How to use an elimination diet to heal


You’ve been to every doctor, you’ve had every test. You’ve even started to take some supplements to deal with your symptoms. But you don’t really know what’s wrong. The tests are not definitive. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. But you’re miserable. You’re even scared. You’re overwhelmed and you don’t know where to turn.

I’ve been there. I’ve had friends there, too. When you’ve got a health issue and there are no answers, it’s incredibly frustrating. But if you, like me, have had experiences showing how integrated diet is with our health, you probably know that there are some foods that may be creating your condition, or at the very least exacerbating it.

An elimination diet can help figure out what’s triggering you, and give you some ideas on how to alleviate your condition and symptoms.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet is a process where individuals eliminate all but a few foods to determine if a food intolerance or allergy is causing problems. In an elimination diet, we start with a few select foods and slowly and gradually begin to add foods back into our diet. If our health issues become worse when we add foods, we have our culprit.

My experience

I went through an elimination diet while breastfeeding my kids. Both of them reacted to certain foods I was eating. My son reacted with colic whenever I ate eggs. My daughter reacted to nearly everything under the sun. I ate a lot of chicken and rice that first year. I wasn’t able to eat dairy, grain, eggs, or soy. Gradually, I was able to add those foods back in as my babies’ digestive systems matured. But there are still some foods my children have to avoid.

Who should do an elimination diet?

Because our health is so dependent upon what goes into our glorious guts, looking at our diet and our nutrition is a first step towards regaining our health. Even if our illness is being triggered by a nutrient deficiency, looking at why we have that deficiency is important. For example, my husband who has Hashimoto’s disease, has deficiencies of potassium and B-12 related to his gut’s inability to absorb nutrients due to inflammation.

Food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies have been linked to:

  • asthma and allergies
  • autoimmune disorders
  • skin conditions
  • arthritis
  • atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases
  • neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia
  • mood disorders
  • narcolepsy
  • addiction
  • migraines
  • kidney problems

Even if your only concern is feeling tired and fatigued, an elimination diet can determine whether or not fatigue is being caused by food intolerance.

And if we are suffering from a degenerative illness, there may be some foods that are exacerbating the illness and making us feel worse.

How long should we do elimination diets?

Typically, it is recommended that we eliminate a food for about 3-4 weeks before slowly introducing foods back into the diet one at a time. It is important that we monitor our health and keep good records of our reactions so that we can review them with a health care provider to determine if a food group is causing our illnesses. Don’t introduce two foods together. For example, if you introduce dairy and soy at the same time and you have a reaction, you won’t be able to tell which of the two is problematic.

Food allergy tests can often be expensive and unreliable. The elimination diet puts the test controls in your own hands. You get to see how your body reacts, and you will likely get some real measurable feedback from the only testing instrument that really matters: you and your own body.

What foods to eliminate?

There are certain foods that are known to be more problematic than others. But here’s something to consider: foods that you eat regularly can often be a primary cause.

Foods that usually cause issues and that should be eliminated include:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes
  • Tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes
  • Grains like wheat, corn, barley, spelt, kamut, rye, oats
  • All gluten-containing products
  • Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, all beans, peas, lentils
  • Meat substitutes made from soy
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Beef, chicken, pork, cold cuts, bacon, hotdogs, canned meat, sausage, shellfish
  • Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, yogurt, butter, ice cream
  • Non-dairy creamers
  • Eggs
  • Margarine, butter, processed and hydrogenated oils, mayonnaise
  • Alcohol, caffeine (coffee, black tea, green tea, soda)
  • Chocolate
  • Ketchup, mustard, relish, chutney, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, vinegar
  • White or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, desserts

What to eat?

After reading that list, it probably seems like you’ll be stuck eating small bowls of rice and vegetables. Never fear, there are some foods that you can eat on an elimination diet. Typically, you can consume:

  • Almost all fresh fruit, there are a lot of them!
  • Sweet potato and yams
  • Steamed veggies, lots of these too!
  • Rice can be very delicious and filling
  • Fish, turkey, lamb are typically not reactive
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Water
  • Herbal teas

How to reintroduce foods?

After eliminating foods for 3-4 weeks, slowly start to reintroduce foods. Try one of your old favorites. Wait 2-3 days and watch for symptoms. Then reintroduce another.

The entire process can be difficult. And depending on your personal health concerns, that elimination list might look very different.

I recommend working with a nutritionally minded healthcare provider to do your elimination diet. A personalized guide through the process can take a lot of the confusion out of the process, and it can make the process much less painful and confusing. There are also elimination courses that you can buy online to guide you through the process.

To learn more, visit where Kathy writes about better health through our guts.

Kathy Zant