How to survive an elimination diet

I’m on week three of this 30 day elimination diet … which I quickly discovered much like the popular Whole30 diet.

I didn’t know a lot about Whole30. I just figured it was "another trendy diet” that I would want nothing to do with. But after doing some research I gather it's basically a paleo-style elimination diet that's pretty darn similar to what I’m doing.

The items I’m eliminating are a little different, more along the lines of a classical elimination diet that doctors often recommend. It's not paleo-based but a lot of the food I’m eating is Whole30-friendly. So if you’re into that, you might find this post helpful.

What I’m eliminating:

  • Coffee/caffeine (ouch)
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, etc.)
  • Soy
  • Sugar (refined)

Here are the challenges of this diet (for me personally), what that challenge has helped me to learn and tips on overcoming them. 

Elimination diet challenges, discoveries and tips

Challenge: Coffee


Oh, coffee. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is brew a fresh cup. And then I keep drinking it. I’d say I drink anywhere from 3-5 cups per day. So when I gave it up cold turkey, I expected to have some minor headaches and be a bit tired. I didn’t expect my body to react the way it did.

I felt horrible. Physically ill. My head hurt, I couldn’t wake up and I didn’t want to move. This lasted for two days — the second day being the worst. 

After two days I started to feel human again. Now I can get out of bed with energy, even without coffee. Who knew?  

Discovery: Caffeine is a drug, and I was (am?) an addict

Coffee is “healthy” right? Maybe. But the amount I was drinking clearly wasn’t healthy for me. When I first started this diet, coffee was on the list but I thought I might not stick with it since I didn’t see it as an issue.

Boy was I wrong.


I don’t like the idea that my body “needed” coffee so bad that I had withdrawals. I won’t be giving up coffee completely, but I will strive to be more mindful about it and reduce how many cups I’m guzzling. And I think taking a break from coffee a few times a year will be something I practice so I can come back to my baseline.


Give it up slowly.
I’m an all or nothing person, so I quit cold turkey. But if I had weened myself off I probably wouldn’t have felt so horrible. If you don’t want to feel horrible, I suggest tapering first. Unless you’re all-in like me. Just be prepared to suffer for a couple of days.

Hot tea and decaf coffee.
Part of what I love about coffee is the morning ritual of sitting on the couch in my pajamas, cuddling with my pup and cat and drinking a warm beverage. It’s the first step toward easing into my day and I cherish those minutes. I replaced my coffee with decaf or hot tea. I get to keep the ritual I love, sans caffeine. So if you also enjoy the ritual of a morning cup of coffee — at home, in the office or at your favorite coffee shop — you don't have to give it up. You just have to change it up. 


Challenge: Meal Prep


This diet makes it challenging to eat out at most restaurants. Grab-and-go isn’t an option unless you plan for it. There’s no quick stop for takeout and no turning to the always-there jars of pretzels and animal crackers at my office when the 3:00 p.m. hungries hit. This makes planning a priority. 

Discovery: I haven’t prioritized nutrition

This diet has awakened me. I thought I was pretty healthy, but I didn’t realize how often I rely on quick, grab-and-go food.

I usually prepare a lunch to take to work with me, but a lot of meals consist of whatever is convenient, not whatever will nourish me best. Lots of microwave veggie burgers (processed), toast (processed) and “nutrition” bars (processed and sugar-y).

Also, those pretzels and animal crackers weren’t the best solution at 3:00 p.m.



Sundays are my meal prep days. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. For the entire work week.

I'm not home much — with work and teaching, I leave the house between 5-8:30 a.m. and don’t get home until 7-10:30 p.m. That means that I don’t have access to a full kitchen for up to 17 hours of the day.

So as much as I’d love to be freshly preparing a green juice for a beautiful afternoon snack that’s totally Instagram-worthy, that’s not my reality. By preparing all my meals and snacks at once when I do have time, it makes the rest of the week go so much smoother.


(Bonus tip: Tupperware. You’ll need all the tupperware. I purchased a set at IKEA for less than $5 because I didn’t have enough for all of the foods.)

Over pack.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t hungry during this diet. The point of this diet isn’t deprivation and I knew if I was hungry, I would be more tempted to reach for those grab-and-go snacks that were not part of this experiment. I overpacked food just to be safe, keeping things like seeds, dates, fruits and veggies on hand for those emergency hunger situations. Like 3:00. 

Don’t overthink it.

It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole on Pinterest of “Whole30 recipes.” Whole30-friendly pastas, donuts, cakes ... If you have time and the desire to prepare all those delicious recipes, go for it. For me, I chose to keep things simple. Roasted veggies, seeds, dates, fresh fruit and boiled eggs are my go-tos. All of those are simple. Food doesn’t have to be hard.


Challenge: Alcohol


This actually hasn’t been challenging to give up for the most part. I certainly didn’t experience withdrawals like I did with coffee. In fact, it feels good not drinking. 

I have only been really challenged by this once. I was at a dinner party with wine and it looked good. Also, there were people I didn’t know at the dinner party and having a glass of wine acts as a social lubricant. That being said, I got through the night just fine. I wanted the wine, but it wasn’t a huge hurdle by any means. Nothing like coffee. 

Discovery: I drink, but I usually don't want to (so why do I?)

I was drinking a glass of wine on evenings several nights a week out of habit more than anything. But I’ve found that I actually don’t want it most of the time. Even in social settings where others are drinking, I haven't wanted it (with the dinner party exception). Moving forward, I will be more likely to pass when offered a beverage. 


Treat yourself in other ways.

Find a non-alcoholic drink you enjoy. I’ve been enjoying fancy water and tea. Also, I’ve replaced my nightly glass of wine with a treat of banana “ice cream” made by blending a frozen banana with coconut milk. It’s delicious and makes me feel better than a glass of wine. And it satisfies my sweet tooth without refined sugar. If you want a thicker consistency more like real ice cream, try using coconut cream instead of coconut milk like this recipe. (Yum!)

17 days down. 14 to go before I start slowly adding those things back in. I’m excited to see how my body reacts so I can have a better understanding of how to nourish it in the best way possible. This isn’t about vanity. This is about self-study and self-care. And that is why it’s already more successful than any “diet” I’ve ever tried.