Elimination Diet, Paleo-Style

May 30, 2011

Photo by Pink Sherbet

I’ve decided it’s time to tinker with what I eat via an elimination diet. I start today, almost exactly one year after starting paleo/primal. Why now? Eliminating grains, legumes, and vegetable oils from my diet, although a big change, was pretty easy – I couldn’t care less about vegetable oils, and I don’t really miss grains or legumes. I’ve been eating delicious, whole foods, and that’s tough to beat. I think that if I had tried to cut out anything else when I first started, it would’ve made paleo/primal a lot harder. I also figured that at first I’d just coast by getting rid of the worst offenders. A year in, I’m ready for some more experimentation.

The Elimination Diet Protocol

For starters, the original paleo diet does not include dairy, although many paleo adherents allow for butter and heavy cream. Although I don’t avoid dairy, I’ve already greatly reduced my consumption of it, other than butter and cream – which I hope to re-incorporate since they’re such great fat sources. Then there’s eggs. After grains and dairy, they appear to be one of the most allergenic foods. I also really hope to bring those back, as they’re a great source of protein, and really, variety.

However, It’s not recommended to just eliminate the one or two things you’re testing for from your diet and leave a bunch of other allergens in. The idea is to take out all potentially aggravating foods to let your gut heal, and then re-introduce those foods one by one. I read somewhere that before the elimination diet, this woman could eat peppers everyday with no problems. After her gut healed, she found that she couldn’t handle even a little bit. So you never really know what foods could be irritating your gut until you eliminate them for a period of time.

The elimination diet I’m doing is more restrictive than something like the Whole 30, which is basically a strict paleo diet. Robb Wolf’s autoimmune protocol is like Whole 30 minus nightshades and eggs. A step beyond that is a standard elimination diet which gets rid of a foods like chicken and beef – I won’t be going that far.

Also, I will not be “testing” for all the foods that I eliminate. Ideally, I would, but realistically, that would take a really long time. There’s a few key ones that I’m focusing on, the remainder I’m just refraining from eating during the elimination phase to ensure the gut heals appropriately – but I’ll see how it goes. Plus, out of the other eliminated foods, some I don’t plan to re-introduce at all, and others I don’t eat that much of anyway and I’m not all that keen on cutting out completely.

Food paleo/primal already eliminates: grains, legumes, soy, corn, peanuts, vegetable oils, and sugar.

Food I personally typically eliminate: most nightshades, pork, shellfish, and additives (food colorings, artificial flavors, emulsifiers, preservatives).

Food eliminated via Robb Wolf and Whole 30: all nightshades, dairy, and alcohol

Food I’m eliminating based on typical elimination diet: chocolate, sweeteners (honey, maple syrup), citrus fruit (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), apples, seeds, nuts, and caffeine (coffee, black/green tea).

Food I’m not eliminating even though not allowed on stricter elimination diet: beef and chicken. It’s interesting that with most of these elimination diets, the only proteins allowed are fish, turkey, lamb, and wild game. I have heard of people being allergic to beef. Maybe those meats also typically have the least amount of contaminants (except for the fish)?

Another good suggestion I came across was to eliminate any foods that you eat very frequently, or feel cravings for.

Although not a requirement, it may be helpful to keep track of what you’re eating every day, as well as any symptoms that may be improving for you. Keeping a food journal can also give you an indication of which foods you’re eating too much or not enough of. It’s especially helpful to keep a food diary during the re-introduction phase of the elimination diet.

Duration and Reintroduction

Most protocols are 30 days, although it’s possible to just do 3 weeks. I’d say do 30 days if you can, to increase the odds of the gut healing enough for the elimination diet to be useful. Having said that, if you’re unable to do 30 days, then just do 3 weeks. I say unable because I can imagine the elimination diet being quite difficult to do if you are travelling at all, since you then have limited control of your food, and things that should be eliminated might sneak their way in without you even knowing it. Also, depending on how many foods you want to re-introduce individually, the process can easily last 5-6 weeks, which is a rather long time.

On Day 1, after the 30 days, you re-introduce one of the foods you’ve eliminated. You eat that food at least twice that day. You then do not have any of that food for the following 2 days, paying attention to how you feel. Symptoms to watch out for include, but are not limited to:

sleep disturbances/insomnia, nasal or lung congestion, increased mucous, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, digestive disorders, constipation/diarrhea, bloating, gas, fluid retention, pain, mood swings, joint aches, inflammation, urinary problems, drowsiness after meals, skin breakouts or rashes

If the food does not cause any symptoms, you then introduce the next food on day 4.

If a food you tested “fails”, your gut has been irritated, and so your reaction to any other new foods you re-introduce may not be as reliable (you could either react too sensitively, or have been de-sensitized). It’s safer to re-start the elimination diet, although 30 days is probably not necessary.

Foods that have passed the re-introduction phase, and are now considered “safe” can technically be eaten during the remainder of the testing. However, to be on the safe side, I plan to leave them out until I’m done the testing. Somehow it makes sense to me for new foods to be introduced to a gut that is as close to the state it was during the original elimination diet as possible. I guess I’d rather not introduce any new variables, and keep the status quo as much as possible.

