehensive online program with naturopathic doctor designed meal plans and recipes available at http://www.eliminationdietmealplan.com. If any readers have any questions please don’t hesitate to let me know! Thanks to the LC blog for sharing this info with your readers….food sensitivities are an overlooked cause of so many chronic health concerns and it’s great that you’re spreading the word!