This week’s Gluten Free School Podcast chats with nutritionist and author Shirley Plant on how to do an elimination diet for food sensitivities. She’ll also explain how to easily plan out, shop for and execute a rotation diet once you’ve determine your food sensitivities.
Shirley is a wonderful resource to learn how to eat despite multiple food sensitivities without losing your mind!
How to do an Elimination Diet for Food Sensitivities with Shirley Plant
The following points were discussed:
00:19 — Introducing Shirley Plant, nutritionist, dietary consultant and cookbook author, discussing elimination and rotation diets for people with food sensitivities.
01:52 — What is an elimination diet, the condensed version.
05:44 — A brief description of the elimination diet, and how many days it takes to be symptom-free.
08:16 — Understanding why the process takes time, and why allergy testing may not tell you everything.
10:49 — Why rotation may be needed (even desirable) and how to play around with the rotation schedule to meet your needs.
15:48 — The four-day rotation is so important, for this one reason.
17:18 — How to keep things simple when rotating foods and remembering that this is not going to last forever (maybe less time than you think!).
19:03 — Safely reintroducing new foods after the elimination phase.
23:29 — The difference between retesting reactive foods in children and adults (it’s not the same protocol) and what a recurring reaction could indicate.
25:03 — Jennifer’s own experience of (accidental) reintroduction to gluten and how her mistake teaches us all an important lesson.
26:44 — Shirley shares her best meal planning tips, so you actually like what your eating, as well as saving time and money.
31:10 — How Shirley’s “selfish” pursuit turned into a book (more than just a cookbook).
33:12 — Concluding thoughts.
Then take a moment and leave a review on iTunes sharing what you’ve learned and why others would benefit from subscribing as well!
Jennifer: Welcome back to the Gluten Free School Podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Fugo. Today, we’re going to talk about elimination diets and rotation diets, what is the point of using them and how they can be really beneficial for those of us with food sensitivities.
I asked Shirley Plant, nutritionist, dietary consultant and cookbook author to join me and talk about her experience in this area.
Shirley has learned through personal experience how hard it is to change her life for the better. Diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and multiple food and environmental allergies 25 years ago, Shirley knows all about challenges including how to plan creative nutritious and affordable meals that avoid common foods such as wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, gluten and sugar. I know, we sound a lot alike. Shirley and I have a lot of common.
So thanks to her extensive educational background and a passion for helping people find food alternatives that fit their unique requirements, Shirley has earned a reputation for excellence in dietary design.
She’s the author of ‘Finally, Food I Can Eat’, an inspirational dietary guide and cookbook for people affected by food allergies and intolerances. She is recognized as a menu-planning expert through her company, Delicious Alternatives and has also written articles for EcoSense, the Celiac News, Kris Carr’s Crazy, Sexy Life blog, Mind Body Green, Elephant Journal and Total Fit Magazine.
Thank you, Shirley for joining me. I really appreciate it.
Shirley: Thanks! I’m so glad to be here.
Jennifer: Well, let’s get started because this seems like a big topic and I know I get asked about elimination diets so often. I want to start off by asking you what exactly is the difference between a rotation diet and an elimination diet because they’re not the same.
Shirley: That’s right. They’re not the same. There is a difference for sure. How about we start with the rotation diet because as you said, it’s a large topic for sure. I could talk to you for hours about it. I’ll condense it down and try and make it as simple as possible for your viewers.
So a rotation diet is a way of eating where you rotate your foods and usually it’s a based on a four-, seven-, or thirty-day rotation. The premise behind a rotation diet is that people who are mildly intolerant to certain foods benefit from this kind of a diet because it spaces those foods so that not one of them is eaten too often.
So theoretically, if the foods that cause a reaction aren’t allowed to build up in the body, a person’s limit or tolerance is not worsened and the symptoms are kept to a minimum. So that’s really why we want to rotate.
I talk to my clients about the total load on the body. We have this beautiful body and then we all have things that are in our environment whether it’s pesticides or we’re eating GMO foods, maybe we have some stress – I mean, all of us have good stress, bad stress. Some of us may have an illness. And then, we may have these “sensitivities” or allergies. So it’s a total load.
