If you’ve read a few of my blog posts you’ve probably noticed that I lay a lot of blame on modern industrial foods for causing much of the health problems that Americans (and the industrialized world) suffer from today. I’ve even identified the seven most deadly foods that you should seriously consider avoiding.
But many who have removed the seven deadly foods will still suffer from lingering problems caused by unknown food sensitivities (or allergies). And not all food sensitivity reactions are obvious, such as coughing, hives, or a swollen throat. Some people may have one or more of the following symptoms when problematic foods are eaten:
- Abdominal pain
- Emotional instability
- Excess body fat
- Heart burn
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Mental depression
- Mental fog
- Muscle weakness
- Stomach Ulcers
- Weakened immune system
Often, people suffering from these symptoms will not associate them with food sensitivities. Instead, because they cannot find the true cause of their symptoms, they may just suffer in silence, using supplements or drugs to get some temporary relief. This prompted me to put together this 30-Day Diet Challenge.
The ChallengeThe sole purpose of this diet challenge is to help you figure out which foods are hurting your body and causing health problems and which are not. Ultimately, you will be able to create your own personalized food sensitivity list.
It is entirely possible that once all problematic foods are removed, you can find complete relief from some or all of the symptoms listed above. (1) If after the challenge you continue to suffer from some of these symptoms, you will know that the issues are not caused by diet and can look at other possible causes.
This diet challenge is pretty simple (although not necessarily easy). For only 30 days, your diet will be EXTREMELY strict, avoiding all foods that are either evolutionarily new (e.g., wheat, milk) or are common allergens (e.g., soy, tree nuts, shell fish). The diet then targets any weak areas in your nutrient intake and gut health (which is a critical part of your digestive and immune systems).
Because this challenge is resetting your diet, there is absolutely no cheating during the challenge and all rules must be followed exactly (no picking and choosing the rules you don’t want to follow).
After day 30, you will start re-introducing excluded foods one by one to see if you are sensitive. I describe a heart rate technique at the end of this post that you can use to detect even the slightest sensitivity. Once your list of food sensitivities has been compiled, you will have your own customized diet that is perfect just for you.
Before You Get StartedThere is some prep work that you should do before you start this challenge.
- Remove all restricted foods from your house. No matter how strong your resolve, if excluded foods are conveniently sitting around your house, they will get eaten.
- Prepare to make all of your meals. If you make all of your meals you get to control everything you eat. I’m not going to lie, the transition from reheating packaged food to making it yourself will be difficult, but once you get the hang of it, home-cooking will become second-nature. If you are not the greatest chef, then I suggest that you start looking through recipe websites like Yummly and Foodly, as well as research cooking technique videos on YouTube.
- Make a daily menu for the next 30 days. Whether you are used to making your own meals or not, it will be very helpful if you make a meal schedule. If you are having a hard time with ideas, pick a few meals that you like and make them a lot throughout your challenge.
- Ideas for what to eat. For breakfast, make a smoothie that contains a probiotic (e.g., yogurt, kefir) and several servings of fruit. At least once a week you should eat a Big Ass Salad (full of veggies, animal protein, and full-fat home-made dressing). On another day, make a big one-pot meal that can be used for leftovers. If you are pressed for time, make a stir fry (without soy sauce; use coconut aminos instead) or a Thai curry. You don’t just have to do eggs and bacon or steak, potatoes, and veggies. The meal possibilities are massive. (You should really check out Yummly and Foodly for tons of meal ideas).
Saving Money Making Your FoodAnd I understand that eating higher-quality foods can sometimes be expensive. So, to help save money on meals you can:
- Take your own lunch and snacks to work. This both saves you money and helps you avoid the convenient temptation of fast foods.
- Use safe carbs as a cheap source of calories (use lots of potato and rice dishes). As I pointed out in my basic nutrition post, safe carbohydrates are not disease-causing. And, best of all, the safe carbohydrates that I mentioned (e.g., white rice, white potatoes, sweet potatoes) can be a cheap and delicious base of your diet.
Dealing with a Change in DietAlso, it is likely that for the first couple of days you may experience irritability, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and fatigue. (2) This can be caused by the stress of a radical dietary change (even a good change), withdraw from certain foods (e.g., wheat, sugar), and/or low blood sugar. This is temporary and will go away.
To help blunt these side-effects, consider taking these supplements seven days before you start the challenge (and continue taking them during your 30 day challenge).
- Schizandra Berry (stress reducer)
- Gymnema Sylvestre (blood sugar control)
- Iron-free Multi-Vitamin/Mineral Supplement Powder (mix in smoothies)
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid (anti-oxidant; 600-1200 mg/day)
- Coconut Oil (1-3 tbls/day; mix in smoothies)
Diet RulesSo this is the meat of the 30 day diet challenge. Remember, this list is very restrictive, but it is only for 30 days.
