How to Do an Elimination Diet —You Won’t Believe the Difference It Makes

Figuring out which foods trigger sensitivities and negative reactions can dramatically change the way you feel. Here’s how to do an elimination diet step-by-step.

Man pulling prepped meals out of the fridge

An elimination diet consists of removing certain foods and food categories from your diet for a period of time.

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The elimination diet will help you clear your body of foods and chemicals you may be allergic or sensitive to, and, at the same time, it will improve your body’s ability to handle and dispose of  toxic substances. It is not a calorie-restricted diet, nor is it low-fat, high-protein, vegetarian or vegan (unless you want it to be). It is called an elimination diet because you remove certain foods and food categories from your diet for a period of time. 

What to expect when following the elimination diet

Naturopathic and integrative medicine practitioners from around the world attest to the benefits of elimination diets. The initial physical response to the elimination diet is highly variable from one individual to the next. This is because of each person’s unique physiological, mental, and biochemical make-up, the degree of exposure to and the type of toxin(s), and other lifestyle factors. Most often, people on the elimination diet report increased energy, mental alertness, decrease in muscle or joint pain, and a general sense of improved well-being.

However, some people report some initial reactions to the diet, especially in the first week, as their bodies “withdraw” from foods eaten on a daily basis and adjust to a different dietary program. Symptoms you may experience in the first week or so can include changes in sleep patterns, lightheadedness, headaches, joint or muscle stiffness, and changes in gastrointestinal function. Also, your body may crave some foods it is used to consuming. (Read here for help with food cravings.) If you experience such symptoms, keep in mind that they rarely last for more than a few days. Persevere. Most people feel much better over the next couple of weeks.

What to eat

The elimination diet outlined here is based on the one recommended by the Institute for Functional Medicine and versions very similar to it are used by many naturopathic doctors and integrative physicians. It is typically followed for two to three weeks, following by a food reintroduction period, but you can choose to follow it for less time and still benefit.

Here’s what you can eat:

  • Fresh or water-packed fish, wild game, and organic free-range chicken, turkey, lamb, and duck
  • Beans and rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, and buckwheat
  • Cold-pressed olive, nut, or seed oils or virgin coconut oil
  • All whole fruits, diluted juices or frozen fruits
  • All legumes, except soybeans
  • All nuts and seeds, except peanuts

All vegetables, except corn

For condiments you may use vinegar, salt, pepper, and all spices.

Do not eat any of the following foods in any form:

  • How to Do an Elimination Diet—You Won’t Believe the Difference It Makesdairy
  • eggs
  • soy
  • corn
  • gluten-containing grains
  • sugar (including honey, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice)
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • pork, beef/veal, sausage, cold cuts, canned meats, frankfurters, or shellfish
  • ketchup, relish, chutney, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, peanuts.

Select fresh foods whenever you can. If possible, choose organically grown fruits and vegetables to eliminate pesticide and chemical residue consumption. Remember to drink at least 2 quarts of plain, filtered water each day.

How to properly end the elimination diet

At the end of your detox, don’t binge on all the foods you’ve been avoiding. You’ll be sorry. Instead, try to re-introduce them slowly. Ideally, you should introduce one new food group every other day to gauge your body’s reaction. If you notice symptoms when re-introducing a certain food, you likely have a sensitivity or allergy to it and would be better off avoiding it, at least for three months.

Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.

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UHN Staff

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