“Why on earth would I want to completely remove all that stuff, which I enjoy eating, out of my diet? While trying to create tasty meals with nothing but this tiny list of ‘acceptable-ingredients’ for the next 3-4 weeks…?!”
Well when you put it like that, it does sound pretty horrible…
But let’s reframe this and look at The Elimination Diet from a different perspective.
“How on earth can I alter my diet, so that I can get rid of this terrible _______, which is causing me stress, discomfort, and sometimes even social anxiety? I’d figure out how to eat, even just using that tiny list of ‘acceptable-ingredients’, if that meant I could feel better!”
See what I did there?
I’ve personally had both of those conversations with clients going into an Elimination Diet. And although the latter is preferred, as it implies commitment and belief in the diet plan that will follow, both are completely understandable.
In fact I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t enjoy an elimination diet. I’m actually going through the process as we speak, for a few reasons:
→ Reduce Inflammation – I’ve just recently had knee surgery and it’s important during the immediate recovery time to bring inflammation down as low as possible, just to help with speed of healing.
→ Eczema – I personally have eczema (skin rash) and it’s kind of a mystery as to what causes it to get inflamed, so this is the exact process I’ve been using to try and determine what potentially causes the eczema to become worse or existent at all.
→ Experience – Because it’s my job to put clients through this protocol at times, it’s important for me to go through the process. I’ve done this once before, but it’s been a while and nothing but empathy and education can come out of doing it again. Plus, during this post surgery period I’m not training much at all, which makes it a perfect time since it’s naturally a low carb diet.
Now let’s get onto the reason you’re here, how this can benefit YOU.
Here are some reasons you may need to employ an elimination diet:
• Poor Gut Health
• Food Sensitivities/Intolerances/Allergies
• Digestive Stress
• IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Skin Issues (Rashes, Hives, etc…)
• Frequent Bloat and Gas
• GERD or Acid Reflux
• Autoimmune Disease
• Joint Inflammation, Pain, and Arthritis
• Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Diseases
• Mood Disorders, Stress, and Mental Irritability
• Energy or Sleep Issues
• Mental Fog or Lack of Clarity/Focus
• Education (Learning What Foods Absorb and Work Best For YOUR Body)
As you can see, that’s a big list. And if I’m being honest I could’ve missed something, still.
But if any of those hit home with you, you’re in the right spot and about to learn the exact process in removing the symptoms you’re experiencing.
The reality is, food has a massive impact on our bodies, minds, and lives. The way we function is a direct result and correlation of what we eat. That’s why the saying, “you are what you eat”, is so famous. It’s kind of true.
It’s also why the saying, “your gut is the 2nd brain”, also makes so much sense.
All of this is why when we are suffering from any type of serious symptom that’s causing us stress, pain or suffering – we need to look at the gut for answers.
Much of our hormones and neurotransmitters are either created there or at the very least past through there, but in both scenarios the gut is affecting them, and that’s going to lead to dysfunction somewhere down the line if things are not optimized.
In fact, believe it or not, our gut has its own independently working nervous system (another reason the whole 2nd brain nickname makes sense). It’s called the Enteric Nervous System.
The enteric nervous system is within the GI tract and this GI tract is basically our interface between our body and the food we eat. It’s the GI tract that’s responsible for converting food into chemical messages, through a process of digestion and absorption, in which our mind and body will react based on.
It’s rich in hormones, neurotransmitters, bacteria, enzymes, and chemical responses – all which affect how our body responds to food. Not just that, but it’s home to 70% of our immune system which also means if you do not take care of it you will be sicker than a dog, frequently!
So even though I cannot believe the fact that our GI tract is the size of a tennis court when stretched out end to end… it makes sense, there’s a lot going on in there.
This process of food coming in and being “digested” is an extremely intelligent one, but it could be either negative or positive.
In the positive, it gives us the signal that nutrients are coming, we accept them, digest them, absorb them, and use them. Food is fuel makes sense in this situation.
In the positive, it gives us the signal that nutrients are coming, we reject them, struggle to digest them, do not absorb them, rarely use them, and typically create a failure based reaction to them – this is where the stressful symptoms come into play. The food isn’t much of a good fuel source in this situation.
Now you can probably see why I mentioned how much our gut affects the way our bodies function as well as all the hormones and neurotransmitters it’s in charge of.
The enteric nervous system is the system that controls those chemical signals, hormones and neurotransmitters, and is potentially one of the most important systems in our body to take care of. Because it can quite literally effect every other function or process in your body, in a good or bad way.
Why does this affect you?
Well like I stated earlier, it’s the root cause of 90% of our symptoms (not a real stat) and if we want to remove the symptoms we need to fix the root cause.
But what if you don’t have rashes, extreme bloat or an autoimmune disease?
Should you be considering an Elimination Diet?
