The Elimination Diet
The Elimination Diet
What is an Elimination Diet?
Your body is likely numb to the effects of things that are a part of your daily, or even weekly or monthly diet. So for 3 weeks eliminate the foods that may be causing allergies, digestive problems, or other symptoms. Then reintroduce them one at a time to determine how they affect you and ultimately end up with optimal eating habits tailored perfectly to you.
I am not a doctor or nutritionist, but I have found changes in my diet to dramatically change my health and am empowered by the ability to essentially do controlled experiments to figure out what makes me feel great (and what doesn’t). It takes a lot of will power, but the results are pretty immediate and clear cut.
I now see food as the foundation for my health and something that should be closely examined before experimenting with supplements, adaptogens, or more traditional Western medicine. (I'll talk about my experiences with each of those in future posts.) In response to the many questions I get on this topic, I am sharing some guidelines that I hope you will find helpful.
One thing I'll leave you with before you read on is that when I say I no longer eat something like sugar, I mean that it isn't a part of my routine. All of the things I've eliminated from my diet are still things I indulge in every once in a while. For example, if Lori Stern bakes me cookies (real ones with wheat and diary), I will most definitely be eating them. But on a day to day basis, if I feel like a treat, I'm more likely to make a cacao tonic (hot water, 2 TBS cacao, 1/2 a date, 1 TBS hemp seeds, blended for 1 min - tastes like hot coco). You get the idea.
HOW I FOUND THIS METHOD: In my mid twenties, I saw an acupuncturist who made dietary recommendations that he said could remedy some pretty extreme unpleasantries I was experiencing during my period. I was fascinated by this prescription and followed his instructions: elimination of dairy, alcohol, processed food, refined sugar, red meat, most grains, and fruits high in sugar. I was eager to see if these changes did what he said they would and immediately saw positive effects that made me want to keep going.
Since that first round of elimination in my twenties, I have revisited the diet every few years to check in with myself. I've veered off course in different ways and can also continue to fine tune. Last year, although I had already eliminated refined sugar (in my day to day routine), I decided to eliminate all sources of sugar including fruit and sweeteners like maple syrup. It quickly became clear that I was still addicted to and dependent on the sugar in things like the bananas in my smoothies (I was averaging 2+ bananas / day) and experienced intense sugar withdrawal when I cut them out. I figured out that maple syrup makes me feel light headed and has a much stronger effect than honey or a date. I now eat fruit and natural sweeteners much more sparingly and opt for alternatives to maple syrup.
POSITIVE EFFECTS / REWARDS
- Deeper sleep
- Healthy and glowing skin, hair, nails
- More energy
- More focus
- Steady mood without fluctuations
- More in tune with yourself and what makes you
feel good (not just in terms of what you eat)
- More regular bowel movements
- Elimination of gas / bloat
- Fewer Menstrual symptoms (PMS, cramps, etc)
POSITIVE RESULTS / BENEFITS: After 1 - 2 weeks of the cleanse, start looking for positive changes. During my first cleanse, I stopped constantly craving snacks (sign of sugar dependency). I had more energy than at any other time in my adult life. I woke up with a clear throat (flem is a sign of dairy intolerance). I slept like a baby. My hair, nails and skin were radiant. My mood was steady. And, as my acupuncturist promised, my cramps went away almost completely within two cycles.
THINGS TO ELIMINATE
- Dairy (up to you whether you want to eliminate eggs)
- Sugar (includes honey, maple syrup, fruit, and yes tomatoes are fruit)
- Red Meat
- Processed Foods (includes store bought nut milk or anything pre-made in a package. Canned beans are ok)
- Grains (you might even eliminate gluten-free ones. I do not process quinoa well and was eating it in bulk for years. My subs are potatoes and cauliflower)
- Caffeine (That’s the hardest one for me. You can successfully do this cleanse while still drinking a cup of coffee or tea in the morning)
Three weeks. That’s how long it takes for your system to let go of its reaction, or lack thereof, to the foods you eat. If you can make it, you’ll know whether your body agrees with the foods you are putting in it.
