The Ultimate Elimination Diet Meal Plan Guide
Do you feel more tired than ever before? Do you have persistent gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, or reflux that seem to get worse with time? Do you ever experience chronic symptoms such as headaches, joint pain or skin issues that don’t necessarily go away with medication?
If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, our bodies are so overly burdened (processed foods, environmental exposures, toxic chemicals, etc.) that it’s becoming incredibly difficult for our immune systems to keep up. Throw a little genetics into the mix, and suddenly you may find yourself with unwanted symptoms and or disease.
Wondering how food can relate to your chronic health issues? As crazy as it sounds, foods that you are eating on a consistent, perhaps even daily basis can be the biggest triggers for your chronic symptoms.
Trust me when I say this: Most people living with food-related health issues do not realize how poorly they honestly feel until the offending food agent(s) is completely removed for several weeks.
I have been a witness to such incredible success with this approach. Consequently, today I am going to review the benefits of an elimination diet and I will also provide you with an elimination diet meal plan. After all, aren’t you ready to feel great again?
Why Should I follow an Elimination Diet Meal Plan?
Sad but true: so many of us have been feeling crummy for so long that we forget what our “normal” feels. I am writing this article with the hope that I can help change that for you or at the very least, get the ball rolling in a more positive direction.
No one deserves to feel poorly for years on end without answers.
No one deserves to have medication after medication thrown at them without their healthcare provider digging deeper to find the root cause.
A significant reason why so many of us feel this way is because food is often the culprit, yet it is the most overlooked component of our personal health puzzle when we go to see our doctor.
The first part of the issue stems from the fact that most health care professionals (other than registered dietitians) do not receive extensive or high-level nutrition education. How could your provider educate you on something so foreign? You don’t know what you don’t know, and I don’t blame them one bit!
The second part of the issue is that a food allergy, food intolerance, and food sensitivity are three different issues, thus making it very hard to detect in certain situations. (If this is a new concept to you, please check out my article that explains the difference between an allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance.)
While a food allergy reaction is often immediate and severe, a food intolerance reaction can be delayed for hours and a food sensitivity reaction can be delayed for up to four days! It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to find our food “villain(s)”.
The elimination diet is hands down the best method for diagnosing adverse food reactions.
While there are many excellent food sensitivity tests on the market, none are perfect regarding accuracy. This is why I say the elimination diet is the best first line of defense or “gold standard” when one feels that certain foods may be contributing to their current state of health.
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If you do not have a functional nutrition expert in your area or perhaps funds are a little tight at the moment, a basic elimination diet such as the one we are discussing today is the perfect place to start.
Who Might Benefit from an Elimination Diet?
I’ve said this before and I will say it again and again…
Anyone who is experiencing aggravating and chronic health symptoms, whether they are associated with a specific disease state or not, and these symptoms are NOT responding well to conventional medical therapy, will almost always experience relief by removing offending food agents.
Even if you think that there is no possible way under the sun that your health concerns could be related to food, I challenge you to think otherwise. The immune system is like a bucket and when it finally overflows, we start to experience aggravating health symptoms. Following a properly designed elimination diet meal plan can help you “empty your bucket” to the point where you begin to feel much better.
By the way, this is why you will often see three different people with three completely different health issues experience relief following the same elimination diet.
After walking thousands of individuals through some form of an elimination diet protocol, I can honestly say that the vast majority of these individuals experienced partial and often complete symptom relief after 3-6 weeks.
Alright, now let’s get to it!
What Foods Can I Eat on an Elimination Diet?
Please understand that there are hundreds of different variations of an elimination diet- from ketogenic to, low salicylate, low histamine, to Gluten Free, Low FODMAP, Paleo and beyond. However, since I do not know you or your past medical history, we are going to begin with a general yet comprehensive and anti-inflammatory approach: the removal of the top 8 allergens.
Wheat, egg, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, pork, shellfish.
Now you might say to yourself, “Well, I never eat soy, I don’t even like it” just like my new client said to me in my office yesterday. The thought of tofu and tempeh completely grossed him out; HOWEVER when I dove deep enough into his food journal, I discovered that he was eating soy EVERY. SINGLE. DAY! Everything from his morning protein bar to his salad dressing and packaged mashed potatoes at dinner all contained some form of processed soy.
Moral of the story? Just because you are not eating a particular food in it’s truest form does not mean that you are not consuming it in other ways.
Foods to Eat on an Elimination Diet Meal Plan:
- Fresh or Frozen Veggies
Eating a rainbow a day keeps the doctor away! The more color you eat, the greater your ability to repair DNA and reverse cellular damage. Remember, a serving of veggies is 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked. Try to aim for at least 5-6 servings a day.
If you can eat two different colors of produce at each meal, you have done an outstanding job. As mentioned, focus on non-starchy veggies such as your dark leafy greens vs. starchy such as squash, potatoes, and parsnips. Also, the cruciferous family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) is the most potent when it comes to supporting your body’s natural ability to detoxify!
