Updated: Sep 10, 2022
According to Oxford Languages, an elimination diet is a diagnostic procedure used to identify foods that may be causing an adverse effect on a person. All suspected foods are excluded from the diet and then reintroduced one at a time.
An elimination diet is a diagnostic procedure that allergists and registered dietitians have used for decades that lasts approximately five to six weeks. Typically, an elimination diet is conducted to assist clients with sensitive guts and potential food intolerances or food allergies to identify which foods contribute to their symptoms (1).
There are three types of elimination diets, with different intensities, including:
A Simple Elimination Diet involves avoiding just one food or, sometimes, the two most common food triggers such as wheat (including gluten items), and dairy. In its place, you could eat gluten-free foods and brown rice, millet, buckwheat, or quinoa (2).
A Moderate Elimination Diet involves avoiding several groups of food all at once. On this diet, you may stop eating or drinking foods such as alcohol, animal products, chocolate, coffee, tea, soft drinks, legumes, nuts, wheat, and so on (2).
A Strict Elimination Diet involves avoiding most foods and is usually done when someone has done a test through companies such as EverlyWell or CheckMyBodyHealth (2).
The Benefits Of An Elimination Diet
An elimination diet is typically done after a suspected food allergy or sensitivity. A suspected food allergy or sensitivity may occur when someone notices symptoms after consuming certain foods or having a food sensitivity test done by a company such as Check My Body Health or EverlyWell. Without an elimination diet, you can only speculate about what foods are causing which effects, but you can narrow it down and verify these assumptions with an elimination diet. This is especially so when symptoms occur outside of the gut in the form of a headache or migraine when minor or no symptoms are present or even when symptoms are delayed by a few days. According to Precise Nutrition:
Elimination diets help you to collect and analyze empirical evidence, using experimentation and observation based on what happens in your body as you change what you eat. If your headaches disappear after you’ve removed certain foods only to suddenly resurface when you reintroduce chocolate, that’s a powerful clue (10).
How To Do An Elimination Diet
An elimination diet is typically done in three phases to ensure you remove all potential food sensitivities and then reintroduce them one by one, with enough time to notice potential symptoms between each food reintroduction.
Phase 1 - Plan: This phase typically lasts 1-2 weeks, depending on your elimination diet's intensity. This is the time to determine which foods you plan to eliminate. During phase 1, you will want to create a list of foods you can eat and foods and ingredients you cannot eat. It’s important to figure out meal ideas and plan ahead to ensure you stay on track and don’t feel like there’s nothing you can eat.
Phase 2 - Avoid: This phase typically lasts between 2-4 weeks. This is the time you will avoid all the foods you’re eliminating and allow your body time to recover and reset from the potential toxins and symptoms caused by your potential triggers. During this time, you must remain strict with the foods you consume and ensure to track everything from moods, headaches, bowel movements, beverage intake, food intake, and anything else you can think of. A great way to keep track of this information is with a Food Sensitivity Journal.
Phase 3 - Reintroduce: This phase can take quite a while, depending on how many foods you initially eliminated and have to reintroduce. When reintroducing foods, you must introduce ONE new food every FOUR days to ensure your body has enough time to show symptoms, which can take up to three days to appear. One day to consume and three days for symptoms to appear. Again, it is important to remain strict with the foods you consume and to track all potential symptoms from moods, headaches, bowel movements, beverage intake, food intake, and anything else you can think of with a Food Sensitivity Journal. Once you’ve confirmed that the food was safe, you can keep track of that information somewhere and reintroduce another food, but only after the three days are up.
The Difference Between Allergies and Sensitivities
Food allergies, sometimes called food hypersensitivity, are a severe and potentially life-threatening medical condition affecting approximately 32 million Americans. This reaction is typically caused by an immune response when your immune system overreacts to a normally harmless food protein (allergen) or an IgE immune response with a nearly immediate reaction time (3). The eight major food allergens include:
Typically the symptoms of a food allergy include one or more of the following:
Tingling or itching in the mouth
Hives, itching, or eczema
Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body
Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing
Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
Constriction and tightening of the airways
A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness (5)
On the contrary, food sensitivities, sometimes referred to as food intolerances, typically aren’t life-threatening but more uncomfortable and affect approximately 20 percent of the world’s population (6). Food sensitivities occur when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food or increased levels of specific IgG class antibodies that can have a delayed response time up to a few days after consumption (7). The eight major food sensitivities or intolerances are:
Typically the symptoms of food sensitivities include one or more of the following:
Headaches or migraines
Upset stomach (9)
Steps I Took To Prepare For My Elimination Diet
During my elimination diet, I will be eliminating 66 foods along with my already strict, plant-based lifestyle. If you're interested in seeing my full results, my results from Check My Body Health can be viewed here, and my EverlyWell, results can be viewed here. Upon completing my elimination diet, I intend to create a well-documented article and share the 30-day meal plan I created, which will be available here. Since it will take me approximately eight months to complete such an extensive elimination diet, I have taken the following steps to ensure my elimination diet goes smoothly:
Step 1: I took two food sensitivity tests. I did the Food Sensitivity Comprehensive Test from EverlyWell, which you can buy here and receive 25% off. I also did the Complete Health Sensitivity Test from Check My Body Health, which you can purchase here and receive 10% off.
Step 2: Upon receiving my detailed analysis reports, I printed them out and created a 1-inch binder with sheet protectors to quickly reference my potential food sensitivities. You can purchase the sheet protectors here.
Step 3: I bought a Food Sensitivity Journal that allowed me plenty of space to track all the food I will consume during the duration of my elimination diet, as well as room to record my mood and symptoms if and when they occur. The journal I chose Includes information about food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances. It also has a place to track bowel movements, water intake, sleep, and even snacks and meals in-depth. You can purchase the Food Sensitivity Journal here.
Step 4: I cross-referenced my printed list of potential food sensitivities from both companies and typed up a list of all the foods since my list was very long. I then printed this list and stapled it to the inner front cover of my journal to ensure easy access at all times. I also saved this list on my phone.
Step 5: I then started working on a meal plan. Due to the extensivity of my results, I decided to go from plant-based to whole food plant-based for the duration of my elimination diet to ensure I could cut out all potential food triggers. In this process, I decided to sign up for Thrive Market since it seemed like the cheapest way to get organic and clean foods without having to go crazy in my local stores to find organic options that are often minimal. You can sign up for Thrive Market and receive 40% off your first order here. I carefully strategized my meal plan to ensure I was getting the proper nutrients my body needed to function and avoid deficiencies while remaining full throughout the day.