So if we start to rotate the foods that are causing some issues, it lessens the load on the body and helps us to start to heal. Traditionally, it’s a 4-day rotation. As I’ve mentioned, there’s four, there’s seven days, sometimes, there’s even 30-days rotation. But usually, it’s a 4-day rotation.
So let’s say on day one, you eat oats. You then don’t eat oats for three more days. So that’s how the rotation is. The aim, as I’ve said, is to give the body a rest from a food that is creating an issue. It helps to prevent new or increased sensitivities.
And the other reason we do 4-day rotation is it takes between two and four days for food to pass through the gastrointestinal tract. So that’s why it’s usually four days because we want that food out of our body before we reintroduce it back in. Those who have a really sluggish system and are highly allergic, we’re rotating our foods every seven days.
Jennifer: And Shirley, here’s a question for you. Is a rotation diet used for a person who already knows what they are sensitive to?
Shirley: Exactly! The elimination part comes first. We figure out what’s going on and then we start to rotate. Exactly! So maybe we should’ve started with the elimination.
Jennifer: That’s okay. That’s okay because I find both of these very interesting and people ask questions on how to do them, so I thought this is a really great way to introduce people to the topic.
So for an elimination diet, for example, as briefly as possible (because we’ll get into both), what is an elimination diet for someone who’s not too familiar with it?
Shirley: Well, the aim of an elimination diet is to remove the food that’s causing a reaction. So really, with elimination, you want to remove all the foods that you think are causing issues because you want the person to become symptom-free before you start to reintroduce that food.
Many people do allergy testing to find out what the foods are that are bothering them. Some people don’t have the money to do allergy testing. So an elimination diet, sometimes they sit down and with me and we literally start to eliminate foods that they think are causing problems. Sometimes, I shed some light, but pretty much, if we listen to our bodies, we know what’s going on – if we listen.
And so we eliminate those foods. You find a base point. You really want to be non-reactive before we start doing a rotation or even adding in.
Jennifer: Is there a general number of how many days or how long it might take to get symptom-free or is that sort of individual…
Shirley: Everybody is different, yeah. It just really depends if you’ve already done allergy testing (sometimes that can help speed things up). The whole reason we do elimination: Is it foods that is creating the issue? It may not be food. You may think it’s foods.
It could be the way you’re combining your food (I have a whole chapter about food combining). Sometimes, when you start to eat your food in a different way and don’t combine your proteins and your carbs, sometimes it’s that. Sometimes, it’s food additives and that’s the only thing that is creating issues. And as you know, sometimes, it’s just gluten.
Once we pull those out, wow! We’re feeling so much better. Other people come to me and wow! It’s complicated. It can take – I had one client, it literally took a year for us to figure out, get her to a baseline where she wasn’t. It doesn’t make sense to play around, rotate until you find a place where you’re feeling okay and is it foods.
Jennifer: I also want to say to everybody listening to this, sometimes, in saying, “Well, it might take a year,” here’s the thing. I recognize that for probably 14 years at least that I can remember, I was having symptoms that I now know were symptoms of gluten intolerance for me – and egg issues, dairy issues. I just didn’t know it.
So we think that we can just cure everything overnight by taking the food out and that’s not how the body works. If you drain the well, you have a well, if you think of your body as a well, you can’t just fill it back up in one day. This whole process does take time.
I also want to point out too that food allergy testing is not the end-all, be-all because you can have a false negative.
Shirley: Exactly. Yeah, it’s not 100% at all. That’s not to depress people. It’s just to make them aware. And that’s why sometimes working with someone one on one and eliminating, keeping a food diary, writing everything down (your symptoms, the time you ate, what you combined it with), that reveals so much. That doesn’t cost any money. It just takes some time.
And you know what? As you say, we don’t get sick overnight. Sometimes, we don’t get well overnight. I mean, I’ve seen some people that they do. As you say, they pulled out gluten, dairy, sometimes egg or soy and poof! They feel fantastic! Some of us, it takes a little longer.
Jennifer: And I’ll also say too. I had a lot of side effects, positive side effects from taking gluten out that I never anticipated. It took three or four months to happen, but my body shed about 17 lbs. of inflammation, which initially, I always thought was fat.
