As a health and fitness coach I have always been against the concept of a diet, in that it is something you go on and come off. My advice to clients has been, “If it is not a lifetime eating plan then avoid it at all cost.” I made this recommendation based on my educational background and experience. I have taken various nutrition courses while earning my degree in exercise science, picked up an enhanced qualification in nutrition through the American College of Sports Medicine and taught Wellness and Nutrition as part of a career college’s Personal Fitness Training Program.
As any true professional should, I am always looking to improve my knowledge and skills. While doing so I found an exception to my never go on a diet stance. This exception is known as the elimination diet.
I had heard of the elimination diet, a plan for those with known or suspected food allergies. Since I do not have any known food allergies or hypersensitivities to foods I didn’t pay much attention to the particulars of the plan. Then one day while waiting in the dentist office I was reading one of my favorite magazines, Outside. The title of the article, Man vs. Food is about a guy named John Bradley. John went on 6 different diets over the course of a year. What intrigued me the most about John’s informal study was the fact that he started this process already lean and fit. Here is the link to the article. I strongly suggest you read it now as it will help connect the dots with the rest of this post. If you are pressed for time right now, read the introduction and the conclusions and then go back and read how he did on each of the specific diets when you have more time.
As John points out at the end of this article: the only way to know for sure what foods work best for you is to test them out. This self-examination will require some sacrifice. Thankfully it is over a relatively short period of time. As you weigh out the cost-benefit analysis of giving this a try, consider that what you eat and more importantly how your body responds to what you eat is of utmost importance. First and foremost, research has proven your nutritional intake greatly impacts your risk for disease. Secondly, if you are having trouble reaching or maintaining a healthy weight this plan can change that forever. If you want to look and feel your best, have more energy and perform at higher levels then commit to this plan. What have you got to lose except a few inches, aches and pains?
There are a number of variations to the elimination diet. I wanted to make this plan as affordable as possible without compromising the integrity of the plan. For animal protein a few versions of this diet only allow imported lamb from New Zealand and Australia, together with wild caught fish. Both of these are very expensive so I have included free-range beef as another option. Some plans eliminate chicken while other plans said free-range chicken is acceptable. Still other plans say no to all grains or seed like grains such as quinoa. My version is a hybrid; one I have tweaked to work well on a number of different levels. Depending on your food budget and tastes you will need to modify the plan as needed. For best results stick to the plan as closely as possible.
The elimination part is where you eat nothing but the cleanest of foods is fourteen days. Fourteen days will give your body enough time to clean itself out. In addition you will begin to form the habit of purposeful eating. In our fast paced society eating for convenience has become the norm. By following this plan you will be able to eat healthfully, making sure you have the best foods available when you need them.
While I believe part of a nutritious eating plan includes meat and fish I recognize that some people choose not to eat these foods. If you or a vegetarian, vegan, or pescetarian than you will need to modify this diet to meet you nutritional needs. If you choose not to eat meat be sure to eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa, amaranth, nuts and seeds that are allowed in this plan.
Here are the first steps to this elimination-detox plan:
- Commit to strictly follow this plan as it is designed. Invite a friend, colleague, or family member to join you in your quest for better health and fitness. The buddy system works well when support or accountability is needed.
- Plan and prepare your meals and snacks ahead of time. If you leave it to the last minute you will look for the convenient option rather than the specific foods you need to eat. If you fail to plan you plan to fail.
- Log in a notebook your experience, both physical and mental during this process. This will become particularly important as you begin to add foods back in.
- Maintain a twelve-hour window between your evening meal or snack and breakfast the next day.
- For optimal cleansing effect you will need to have a bowel movement every day. If this does not happen naturally use an herbal laxative.
- Drink water throughout the day so that you urinate often, preferably every one to two hours. Your urine should be pale yellow in color.
- Build light activity into your day: walk, take the stairs, jump, skip, play: look to move more. If you are currently involved in a rigorous exercise program you may need to curtail your routine as your body adapts. Remember, this is a relatively short period of time. In the end you will have more energy and your training will reach new heights.
- Rest and recover: breathe deeply and stretch passively. Sleep as much as your schedule allows. Keep in mind it is while we sleep that our bodies go though the majority of our repair processes. As a father and professional on the go I realize getting enough sleep can be tough. The upside is, the cleaner we eat the easier it is for our bodies to recover.
For the next fourteen days these are the foods you should both eat, and avoid. I have listed these foods in order according to nutrient density (the amount of nutrition versus the calories they provide). Eat more of the foods listed first, such as vegetables and then fish, fruit, and so on.
- Eat a lot of leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, broccoli, spinach, and asparagus. Other acceptable vegetables include: avocados, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, and leek.
- Avoid corn, peas, and nightshades: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
- Eat wild caught fish like orange roughy, halibut, tuna, sea bass, trout, cod, salmon and sole.
- Avoid raw fish and shellfish.
