To us, doing an elimination diet is a big portion of establishing a healthy hormonal landscape and banishing painful and unpleasant period symptoms.
Why Doing an Elimination Diet is So Important for Healthy Cycles
When you ingest food to which you are intolerant, the body releases histamines into the bloodstream, causing inflammation.
While there is a time and place for inflammation in the body (after all, your period is a controlled inflammatory response!), our modern lifestyles are always pushing us towards an uncontrolled and damaging inflammatory cascade.
If the body thinks it is under constant attack, then we start to feel sluggish and may experience other health issues including fatigue, digestive issues, blood sugar imbalances, immune system dysfunction, and endocrine system dysregulation.
An elimination diet starts with the premise that everybody is different, and as such, there is no one-size-fits-all diet.
What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. One person might thrive on grains, for example while they make another person drag.
Food allergy tests are pricey and are not always reliable, as intolerances shift over time. When our clients test their food sensitivities while their gut and hormonal systems are still compromised, their tests often show they are sensitive to EVERYTHING!
Instead, the most inexpensive and accurate way to determine various foods’ effects on you is to do an elimination diet, in which you eliminate common allergens and add them back in one by one to determine your reaction.
You can read more about Chris Kresser’s opinion on the accuracy of food intolerance tests here.
When Is the Best Time to Do an Elimination Diet?
We highly recommend starting the elimination portion of the diet during the Rise Phase of your cycle.
This is when your hormones best set you up for success, resilience, and motivation. This also means that by the time you’re getting to your Pause phase–when cravings are most common–you can begin to test some “cheat and treat” foods to gauge how your body responds.
We’re big fans of allowing for indulgences! After all, life is short. But there’s also a time and place for everything...and living in sync with your cycles is the best way to do this.
Figuring Out What You’re Intolerant to Right Now
We all have one or many foods that may be wreaking havoc on our system, but if we’re eating several of the main culprits (wheat, eggs, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, and caffeine), it’s hard to tell exactly what’s triggering the reaction.
Sometimes symptoms of intolerance manifest themselves immediately upon eating food, but other times there is a delayed reaction, further complicating matters.
Using a food diary will allow you to systematically and objectively track your physical and emotional reactions to each meal and determine exactly which foods suit you or not. Ironically, it’s often the foods we crave the most that are harming us!
You will be amazed how great you feel when you eliminate your personal culprits from your diet.
And the great news is you can use the same technique of the elimination diet if you ever feel tired or have health issues in the future. We generally aim to do a simple elimination diet a couple times a year or at any time when we feel our health has made a big shift (for better or worse!).
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The Basics of an Elimination Diet
Here’s the goal: remove the foods that people are most commonly sensitive to as well as foods that are hard on digestion.
Ideally you will remove these foods for 3 weeks (this would be ideal if you are dealing with multiple health complaints, autoimmune conditions or severe gut dysfunction) but you can do as short as 1 week. This is because most people can tell when a foods does not agree with them after eating so cleanly for only 1 week.
We also suggest that you remove additives, artificial ingredients, sugar and caffeine.
By removing these items you will have a very clean slate to reintroduce foods and see how you feel.
Foods to remove
- Sweeteners (white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, agave or cane juice
- Sugar alcohols (often found in chewing gum, like xylitol)
- Soy milk
- Dairy products
- Grains (only low-glycemic grains, soaked, allowed)
- Soy (except miso)
- Processed foods
- Soft drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Potatoes (except for sweet potatoes or yams)
- Beans (except for lentils, mung, and adzuki)
Reintroducing Food During an Elimination Diet
Reintroduce slowly and systematically! This is probably where people get a little hung up most of the time.
The most common food sensitivities are to gluten, dairy, soy, corn and eggs. These are good foods to start with and to watch carefully for reactions (if any of these foods are already removed from your diet than there is no need to add them back in).
Every 2-4 days, add back in foods that are common allergens or hard to digest, giving you the opportunity to see how your body reacts after you have cleansed for at least 7 days.
Be conscious of how you feel emotionally and physically when you consume food you have not eaten for at least 7 days and take the time to write this down.
A journal is really important for this process!
Symptoms of Food Intolerance After Elimination Diet
These signs can signify a food intolerance:
- White coating on the tongue
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Bad breath
- Foul-smelling stool
- Headaches or migraines
- Joint pain
- Sinus issues
- Clogged ears
- Rashes or hives
- Poor sleep
- Water retention
- Gas and bloating
- Dry eyes
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Racing heart
- Bags under the eyes
- Food cravings, sugar or salt
- Canker sores or a sore tongue
- Difficulty breathing or cough
- Poor concentration
- Swelling of hands/feet
Wrapping Up on Elimination Diets
This is your opportunity to see what fuels your unique body.
We always suggest that you first test the food you most suspect is giving you a problem, often the foods that we can’t live without!
Note how your body and emotions feel in your food diary during this process.
Many of our “gotta have it” foods are foods that give us comfort or relieve stress. We can help ourselves move away from these foods that cause us harm and replace them with foods or activities that instead nourish both your body and mind.
By eliminating the foods from your diet that you are sensitive to, you may notice great improvements in your health without expensive tests! And this process can be used to check back in anytime in the future if you are not feeling your best. You can be a true health detective!!