I just thought, “My goodness! I feel like I’m putting on weight and I can’t get rid of it,” but had I just gone with those initial few days of feeling better after taking gluten out, I never would’ve known so many of the other aspects that were directly related to gluten sensitivity. And so I do think patience is a virtue.
Shirley: Oh, boy!
Jennifer: It is a virtue when doing an elimination diet.
So I’m curious, as far as like you get to that place where you’re starting to feel better and the symptoms are going away and what-not, how then – say you eliminated gluten, soy and casein, how do you go about beginning to reintroduce foods? Is there a plan that everybody should follow for doing something like that?
Shirley: Yes. Actually, there is. I just want to say though because people always say to me, “Why would I do this?”, and so I guess I wanted just to make sure that the people that want to do a rotation diet are those that are highly sensitive, but you know what? There are those that just want variety in their menu planning. That’s a good reason to rotate your foods too.
We now know that when we have sensitivities and have allergies, if we eat the same foods, we can develop other sensitivities. So for me, it’s hugely important even for healthy people to rotate their food.
It drives me crazy. My husband eats the same thing every morning – oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal. I’m just like, “Argh!”
I’ve had a client who literally, it was oatmeal every morning, it was a ham sandwich every day for lunch and the only veggie he liked was peas. So every day, every day, every day. And of course, he had to rotate and I just thought, “Oh, boy! This is going to be fun.” I’m like, “Let’s try to introduce some new foods.”
So I always say to my moms with young kids, “Could you please rotate their foods… please, please, please. If they get diagnosed with something, it’s going to be so much easier than just saying, ‘Hey! Let’s rotate’ or if you rotate now, you may not develop those issues later on.”
So sort of back to your question, how do you put together and how do you rotate? First of all, we need to know: If we’re doing a rotation diet, we need to know what foods are causing an issue and work with those foods that we can eat. We sit down, we look at all the foods we can eat.
A lot of people get the blood test. They get tests for the IgG, the intolerances and there’s a scale between a mild reaction, a medium and a highly sensitive. Those are the foods, the medium and the highly sensitive that we want to take out. And then we want to rotate the other foods that are still there.
And of course, I want to take into consideration the type of lifestyle you have, your likes and dislikes. Again, you don’t want to come up with a rotation diet for someone that is all these foods that they just don’t like. That’s not going to work.
As you said, you want to take the time. You want to sit down, work out a rotation that’s going to be feasible, that you’re going to enjoy. I’ve had a lot of clients that have said to me, “I love my rotation diet. I know exactly what I’m buying at the grocery store that week. I know that day one is turkey, sweet potato and all my lettuces.” They love it! It’s on the fridge. They know exactly what they’re going to do.
The other thing is based on a rotation, the rotation is based on a 24-hour period. I’ve had so many people come to me. And with some of the blood tests, they actually send you – I think it’s Metagenics. They send you sort of a guide for a rotation and they list it as ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner, day one. Day two, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Day three, breakfast, lunch, dinner.” People say to me, “This is just so hard to follow.”
So I say to them, “Well, you know what? You can change the 24-hour. Your 24-hour period doesn’t have to start with breakfast. It can start with dinner, then the next day, breakfast and the next day, lunch. And so that way, if someone has cooked a chicken for dinner, that’s the beginning of their 24-hour period, they can then have that chicken for lunch the next day.”
And so it makes it a little bit easier as opposed to starting breakfast, lunch, dinner and they cook a chicken at dinner and they can’t have it for four days so they have to freeze it.
Sometimes, it’s just looking at it like a puzzle and saying, “Well, what if we move this this way… what if we change the 24-hours. Oh! That makes it so much easier.”
Jennifer: So in essence, you’re telling me that for day one, we could have broccoli, sweet potato and chicken, you could have say a frittata with some of the broccoli and then sweet potato hash for breakfast and then you could do a chicken salad for lunch possibly and then something else, maybe sweet potato fries and some other stuff and the broccoli – I don’t know, whatever. I’m just making things up, but you could do that within the 24-hour period and then when the 24-hour flips over, you’re not going to eat those three foods for the next three days.
Shirley: Three days, that’s right. So you give your body a chance to get rid of and as I’ve said, you keep a diary.