Dairy should be re-introduced last since, other than grains, it tends to cause the most problems for people.

Here we go…

I’m actually kind of excited to be doing this elimination diet. Lately I feel like I’ve kind of spun out on chocolate, and have been craving snacks more than I’d like. I’m hoping this period of super clean eating will break those habits.

Something I’ll have to keep in mind is to make sure I’m eating enough fat, to replace the butter and cream. And I hear it’s good to remember to drink enough water – your body will be detoxifying somewhat and water helps flush out those toxins.

It’ll be interesting to see if I react negatively to any foods. I really hope not (please don’t take away my cheese!). I’m especially interested in testing eggs and dairy. I’m also curious if I’ll generally feel any different when eating such a clean/strict version of the paleo diet.

If such a diet seems too restrictive, keep in mind that it’s only temporary. Chances are you’ll be re-introducing most of the foods without a problem. And even if some of the foods fail, although it’s possible for you to forever be allergic to them, there’s also a good chance that if you try again in 6 months, your gut may have healed enough to tolerate them (especially if you don’t over-indulge).

Did you find an elimination diet worthwhile? If you’ve never done one, how about joining me this month?

**Update: Interested in how my elimination diet turned out? Here are the other posts in my elimination diet series:

#2 Elimination Diet Update

#3 Elimination Diet Results–Part I

#4 Elimination Diet Results – Part II

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{ 184 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica August 10, 2011 at 9:29 AM

I just did protein (and fat) only for 4 days and seem to have had reactions to some foods after and even during. I was searching for info on elimination diets and paleo when I found you article. Sounds so daunting, but these reactions I had were bad enough that I hope to try it. After reading this list though I truly can’t help but wonder what you can actually eat on this elimination diet?? I would love to know what a typical meal/day was like for you when you tried this?


admin@primalist August 17, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Hi Erica. The meal plan was actually pretty diverse, considering.
Breakfast: natural Whole Foods sausages (make sure to check the ingredients).
Lunch: big salad with some meat.
Dinner: meat + veggies. Think roasts, burgers, meatballs.
For cooking and fats I relied on coconut oil and beef tallow.
Good luck – hope this helps!


Ali September 2, 2011 at 8:56 AM

Thanks for sharing! I am interested in starting an elimination diet. Originally, I planned to eliminate only dairy, but after reading your post I think I need to go all-in to get the “healthy gut” first. I’m going to read your update/results now. 8)


admin@primalist September 6, 2011 at 7:10 PM

That’s kind of where I started out at first too, just wanting to eliminate dairy. But the more I read, the more I realized that it’s not as effective. I recommend doing the full elimination diet for better results. It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s pretty much go big or go home :P


Alina July 18, 2012 at 12:23 AM

What do you think of measuring your heart rate if it went up or down by at least 10 bits after eating a food? Have you heard of this technique of figuring out food intolerances? Do you know how accurate it is?
Thank you.


admin@primalist July 28, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Hi Alina. I’m not very familiar with food increasing heart rate, other than caffeine or alcohol. But it does ring a bell and I wonder if it’s linked to Traditional Chinese Medicine? I’m pretty open to alternative medicine, so I think if your heart rate changed consistently after a certain food, there might be something to it? I’d probably start with some version of the paleo, WAPF, or GAPS diet and work my way from there, listening to your body in general, and experimenting to find the version of the diet that works for you.


Melissa July 28, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Hi, I’m a little late to the party, but was just wondering about initial reactions to this. I’m trying a grain-free diet because of some GI issues and am now considering going further, similar to what you did. However, my body had a hard time adjusting to a new diet–was feeling as if I had low blood sugar and saw an increase in general aches and pains for a few days…experience any negative responses before feeling better?


admin@primalist August 1, 2012 at 2:42 PM

Hi Melissa. I’ve heard of some people having “low carb flu” when first switching over to the paleo diet. How bad it is and how long it lasts will depend mostly on how drastic a change it is from your previous diet. You’re body needs some time to adapt to using fat for fuel instead of carbs.

Depending on what you’re eliminating, you may also be going through some withdrawal symptoms (eg sugar, caffeine).

And there’s also the concept of a healing crisis where you get a little bit worse before getting much better.

Most people experience this stuff for a week or two, or at most a month (assuming you’re not yo-yo-ing between diets).

But as always, make sure to listen to your body, and monitor how you’re feeling.

And let us know how it goes! :)


Joanne August 25, 2012 at 2:45 PM

I am on day 20 of Whole30. And it has not been as bad to stick with as I thought. I normally eat a lower carb, whole food diet. Initially I missed my wine, cheese and greek yogurt. But I actually don’t have any cravings now. There is a Snickers bar on the kitchen counter and I am not interested.

My only problem is that my running has been affected. Still trying to adjust the best amount of carbs to give me the most energy during longer run (6+ mi).


Alexis September 4, 2012 at 9:08 PM

What about the GAPS diet? I would think that would be a good route to go for the “elimination diet”. Even she allows dairy once you think your digestive system allows it. Raw only though…people with leaky guts should never drink pasteurized milk. Or anyone for that matter.


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