- Avoid the Seven Deadly Foods. This includes wheat, other gluten grains (e.g., spelt, rye), refined sweeteners, vegetable/high-omega-6 oils, soy, chemical additives, and man-made trans fats (from hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils).
- Avoid Other Common Allergens. Milk, legumes, peanuts, shell fish, tree nuts. Low-lactose dairy is an exception to this rule, so you can eat yogurt, cheese, kefir, heavy cream (but not half and half), and butter.
- Avoid All Prepared Foods and Snacks. This means most foods packaged in a bag, box, or a can and can sit on a shelf for long periods of time without spoiling.
- Avoid Fast Foods. Nothing from restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and so on. Foods from these establishments are usually filled with many of the foods you are not allowed to eat during this challenge (e.g., man-made trans fats, wheat, sugar, high omega-6 oils).
- Primarily Eat Fresh Meats, Eggs, Vegetables, and Fruits. Focus on getting these foods local or organic. You can also buy industrial versions of these foods (the non-organic foods that are typically found at your local grocery store’s produce section) if you can’t find local or organic foods. And be cautious of industrial tomatoes, corn, and potatoes because they are usually genetically modified (so definitely get these foods USDA certified organic).
- Eat about 1 pound of meat/eggs a day. This is about 5.5 ounces with each of your three meals.
- Eat at least 2 pounds of vegetables a day. This includes potatoes and other safe carbohydrates that aren’t technically a vegetable (e.g., white rice).
- Eat at least 1 pound of fruit a day. Fresh is best, but some dried fruit is fine so long as it doesn’t have chemical preservatives. I usually have a serving of fruit in my morning smoothie and as a dessert for both lunch and dinner. And I’ll eat a serving of fruit if I need a snack in-between my meals.
- Eat about 100 grams of protein a day.
- Eat at least 1 cup a day. I get my cup of kefir in my morning smoothie.
- Eat at least 1 cup per day. You can drink it straight, mixed in sauces, or use it in place of water when making white rice (this is my preferred method).
Other Meal ConsiderationsMany of you may have some additional questions at this point. While many of these questions can be answered by my basic nutrition post, I’ll address a few here.
- Should I count calories? No! Calorie counting is unnecessarily stressful. If you worry about the calories you are eating all the time, then you may suffer from chronic stress. Those who suffer from chronic stress will have a difficult time controlling their blood sugar, body weight, and belly fat. (3)
- Should I calorie restrict? No! The reason I don’t advocate forced calorie restriction is because once you improve your nutrient intake, remove dietary toxins, and eliminate food sensitivities, your brain will be able to automatically regulate your body weight (which may result in a voluntary calorie restriction). If you consciously eat too few calories, your body will defend itself by reducing your metabolic rate and increasing your hunger and appetite. (4) This can abruptly stop any natural weight loss. So, simply eat when you are hungry, don’t when you are not.
- Should I use portion control? Maybe. Portion control MAY be required if you find that you have a strong emotional connection to certain foods. If you don’t, then portion control should be unnecessary.
- Do I have to eat chicken eggs? Not if you don’t want to. But I would like for you to try to eat them. Eggs are super nutritious and should be a part of everyone’s diet. However, having said that, a few people are allergic to eggs. To determine if you are sensitive, try using the heart rate method at the end of this post. If your heart rate does not spike after eating an egg, then try to eat 2-4 eggs a day throughout the challenge. If your heart rate does spike, avoid eggs for the next 30 days and then try to reintroduce them after the challenge.
- Can I substitute eggs for meat? Yes, you can include eggs for half of your one pound of meat per day requirement.
- Can I substitute fish for meat? Yes.
- What's up with Dairy? You'll notice that I restrict milk and half-and-half, but not butter, heavy cream, yogurt, and kefir. This is because most people are sensitive to lactose, which is primarily in milk and half-and-half. Butter, heavy cream, yogurt, and kefir are all low-lactose foods that should be well tolerated. However, a few individuals may have a sensitivity to milk proteins, so it is a good idea to use the heart rate technique that I describe at the end of this post to see if you are sensitive to the low-lactose foods I allow in this challenge. If you are sensitive, you can re-test your sensitivities to these foods after the 30-day challenge.
- Do I have to eat bone broth? Yes! Bone broth is very nutritious, easy to make, and an excellent way for you to economically get more out of the proteins you purchase. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a great article that talks about the virtues of bone broth, as well as how to make it.