The other thing that’s really important to know is that most reactions are of the delayed kind. Ninety-five percent of reactions are delayed. Only 5% of reactions are immediate. And because that food can stay in your system for up to four days, you may eat chicken and if you start to chart it, you may get a headache every second or third day after you eat chicken. The only way really is if you chart it, if you keep track.
I don’t know about you, I don’t remember what I ate two days ago, let alone what I combined it with. And so it’s really important to keep that food diary, that food journal.
And it’s really important to eat singular foods when you’re doing a rotation diet. Some people say to me, “But I just want a whole bunch of recipes,” I’m like, “It gets so complicated.” A recipe involves many foods. And as you know, let’s say we’re making a soup and as you say, it’s a broccoli soup, but it’s also got quinoa in there and it’s also got soup stock in there that’s made from all these different veggies and it’s got some chicken in there. Well, you know what? Another veggie might be on day two. So let’s just eat –
And it’s not forever. Some people will do a rotation diet for one month. It’s not forever. It’s not the end of the world. We ate like these as kids, as babies. We had our sweet potatoes for breakfast. We had our mashed whatever for lunch. It’s just changing your mindset.
Jennifer: And being simple, going back to simplicity.
Shirley: And being simple, exactly. But it’s also I think really important too as I’ve said to work with someone that can help you and that you have it written down. You know exactly what you’re eating on each day and then you repeat, right? So you do ‘day one, day two, day three, day four…’ and then you repeat, so you know what you’re going to shop for.
I always say, please don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry because there goes the rotation diet! Forget it! And yes, your question was I think how do you do it and as I’ve said, you do it based on a 24-hour period. I think your question too was how do you reintroduced. Is that what you would ask? How do you reintroduce…
Jennifer: Yeah, how do you reintroduce food once you’ve done the elimination diet and we suspect – let’s just pretend that we’re suspecting gluten or we’re suspecting eggs as a culprit. How do you properly reintroduce if you’ve taken out multiple things? People ask me this all the time. And again, I recognize that money is tight for some people and going to get these blood tests is not an option.
Shirley: Right, because sometimes, they’re hundreds of dollars, yeah.
Jennifer: Hundreds of dollars plus seeing a practitioner that’s not in their network or isn’t even covered by insurance. It becomes a massive undertaking. Obviously, an elimination diet is a much less expensive way to do it.
So how would we begin? If we’ve taken out, let’s say, dairy, gluten and eggs, how would they begin to reintroduce these foods?
Shirley: Right. So you start very slowly. You add one food at a time. If you don’t elicit a reaction, then that food gets put in to your rotation and you wait one week before you reintroduce another food.
If you’re following the elimination diet, there really is a specific way. So let’s say day one, you want to reintroduce dairy. You have a very, very small amount. You keep track of any reaction. If there is no reaction within four hours, you double the amount of what you took that morning. And again, you wait four hours.
And of course, you don’t introduce anything else. Don’t take a new supplement. And if there’s no reaction, again, within the four hours, you double the amount again. And if there’s still no reaction, then you’re good to go and put it into your reaction. You’re not going to reintroduce it back in and eat it every day. We’re going to rotate it. We’re going to continue to rotate it every four days.
If a reaction does occur, you discontinue testing that food and you may need – usually, I say, we need to wait at least another month. Give yourself some time. That’s how you go about doing it.
Jennifer: So you would give yourself a month before you start on food #2 or before you try food #1 again?
Shirley: I would wait before you’d try the food, that one that you failed in. Really, the next week (or even within four days), if you are okay with that food, if you are okay with reintroducing dairy, then you rotate it and then four days later, we try this again. “Oh, let’s try gluten. Okay, let’s try gluten” and same thing. Introduce it in the morning, wait four hours, keep track. If you’re okay, have some more, wait four hours, have some more. And again, if you’re okay, super! That’s what you want to continue.
Now there are some – and it depends again on how highly reactive you are that some people say the reactions can be delayed. So for example, dairy. We were reintroducing dairy on day one. So if you were okay with dairy on day one, the reason you want to wait four days is because you may have a delayed reaction. How are you going to know what that reaction is if you reintroduce another food on day two or day three.
