It surprises people to learn that I discovered my food intolerances a few years ago just by doing tons and tons of trial and error and elimination diets.
One of the questions I get asked the most is about how I conducted my own elimination diet to determine my own food intolerances of gluten and dairy – and now further, other foods like eggs, almonds, and hazelnuts (which I hope to someday bring back into my diet).
It’s easy for me to write about my experience now, because it was so far in the past, but when I was in the thick of it – it was HARD.
I was desperate for relief. And I felt so defeated by the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to eat so many of my favorite foods anymore. I had such a hard time coming around to the idea that my life was going to forever be different if I actually embraced this lifestyle.
And now that I’m through it, and I have a nice little list of things that I do eat and don’t eat – well, it doesn’t feel nearly as hard on a day to day basis.
Sure, I miss some things – like real ice cream or pizza on Friday nights. But overall, the fact that I feel so much better in my body makes all the difference.
So how did I do it? How did I conduct my elimination diets that lead me to go gluten and dairy-free?
Here are the 6 easy steps to conduct an elimination diet:
1. Start keeping a food journal.
You can start with a few days or a few weeks – whatever really feels right to you. Just write down what you eat and when.
Then as you make your way through the day, if you notice any weird symptoms (like brain fog or headaches), you can write down when you start to feel them.
If you’re one for keeping track but know you won’t stick with it without something tangible in front of you, check out this great food journal to help you along the way. It’s thorough and you can keep this with you over this process to narrow down any patterns you find.
This isn’t AT ALL about judging your food choices. I know many people think that food journals are a way to make you super aware of what you’re eating and it brings up all kinds of shame – but don’t do that.
Just write down what you eat – and be honest about it. Your body will thank you later.
2. Look for patterns between symptoms and foods.
Notice that you always get headaches after eating bread? Or find yourself constipated three days after having milk?
Look for any obvious patterns that emerge and take note. It might not be as obvious as you’d like it to be. And if it isn’t – that’s okay. Just keep tracking until you start to get an idea as to what foods are triggering your symptoms.
3. Choose one food to remove from your diet – and do it.
Take a food out of your diet ONE at a time and see how you feel for about 2 weeks.
If that food is a culprit for some of your symptoms, you will probably start feeling better within a few days. You’ll want to keep it out of your diet for longer than just when you start feeling better though. Give it at least two weeks.
Only take one food out at a time – otherwise you’re going to feel like crap, because not only will you feel totally deprived and like you can’t eat ANYTHING, but it will help you tease out the specific foods that you have reactions to one at a time.
If you take five foods out all at once, you’ll never know which one made you feel bad – and the other four could have stayed in your diet.
4. Bring the food back in gently.
So you’ve had the food out of your diet for a few weeks – if you’re feeling better, awesome! That’s crazy good news! If you’re not, well then you may have some more elimination tests to do.
This is the part that’s not so fun. That’s because your body hasn’t had the food in two weeks and your reaction to it (if you have an intolerance) might come back in full force. You might have a super strong reaction – and that sucks.
But! The bright side is that you’ll know exactly what one food is that you’re intolerant to and you can move forward without eating that food any longer.
Bring the food back into your diet gently – if you’re testing gluten, start with one piece of bread for three days in a row then wait a week. It’s important to not go crazy with the food once you bring it back, because you’re looking for all symptoms in it’s most extreme and most subtle forms.
5. Watch for your reactions.
Wait a week after bringing the food back and tune in to your body. Bring the food journal back in so that you’re acutely aware of what’s going on in how you feel.
Remember reactions of a food intolerance are not always just physical – they can be mental (like brain fog) or emotional (like you feel like you’re becoming the Hulk) too.
6. Make your determination and repeat the process.
By this point, you probably feel at least slightly confident as to whether or not you have an intolerance to a food or not. If you do, you’ll want to remove that food from your diet completely. If not, then reintroduce it back into your diet as you would normally.
If you’re still having symptoms of food intolerance or reactions you just can’t explain, repeat the process over again until you find the culprit.
Elimination diets can range from super extreme (like cutting all potential offenders out at once) to super gentle (like this one). If you’re ready to figure out once and for all if you have food intolerances, I highly recommend taking this gentle approach.
Once you discover the foods that make you feel sick, you can confidently remove them and you will feel so much better in your body because of it.
I talk more about discovering your food intolerances through elimination diets and food sensitivity testing over on this blog post here.
Have you ever conducted an elimination diet? How did your experience go?
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