Maybe, because it can still give you answers and even a real solid path towards human optimization. As you know by now, the gut affects everything in our body, which means it could also affect performance, muscle growth, and fat loss.
If we want to minimize joint inflammation to improve performance in the gym…
Have better nutrient partitioning (the process of utilizing our calories for muscle, not fat storage)….
Lower stress, improve sleep, increase energy, optimize hormones…
Pretty much every indirect process or benefit that could help us lose body fat, build more muscle, and get stronger – we want to take care of our gut!
And if you feel like you’re dropping the ball or even just falling short on any of the things I just listed above, you may want to consider an elimination diet.
Even for myself, I wasn’t severely suffering from any specific symptom. I have eczema, most likely stress related (previously confirmed by a doctor), and the occasional bloat. Neither are at extreme levels nor causing me serious pain… but I’d love to remove them and learn the exact foods my body thrives on, so that I can map out the perfect nutrition plan for myself to build more muscle – my main goal.
What is the Elimination Diet?
So now let’s dive into the actual diet, so you can begin to understand how to run through the plan properly and begin to eliminate the symptoms you’re facing.
As you can see in the infographic below, there’s a process of elimination. 3 specific steps, actually. 1 being simple – not easy, but quick and simple – and the other 2 being more specific, requiring a bit more patience and attention to detail.
STEP 1 – ELIMINATION
This is the most important, as well as the most difficult, step within the diet. This is the part where we start eliminating things out of the diet.
So you might think, “Why’s that so hard? Seems pretty simple to me… just stop eating XYZ.”
And you’re absolutely right, it’s very simple. But what you’ll notice as you begin to eliminate things is that you want EVERYTHING you can’t have, you have to read more labels than you’ve ever read before, and foods you thought were only _____ actually contain ______, _______, and _______ in them too, making them on the “do not eat list”.
Self-discipline will be a major necessity in this diet because things don’t happen over night and as you’re about to find out, you’ll need to consistently avoid these foods for a period of time to let your body truly heal and rid itself of these ingredients that are causing reactions in your body.
This is one of the number one reasons we do not promote or advocate this diet for fat loss, it’s just not necessary to try and restrict calories to lose weight AND restrict a big list of foods, too.
When chasing fat loss, we coach a flexible approach so that you can enjoy the process more, keep adherence and consistency higher, and include foods you love while still sustaining weight loss week to week.
When chasing gut health or needing to remove a food intolerance (or something being caused by an intolerance), we forget about the calories and fat loss goals for a bit and prioritize your health and removal of the symptoms you’re facing.
“So, what’re we eliminating here?”
During the Elimination Diet, we’ll need complete removal of specific foods and there is two severities, or classes you could call them, of elimination.
We’d consider class 1 to be moderate and for individuals who are just looking to experience the protocol, possibly clear up some bloating and digestive stress, and really see what their body feels like without any irritations whatsoever. This is for the people who are not in serious pain, but need a “detox” if you will.
Class 2, is for the very serious and very in need. People who’re experiencing heavy rashes, painful bloating, IBS, or have autoimmune related diseases or concerns need to follow the class 2.
CLASS 1 ELIMINATION:
• Sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (Juices, Ice Cream, Candy, etc.)
• Grains (Bread, Pasta, Wheat, Spelt, Rice, Barley, etc.)
• Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Peanuts, All Soy, etc.)
• Dairy (Milk, Cheese, Butter, etc.)
• Some Vegetable Oils (Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower, Grapeseed, etc.)
• Trans Fat (Margarine and Others)
• Artificial Sweeteners (Sucralose, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, and All Others Besides Stevia and Monk-Fruit)
• Highly Processed Foods (This is Obvious By Now, Because These Likely Contain One of The Above)
This is basically a Paleo Diet, in fact – it is a Paleo Diet.
You’re basically looking at eating meat and produce. Lots of lean proteins (and not so lean ones), tons of veggies, some sweet potatoes, and a little fruit. It’s limited and can seem restrictive at first, because let’s be honest… it is. But this is a protocol to eliminate an issue, so it’s supposed to be! And when I think back at all my years of coaching I can honestly say that every person I’ve put through this, who took it seriously, never worried about what they couldn’t have after 2-3 weeks of going into it because they felt that much better from following it.
CLASS 2 ELIMINATION:
• All Of The Above (Everything Inside Class 1)
• Nightshades (Tomatoes, Eggplants, Bell Peppers, etc.)
• Eggs (Whole and Whites)
• Nuts (All Tree Nuts)
• Shellfish (Individual, Not Everyone Needs To)
• Alcohol (This Should Be Included Above, Too)
• Ghee (Butter Substitute That is Allowed, Above)
This is very similar if not exactly like, an AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Paleo Diet. This is meat and produce on an entirely new level!
