Do you have mystery symptoms no medical professional can seem to figure out? Have you been called a hypochondriac or hysterical?
You’re not alone.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who struggle with mystery symptoms, and, to make matters worse, they also struggle with others not taking them seriously.
In 2002, an elimination diet saved my life. Before then, I did not know a day without horrible stomach pain, muscle aches, brain fog, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. I was ninety pounds, my hair was falling out, and everything I ate went right through me.
It was a naturopathic physician who took one look at me and said, “Food is killing you.” That was the start of my journey to discovering my own gluten intolerance and the incredible effect certain foods can have on the human body.
The Elimination Diet – Your Step-By-Step Guide
Step 1 – Take stock of your symptoms.
The first thing to do before starting an elimination diet is to take stock of your mystery symptoms.
It’s important to note that symptoms of food sensitivities can be more than gastrointestinal.
Any strange symptom you have should be noted, even if it’s something you would put into the ‘mental health’ category.
Start with the top of your head and work downward, so you don’t miss anything.
Step 2 – Write down a list of foods to avoid.
When you’re doing an elimination diet, there is a list of ‘culprit’ foods that you must avoid for the duration of your diet. This means no exceptions, no cheating, and no sneaking.
- Lactose products
- Citrus fruits
- Food dyes (Avoid those sugary breakfast cereals!)
- MSG (Read labels very carefully.)
- Aspartame (No diet soda!)
Step 3 – Write down a list of foods to enjoy.
An elimination diet may seem daunting at first, especially if you’re used to eating fast food and convenience meals. Just remember, this is your chance to take back your health. Every time you think about “cheating”, remember what you’re working towards.
Within two short months, you could eradicate the headaches, muscle aches, bloating, itching, brain fog, and irritability you’ve been living with for years!
Below is a list of foods you can enjoy on your elimination diet. For best results, buy organic whenever possible. Some individuals are especially sensitive to pesticides, not just the foods themselves.
- Vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens)
- Fruit (except citrus fruits)
- Beans (not canned, cook at home)
- Chicken, turkey, fish, and wild game
- Rice (nothing “enriched”)
- Rice or coconut milk
- Herbal tea
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Stevia (if needed)
Step 4 – Shop your local health food store and farmer’s market.
The best time to begin an elimination diet is on a day off when you can take your time at a local health food store and/or farmer’s market.
These are two places you can easily find the foods you’re looking for, and you will have an opportunity to talk with the owner/farmer to see if they have any tips, tricks, or suggestions for you.
Step 5 – Follow the elimination diet for six weeks exactly.
You will be following this elimination diet for exactly six weeks. In the journal where you first wrote your mystery symptoms, write about how you feel each day on the elimination diet.
This will help you better make the connection between the food(s) you’re eating and the health problems you’ve been experiencing.
During this process, you may notice many of your symptoms have significantly lessened or disappeared altogether. These are the moments when strict adherence to the diet pay off, and you start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Step 6 – Begin reintroducing foods.
After the six-week period is over, slowly reintroduce eliminated foods one at a time to test for a reaction.
For example, on Monday, try lactose products. Eat a large bowl of ice cream and wash it down with a glass of whole milk. If you have a negative reaction, note it, and stop consuming the food you had a reaction to.
If you don’t have a reaction to the lactose products on Monday, for example, try eating them again on Tuesday. If you have a negative reaction this time, note it, and stop consuming the food you had a reaction to.
What you will do on Wednesday will depend on what happened in the two days before. If you had a reaction to a food on Monday, eliminate that food from your diet, and go back to your elimination diet on the following day.
Do not reintroduce a new food the day after you’ve had a reaction to another food.
Your body needs 24 hours of recovery time, or you will risk having a false positive reaction* to the next food you try.
Here are is a mock scenario to give you a visual of what I mean:
|Monday||Ate a bowl of ice cream and drank a glass of milk. Two hours later, became extremely nauseous and threw up.|
|Tuesday||Went back to the elimination diet and gave my body a rest.|
|Wednesday||Ate two oranges to test for a citrus fruit intolerance. Had no reaction.|
|Thursday||Ate two more oranges to test for a citrus fruit intolerance. I feel perfectly fine.|
|Friday||Ate a sandwich with wheat bread and pretzels. Felt a little funny, but wasn’t sure if it was a reaction, or if I’m coming down with something.|
|Saturday||Had three slices of pizza and washed them down with two beers. That night, woke up with terrible stomach cramps, had explosive diarrhea, and broke out into a cold sweat.|
|Sunday||Went back to the elimination diet, stayed in bed, and recovered.|
|Monday||Decided to give my body another day of rest since it had such a bad reaction to the gluten.|
|Tuesday||Tried another eliminated food.|
And so on, and so forth.
If you have a terrible reaction to anything you’ve eaten, be very gentle with your body and consider going back on the elimination diet for two full days instead of one before reintroducing a new food.
Also, if you react badly to gluten, drink lots of water and use a fiber supplement to help pass the offending food more quickly through and out of your system.
Step 7 – Live a healthier life!
Once you’ve gone through the process of testing and eliminating foods, you will have a clearer idea of what has been causing your mystery symptoms. Read labels carefully and make sure the culprit foods do not find their way back into your diet.
Furthermore, continue to keep a journal of symptoms for about a month after you’ve completed the elimination diet.
This way, you can look back on all the symptoms you had when you first started and the symptoms you have now (if any) and see just how far you’ve come!
An elimination diet is one of the most accurate ways to test for food sensitivities. Often, blood tests for food allergies give a false negative. This means you could still be quite sensitive to a food or food additive, it just doesn’t show up on the test.
I also highly recommend consulting a naturopathic physician familiar with elimination diets and food allergies, so you have some professional support in making these necessary dietary changes.
After you’ve completed the elimination diet, get blood tests for nutritional deficiencies. Oftentimes, food sensitivities cause inflammation in the intestine, interfering with your body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients from food.
(Vitamin D3 and magnesium deficiencies are the two most common.)
Once you discover what nutritional deficiencies you have, you will be able to talk with your health care provider about supplementing your diet.
An elimination diet is your first step in getting to the bottom of your mystery symptoms. Click on the banner below to get your copy of my book, Life Beyond Chronic Pain: The Step-By-Step Guide to Healing Chronic Illness Naturally and learn everything you need to know to put your chronic illness into remission!
*A false positive reaction can happen with a food you are not sensitive to if it’s been too short a time between eating that food and the one that gave you a reaction.
Woman with strawberry courtesy of Flickr/.craig