- Is this 30 Day Diet Challenge low-carb? No! While you should avoid all sources of unsafe carbohydrates (e.g., wheat, other gluten grains, refined sweeteners), the following safe carbohydrates can be used to fuel your physical activities:
- White rice (but not brown rice)
- White potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Other root vegetables (e.g., taro, cassava)
- Fresh Fruit
- How much safe carbohydrate should I eat every day? Your activity level will determine your daily safe carbohydrate intake. If you are sedentary (that is, you’re not too physically active), then you should eat no more than 10% - 15% of your total daily calories as carbohydrates. If you are physically active, then you need high-energy carbohydrate fuel (especially if you engage in high-intensity exercises). Use this chart to determine what percentage of your total daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates.
- How much fat should I eat? Overall, your fat intake will follow your protein and carbohydrate intake. For example, if you are consuming 20% of your calories as protein, and 20% as carbohydrate, then fat will make up the remaining 60%. Or, if 25% of your calories are from protein and 40% from carbohydrates (because you engage in lots of high-intensity exercise), then 35% would come from fat.
- What kind of fat should I eat? For the most part, you want to keep your daily polyunsaturated fat intake under 4% of your total daily calories. The remainder of your fat calories will be a 50:50 mix of saturated and monounsaturated fats that mainly come from your food. When you need to add fat to a meal, only use natural fats like butter, lard, beef tallow, coconut oil, or olive oil. Avoid all man-made trans fats and industrial oils (e.g., margarine; soy, canola, corn, vegetable, peanut oils).
- How many meals should I eat a day? Eat three meals a day.
- Can I eat snacks? Yes, but only as fresh fruit or vegetables.
- How should my meals be constructed? Generally, each meal should have at least one serving the following:
- Meat (muscle or organ), whole egg, or full-fat yogurt/kefir
- Safe carbohydrate
- Are spices ok? Yes! All spices are allowed (both fresh and dried).
- Can I cheat? Not during the challenge! However, after the challenge is over, you can enjoy one cheat meal per week.
- Should I stop smoking? If you can, yes! Smoking is a major stressor and can limit the results of this challenge. (5) However, I understand that it is difficult enough to try and clean up your diet and quit smoking, so if you can’t quit during your 30 day diet challenge, then try to quit after the challenge.
- Should I stop drinking alcohol during the challenge? Yes! When consumed to excess (more than two glasses of wine or beer a day; or one shot of hard liquor per day), alcohol is a stressor and a source of easily digestible, nutrient-less calories.
After the ChallengeAfter your 30 day diet challenge, continue to eat fresh meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, as well as bone broth and probiotics. And continue to cook only with healthy stable fats, only using olive oil for sauces and cold meals.
Slowly start to re-introduce restricted foods. Eat one new food every three days using the heart rate method I discuss in the next section to determine your specific food sensitivities. Avoid all foods that cause a large spike in heart rate.
There are certain foods that can be highly problematic, even if your heart rate does not spike when you eat them. These foods include:
- Wheat. You should consider continuing to avoid modern wheat (e.g., white flour, whole grain, bread), even if you don’t feel bad after eating it again. Gluten and WGA—both problematic components of wheat—can interfere with nutrient absorption, as well as cause allergies to other foods eaten with wheat. (6) If you really need to eat wheat, then limit your intake to no more than 50 grams per day.
- Refined sweeteners. Excessive consumption of refined sweeteners—even raw versions like honey and maple syrup—have been linked to many different health problems (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, gout). You can avoid much of this misery if you limit your intake to no more than 50 grams per day.
- Soy. The plant we know as soy has never really been known as a health food until the last 30 years. Why? Because it has evolved an arsenal of anti-nutrients and toxins that can do a number on the human body. Traditionally, fermentation was used to deactivate many of these anti-nutrients and toxins, but they don’t destroy all of them. And modern industrial processing doesn’t destroy any of them. (7) You can still eat soy, but it must be in very small quantities. Try to limit your soy intake to no more than 35 grams per week.
- Canned food (e.g., tomatoes, tuna). These foods are usually very low in nutrients (due to processing), filled with preservatives, and likely contaminated with the estrogen-mimicking man-made chemical bisphenol A (BPA). Limit your intake to a serving once or twice a week.
- Low-fat dairy. If you drink milk, always drink whole. Low-fat alternatives reduce the amount of fat-soluble vitamins that you can absorb (because these vitamins can only be absorbed with fat). This means that you will be unable to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from a no-fat meal (unless you also eat some other source of fat with this meal). (8)
Detecting Food SensitivitiesI alluded to a heart rate method for detecting food sensitivities. This process was established in the 1930s as a way to detect food allergens. It has been reported that this simple method is more accurate than the traditional skin-prick method. (9)
What does heart rate have to do with food sensitivities? Normally, when someone eats a food, their heart rate may go up two or three beats per minute (BPM) due to the extra work that is needed for digestion.
