How To Do An Elimination Diet: Meal Plans, Benefits, and Tips


In functional medicine, a strategic elimination diet is the gold standard for discovering the foods that don’t agree with you, as well as the foods that make you feel awesome. The information you get from an elimination diet will help you create a sustainable food-as-medicine plan for your life.


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The elimination diet is all about identifying what foods are making you sick so you can keep them out of your life and start feeling well every day. So pause for a moment, take a breath, and scan your body for the following symptoms that could be a result of a food intolerance: (1)

  • Autoimmune issues
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Fatigue, brain fog, or headaches/migraines
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Food cravings or difficulty losing weight
  • Low sex drive
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Chronic inflammation or bloating

If you have any of these symptoms, it could be your body’s allergic reaction to a food trigger. I highly recommend the elimination diet. Read on to find out what it entails.

@drwillcole Fatigue and exhaustion are not talked about or addressed enough, especially for people with autoimmune conditions. An estimated 50 million Americans are struggling with these every day. So, Let's talk about it! 👏 Send this to someone who should see it! Are you one of the millions struggling with your health? Check out my program The Autoimmune Health Reset. #chronicfatigue #drwillcole #functionalmedicine #holisticapproach#autoimmune #autoimmunedisease #invisibleillness ♬ original sound - Dr. Will Cole

How Does It Work?

The elimination diet works in two phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase.

Elimination Phase

The elimination phase is the initial stage of an elimination diet, in which you completely remove specific foods that are suspected of causing allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances from your diet.

Common foods excluded during this phase include dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, and nightshade vegetables, among others. I give a full breakdown of foods to avoid below. (2)

The goal is to clear your system of potential triggers and observe whether symptoms improve without these foods. This can help identify food sensitivities or intolerances and reduce inflammation or adverse reactions.


  • Eliminate all suspected trigger foods from your diet.
  • Read food labels carefully to avoid hidden sources of these foods.
  • Eat a variety of allowed foods to ensure nutritional balance.
  • Keep a detailed food diary, noting what you eat and any symptoms you experience.

Timeline: The elimination phase can last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks. I like to recommend 8 weeks, as it’s important to give your body time to adjust to the absence of potential food allergens and triggers.

A registered dietitian or nutritionist can ensure you don’t experience nutritional deficiencies during the elimination phase.

Reintroduction Phase

After the elimination phase, you’ll slowly introduce foods back in, several days at a time, while monitoring for any flare-ups of symptoms or a decrease in your energy levels.

In my mindbodygreen course, I go into much more detail about how to reintroduce foods back into your diet safely and tell which ones are causing reactions.


  • Re-introduce one food group at a time, eating each reintroduced food at least once a day for a few days and observing for any symptoms.
  • If a food causes no reaction, it can be included back into the diet; if it causes adverse effects, it should be eliminated again.
  • Continue the process with each eliminated food group, waiting several days between each reintroduction to ensure clear observation of reactions.
  • Maintain a detailed food journal with each new food and any symptoms experienced.

Timeline: The reintroduction phase can vary in length, typically lasting from 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the number of foods being reintroduced and the individual's reactions. Please remember to take this phase slowly, allowing enough time to accurately identify food sensitivities.

It may feel like a lot of work up front, but the payoff is informed eating for the rest of your life!

11 Health Benefits Of Doing An Elimination Diet Properly

I’ve followed an elimination diet meal plan myself and saw amazing results. I discovered increased energy, better digestion, deeper sleep, and clearer skin. I finally felt like myself again after years of struggling with adrenal fatigue.

If you’re considering following an elimination diet meal plan for yourself, here are 11 things getting rid of your food triggers might do for you.

1. Calm Inflammation

Many chronic health problems, from weight gain to fatigue, are related to inflammation. Because the elimination diet removes inflammatory foods, your body gets finally a chance to combat and reduce inflammation. You will be able to feel the difference!

2. Experience Increased Energy

Do you have trouble waking up in the morning, feel tired during the day, or get that common energy crash in the afternoon? When your body isn’t fighting food triggers, all that energy is freed up for better living! It’s like a reinvigorating spa day for your insides.

3. Pinpoint Food Triggers

Maybe you notice that sometimes you get bloated, fatigued, or experience brain fog after a meal. With the elimination diet, there’s no more second-guessing about which foods make you feel lousy. You’ll find out for sure through the reintroduction process.

4. Create Your Own Custom Food Plan

I’ve seen the healthiest foods heal some people and cause issues in others who simply can’t tolerate them. The elimination diet allows you to know definitively which foods work for your body. With this invaluable intel, you can design a food-as-medicine plan custom to your body. After all, no single diet is best for every person.

5. Heal Your Gut

“All disease begins in the gut,” Hippocrates (the father of medicine) said thousands of years ago. Today, science is catching up, with research now suggesting that the majority of chronic health problems have at least a level of gut component to them. (3)

By eliminating foods damaging to the gut, you’ll begin healing any symptoms of gut disorders like leaky gut syndrome.

6. Boost Your Immune System

Just as a food allergy can aggravate your gut, it can also put a damper on your immune system. The anti-inflammatory foods you enjoy during the elimination diet will also help strengthen your immunity. (4)

7. Lower Your Intake Of Processed Foods

Processed foods have been formulated to be addictive to your tastebuds. Meanwhile, they are mostly devoid of nutrients, and some are even linked to cancer. (5) This is your chance to kick them to the curb by jump-starting your commitment to clean eating.

8. Relate To Food As Medicine

An elimination diet meal plan is all about self-care. “Dieting,” in the sense of deprivation for weight loss, represents a dead, unsustainable relationship with food. Instead of punishing your body with yet another diet, focus on healing your body with your meals as medicine.

9. Learn Mindful Eating

Your body needs nutrients to function the way it was intended. Purposefully choosing foods that feed your body’s needs and paying attention to the quality, taste, texture, and nourishing energy in each bite will make every meal a mindful experience that will also heal your nervous system.

10. Get More Food Variety

You don’t have to eat like a rabbit and go hungry to eat healthy. The elimination diet is filled with hearty, whole food sources like sweet potato fries in coconut oil and grass-fed steak. You can see a 2-day elimination diet meal plan below.

11. Simplify Your Cooking

One common concern about healthy eating is that cooking is going to take forever. However, eating on an elimination diet meal plan is very simple. In my mindbodygreen video course, I provide a food list and meal plan guide to help you start an elimination diet with confidence.

LISTEN: Molly Carmel: Ditching Diet Dogma, Intuitive Eating, And Breaking Free From Toxicity In Diet And Anti-Diet Culture | Dr. Will Cole 

What Foods You Can Eat

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about following an elimination diet meal plan is that they won’t be able to eat any delicious foods. Let’s review all the nourishing and delicious foods on the elimination diet food list:

  • Organic meat, poultry, and fish: I recommend enjoying lots of wild-caught fish, like salmon and albacore tuna. You will also get your B vitamins from grass-fed beef and clean protein from organic chicken.
  • Vegetables: Enjoy a variety of different vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, bright orange and red vegetables, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
  • Fruit: Every type of fruit is allowed in an elimination diet meal plan, but I recommend focusing on lower-fructose berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, as well as citrus like lime, lemon, and grapefruit, as these have the least natural sugar.
  • Healthy fats: Cook liberally with natural fats from grass-fed organic meats, like tallow, and clarified butter or ghee. I also encourage you to use avocado oil and extra-virgin coconut oil daily, as well as extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle on foods after cooking.
  • Grain-free flours: Cassava, coconut, and plantain flours are great alternatives for baking. I also like arrowroot powder and tapioca starch as thickener alternatives for soups and gravy.
  • Coconut: Coconut products are all kinds of delicious. My favorite iterations are full-fat coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut aminos — a great soy alternative.
  • Natural sweeteners: It’s time to lay off the sugar, but you can still enjoy raw honey, pure maple syrup, and molasses in small amounts to keep your life sweet.

