The Elimination & Challenge Diet
By Erica Zelfand

This is the gold standard for determining your food intolerances.

When the gut is inflamed and irritated, it can begin reacting to foods that might otherwise not bother it. The elimination and challenge diet is designed to omit suspected food intolerances and irritants from the diet so that the gut may heal. Once this is done, it is possible to reintroduce suspected food irritants or intolerances one at a time back into the diet, while checking for adverse reactions.

This is the tried-and-true method of determining what foods your body does and does not tolerate. The Elimination and Challenge Diet is even more accurate than food allergy and intolerance blood tests!

 Here are the basics:

{1} Elimination Phase: Avoid Common Allergens

For 3-8 weeks, avoid all common allergens, such as:

  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Yeast
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Citrus
  • Beef
  • Refined sugar
  • Caffeine products
  • Bananas
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc.)


During this elimination phase, gentle therapies like castor oil packs, deep breathing, earthing, enemas, hydrotherapy treatments, etc. can facilitate the healing process. This is also a fantastic time to fit in a cleanse.

{2} Challenge Phase: Reintroduce Foods One-by-One

After the elimination phase is completed, pick one allergen from the list above to “challenge.” Eat a normal serving size/portion of that food at two meals in one day. Wait 2-3 days.

If you don’t feel anything unusual or notice any flare up symptoms, you can cycle that food back into the diet, but try to eat it no more than 1-2 times per week.

If you do notice unpleasant side effects* (details below), remove that food from your diet completely. Wait until the unpleasant symptoms completely resolve (this usually takes at least 2 days, but can take weeks for some), and then re-introduce another food from the list.

If you’re not sure about a food, remove it from the diet, wait a few days, and challenge the other foods on the list. Try challenging this food again later.

Continue in this manner until all foods on the list have been challenged and either re-introduced or eliminated from your diet.

Make gluten the last food you challenge. This is because if your body doesn’t tolerate dairy, the immune antibodies can be elevated for weeks after eating this food.

Only challenge one food at a time. Re-introducing multiple foods at once will probably cause a robust symptom flare, and will require another 3-8 week elimination before the challenge phase can be resumed.


*Common Reactions to Food Intolerances

If an unpleasant reaction should occur, discontinue the food and make a note of the reactions (feelings, bloating, mucous production, mental change, chills, etc.) in a symptom diary.

  • Skin reactions – itching, burning, hives, red spots, sweating, etc.
  • Ear, Nose & Throat – sneezing, runny nose, sore or dry throat, hoarseness, ringing in the ears, dizziness.
  • Eyes – Blurring, spots before eyes, watering, pain, twitching, sensitivity to light, redness and swelling of lids.
  • Respiratory – wheezing, mucous formation, shortness of breath, tightness of chest, asthma.
  • Cardiovascular – pounding heart, increased heart rate, flushing, tingling, faintness.
  • Gastrointestinal – increased salivation, canker sores, indigestion, bloating, stomachache, heartburn, colic, constipation, pain, diarrhea, gas, itching or burning of rectum or anus. One may also experience weight gain from a food intolerance.
  • Genitourinary – frequent, urgent or painful urination, inability to control bladder, itching, discharge, pain, water retention.
  • Musculoskeletal – Fatigue, weakness, pain, swelling, stiffness of joints, backache.
  • Nervous System – headache, migraine, drowsiness, inability to concentrate, depression, irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity, dizziness, numbness, tremors.