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What Is an Elimination Diet?

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

You may have heard a lot about an elimination diet, but do you actually know what it is….or why it is such a popular tool in functional medicine and holistic treatments?

As its name suggests, an elimination diet is about eliminating certain foods. Technically, an elimination diet could entail any diet where you are removing a certain type of food or food group, such as gluten, dairy, soy, FODMAPs, oxalates, histamines, and more. Many elimination diets include a list of foods that you should eliminate for a period of time.

What It Isn't

An elimination diet is not intended to be something that you do forever. It is a trial to help you identify problematic foods. The purpose is to test out the elimination of the foods for about four weeks to see if your symptoms improve. After the four weeks, you try to reintroduce the foods, keeping a journal of any symptoms that may return.

The foods to which you do not react, you can reincorporate into your diet, unless you should avoid them for some other health reason, as directed by your doctor, nutritionist, or another healthcare practitioner.

Conversely, those to which you do react remain eliminated for a period of time. Some people may be able to successfully reintroduce those foods months or years later, especially if they heal the underlying reason for the sensitivity or intolerance to the food. However, some may never be able to eat those foods again, depending on the situation, the person's reaction to the food, and the underlying reason for the reaction.

An elimination diet is not about losing weight or about unnecessary limitations. Therefore, it is not a restrictive diet in terms of calories or macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). You can continue to eat the amount of food in the proportion to macronutrients that work for you. The only real restriction is the foods on the do not eat list, although your practitioner may emphasize that you focus on eating certain healing foods.

What You Can and Cannot Eat

A well-produced elimination diet focuses on real, unprocessed, whole foods with a large percentage of calories coming from colorful fruits and vegetables on the approved list. This ensures that you are supporting your body with the essential nutrients necessary for healing and everyday living.

As I already discussed, there are many versions of an elimination diet out there. At Sunshine Nutrition & Wellness, we use the IFM Elimination Diet, tweaked to the individual client's needs, symptoms, and situation. However, we are not against using other versions depending on the client's preferences, the legitimacy of the diet, and other components surrounding the use of the diet.

An inclusive elimination diet (as opposed to one focused on one specific food or food type, such as gluten, nightshades, histamine, or FODMAPs) generally omits the most common inflammatory foods and top allergenic foods, such as:

  • Gluten

  • Milk and other dairy products

  • Soy

  • Tree nuts

  • Peanuts

  • Sugar

  • Processed foods

  • Red meat

  • Shellfish

  • Corn

  • Eggs

  • Caffeine

More specific elimination diets may incorporate:

  • Nightshades

  • Histamines

  • Sulfur


  • Oxalates

  • Lectins

Generally, we eliminate these foods when a person has certain symptoms associated with foods that fall under this list. Certain conditions also have a higher correlation with sensitivity to certain foods, such as arthritis and nightshades (at least anecdotally) or IBS and FODMAPS. Thus, a client presenting with symptoms or these conditions may also eliminate these food groups during their elimination diet.

Why Try an Elimination Diet

Many functional medicine treatment protocols begin with an elimination diet. Why? Well, when you eat certain foods that trigger an immune or inflammatory response in your body, it can cause problems or exacerbate other symptoms.

Before you can dig deep into specific treatment protocols for whatever ails you, whether a digestive disorder, hormonal imbalance, autoimmune disorder, or metabolic disorder, you first need to build a strong foundation and eliminate as much inflammation as possible. This starts with the diet.

When you consume an elimination diet, you remove the triggering foods and support the body with highly nutritious foods. You also start to reduce or eliminate highly processed foods that generally are loaded with excess calories, sugar, and other things that you do not want in your diet. This also gives you a bit of a reset, as an added bonus.

When you make it to the reintroduction phase after the 4-week diet period, you have an idea of exactly what foods are on your trigger list so that you can continue to avoid them and continue to heal. You have also hopefully learned to listen to your body a bit better so you can recognize potential problems in the future.

How it Works

The elimination diet plan generally follows these steps:

  1. Preparation phase (you may start to cut back on sugar and caffeine to reduce the impact of going cold turkey when removing these foods, as well as identify foods beyond the standard list that you may want to eliminate)

  2. 28-day elimination diet (or similar time period depending on the program or protocol you do)

  3. 2-week reintroduction phase (during this phase, you reintroduce the foods you have eliminated one at a time, giving yourself about 2-3 days to see any ill effects before trying anything else. It is recommended you use a journal during this time to track symptoms)

As stated, an elimination diet is not meant for you to follow forever. Ideally, you work with your practitioner to heal the underlying issues so that ultimately, you have the most diverse diet possible. It may take months or years to get there, and you may have certain foods for which you continually have an issue. For example, those with celiac disease will need to remain gluten free for life (or until researchers discover new information and/or treatments). An elimination diet not only gives you insight into which foods cause an issue for you, it also helps you to transition to a healthier diet in general.

At Sunshine Nutrition & Wellness, most of clients go on some type of elimination diet at the start of a protocol. We also have DIY and Group programs that help you go through an elimination diet on your own, either before you start one-on-one sessions with us, or if you feel like you just need to have a clean up in your diet to improve your health. Contact us or book a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about our services.

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