As you can see, this is more restrictive so it’s specifically for those with very serious symptoms. If you’re someone who needs this level of elimination diet, you have no problem doing so and restricting all of this because your symptoms are bad enough for this to be worth it.
Once we’ve eliminated all of the foods in our class, we just need consistency. This is where meal prep creativity and clearing out your pantry come in handy.
You should plan to follow this elimination protocol for anywhere between 21-28 days. This is about the amount of time it takes most people’s bodies to start really clearing out the system and relieving some of the symptoms being experienced.
During this process it’s absolutely crucial to be taking notes. Exactly what are you eating? Are you sleeping better? Has your bloating gone down? Is your digestive stress improving? Are the rashes healing up? Are you more energetic and positive?
If we’re not constantly being self-aware, we will never understand if our symptoms are improving or not.
Add to that, this timeline is very individual. Some people see relief in a week, others it takes a few. So take notes, be aware, and watch for the symptoms constantly.
STEP 2 – REINTRODUCTION:
The second step in the elimination diet process is simply reintroducing the foods you’ve eliminated, but very slowly and specifically one by one.
The most important thing to remember here is that if we add more than one thing in at once, then see symptoms… we have no idea which ingredient was the culprit. So choose one ingredient from the “do not eat list” at a time and monitor symptoms for 3 full days.
I usually recommend reintroducing the food for one full day and then remove it again. So you get one exposure to this food, and then wait for 2-3 days for any symptoms to arise as some come after 24 hours of consumption.
If nothing comes up, bring it in and eat it for the next couple days to be 100% sure you’re fine with this food being in your diet.
At this point it’s been about 5-7 days since you reintroduced this new food and you can now allow another food to be added in, assuming nothing happened after consumption. This is about the right timeline for reintroduction, one food per week if no symptoms arise.
If however on week 2, you add peanut butter back into your diet and the next day extreme digestive stress, night sweats, or break out in a rash… you would NOT want to enter another option back in right away because your body and gut is currently in stress, so let it calm down before throwing more fire at it!
My advice here is to add it in, monitor it for a day, and if you do experience a symptom – simply remove it immediately and see if the symptom goes away pretty quickly (within the next 1-2 days). If you have any other reason to believe it was not the food and it was something else, flu’s going around or you may have under-cooked your chicken for example, then you can make the decision to try the peanut butter again (I know how bad we want that to stay in there….).
If round 2 shows a failure again, remove it for good and continue on with the reintroduction process of allowing the other food groups to be entered into your diet routine again.
It’s important to not think, “Well… it’s peanuts then, bring it all back in now!”
As bad as we want it to be done and back to normal, it’s not that simple. Many people have intolerances to more than just one single food, so we still need to follow through with this entire process until all the culprits are eliminated completely.
STEP 3 – BUILDING YOUR NEW NUTRITION PLAN:
In my experience coaching, a “meal plan” not only gets boring and doesn’t create exceptional results… but it also doesn’t educate the client, at all. So we utilize macros with many of our clients as an educational method in the process of achieving results.
The reason I tell you this, is because you may be in that position. Whether it’s for accountability to get through the Elimination Diet properly or it’s for after the fact when you’re ready to strive for fat loss, building muscle, or improving your performance.
Now, your new nutrition plan starts by knowing your food groups and by now, you know EXACTLY what you shouldn’t be eating – which means you know exactly what you should be eating.
One of the reasons I think everyone, even those without serious symptoms, should go through this process is because it can teach you not only what your body may not like, but also what your body THRIVES on.
You learn what feels good. What fuels your body to perform it’s best. What digests easily and doesn’t bog you down. What allows your sleep, mood, cravings, and mental clarity to be optimal.
And with all this information, we can create your daily diet off the foods YOU individually do best with.
The reason this is important is because without gut health being optimal, nothing else functions at 100%. Not only because the gut is linked to neurotransmitters that allow our brain to work properly, but also because the gut is linked to our endocrine system (the hormonal system) and that’s the only way our hormones will function properly.
Lastly, we don’t use what we don’t absorb and if we do not digest well… we don’t absorb much at all. So if we can digest better and therefore absorb nutrients from food better, we can have fuel for our body to perform, heal, grow, and function.
So whether your goals lead you down the path of following a macronutrient based plan (click here to read HOW to start tracking macros), intermittent fasting (click here for 4+ different articles on IF) while intuitively selecting portions, or maybe you even go keto (click here to read if that’s a good choice for you)…
You know the foods you should fill your diet with, because you went through this elimination process and completely eradicated your negative symptoms! And sometimes, that alone is life changing. I’ve watched people finally see help with serious issues such as MS, IBS, Anxiety or Depression, and more…
The Elimination Diet can be hard, unique per person, and somewhat intimidating. If you feel that way and need help, just email me at [email protected] – let’s chat, I got you.
Cody McBroom is owner and head coach of Boom Boom Performance. He’s a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, now internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition.