3 key phases of an Elimination Diet

Have you been advised to start on an elimination diet?  Your health care provider may have recommended this or it maybe you've done your own research and decided to give this straightforward approach to determining if a particular food is causing you troubles?  You might be eliminating sugar or dairy or gluten.  Perhaps you are doing the autoimmune protocol (AIP) or Low-FODMAP?  Whatever the case, it is often confusing to pull off. 

Here is a guide to help you be successful. 

Elimination || Phase 1

This phase gives your body a much-needed break from digesting foods that are not tolerated.

Of particular importance with the Elimination Diet is to completely avoid the potential-inflammatory food for 3 – 4 weeks.  It is imperative your body is not exposed to the food in question.

Because our immune system builds antibodies to address an inflammatory item, we build up a kind of tolerance to problematic foods.  Any antibodies you’ve made to help handle the problem food will have time to clear out of your system when you take a break of at least 21 days from it. Many people will find this stage results not only in reduced inflammation but also in more energy.   Once the antibodies clear, re-exposure to a food you are sensitive to will cause a more dramatic reaction.  

Reintroduction || Phase 2

After you have completely avoided the food for at least 3 weeks,  it’s time to start the reintroduction phase. 

When you reintroduce the food, one item at a time, you have a chance to observe your own personal reaction to each food. Responses to a food that isn't working for you would include uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, gas, rashes, stomach aches or headaches.   If you wind up with unwanted side effects from reintroduction, you know you have an intolerance or a sensitivity to that food. 

On the other hand, if you feel good after reintroduction, congratulations! You can feel confident to include that food back into your diet. 

For the reintroduction, start with one food and eat an average-sized portion.  As to what food to reintroduce first and how long to wait before adding another food, the experts have differing opinions.  Using your own intuition and consider your personal situation when deciding a plan. 

  • Introduce food: 1-3 servings over the course of 1-2 days
  • Keep track of any side effects*
  • Wait 2-4 days before reintroducing the next food
  • If you notice symptoms, stop eating the food and wait 2-4 days then reintroduce another food
  • If you do not notice unwanted side effects, and you feel good after adding it back, you are not showing sensitivity to that food
  • Wait 2-4 days between each reintroduction to be sure you’ve allowed for any delayed reaction
  • Strongly recommended: keep a food journal
  • Once you have gone through the complete list of foods to reintroduce, you can try any food you reacted to again
    • If you show unwanted side effects a second time, you are sensitive or intolerant to that food and will want to avoid it for a period of time
  • It is possible to work on improving gut flora and healing damaged tissue by reintroducing a problem food at a later time.
    • Allow 3-6 months free of the trouble food item for digestive repair
  • If you react after this, keep working on the repair and try again in another 6 months
  • You might ultimately find it best to avoid the food altogether if you have a food intolerance.  Don't worry, the health benefits from avoiding a problem food will help inspire you to find alternate foods to delight!

The main point is to be perfectly honest with yourself about what does or does not serve you, your digestion, and overall health.  

Pay Attention to Your Reactions || Phase 3

Keep a Food Journal:

  • Note everything you eat
  • Note what is happening and how you are feeling (i.e. when you're at work, stressed out, a day off, etc). 
  • Be specific.  Include things like “low energy in the afternoon,” “itchy arms,” or  hopefully, “felt great after lunch.”  Tracking your sleep patterns and moods are also helpful to note.  You are being a detective so note anything even if it doesn’t seem relevant.

People are typically surprised by what they find.  

For example,  I reacted to coffee, which caused instant and severe bloating upon reintroduction.  I had previously ignored the fact coffee makes my stomach hurt when I drink too much.  I had not realized the coffee was causing me to continuously clear my throat.  While I was sad to give up coffee, a beverage I love, the reduced bloating and positive benefits are well worth it!  Now, I simply drink black or green tea instead.

Coffee isn't inherently a "bad" drink, in fact, there is lots of evidence it can be beneficial to health.  It's just not a good drink for me.  

Determining your own responses to various foods or drinks allows you to learn exactly what serves your health, or what doesn't. 

For more information about why an elimination diet might be appropriate for you, check out my overview

If you 'd like more personalized help, feel free to book a free introductory call to discuss your needs. 

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