What the heck is an Elimination Diet?
Updated: Feb 23, 2018
Excellent question viewer! I'm so glad you asked because I have been dying to explain it to more people!
What is it?
The elimination diet is considered the best way to determine whether you have food allergies or sensitivities that could be impacting your health. "Food allergies" in this case does not mean a serious peanut allergy. Most allergy tests given to you by your doctor can pick out the big food allergies. These allergies and sensitivities produce smaller symptoms which are subtler and harder to detect. Symptoms like:
Chronic inflammation (which can contribute to or worsen the symptoms of people suffering from muscle and joint pain, arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, or carpal tunnel.)
Digestive issues (aka leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowl syndrome, bloating, cramping, gas, constipation, diarrhea, etc...)
Skin conditions (aka eczema, hives or chronic acne)
Unexplained weight gain or inability to loose weight
Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Why do it?
One word - inflammation. When you have sneaky food allergies or sensitivities it can cause irritation in the body. When your body senses irritants it responds the only way it knows how. It becomes inflamed, much like when you are sick or pull a muscle. Your immune system kicks into gear and sends immune cells to attack the irritant. So if you eat the irritant a lot - say, everyday - then your body is always attacking and always inflamed. This can cause a host of health issues and exacerbate other issues.
How to do it:
I highly recommend you get a book with a detailed plan or ask your practitioner for access to a reliable plan. I chose The Elimination Diet - Discover The Foods That Are Making You Sick And Tired And Feel Better Fast by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre. It is an awesome resource to have whether you intend to go on an elimination diet or not. My sister has purchased her own version "just for the recipes" because they are awesomely, creative creations!
The elimination diet removes the most common irritants from your diet for about 3 weeks. It is believed that it takes about that long for your immune system to be fully clean of irritants. This is an important step before you start reintroducing food.
The common irritants are (in no particular order):
Refined/ Added Sugar
Low quality/refined oils like canola, soy, and palm oil. (in loads of packaged/processed foods)
Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant)
Coffee and Tea (not including herbal tea)
Once you've completed the elimination part of the diet for 3 weeks, you can slowly begin to reintroduce irritants back into your diet.
However, for the "reintroduction phase" to be useful you have to think like a scientist and control the variables. If you add too much back in at once, you wont know which one is causing the trouble and it will put you back at square one again. So, in order to reintroduce right - you have to reintroduce foods one at a time.
Pick one, eat it three times during one day and notice how you feel. Repeat this the following day and again notice how you feel. Almost all websites, books and practitioners recommend using a journal throughout this whole process but especially here because sometimes symptoms don't seem correlated. If you brush them off and don't record them than you might not be able to see the pattern of what is actually the root of the issue.
If you've reintroduced a food and nothing happens - you may begin to regularly include that food in your diet and can move on to a new introduction. (Repeat the introduction process above with an new food group).
If, however, you introduce a food and get a reaction or symptoms begin to appear - you must eliminated that food again and return to the elimination diet for a week or so. This allows the symptoms that have arrived to subside and your immune system to normalize (aka inflammation decreases). Then you should avoid that food in future (or make a conscious choice to eat it, but know the symptoms it may cause). Then move on to the next food on your list and try introducing it.