The DIY Approach to Uncovering Food Intolerance: A Simple Elimination Diet Protocol.
Author: Leah Chischilly L.Ac.
When dealing with an autoimmune condition, or nearly any ailment, a diet that helps reduce inflammation is essential to the healing process. Part of lowering inflammation involves eliminating foods that your body does not tolerate well. The elimination diet is said to be the most helpful diagnostic test for food intolerance.1 There are different elimination diets that are more or less strict based on an individual’s needs, but below is a basic elimination diet protocol that provides a great place to start.
In a nutshell, an elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your diet for a set time period and then reintroducing them back in one by one to see if they trigger a reaction. Reactions may be subtle such as sleepiness, or more pronounced, such as abdominal discomfort or bloating. Any reaction to the food indicates that an intolerance may be present. You should consider eliminating or significantly reducing your consumption of that particular food for a more extended timeframe.
How long should I do an elimination diet?
You want to do an elimination diet long enough to see an improvement in your symptoms. This generally means 2-4 weeks. If you do not notice any change during that time, this may mean that A) you may need to consider a modified elimination diet that excludes different foods or B) food intolerance is not a major factor in your symptoms. Most people tend to notice a change within two weeks.
Foods to avoid during an elimination diet.
For this basic elimination diet, you will avoid a select number of foods that are considered very common intolerances and foods that you suspect may be intolerances for you specifically. Often it is the foods that we have uncontrollable cravings for that tend to be the culprits.
For a period of 2-4 weeks, refrain from eating the foods listed below whole or as ingredients in other foods. During the elimination phase, it is essential that you strictly adhere to the diet, or you may not get accurate results.
Wheat and Gluten Containing Grains
(Wheat, durum, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, kamut, rye, triticale, barley, malt, soy sauce)
(Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, whey)
Corn and Corn products
(corn oil, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup)
Soybeans and Soy products
(Edamame, miso, soy sauce, soybean oil, soy milk)
Peanuts and peanut-containing foods
(peanut oil, peanut butter)
Eggs and foods containing eggs
(baked goods, mayonnaise, meringue)
Seafood and seafood containing products
(fish, shellfish, sauces, salad dressings)
*This is not an exhaustive list of all the foods containing these ingredients so be sure to read labels!
Other foods to consider:
- Any food that you consume every single day
- Any food that you constantly crave
- Any food that you just “have a feeling” doesn’t agree with your body
It is also advised that you eliminate caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial colors as these things may diminish your ability to detect reactions to other foods.
After the elimination period, you will begin adding foods back into your diet one at a time, every three days. On the first day, start with a small amount of one food in the morning. If you don’t notice any reaction or symptoms, eat two larger portions in the afternoon and evening. On days two and three, avoid the food again. If you don’t get any symptoms, you probably don’t have an intolerance for that particular food. You can add this food back into your diet after reintroducing all of the other foods in the same manner.
Every three days, test a different food until you have been through all the foods you eliminated.
Here’s an example to clarify:
Assume you have completed at least two weeks of the elimination diet and are ready to start reintroducing foods. You decide to start with gluten.
For breakfast on day one, you have one piece of wheat toast.
You don’t feel anything right away, so at lunch, you decide to eat a sandwich — still nothing.
At dinner, you go big and eat a bowl of your favorite pasta. All seems to be well when you go to bed that evening, but you wake up the following day feeling puffy and congested. Bingo! You’ve uncovered a food intolerance. For the next two days, you avoid anything containing gluten and keep an eye out for any additional symptoms or changes. After two days, you are ready to move on to your next food.
For this basic diet, you are looking at 2-4 weeks of elimination and at least 21 days of reintroduction. Plan ahead to set yourself up for success. Here are a few tips:
- Avoid starting an elimination diet when you have big upcoming events or vacations
- Search elimination diet friendly recipes in advance
- Create an elimination diet meal plan
- Find elimination diet-friendly snacks to carry with you on the go
- Tell your family and friends what you are doing, and ask for their support (or better yet, get them to join you!)
- Buy a journal to record your symptoms and any changes you experience during the elimination and reintroduction phases.
Modifying your elimination diet
If eliminating several foods at once feels way too difficult, you can start by eliminating one or two at a time following the same method. It may take longer to uncover all of your sensitivities, but it may also make it more manageable for you, depending on your circumstances.
If you eliminate all the foods listed and don’t feel any different, work with your provider to determine the next best steps. As mentioned before, other elimination diets focus on more specific foods such as nightshades or foods containing FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols) that can help you uncover other food intolerances.