- Fresh or Frozen Fruit
Fresh or frozen fruit is another excellent way to add color, variety, and flavor to your plan. Just remember, fruit is comprised of natural sugar and it is certainly possible to overdo it, especially for those of you trying to manage your weight and blood sugar.
A great rule of thumb is to aim for 2-3 servings (or medium sized pieces) of fruit a day. Ideally, you will want to learn more toward lower glycemic fruits such as fresh berries, cherries, kiwi, green apple, grapefruit, and pomegranate.
Pro Tip: try not to eat fruit alone but instead pair it with a slower digesting macronutrient family such as protein and fat. For example, try dipping your green apple in almond butter or blend your frozen berries into a smoothie that contains protein and quality plant-based fat (see elimination diet meal plan ideas below).
- Gluten-Free Whole Grains
We are going to assume at this point that you tolerate gluten-free grains fairly well. But as always, please be sure to monitor symptoms as this can be a big trigger family for many individuals. The best examples include rice, quinoa, teff, oats, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and amaranth.
Pro Tip: If your immune system is already on high alert, you may experience a negative reaction to a grain that you have never tried before. Again, take notes!
- Healthy Oils
Plant-based oils are the best way to add rich flavor to your food while keeping hunger at bay. For optimal quality, make it a goal to choose organic, cold pressed oil that is stored in a dark container. Light and oxygen can cause a perfectly good oil to go rancid.
The best options include olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil for cooking. Other great options include canned coconut milk (add to soups or shakes) and pecan oil or flaxseed oil (awesome on salads). Olives (check out OLOVES great snack packs which my husband loves) and avocados also fall under this delicious category of plant-based fat.
- Lean Meats (Avoid pork and shellfish)
Be sure to include quality protein with most meals in order to help control hunger, stabilize blood sugar, and maintain lean muscle mass. Great examples include chicken, turkey, venison, Cornish hen, cod, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines, halibut, mackerel, and plant friendly options such as spirulina or plant-based protein powder.
- Legumes (Avoid peanuts)
For those who feel that they tolerate legumes (beans) well, this is a great source of protein as well as a complex carbohydrate. Incorporating ½-1 cup of legumes each day is a great way to increase fiber in your diet. It is also a great way to experience more variety when it comes to protein. Try dipping fresh veggies in hummus, enjoy a black bean and rice bowl, or add lentils and kidney beans to your chili.
- Nuts and Seeds/ Nut and Seed Butter
This is by far and away the most convenient way to achieve your daily servings of plant-based fat Remember, fat helps to control our hunger and is also critical for optimal brain health and hormone production. Enjoy a handful of cashews or spicy pumpkin seeds for a snack. Spread sunflower butter on a rice cracker, add chia or flaxseed to your oats or add a scoop of almond butter to your smoothie.
Foods to Avoid on an Elimination Diet Meal Plan:
Strongly Encouraged to Avoid
- Added sugar
- Processed meats
- Beef in addition to pork
Pro Tip: Make sure to wean off caffeine before beginning this plan. Removing caffeine “cold turkey” can make this an extremely difficult process. Eliminating foods that you have likely eaten daily for years on top of the removal of caffeine can make the elimination process even more difficult.
Now, let’s put everything together. Here is a sample elimination diet meal plan:
Feeling a little overwhelmed yet? If so, you may want to check out the following articles for additional guidance: The Best Substitutions for the Top 8 Allergens, as well as 7 Crucial Strategies for Following an Elimination Diet and Dining out with Food Allergies.
How Soon Will I Feel Better?
Something I want to make very loud and clear is that there is a chance you will feel worse before you feel better when you strictly follow an elimination diet. Now don’t get me wrong, some feel better immediately but for those of us who were eating poorly to begin with AND our body had a lot of “funk” A.K.A. toxins to clear out, the “die off” reaction can be very real, similar to that of a Herxheimer reaction. Luckily, this does not typically last for more than 7-10 days for most people.
The key to minimizing the intensity of this reaction? Stay hydrated, eat every 3-4 hours in order to stabilize blood sugar and balance your meals. You must, I repeat MUST plan ahead and possibly even cook in bulk/purchase snacks in bulk in advance if you truly would like to experience success following this approach. A hungry human is not always a rational human and when your options are more limited than usual, you may find yourself in a tough spot.
In my years of clinical experience, I can easily say the vast majority of individuals who follow an elimination diet start to feel relief after the first 10-14 days and report marked improvement somewhere between the 3-6 week mark. In rare occasions, I will have a patient or two who do not feel well until they reach 12 weeks of elimination but that is not the standard. Relief often depends on how long someone has been feeling poorly and to what extreme.
Remember, the whole purpose of this approach is to give the immune system enough time to relax and heal. By removing offensive food agents, we are helping to repair our intestinal lining and we are reducing our toxic burden all while identifying food triggers. As you can imagine, that specific point of relief is different for each person. You have nothing to lose by trying a basic elimination diet, so let’s get rolling!
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Have you successfully resolved your chronic health symptoms by following an elimination diet? What did you find was your biggest nutrition obstacle?