However, when a person eats a food that they are sensitive to, they experience a stress response. One of the many hormones released during this response is adrenaline, which accelerates heart rate (among other things). A jump in resting heart rate of 12 BMP or more indicates a food sensitivity.
You need a very accurate heart rate count for this test to work, which means that you can’t simply count your pulse for six seconds and then multiply that number by ten. If you don’t want to count out your heart rate over the course of a minute then I suggest you get a cheap heart rate monitor.
Establishing an Average Heart RateBefore you can start the detection process, you have to establish your average resting heart rate for one week. (Note: You cannot smoke while establishing this baseline since it will abnormally accelerate your heart rate [that is, smoking is causing a stress response].)
- Each day, take note of your heart rate as soon as you get up in the morning and just before you go to bed. This heart rate should be taken while seated.
- Your heart rate should not be above 80 BPM. If it is, then you may be in the middle of an allergic reaction. You will have to fast for 12 hours before going to bed the next day to attempt to eliminate the cause of the allergic reaction (if it is still high, then you might be reacting to an allergen in your pillow). Start establishing your heart rate once it gets between 50-80 BPM.
- After collecting your resting heart rate, compute your average resting heart rate.
Detecting a Food SensitivityOnce you have established your average resting heart rate then you can start identifying food sensitivities. Just keep in mind that your heart rate must be within a few BPM of your established average resting heart rate for this method to work correctly. If it isn’t, then you must wait until your resting heart rate is low enough to continue. (Note: Again, smoking while conducting this test can accelerate your heart rate, giving a false indication of a food sensitivity.)
To detect a food sensitivity:
- Take your HR before you eat a meal.
- About 10 minutes after you’ve finished your meal, take your HR again. If your heart rate has increased by 12 BPM or more, then you are likely sensitive to something in that meal.
- To figure out which ingredient(s) you are sensitive to, collect all the ingredients in this meal.
- Repeat the HR test again, but this time, only eat one of the ingredients from the meal each hour.
- Any food that causes an HR increase of 12 BPM or more should be added to your food sensitivity list and avoided. You can re-test these items after six months.
- You can eat any ingredient that does not cause much of an HR spike (less than 12 BPM).
- If your heart rate does not go up, then you are likely not sensitive to the ingredients in that meal.
- Repeat for all meals until all food sensitivities have been identified.
Although this test is fairly simple, figuring out exactly what is causing your heart rate to spike can get pretty complicated. For instance, a person may be sensitive to:
- Pasteurized milk, but not raw milk.
- Both pasteurized and raw milk, but not yogurt, kefir, and cheese.
- Dried fruit, but not fresh fruit.
- Pesticides on a fruit or vegetable, but not the fruit or vegetable itself.
Just don’t be too quick to identify a particular food as problematic. Experiment with different versions of suspected foods to see exactly what you are sensitive to.
ExampleOk, so let me give an example. Let’s say that Dan’s average resting heart rate is 56 BPM. If he eats an apple and his resting heart rate goes up to 58 BPM—which is only a 2 BPM jump—then he is not sensitive to apples. However, if his resting heart rate goes up to 79 BPM—which is a 23 BPM jump—then he is likely sensitive to apples (or something on the apples, like pesticides).
Here’s another example. Let’s say that Anne’s resting heart rate is 61 BPM. She then eats a sandwich and a glass of milk. Fifteen minutes after eating her meal she notices that her heart rate goes up 21 BPM. She gathers all the ingredients of that meal (milk, bread, turkey cold-cuts, lettuce, tomato, onions, and mayonnaise) to identify the offending food. Each hour she eats one ingredient and then retests her heart rate. She finds that the bread causes an 18 BPM jump, but all the other ingredients produce no real rise in heart rate. Anne adds bread to her food sensitivity list and continues to eat the other foods. She does this for all meals until she has tested all foods that she normally eats.
Challenge GuideTo help you quickly view the rules and have a ready list of foods that you can and cannot eat, I have created a challenge guide. Click on the link below to download it.
|Click here to download the 30 Day Diet Challenge Guide.|
Final ThoughtsIn many of my blog posts I make the argument that if you eat a diet that is filled with foods that the human body has evolved to use—filled with fresh whole ingredients from both plants and animals—then your body will have the support necessary to be healthy and resist disease. This means that by eating a truly healthy diet you will likely be able to effortlessly control your body weight, fight infection, improve your insulin sensitivity, enjoy more energy, and much more.
However, if you eat evolutionarily new foods, those with too many toxins, or those that you are uniquely sensitive to, then you will likely not have the support you need to be healthy and resist disease.
Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to regain your health is to take this 30 day diet challenge. It likely won’t fix all of the potential causes for poor health (e.g., inactivity, chronic stress), but you can be sure that your diet isn’t making—and keeping—you sick.
And if you have tried this challenge, please email me with your results. I absolutely love seeing people succeed!