- Start on a week when you can cook all of your meals
- Bring food with you. It’s hard to find healthy, whole foods on the go
- Do meal prep before you start: research recipes, shop for healthy foods, wash your produce so it’s ready, roast some veggies, and generally have some food on hand (more on all this later). The easiest way to be successful and make it through three weeks is to plan delicious, healthy options that keep you satiated. Put in the effort here.
- Be realistic about your schedule and plan meals that fit into it. You don’t need to spend two hours cooking dinner. Broiling salmon and sautéing kale in lemon and coconut oil takes 15 min including prep time.
- Cook dinner for at least the first few days (as opposed to “assembling” ready made ingredients). Cooking is self care. I find it therapeutic. People often say that they don’t like cooking just for themselves. I think we should all see ourselves as deserving of a gorgeous and delicious home-cooked meal.
- Anticipate sugar withdrawal: most of us eat a lot more sugar than we realize, and your body will probably be in shock when you cut it out. Eat lots of good fats and check out the ideas below for Sweet Cravings.
- Make your meals colorful. The more colors on your plate, the more variety of nutrients, and the better off you'll be (slightly oversimplified but basically true). That said, green is good!
- Cook your vegetables, especially for dinner. Raw food is harder to digest, and since this cleanse is a big shift from what your stomach is used to, give it a break by cooking at least half of the produce you're eating. I like to put fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, etc) and lemon juice on cooked veggies to spruce them up.
- Go into this process to get to know yourself. Don’t look anywhere but inward to decide how you feel when you eat something. We are all used to convenience and want someone to tell us the answer or the secret. You are the only person who has that info, and this process takes time and patience.
- Don’t try and label the way you eat with an existing food philosophy like “Paleo”. There are so many diets and labels out there. Try eating everything that is available to you, and come up with your own original combo of what makes you feel amazing.
- Make hemp milk: It’s the lowest maintenance and in my opinion creamiest nut milk. Fill your Vitamix 2/3 full with filtered water, add 1/2 cup hemp seeds (or 1/3 cup hemp meal), blend on high for 2 min. No straining, no soaking, so easy. Store in fridge for up to four days
- Make a nice salad dressing to use throughout the week to elevate basic veggies or salad (see options in Meal Ideas below)
- Read labels: many nut butters have added sugar, etc.
- Do it with a friend, so you have moral support and more ideas for what to cook/eat
DAILY CHECK LIST
- 10 glasses water: That's almost one glass of water every hour. Drink a glass as soon as you wake up, and then continue to drink slowly throughout the day so your body can absorb it. Don’t chug! Drinking this much water just might make you feel like a new person. I was dehydrated for many years and didn't know it.
- Eat within an hour of waking up. Especially important for maintaining balanced hormones in women.
- Eat at least a few good fats: Avocado, chia seeds, nuts and seeds, nut butter, hemp seeds, salmon, coconut oil, flax (oil or seeds).
- Eat at least a few proteins: Chicken, fish, eggs, nuts/seeds, lentils, beans.
- Indulge your senses and aim for delicious, satisfying meals. I love the food I eat. I think that's why I've been able to stick with this way of eating that seems a bit extreme at first glance. Trust me, there are tons of options and variety.
- A green juice: Great replacement for an afternoon coffee. If your body is not yet alkaline you might be turned off by straight up green juice, so try diluting it with a bit of raw coconut water for the first week (I think coconut water is ok for this purpose during cleanse).
- Variety: Make sure you're not eating the same thing every day. Eat as much variety as you can. Example: if you're using potatoes as a grain substitute, try a new kind each time you buy them: Yukon gold, purple, Japanese sweet potatoes, and so on. This also gives you a chance to see how you digest as many things as possible. You may find that even within this cleanse there are things that don't agree with you. Write them down and adjust accordingly.
- Tons of veggies: Buy anything that looks good at the market. Branch out and try something you’ve never cooked with. If you don't know what to do with it, google the vegetable + "goop recipe" for a basic healthy cooking technique and modify it if needed so it fits within the cleanse constraints. Roasting with sea salt and olive oil rarely fails though.