- Most fresh fruits: Apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, pears, mangos, and melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew).
- Avoid citrus, strawberries, grapes, and bananas.
- Eat lean lamb and free-range beef. Chicken and turkey is suspect. If you plan to eat these go for free-range from a reliable source. My wife and I purchase our meats from Whole Foods. Although their prices are a bit higher than some conventional supermarkets the quality is well worth it. If you do not have a Whole Foods in your area look for a similar health food market. If you wish to include organ meat calf liver is best. Wild game such as buffalo, venison, elk, caribou, rabbit, and frog legs are also good choices.
- Avoid cold cuts, canned meat, hot dogs, pork, veal, and sausage.
Nuts and Seeds
- Eat almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and the corresponding nut butters.
- Avoid peanuts (a bean or legume not a nut) pistachios, and macadamia nuts.
Starches, Grains, and Grain like Seeds
- Eat sweet potatoes and these non-gluten grains: amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Avoid all potatoes except sweet potatoes. Also avoid wheat, barley, corn, kamut, rye, oats, and couscous.
Dairy and Dairy Substitutes
- Drink coconut milk, nut milks such as almond milk (read label carefully for sugar content). Coconut milk is your best option.
- Avoid Dairy and eggs including butter, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and non-dairy creamers.
- For cooking, use coconut oil. You next best choices for cooking are the nut oils: almond, sunflower, or walnut. For salads use cold-pressed olive oil.
- Avoid butter, canola oil, margarine, and processed oils such as vegetable oil. Exclude salad dressings, mayonnaise, and other spreads.
- You may use basil, cumin, cinnamon, dill, garlic, ginger, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, turmeric, and thyme.
- Avoid barbecue sauce, chutney, ketchup, relish, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and other condiments not on the approved list.
- Avoid all sweeteners if possible. If you must use something use coconut sugar or brown rice syrup.
- Avoid refined sugar (white/brown), high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, and evaporated cane sugar. Also be sure to avoid all artificial sweeteners.
- Drink filtered or distilled water, green tea, mineral water, and coconut water.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, other caffeinated beverages, and any soft drinks.
You need to avoid all processed foods, as they will contain much of the “avoid” items on this list. If it comes in a box, bag, or wrapper it is suspect. Focus on eating as much natural, fresh foods as possible during this time.
Breakfast: All allowed fruits. You may also pour coconut milk over the fruit and eat it as you would yogurt. Sweet potato or yams sliced. Raw mixed nuts combined with raisins worked well for me as I could take it with me and eat it on the go. Any leftover lunch or dinner food also makes a quick easy breakfast.
Lunch and dinner: These meals are really interchangeable depending on your schedule and preferences. Aim for lots of fresh and stir fried vegetables, lean meats and fish, together with non-gluten grains or sweet potatoes. One of my favorite meals was lamb, sweet potatoes mashed with coconut milk, and a salad. Another was free-range beef stir-fried in coconut oil with garlic and sea salt. Then add kale or asparagus and stir-fry it in the juices from the meat. Keep it simple during this fourteen-day period by focusing on lean protein sources and lots of fresh vegetables.
Snacks/Desert: All allowed fruits, raw mixed nuts with raisins, almond or other nut butter on celery, and carrot sticks all work well.
Now we come to the all-important step of adding. As you continue eating as you have the past two weeks begin adding one food at a time and see how your body responds. CAUTION – DO NOT TEST ANY FOOD THAT HAS CAUSED A SERVE REACTION IN THE PAST. This would include anaphylaxis: constricted airways in the lungs, severe lowering of blood pressure and shock, (“anaphylactic shock”), and suffocation by swelling of the throat. If you have known food allergies consult a medical doctor for guidance in this process.
Keep records of how you feel throughout each day as you add these foods back in one at a time. To test, eat these foods two to three times a day for one to two days. Foods that you have eaten you whole life and are least suspected to cause sensitivities you can test in one day. Foods such as wheat and nightshades, which are more common allergens, are best tested over a forty-eight hour period. Here is a suggested order for you to use. If you have decided to permanently eliminate any foods from your diet just add the next food on the list. If there is a particular food you have been missing, such as wheat you may want to test that sooner. The order I have provided below is taking into account nutrient density. I have left foods such as cold cuts, canned meat, pork, shellfish, veal, and sausage off the list. Feel free to add these foods in as you like and see how you respond. Since there are much healthier protein options available than these foods I suggest reducing or eliminating them.
- Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers)
- Raw fish
- Dairy – only milk and plain yogurt. Avoid butter & cheeses for now due to added food coloring and preservatives.
- Wheat and other previously excluded grains one day at a time as desired
- Legumes (beans)
- Peanuts/peanut butter (only all-natural fresh ground peanuts and salt, no brands with added shortening, sugar, etc.)
- Butter, cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream
- Preservatives/Processed foods