Answers to Important Questions About Conducting a “Gold Standard” Elimination Diet to Discover Your Food Allergies
I’m nearing the end of a three-month elimination diet. And like a marathoner in the last miles of a race, I’m starting to lose my mojo.
I started my three-month elimination diet on December 1st. I was motivated to learn exactly which foods I could eat and which I couldn’t.
I’d give up the usual suspects after I started seeing Naae in early December of 2012 with a diagnosis of “inflammatory disease” — wheat, hen’s eggs, cow’s milk, nightshades, and more.
Now that I was walking again — and biking and swimming — I wanted to be sure I actually needed to give up cream in my tea (grass-fed, naturally!) and catsup with my sweet potato fries (no HFCS, of course!).
Certainly some of the foods I was eating had contributed to my inflammation. But it is possible that I can actually eat of the foods I had banned from my diet.
The only way to find out was to embark on a long-term elimination diet.
Why Three-Month Elimination Instead of the Usual 21 to 30 Days
Most of what I read about elimination diets refers to a 21- to 30-day elimination period. It’s rare that I read anything about doing an elimination diet for three to six months.
But that is exactly what Naae recommends.
According to her, a short-term elimination is useful for getting a quick read on your individual food allergies and sensitivities. Three to four weeks allows just enough time to clear most of the offending foods’ toxins from your body.
But to really understand which foods you can safely eat and which you can’t, you need to take them out of your diet for a much longer period — then run your food challenges.
The reason for this is that it takes our bodies a minimum of three months and up to six months to heal from any damage done by the pro-inflammatory foods we’ve been consuming. During this period (where you’ve eliminated any possible suspicious foods), if your body heals, you may be able to now eat foods you could not eat before.
The Challenge Before the Challenge — The Multi-Month Elimination Period
Naae told me that a three-month elimination period would be long enough for me, because I’d been eating a relatively “clean” diet for the past year.
I’m extremely relieved for the shorter duration. Because eliminating so many foods for so long is extremely challenging.
My motivation to get clear on my actual food allergies helped me breeze through my first month. In fact, I got through December without a single flutter of attraction to the multitude of holiday treats everywhere.
By January, I was starting to get a bit restless with my limited diet — despite my ability to cook delicious food.
I expressed my boredom to Naae and she muscle-tested me for nuts to see if I could add some varieties of nuts into my diet.
I showed sensitivity to almonds and no sensitivity to peanuts (a legume, of course). So I could have peanut butter on my banana — which was awesome.
Despite the addition of peanut butter and pecans (another safe nut for me), by February I started really struggling.
All month long, I have been craving the opportunity to have a big mug of coffee with cow’s milk cream and some eggs (fingers crossed that I’m not allergic to cow’s milk and hen’s eggs).
On March 1st, I will begin my challenge period for several weeks to see what I can safely eat without triggering a return of my debilitating inflammation.
Naae advises challenging one food a week, eating it for the first two days. Then watching to see how your body reacts for the rest of the week. Sometimes you’ll have an immediate reaction, and sometimes it will take a few days.
What is an Elimination Diet?
For those not clear on how to conduct an elimination diet, here are the basics. (Note: Please see your healthcare practitioner before you do an elimination and for specific guidelines for your health issue.)
It is a diet that lets you test your sensitivities to certain foods after a period of eliminating them from your diet. After the elimination phase, you slowly start reintroducing the foods — one at a time — to see how your body reacts to them.
Many practitioners choose elimination diets over allergy tests for two main reasons: They are more reliable and they are less expensive. In fact, elimination diets are the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities.
What Should You Remove from Your Diet During the Elimination Period?
The short answer is eliminate all foods that you think you may be allergic to, as well as the known common allergy-producing foods — including pork, hen’s eggs, corn, cow’s milk, gluten, nightshades, shellfish, and nuts.
What Can You Eat?
The common foods that you can eat during the elimination period include rice, fish (like wild salmon), meat (grass-fed or free-range beef, turkey, lamb, and chicken), most fruits, most types of vegetables (except nightshades), and healthy oils like coconut and olive.
How Long Should the Elimination Period Last?
To get a more accurate reading, you need to heal your body during the elimination period. This takes an average of three to six months. The period is shorter if you’ve been eating a super healthy diet, and longer if you haven’t.
How Should You Reintroduce Food During the Challenge Phase?
You should reintroduce one food at a time, giving each food a week to see how your body reacts.
During the first two days of each week consume the food once or twice each day in its pure form. For example, drink milk, versus drinking milk in a cup of coffee. You don’t need a lot of the food. With milk, a half of a cup is enough.
Then wait and see what happens. Monitor your body’s reaction.
What Should You Look for During the Food Challenge Phase?
Pay attention to everything that happens to your body both immediately and over the whole week.
For example, you’ll want to note any changes in digestion, bowel habits, sinuses, skin, sleep, mood, energy, headaches, bloating, and joint pain.
You can also add a pulse test to your challenge period.
What is a Pulse Test?
First thing in the morning, after resting for about five minutes, take your resting pulse rate for one minute.
Then consume the food you’re reintroducing. Retake your resting pulse rate at 20, 40, 60, 90 and 120 minutes after consuming the food.
A change in pulse, either increased or decreased, greater than 10 beats per minute, can indicate sensitivity to a food.
Repeat the test again later in the day or the next day after a second exposure to the food. If the same thing happens, this can definitely suggest a food intolerance, especially if it correlates with other symptoms.
What Happens Next?
Once your elimination diet is complete, you can safely eat the foods that you did not react to.
However, try to follow the guidelines of “food rotation” so that you don’t develop new allergies. The basic rule of food rotation is to only eat a particular food, such as almonds, every four days.
So, for example, you could have almonds on Monday, Brazil nuts on Tuesday, pecans on Wednesday, and sunflower seeds on Thursday.
For foods that you reacted to, don’t eat them. Keep them out of your diet for several months more. Then retest them at a later time.
It’s worth conducting an elimination diet from time to time, because you never know when your body will heal and outgrow one or more of your current food allergies.