- Chew your food: Not chewing enough can cause indigestion. That's why we have molars - for grinding foods down into digestible pieces. Foods like kale with a tougher texture need to be chopped and chewed as much as possible.
- Check in with yourself. Eat enough that you feel nourished and full. There is a difference between craving sugar and craving nourishment. This cleanse is not about losing weight or eating less; it’s about eating what is good for you.* Check in with your energy level (is it fluctuating, is it high / low?). Check in with your skin (is it dry, is it clear, do you have acne, etc), and generally have a heightened awareness of yourself (emotionally, sleeping patterns, anything that comes up for you). Look for patterns in your body, mind, and general health that can be connected to what you're eating. *Although it isn't the goal, you will probably lose some weight.
- Eat slowly and try to stop eating at the point that will leave you feeling energized after the meal. If you need a nap apres lunch, you went too far!
HOW TO ReintroducE
- Reintroducing your first food: When you finish the cleanse (yay!), try reintroducing the food you are craving most, but stick within healthy, whole foods and then slowly incorporate less and less healthy ones. (You'll probably decide to stop at a certain point. Your sense of taste is much sharper than it was. Things like pecans and coconut water will taste much sweeter than they used to, and a slice of cake may be a turn off or you'll just want a few bites. Or you might eat it and find yourself unable to fall asleep that night and next time say no thank you). Specific food recommendations for introducing are below, but generally start with things like a small portion of quinoa, blueberries or raspberries, or a small piece of grass-fed steak.
- Write down what you eat and how you feel after (bloat, upset stomach, skin reaction, cravings later on, sleep disruption, flem, etc). There are too many factors for mental notes, and it can take up to a day to see the effects a food has on you, especially if it disrupts your sleep.
- Determine the effect of one food before moving on to the next: Over the course of 24 hours, you'll determine how one new food makes you feel. Then go on to something else. If you aren't patient and try a few things at once, you won't know which food has which effect. Thus the importance of continuing a controlled experiment with one food at a time. If you have a negative reaction, give yourself a day to readjust to feeling great. Then you're ready to go ahead with the next food you want to test.
- Aim to continue to feel energized and nourished: The idea is to push the boundaries and continue to reintroduce until you notice negative side effects. From there, decide if you’d rather not eat something. A good approach for me has been to eat certain things every once in a while as a treat but eliminate from my day to day routine. When you know precisely how something makes you feel, it makes it a lot easier to decide whether to eat it. Experiencing negative side effects has a lot of value and helps with long term changes.
MAINTAINING WITH ADJUSTMENTS FOR REAL LIFE, LONG TERM: Preparing everything you eat from scratch for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks is probably not realistic for most of us in the long term (and pretty hard in the short time). When I first did this cleanse in my twenties I persevered for three or four months and then decided, as good as it made me feel, that regimen was not sustainable. I started reincorporating foods in small ways to see what their individual effects were and came up with a more realistic diet that gave me energy and nourishment, but also made room for indulgences.
I cut out dairy, most sugars, and most grains permanently. I got in the habit of cooking at home and now cook about 80% of what I eat. When I’m at a restaurant, a friend’s, or traveling I eat what I’m in the mood for and don't have any rigid rules. That said, I make better choices and am more in tune with eating from my stomach and not from my head or heart.
*Start with whole, healthy foods and continue on to less and less healthy ones. Go for foods you miss the most, first. If you’re not missing something, leave it out. When we are in balance, our bodies crave what they need.
- Dairy: a small portion of raw sheep cheese or sheep yogurt
- Sugar: add honey or a date to sweeten a tonic or tea and see how you feel. Use about half the portion of sweetener you used before the cleanse (you’ll be a lot more sensitive to it). Dark chocolate (80% cacao minimum and choose one that is not made with cane sugar). Blueberries, blackberries, coconut. *Don’t test sugar by having a piece of chocolate cake.
- Red Meat: a small serving of grass fed steak.