So if we introduce dairy on day one and we’re really good with it, we wait four days and we make sure that there still are no reactions on day two, three, four before we know, “Okay, this is okay. We can stick this back into our rotation. Let’s try gluten.”And again, you start very, very small and you work your way up.
And really, a lot of people find when they give their body a break, they can reintroduce.
Now the retesting of reactive foods, you really want to wait. You want to give yourself quite a chance to heal. I’ve read different timelines. I think like everything, every person is different. Not one of us is the same.
So for children, usually, you can wait a few – if you’re really, really reactive, as I’ve said, maybe a month, two months if you want. If they were really highly reactive like they re-tested it and boom! Reaction right away, I almost would wait two months. I really would.
Adults, sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes, you have to wait a good six months before you re-introduce that food. Especially if you’ve tried it a couple of times and there’s a reaction, you may have to eliminate it for six months or a year and then try it.
You and I both know, sometimes there’s other things going on. I always say to people, “We need to figure out why do you have all these sensitivities? Something else is going on.” You and me, is it because we were Celiac for so long? Have we damaged our gut? Do we have leaky gut syndrome? Do we have parasites? Have you been away? Is there another autoimmune condition going on?
Let’s really figure out what’s going on. I think diet is huge, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.
Jennifer: I will say too. As I was sort of saying earlier, if I hadn’t kept gluten out for the number of months that I had and I began adding it back in, I wouldn’t have known that the “weight” – so I did not do any of these weight loss programs. I really like to stress that because going gluten-free or going dairy-free are not weight loss programs. However, the body can build up inflammation that appears or looks like weight. And you can see from my before-and-after picture that my entire system (my face, my neck), everything was inflamed. I looked so puffy. That inflammation melted away with time as the immune system calmed down.
So that was something that even if I had tried re-introducing a month later, I would’ve had the same reaction just re-igniting that inflammatory fire in my body and causing everything to go back.
I’ve even had the experience where a few years ago, I had accidentally picked up a supplement, I looked at it and I thought it was fine and didn’t realize that there was gluten in it and within three days of taking it, I had put on four pounds.
So for me, I know that that inflammation just starts as soon as I get gluten back in my system. It was a big learning lesson to me to really be careful at reading labels – everything! No matter how health conscious it looks, I really have to look at everything and question everything. I think that doing an elimination diet is such a great, inexpensive way to figure things out.
Shirley, I know that you’re a whiz at meal planning. Do you have a couple of tips for people who are interested in doing this, but they’re a little nervous about the rotation diet. I know you gave a really great explanation, but what are a couple of your tips on how to be successful and actually like what you’re eating.
Shirley: That’s exactly it. How do you do it and be successful? I think, first off, it’s really a mind shift. It’s saying, “You know what? I want my body to be well. I’m going to do this. I’m going to take the time and love myself and do this.” Nothing happens overnight.”
I’m sure for you and me, it’s really frustrating because people want it now. “I want it now… now, now, now, now…” I do too! I want to feel better now, of course. But it’s writing down, literally sitting down and almost like doing a puzzle. Write down all the foods you can have and the foods you like and then what foods do you like together.
I love chicken and turkey with sweet potato. I like rice with certain foods. I like quinoa with certain foods. So if those are allowable foods, look at what you’re going to enjoy together. If you don’t enjoy sweet potatoes at all, then really don’t put it in your rotation unless you’ll just have raw foods at all.
Jennifer: Right. Exactly.
Shirley: You want to enjoy. You want to enjoy eating. And as I’ve said, you want to make up your shopping list so you know what you’re going to the store to buy. You want to have your little rotation with you because otherwise – it’s only human nature you’re going to be all, “Oh, look! I can buy bananas. They’re on sale. Oh, bananas are my on list.”
It’s about freezing things too, so that you’re not wasting. You’re great with your book, how do you not waste foods.
Jennifer: Yeah, and that’s a big thing. I think people forget that there are a lot of meals that you can freeze. And then if for a rotation diet, it’s perfect because if you make food on Monday, on day one and you know you’re not going to have it for four days, there you go! You pop into the freezer.
