The elimination diet is one of the gold standards in functional medicine and is one of the most reliable ways to get down to the brass tax. What foods are helping me and what ones are hindering me. In the past I have experimented with different versions of the elimination diet (and will continue to from time to time) to really nail down MY perfect diet. In this article I’d like to share with you my approach and some additional foods to test if you are still struggling with your diet.
Why Should I Eliminate Anything?
The sole purpose of this website is to help people heal their gut and bring their digestion back online and become fully functional. In that light we can start to narrow in on what foods might be causing your digestive complaints.
Before that first let’s talk about some symptoms to be on the lookout for. Remember being aware of how you feel is extremely important.
After eating if you are experiencing
- Bloating (used to be a big one for me)
- Pains in the stomach
- A sense of extreme fullness and heaviness (when you haven’t stuffed yourself!)
- Excess burping
These are just a few. Some I had just come to accept. It is only now from the other side of healing my gut that I realise my body was telling me something important!
Step #1 – Eliminate Toxic Foods
Eliminate toxic foods is pretty straight forward.
It has come to the point where we can all agree that certain “foods” aren’t actually foods. Some good guidelines are
- not to eat anything that comes out of a bag or a box
- If it has ingredients that you can’t pronounce don’t eat it
Or even Michael Pollan’s take on it
‘Eat food, not too much’
Anyway back to the elimination diet protocol definitely eliminate all packaged, processed and refined foods of all forms and types. This goes beyond the 30 day elimination challenge. Do your best to avoid these ‘foods’ as a general rule of thumb.
Step #2 – Allergenic Foods
Eliminate possible allergenic foods for 30-60 days
Many people have influences this list, most notably Chris Kresser’s book The Paleo Cure, highly recommended!
Here is where we get into the discussion between food allergies and food intolerances. To keep this article short I’ll point you to a previous article for those thoughts.
- All dairy
- Grains of all kinds
- Pulses – aka legumes
- Sugars – of all kinds!!! Pretty much cut out anything sweet (this includes honey, agave syrup, malt syrup…the list goes on)
- Chocolate – yup unfortunately even the dark chocolate
- Industrial seed oils – These include any oils made from seeds, corn, legumes, peanuts (a legume surprisingly)
Cut back on
I know it’s hard but it’s definitely worth it. Aim to cut back to a coffee or two a day. If you can easily cut it out (who can?!) then go for it.
- Processed meats
Depending on where you’re meat is sourced it can be a good idea to cut back on processed meats to avoid fillers, questionable flavourings and added junk. If you are already buying organic, grass fed top notch meat then you’re doing well and don’t have to worry.
What Can I Eat During an Elimination Diet
It seems daunting I know, I’ve been there. But let me tell you it was the absolute, number one, best thing that I did to get my health heading back on the right track!
What can I eat?? That’s the biggest question always asked. If pasta, bread, rice, lentils and milk and sugar for the morning coffee are all off the table what am I supposed to eat?
- Vegetables and Fruits – of all kinds shapes and sizes. Go to a farmers market and fill up on all your favourites. Try vegetables that you’ve never tasted. Ask the farmer selling the food how to cook it. For me it is a weekly mission. One stop at the local market and I can fill my fridge with almost a week’s worth of vegetables.
- Fresh meat – In our household we eat roast chicken once a week with leftovers for days. BBQ lamb chops and shanks make tasty stews and fattier beef steaks like T-bones go in the curries. In the morning we alternate between salmon, sausages or eggs to make sure we are getting a decent hit of protein to start the day!
- Spices, Herbs and Seasonings – Keep them simple, plant based seasonings. Avoid sauces and condiments that have sugar and other weird fake foods in them.
- Fermented foods – Sauerkraut and kimchi are my favourites but you can experiment with beet kvass and other tasty treats. I would recommend avoiding kombucha as there can be a decent amount of unfermented sugar in many brands and remember no dairy so yogurt and milk kefir are off the table. If you are buying instead of making then be sure to get the raw unpasteurised stuff from the fridge. It’s living food not a condiment!
Step #3 – Keep at it for 30-60 days!
Please don’t cheat here. It is very important that you don’t break and snack on any of the eliminated foods. No croissant because you didn’t pack lunch, no milk latte because you have a caffeine headache at 2! Stick to it. It’s only a month or two.
Many people, myself included, experience a feeling of withdrawal from some of the toxic foods. In the first few weeks don’t be surprised if you feel headachy, flu like symptoms, brain fog or irritability. There are different ideas on what is going on here. Personally I think gluten and processed carbs are responsible.
The important thing is that it will pass and when it does I can almost guarantee that you will feel better than you did before!
Step #4 – Reintroduce questionable foods
After the 30 days minimum up to 60 days preferably you can reintroduce
One at a time!
This isn’t as simple as adding dairy back to the menu in one go. Start with one dairy product, maybe butter. Eat it for a few days and notice how you feel.
Are any of your digestive symptoms returning?
Are any non digestive issues returning? Things like headaches, fatigue, brain fog, aching joints, irritable skin. These can all be linked to food intolerances and can be associated with issues stemming from your gut.
You may decide not to reintroduce certain foods. I certainly did.
At the time of writing this article it has been over 16 months since I wittingly ate gluten and I have only had 2 alcoholic drinks in that time as well! Sugar is off the table (although I eat honey) and most grains and legumes excluding white rice are occasional foods.
The reintroduction phase may take upwards of a month but at the end of it you will know exactly what foods work to fuel you and what foods hinder you. Then it’s up to you what you want to do with that knowledge.
One Additional Food to Consider
Eggs are an extremely nutritious food, but they are also a big food intolerance for many people. If you really want to cover all of your bases eliminate eggs for the elimination challenge too.
Final Thoughts On The Elimination Diet
If you are experiencing digestive issues then I can almost guarantee that it will help. Even if you aren’t and you simply want to fine tune your diet and your digestion the elimination challenge can be a huge help.
It always starts with diet and this elimination challenge with a paleo style lens is first place to start.
Eliminate suspect foods. Get to baseline. Reintroduce foods that may benefit. See if you tolerate them. Simple!
The next few articles will cover additional ‘reset’ style diets that can be used (almost on top of your personal diet determined by the elimination challenge.) They can be used by anyone that is suffering from digestive issues, IBS, bloating, flatulence, suspected parasites and dysbiosis in general.