- Packaged Food: Chickpea pasta or kelp noodles. Read the ingredient list. In general, if there are more than 6 ingredients or you’ve never heard of some of them it’s probably not the best idea. I am turned off by foods that can sit on a shelf for months and not go bad (of course there are exceptions, but think it through). Google an ingredient you aren't familiar with - get educated.
- Alcohol: a small glass of natural wine (sulfate free).
- Grains: a serving of quinoa about half the size you used to have
- Caffeine: a small matcha tea
- Soy: this is something women in particular should eat in extreme moderation, because it messes up our hormones. Try adding Tamari to salad dressing or using in other small ways.
- Scrambled eggs, avocado, and spinach wilted with olive oil, lemon and sea salt
- Protein shake (try water, 2TBS plant protein powder, 1 tsp chia seeds, 1 TBS almond butter, 1TBS hemp seeds, a few ice cubes, and blend! Could also add turmeric, Vital proteins marine collagen powder, cacao + cinnamon, and/or any adaptogens)
- Farmers Market Frittata, makes several servings so great to make and have on hand
- Coffee or tea (can be decaf) blended with 1 tbs hemp seeds, 1/2 tsp ashwaganda, 1 tsp coconut oil, 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Leftovers from dinner. This makes life so much easier!
- Salad with chicken or fish: mixed greens, slivered almonds, avocado, olive oil, lemon, sea salt
- Bowl with lentils, veggies, hummus, pickled onions, tahini/cashew dressing
- Chopped Salad
- Macro Bowl, switch it up with whatever is in the fridge
- Cauliflower rice, roast Chicken and veggies
- Roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, broiled salmon, herb salad (avocado, parsley, dill with lemon, olive oil and sea salt)
- Lentil or white bean soup with a salad
- Squash, Bean and Kale soup
- Roasted broccoli: skip the feta. the sugar is okay when used to pickle the onions.
- Zucchini noodles with pesto. Here's another pesto to try. You can buy pesto at the store, but check the ingredient list for only whole foods and no preservatives.
- No fail roast chicken (use olive oil instead of butter)
- Roast Halibut with herbed beans (skip butter)
- Braised chicken with green olives (try shredding the chicken at the end and mixing into the sauce)
- Vegan cesar
- Lemon Tahini Dressing
- Carrot Ginger
- Turmeric Tahini Sauce (try a dollop on a lunch bowl or salad, or with veggies)
- Hard boiled eggs with sea salt and sumac
- Avocado sliced with lemon and dukka (spice blend you can buy at health food stores)
- Green juice (I like Mixed Greens from Beverly Hills Juice, Goodness Greens from Moon Juice, and Just Greens at Erewhon. I drink one every afternoon, it makes me feel amazing)
- Hummus (make with white beans, garbanzo beans, herbs, etc. - experiment!) with veggies (fennel, bell peppers, cucumber, radish, celery etc)
- Black Bean Dip
- Paleo bread with cashew butter and Kelp granules
- Turmeric latte, I especially like a warm tonic like this at night: 1" knob fresh turmeric peeled, 1 cm fresh ginger peeled and minced, small handful cashews, 1 TBS hemp seeds, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp coconut oil, add hot water and blend on high. Makes one large serving.
- Roobis tea
- Beet/carrot juice. I like Big Ten at Beverly Hills Juice
- Carrot juice blended with 2 tbs cacao and 4 ice cubes. Sounds weird but it’s so good. Carrots have a lot of sugar, so try not to eat them more than a few times a week during the cleanse
- Pecans & Walnuts: after giving up sugar, pecans taste a lot sweeter than you might remember them, and Walnuts are creamy and weirdly satisfy a dessert type craving for me
- Mint chip smoothie bowl
- 10 glasses of water / day
- Ginger tea: mince a 1 cm knob of ginger, blend for 1 min with hot water and lemon. Add hemp seeds if you want it creamy. If it’s too strong/spicy, dilute with more water.
- Get a few herbal teas. When you are craving sugar but not actually hungry, sip on a delicious tea.
RESOURCES FOR HEALTHY RECIPES
*Search the main ingredient you want to cook with and see what comes up. Don’t be afraid to modify recipes. Or just browse through these sites for inspiration.