What Foods You Should Avoid

Now that you know all the great stuff you can eat, you know you won’t be deprived. Below are the foods most likely to cause intolerances and be inflammatory. Avoid these foods for the initial stages of the elimination diet:

  • Refined and artificial sugars: Cutting out sugar probably won’t come as a surprise, but “refined sugar” means more than those white crystals. You should also avoid cane sugar, such as turbinado or raw sugar, and even agave. Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose, and sugar alcohols (erythritol, maltitol, xylitol, etc.) are no-gos, too.
  • Grains: This includes all grains, even the gluten-free ones such as white or brown rice, quinoa, oats, and corn. The truth is that all grains can be difficult to digest and can be inflammatory for many people.
  • Dairy and eggs: Taking out eggs and dairy during the elimination phase allows you to rule out an albumin (egg-white protein) or casein (dairy protein) intolerance, which I find is common in people with digestive issues.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds can be rough on some people’s digestion because of their natural roughage. By not eating them in the elimination phase, you’ll give your gastrointestinal system a rest.
  • Nightshades: This is a plant group that includes white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and some spices. These nightshade plants are fine for some people, but for others, they can trigger autoimmune diseases. Best to know where you stand!
  • FODMAPs: FODMAPs is an acronym for the long and almost unpronounceable names of a group of fermentable sugars found in foods like legumes, onions, garlic, dairy products, and fruit. People with digestive issues like IBS should eliminate them to see how they feel. As you heal your gut, these foods can often be brought back in with no problem.
  • Alcohol and caffeine: Eliminating alcohol will give your liver a break so it can focus on detoxing the rest of you. I also recommend limiting your caffeine intake to a few cups of green or white tea daily. An occasional organic coffee is OK as well.

A 2-Day Meal Plan

Day One

  • Breakfast: A tasty breakfast bowl filled with warm butternut squash, organic turkey bacon, apples, coconut oil, cinnamon, and honey.
  • Lunch: A salad of field greens with albacore tuna, drizzled with a dressing made from olive oil, honey, and vinegar.
  • Snack: Whipped sweet potatoes with coconut cream and cinnamon.
  • Dinner: Rosemary salmon with sauteed vegetables in coconut oil, and baked sweet potatoes with coconut butter.
  • Dessert: Dairy-free coconut lime ice cream made with avocados, coconut milk, and pure maple syrup.

Day Two

  • Breakfast: Pasture-raised pork sausage with organic kale seasoned in olive oil and sea salt and sweet potatoes fried in grass-fed ghee (clarified butter).
  • Lunch: Organic sweet butter lettuce topped with grass-fed skirt steak, sliced organic avocado and organic cucumber. Drizzle in old-pressed extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Serve with a side of organic blueberries and raspberries.
  • Snack: Pasture-raised bacon with Medjool dates.
  • Dinner: Wild caught scallops cooked in organic tallow with steamed rainbow carrots.
  • Dessert: Clementine sorbet, made by throwing frozen clementine segments into a blender or food processor. Simple and delicious.

Other Types Of Elimination Diets

  • Low FODMAP diet: Developed to manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders, this diet involves restricting foods high in certain fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) that are difficult to digest. (6)
  • Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet: Aimed at reducing inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases, the AIP diet is a stricter version of the Whole30 diet. It excludes grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, dairy, eggs, coffee, alcohol, sugar, and food additives. (7) I don’t recommend this if you’re pregnant, as it can be tricky to get enough nutrients to grow a healthy baby.
  • Whole30 diet: A 30-day diet plan designed to reset your eating habits and help you identify food sensitivities. It involves eliminating sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy, and food additives. After 30 days, foods are reintroduced systematically.
  • Gluten-free diet: Crucial for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, this diet involves avoiding all foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This includes most breads, pasta, cereals, and many processed foods.
  • Lactose-free diet: Aimed at individuals who are lactose intolerant, this diet eliminates dairy products that contain lactose, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Lactose-free alternatives are encouraged, including those made from almonds, soy, and coconut.
  • Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD): Designed for people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and IBS, the SCD focuses on removing complex carbohydrates that are difficult to digest. (8) It excludes grains, sugars (other than honey), and starches.
  • The Carnivore diet: The carnivore diet is an all-meat and animal products diet that eliminates all plant-based foods. It focuses on consuming meat, fish, eggs, and limited dairy, advocating for a zero-carb intake by excluding fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.


