Integrative Nutrition Blog

How to Guide Yourself Through the Elimination Diet

May 20, 2016

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One of the most frustrating challenges in personal health is feeling like something is a little “off” but not being able to put your finger on what it is, or how to address it.

Maybe it’s occasional bloating, a rash that comes and goes, feeling fatigued despite getting plenty of rest, or some other discomfort that only happens at certain times. These may appear as minor symptoms that many of us ignore, yet they could be signs of a food-related allergy that is wreaking havoc in your body.

How do you figure out what the source of the issue might be?

In a world of advanced medical technology and information galore at your fingertips, it’s good old-fashioned detective work that will help you finally get to the bottom of it!

Of course professional medical advice should be sought out if your symptoms are severe, and blood tests could be helpful in confirming your suspicions, but a self-guided elimination diet is a great way to take your health into your own hands and advocate for your own personal wellness.

 The elimination diet is a highly effective method for identifying potential food intolerance.

The basic process involves completely avoiding common food allergens and/or any foods that you suspect you might be having a reaction to, and then reintroducing them into your diet, one at a time, over the course of several weeks and observing your reaction.

If you experienced the absence of reactions while avoiding all allergens, and then have symptoms appear upon eating a particular food then you’ll know that THIS is the food triggering your body in a negative way. From there you can choose to resume avoiding that food more permanently or to just have it on occasion, or check with your doctor or Health Coach for additional guidance. The point is that you’ll be more aware and in control of how you feel!

Read to get started? Here we go!

Step 1:
Make a list of the foods you’re going to avoid temporarily. If you already have a possible culprit in mind then that should definitely be on the list, otherwise start with the most common allergy-inducing foods: gluten, dairy, peanuts, soy, corn, refined sugars, and eggs.

Step 2:
Prepare by gathering recipes free from the foods you’re avoiding, asking someone supportive if they’d want to be your accountability buddy, and stocking your fridge and pantry with other wholesome foods. The elimination diet can be challenging your first time, but preparing yourself physically and mentally will be a huge help. 

Step 3:
Go on with your life, avoiding your elimination list foods completely for 21 days. Be sure to read labels very carefully during this time so nothing sneaks in without your knowing, and keep a notebook to jot down how you’re feeling every day.

Step 4:
After 21 days, choose one food that you’ve been avoiding and eat it once or twice over the course of 2 or 3 days. See how you feel, any symptoms appearing? Sometimes you’ll feel lousy right away, other times it’ll take a few hours or a whole day before symptoms arise. Or, you feel totally fine. Jot down what happens in your notebook.

Step 5:
If the first reintroduced food didn’t result in any symptoms, repeat step 4 with another food from your elimination list, then wait another 3 days, and reintroduce something else. On and on, closely observing your body’s reaction to each food.

If any of the foods result in symptoms, resume avoiding it completely for another 2 weeks to see if the symptoms clear up with not having it, then eat the food again to see if the symptoms come back again. By this point you should see a clear cause and effect reaction, indicating that you may have an intolerance or allergy to this food. Now you know to simply avoid it in order to feel better!

If your symptoms didn’t clear up within the initial 21-day period, your intolerance may be to a different food than what was on your list, so try the process again with another set of foods.  

Of course, there are many variables that could come up so use your judgment and continue exploring the root of your symptoms. It could be that you’re reacting to something in your environment that isn’t food, or that your symptoms are caused by stress, or some other internal imbalance. Mold is a common allergen that hides in various foods as well as the environment so if all else fails, consult an allergist.

Have you tried the elimination diet? Has it revealed anything helpful in improving your level of health and happiness? Please share in the comments! 

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