"I'm going on an elimination diet." Woah, elimination? Like you can't eat a bunch of things? That sounds scary...right? An elimination diet isn't so much a diet as it is a cleanse, and one that I believe everybody should try at least once in their lives. An elimination diet entails removing all major allergens from your diet—gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar, to name a few—for twenty-one days, and then gradually reintroducing them to see how your body reacts. The twenty-one days of dieting are both a way to reset your body so you'll be more attuned to how different foods affect it, as well as a detox. The recommended foods and meal plan for this time period consist of easy to digest foods that give your body a break from the constant and difficult job of breaking down food.

I first read about the elimination diet on Lee From America, a blog that focuses on following a healthy and holistic lifestyle. Lee followed the Clean Program, which provides daily supplements, 24/7 support, and an outline on how to tackle the twenty one day cleanse. But being the twenty year old college student I am, I didn't have $475 to fork over for a cleanse. So I decided to follow the cleanse as best I could with the resources available to me: Lee's blog, the Clean Program blog, and the Clean Program manual. This plan was pretty ambitious, as it meant eliminating alcohol, caffeine, dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, peanuts, sugar, most citrus, bananas, corn, and nightshade vegetables, all while juggling three jobs and preparing to study abroad for a year. What can I say, I like to make life difficult for myself.

Preparing Myself

I started off by giving myself two days to dedicate to research and food prep. I wanted to learn as much as possible about the process I was about to undertake; how other people's experiences were, why specific foods are included or excluded, easy recipes that would make the diet easy to follow even on busy days. The first day I filled a journal with exactly what foods to avoid, created a calendar with my work schedule so I would know what days I would have time to cook, and recorded tons of recipes. Day two was dedicated to food prep: steaming and freezing vegetables, blending up hummus and pesto for snacking, making energy balls to take on the go. Luckily cooking is one of my favorite things to do, so I enjoyed every second! After all this work, I was ready.

spinach, salad
Grace DeLucia

I'll be honest; I started out way too hardcore. The first smoothie I made consisted of my go-to of spinach, kale, coconut water, avocado, salt, and pea protein, but with zucchini subbed in for banana. Zucchini is not a substitute for banana. You might thing that goes without saying, but my absurdly idealistic self thought it would still taste good. My absurdly idealistic self was wrong. 

Going forward with the cleanse, it got better. I figured out that cutting my sugar intake down to zero in one day is a terrible idea (duh), so I allowed myself sweeteners like dates and coconut nectar to make my smoothies not taste like grass. I learned what time of day I need food and how much of it to feel most satisfied and energized. I focused on eating meals consciously and purposefully instead of distracting myself with TV or social media. And I honestly had a ton of fun doing it! 

What I Ate

I'd say that I spent 75% of my time this summer working and the other 25% of it cooking, which resulted in some amazing, #cleansecompliant meals. I made Spoon-approved pizza with homemade pesto, swiss chard veggie rollups, nut butters and milks from scratch. Yes, there are tons of things you can't eat while cleansing, but what you can eat will start a freakin' party in your taste buds AND make you feel like a million bucks. Trust me, I worked many ten hour days during the cleanse and got through them just fine. But it wouldn't be fair to hype up the elimination diet without mentioning its challenges.

kale, pizza, spinach
Grace DeLucia
Grace DeLucia
Grace DeLucia


During the twenty-one day cleanse, there's a rule called the twelve hour window, suggesting that you wait twelve hours between dinner and breakfast in order to fully digest and detox from the last meal. This is a great idea, but was really hard for me to keep up with when I was getting home from one job at 11pm and getting up at 7am for another. I tried to stick to it, but on those really busy work days I just couldn't swing it—and that's okay. The whole point of this diet is to align your mind and body so you can better understand what your body needs; my body needed more fuel in order to keep up with all those working hours, so I complied. But that's not the only cleanse rule I fell off the wagon with...

Conscious eating. A great concept that's preached by many but practiced by few. Living in an American society that's so go-go-go all the time and involves constant stimuli, it was tough to dive straight into conscious eating. At school I would typically cook dinner after a long day, put on a show, and then end up eating too much and watching too much—it was a bad cycle. But I'd gotten so entrenched in the idea that TV and food go together that doing one would make me want to do the other. While cleansing, I kept the TV off while eating and tried to focus on my food; the tastes, the smells, the pace I was eating at. And it felt so much better. Eating a meal was an enjoyable fifteen minute affair rather than an hour and a half one because I turned on the TV and got distracted. However, I really missed the mark on conscious eating when it came to snacking. But what can I say? I'm not always going to work at a farm stand where I can eat fresh berries and melon for free all day, so I wanted to enjoy it while I could.

pasture, blackberry, berry
Grace DeLucia


Let's talk about the good. After twenty-one days, my skin had cleared up, I was waking up without an alarm and feeling energized throughout the day, and I'd even shed a few pounds. I had made it and I was ready to reward myself by starting the reintroduction process. This can be as short or as long as you want, and consists of reintroducing food groups by eating them 1-2x a day for two days, then eating cleanse compliant meals for two days, and tracking the results in a food journal. So far I've reintroduced gluten, dairy, nightshades, and sugar, and I plan on ending with soy. Even though I'm still in the reintroduction process, I've learned so much about myself: I'm intolerant to cashews and walnuts, dairy makes me break out, I have zero issues with gluten, and even after drinking 42 smoothies in 21 days I'm still not sick of them, so it's probably safe to assume I could have a smoothie a day for the rest of my life and still be asking for more.

Even though I'm about to leave to study abroad and willfully ignore everything I've learned about myself in the past month as I proceed to eat everything in sight, at least I'll have this knowledge and, going forward, be able to understand what my body is saying when it talks to me. 

Disclaimer: This program is intense, so please be careful and do your research before trying it!