Say you know you’re going to want something two weeks from now or three weeks from now, you’ve got it in the freezer. I like to consider that the best fast food humanly possible because I made it, I know it’s safe and I know what’s in it. I can take it out and heat it up, plus too, you can have fun with it and it does save money as well.
Shirley: Yeah! And it saves time. If you want to and you know it, you say day one is a sweet potato day, put six in the oven and then freeze them in little containers so that next day one, you’re right, all you have to do is pull it out. If you’re cooking quinoa, you would want to make a big pot of it, then same thing. And then next day one, you’re not cooking.
Hey! You cook a big chicken, you see them on sale – or a turkey or a roast or whatever. Slice it up, put it on the freezer, write it ‘Day 1’ so that you literally go into your freezer, pull out the day one and the next time day one comes around, hey! Everything is done for you. How easy is that? And really, you’re just repeating it.
That’s why some people actually really love it. They really resisted in the beginning and then they sort of go, “Oh, this is just so… easy?” I’m like, “Great! Great!”
Jennifer: That’s awesome, Shirley. Oh, my gosh! You gave us way more than two tips there. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.
And I have to say, this has been really educational. I love learning from other people’s styles. I’m not an expert in rotation diets by any means. I will never claim to be. I’m glad that you can come on and share this with everybody because I know that, again, this idea of being able to have a little more control in your life and learn what’s bothering you and how you can do it – and especially there’s few practitioners out there all throughout not just the U.S. (and I know you’re in Canada), but also through the world. People are searching for someone to help them and this is a really great way to get started. And then they can reach out to you as well.
Shirley: Sure. I wrote the book actually in the beginning for selfish reasons because I was so limited and I didn’t know what to eat. I wanted to play with foods. I was always making two and three meals, my allergy-free food and then other people’s food. I just thought, “This is crazy! There has to be recipes out there that I can eat that everybody else loves too.”
And I wanted it, Jennifer to be more than just a cookbook. I wanted it to be a dietary guide because when I found out all these issues, I went out and I bought like seven or eight books. I bought one about what’s the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance. I bought one about how to substitute in for my recipes. I bought one on how to rotate. I bought one on recipes.
Jennifer: It becomes overwhelming to have all those resources and most people just give up unfortunately.
Shirley: Exactly. And at one point, I was so limited that I literally was eating vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods because I just had to. I had to eat some meat. I had to eat some.
And I think it’s your body type. So there’s vegetarian, non-vegetarian. I have a really good friend, she’s a vegan and she’s like, “I love your cookbook. I just turn the pages of the meat and I go to the other ones.”
So yeah, there’s lots in there how to substitute and all the substitutes you need. So if you turn to a recipe and you say, “Oh, it’s got this in it. It’s got millet in it,” well what are all the options for millet and how to rotate, how to eliminate, what food families are. I don’t want to get into that. That’ll take a long time. But again, I just wanted there to be so much information in there that people literally could just sort of walk away with one book and say, “Okay, I’m good to go. I just need to read this and I’m okay.”
Jennifer: Woo-hoo! I love it! I love that, that you made it simple for everyone.
Shirley: Yes. It’s all about simplicity.
Jennifer: It is.
Shirley: Being sick is difficult enough. Let’s make it simple.
Jennifer: I love that. So thank you. I just want to thank you so much, Shirley for coming on and sharing all of these. I really appreciate it. And hopefully, we can have you come back and maybe we’ll get to talk more about the food families the next time.
Shirley: Sure! I’d love it. Thank you.
Jennifer: Great! So everybody, please stay in touch with Shirley. You can go and visit her at her website, DeliciousAlternatives.com. She does see clients, so you can consult with her if you do need more help about this. I will post up the links for Shirley, so you can find her and get a copy of her book underneath this podcast and that way, you stay in touch. She’s awesome and a wealth of knowledge.
And remember, please rate, review and subscribe to this podcast. And then head on over to Gluten Free School, leave your questions and comments about rotation and elimination diets. Shirley and I would love to get back to you about it.
So thank you, guys so much for joining me. I look forward to seeing you the next time. Bye bye.
The links referred to in this episode are:
Finally . . . Food I Can Eat! book— Get it HERE
Shirley Plant – DeliciousAlternatives.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/sherrecipes
Twitter – https://twitter.com/sherrecipes