On a basic elimination diet, you can typically eat whole foods like fruits & vegetables (as long as they are not in the nightshade family), lean proteins, and non-gluten grains.

Nightshade plants belong to the Solanaceae family and include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, chili peppers, tomatillos, Goji berries, and pimentos.

The most common food sensitivities include dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and edible plants in the nightshade family.

The low FODMAP diet is widely recommended for IBS, as it focuses on reducing foods that are difficult to digest and are known to cause bloating and gas.

Quiz: Is An Elimination Diet Right For You?

Are you considering an elimination diet but not sure if it's the right approach for you? Take this quick quiz to understand whether this diet could be a smart idea for your situation.


Do you often experience digestive discomfort? (e.g., bloating, gas, diarrhea)

  • A) Yes, frequently.
  • B) Sometimes.
  • C) Rarely or never.

Have you noticed reactions after eating certain foods? (e.g., skin rash, headache, fatigue)

  • A) Yes, and I can't figure out why.
  • B) I suspect a few foods might be the cause.
  • C) No, I haven't noticed any reactions.

How would you describe your current diet?

  • A) Varied, I eat a wide range of foods.
  • B) Somewhat varied, but I stick to what I know.
  • C) Not very varied, I eat the same foods regularly.

Are you willing to follow a strict diet and eliminate several foods for a few weeks?

  • A) Yes, I'm willing to do whatever it takes.
  • B) I'm not sure if I can commit to something very strict.
  • C) No, I prefer not to restrict my diet.

Have you discussed your symptoms with a healthcare provider?

  • A) Yes, but we haven't found a cause yet.
  • B) Not yet, but I plan to.
  • C) No, I don't think it's necessary.


  • Mostly A's: Sounds like an elimination diet could be very beneficial for you. Given your symptoms and willingness to make dietary changes, this approach could help you identify food sensitivities or allergies.
  • Mostly B's: You could go either way. Consider starting with a less restrictive version and monitoring your symptoms.
  • Mostly C's: An elimination diet may not be necessary for you at this time. Focusing on a balanced and nutritious diet may be best if you're not experiencing significant food-related symptoms and prefer not to restrict your diet.

If you determine that an elimination diet is right for you, please remember that it is meant to last a short period of time to help identify food sensitivities. Treating health issues with big dietary changes should always be done with the guidance of a healthcare professional or nutritionist.

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  1. Pastorello, E. A., Stocchi, L., Pravettoni, V., Bigi, A., Schilke, M. L., Incorvaia, C., & Zanussi, C. (1989). Role of the elimination diet in adults with food allergy. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 84(4), 475-483.
  2. Kuang, R., Levinthal, D. J., Ghaffari, A. A., Del Aguila de Rivers, C. R., Tansel, A., & Binion, D. G. (2023). Nightshade Vegetables: A Dietary Trigger for Worsening Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome?. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 68(7), 2853-2860.
  3. Fasano, A. (2020). All disease begins in the (leaky) gut: role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory diseases. F1000Research, 9.
  4. Tilg, H., & Moschen, A. R. (2015). Food, immunity, and the microbiome. Gastroenterology, 148(6), 1107-1119.
  5. Isaksen, I. M., & Dankel, S. N. (2023). Ultra-processed food consumption and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Nutrition. 
  6. Magge, S., & Lembo, A. (2012). Low-FODMAP diet for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 8(11), 739.
  7. Konijeti, G. G., Kim, N., Lewis, J. D., Groven, S., Chandrasekaran, A., Grandhe, S., ... & Torkamani, A. (2017). Efficacy of the autoimmune protocol diet for inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases, 23(11), 2054-2060.
  8. Lewis, J. D., Sandler, R. S., Brotherton, C., Brensinger, C., Li, H., Kappelman, M. D., ... & DINE-CD Study Group. (2021). A randomized trial comparing the specific carbohydrate diet to a Mediterranean diet in adults with Crohn’s disease. Gastroenterology, 161(3), 837-852.

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Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel