Food Elimination Protocol: Identifying Sensitivities
One of the things I love about Chinese Medicine is it is nearly immune to diet fads. The focus is on simplicity, balance, and basic practicality. At the same time, it is highly personalized. Food choices and eating habits are recommended using the same information we collect for acupuncture and herbal treatments. What do you enjoy about eating? What ethics and morals are important to you? What is your body type? In what ways is your body in or out of balance? The first recorded herbal formulas were seasonal soups. Gui Zhi Tang comes to mind. It’s sweet, spicy and delicious. Cooks noticed that when the weather got chilly, it warmed people up, promoted a gentle sweat, and helped break a cold. Over thousands of years the Gui Zhi Tang family of formulas expanded to cover a variety of issues and imbalances. The influential Dr. Huang writes in depth about the body and personality type that more commonly needs Gui Zhi formulas and alas, we categorize some people as having a Gui Zhi Tang constitution. And what is Gui Zhi?… Cinnamon! It all comes back to food.
So a lot has stayed the same, food is still our best medicine. However, the food we eat and how we eat it has changed. For example, on any given day we are eating 30 or more basic ingredients. I just looked at the label of the organic pasta sauce I just ate and I’m already up to 10! The way we farm and the way we store food has changed. Alongside all these changes, our immune systems have had to keep up with what is coming and going. That’s a pretty big job. By and large they are doing an admirable job, but in the process of keeping us safe, many of our immune systems have gone a bit haywire. That’s where an elimination diet becomes a useful tool.
The elimination protocol is not a Chinese medicine concept. I learned it from Dr. Joe Coletto, who based his approach somewhat on Alan Gaby M.D. and his research on nutritional medicine. It does however, fit with the ethos of the medicine. Here’s the idea:
-Think of some symptoms in your life that you’d be interested in changing. (headaches, bloating, mood swings, et.c.) Start a journal of your symptoms a few days before you start the diet. List the symptoms and use a simple scale to measure them a few times a day.
-For 2 weeks, eat only from a short but nutritionally complete list of foods. (rice, vegetables minus nightshades, olive oil, blueberries, chicken and turkey if you eat meat, et.c.) These are foods with very few documented cases of allergy or sensitivity. All the while, journal how your symptoms are responding to a simplified diet.
-Then, after 2 weeks of this basic diet, introduce 1 food every 4 days. Eat that food for half a day, then return to the original diet for the remaining 3.5 days. If your symptoms worsen, you’ve found something your body is responding negatively to.
Do this for the foods you are suspicious of, and for the most prevalent foods that cause sensitivities (wheat, corn, dairy, soy, eggs).
This may be the only time you ever have the chance to examine how a food affects you and be relatively sure that it was that food.
Alyssa and I just completed the diet. For me it was the second time through, for her, the first. It was illuminating for both of us. Alyssa discovered an obvious sensitivity to wheat and dairy. For me, it was relative proof that the work I have been doing over the last ten years to improve my health and take the load off my immune system is having positive results. Foods I used to be very sensitive to, I am now less reactive to. Ask anyone who knows or has lived with me. I think about food a lot! And still, I would not have been able to foresee the information I learned from this protocol. Daily life and diet is still too complex to pick out a single variable.
I will also say, this protocol takes commitment. You’ll want to have the support of family, friends, and ideally a trusted healthcare provider. Not because it is dangerous, and there is no restriction on how much you are eating, simply because changing food habits is like quitting cigarettes. These patterns and routines are hard to change and you’ll want emotional support and help interpreting the results you are seeing.
I’ve guided patients, family, and friends through the protocol on numerous occasions. And sometimes steered folks towards a different way of experimenting with what they eat. Not because they have less will power, but because the timing or some other factor isn’t right. The results are always illuminating.
Undergoing an elimination diet is one way to empower ourselves in our health and learn more about our bodies. I guarantee that even if you do not find any food sensitivities, you will learn things about your relationship to food that enrich your life.