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How I got through the first week of my LEAP diet

First off, I’m really touched how many people reached out to me on the blog, via email, and on facebook to offer support as I tackle this whole food sensitivity thing head-on. So a big THANK YOU to all of you! (And I know you’ve been enjoying the food photos I’ve been plastering all over my facebook page.)

Second, while I may have been a little melancholy about ending my lifelong friendship with almonds last week, this has (so far) been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

I’m not going pretend it’s been easy. It has turned my usual approach to food upside-down.

I guess you can say I’m normally a bit of a free spirit around food.

I’m comfortable in the kitchen, so grocery shopping and farmer’s marketing (yeah, yeah, grammar police.. just go with it) are always an adventure. I have my staple items, then everything else I grab is what looks good, what’s in season, and what I’m in the mood for. Yes, I read ingredient labels on new products to make sure they’re not complete junk, but other than that, anything’s fair game. I rarely make the same dish twice and I have a notoriously rebellious attitude towards recipes (sorry, die-hard bakers).

So when I started my LEAP elimination diet last week and was walking out the door to go shopping, reusable bag in hand, I stopped and realized, “Wait, I have to… like… make a list. Ugh…”

Now, the easy thing about the LEAP program, which by the way refers to how you go about this elimination diet and what’s in it, is that the focus is not just about avoiding reactive foods. The emphasis is on what foods you are eating. Based on my MRT blood test, I picked out 25 of the least reactive foods to build my initial diet. You eat nothing but those foods for the first week before moving on.

Only 25 foods?!

You heard me right. Hey, it beats the classic “lamb, rice & pears” elimination diet (which by the way, would have totally backfired for me because I’m reactive to fructose, which is highly concentrated in pears).

Why so strict? Because when your body doesn’t like a certain food or chemical, it sends out an immune response to those food antigens. These immune complexes hang out in your body (for up to 4 days!) causing inflammation that can lead to numerous symptoms, like bloating, gas, diarrhea, rashes, breakouts, sinus congestion, joint pain, foggy thinking, headaches, fatigue, etc. By following a diet of foods you have PROOF your body likes, it lets the immune system rest and allows reactive antigens and immune complexes to leave your body. It’s honestly best described as a detox.

During this “detox”, some people get withdrawal symptoms, like headaches. Think of it like having caffeine withdrawals. I honestly didn’t expect to have any symptoms, but boy was I wrong. More on that in a future post.

Ok back to my grocery store saga…

Finally, with list in hand, I set off to Trader Joe’s to hunt down my first items. I passed by the coffee and sample station (usually, a welcomed treat), and followed my list EXACTLY.

  • Chicken. Check.
  • Broccoli. Check.
  • Mushrooms. Check.
  • Lemons. Check.
  • Heavy cream. Check.

It felt a little anti-climactic at checkout. I mean, that’s it?!

No last minute chocolate bars or chips or gum? Just what’s in my cart?

It almost seemed un-American. But, I stuck to the plan and left with my unusually light bag of groceries. Back at home with these ingredients laying out on the counter, I thought to myself “Ok Lily, just suck it up and cook.”

One of the tricky things about this elimination diet is that I’m limited with herbs and spices, especially since I’m reactive to a few chemicals that naturally occur in many spices. So it’s been trusty salt and pepper. (Honestly I couldn’t care less about living without bread, but spices? For God’s sake I will not tolerate tasteless food!)

At first, I kind of resigned myself to eating bland food.

But once I started cooking, things changed.

Instead of using spices, I find myself relying on cooking technique to get flavor. That means searing meat on medium-high heat to get brown (you know the delicious brown bits I’m talking about) and then using the same pan to cook my vegetables. Oh, and don’t forget butter. Everything is better with butter (literally).

So I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet, put in a hefty spoon of ghee (clarified butter) and pan fried the chicken breasts with salt and pepper until nicely brown.  I took the chicken out and set it aside while I prepped the veggies.

First I sauteed the sliced mushrooms. Mushrooms soak up a ton of ghee, so don’t skimp. And if you think mushrooms are repulsive, it’s because you don’t cook them on high enough heat or in a single layer. If you crowd the pan, they are rubbery and awful. If the heat’s too low, they steam. Don’t do that! Take your time. Use tongs to flip them over one at a time to brown evenly. Then set them aside.

Now with the mushrooms done, I decided I couldn’t let all the brown delicious bits in the pan couldn’t go to waste. They would be my only hope for flavor! In went a big splash of cream, which quickly deglazed the pan. A squeeze of lemon juice and voila – a super flavorful cream sauce done in literally 30 seconds. Once I poured that over the chicken, my mouth started watering.

Finally, I sauteed the baby broccoli on medium high heat in the same pan for about a minute. Then added a splash of water, plopped the lid on and let them steam in the pan for another minute. Perfectly cooked broccoli that’s fork tender, vibrantly green, and most certainly NOT mushy.

All in all, it took about 10 minutes from start to finish.

Not only was this good, it was freaking delicious and I’ll probably be making it again.

The surprisingly tasty chicken with broccoli and mushroom cream sauce
pan-seared chicken with baby broccoli and mushroom cream sauce

Thankfully I was totally wrong about the spice thing. It’s surprising how good food can taste without a bunch of spices. They are kind of like a bonus, but you can easily do without them and make really tasty food.

And so the adventure continues…

If you liked this post and want to continue following my food sensitivity journey, sign up to receive my “30 Days to a Happy Tummy” ebook. It’s free! And check back for the next post in the series.

Maybe you struggle with some health issues of your own that you think are tied to food, or maybe you’re just curious how I can manage to keep this up for another 3+ weeks (heck, I am too!). All I know is I got through the first week of my LEAP diet just fine, and it gets easier as I start adding in new foods. Per usual, I promise not to sugar-coat anything. I’m blunt as the dullest knife in your kitchen (you should really get that sharpened, by the way), so you can count on me to tell it like it is. If you’re on my email list, I’ll see you in your inbox next Tuesday!

And if you just want to facebook stalk all the food porn I post, here’s my page. I’m re-posting a few photos below.

As always, words of encouragement and support are highly encouraged in the comments section! Between your comments, emails, and the facebook messages, I have enough social accountability to keep this up. You guys make me smile, so don’t be a stranger.

Until next week,


sesame-ginger crab wraps in coconut wrappers
sesame-ginger crab wraps in coconut wrappers
yellow zucchini noodles with a grassfed beef patty
yellow zucchini noodles with grass-fed beef
ginger chicken with blistered green beans and caramelized onions
lemon-ginger chicken with blistered green beans and caramelized onions
dark chocolate peanut butter cups (made with only 3 ingredients!)
homemade dark chocolate peanut butter cups (made with only 3 ingredients!)


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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


Leave a comment
  1. Way to go Lily, stay positive and continue posting I love reading your emails. I am living proof that when you stick to your MRT diet you feel great. This past week my system is giving me signals to back off certain foods that I am sensitive to so I know I have to start being more mindful to what I’m eating because I don’t ever want to have the gut issues I had in the past.

    Change is sometimes a good thing:)

    • I appreciate your words of encouragement, Joanna. I already have so much energy that I practically leap out of bed in the morning. You’re right, combining mindful eating techniques with LEAP/MRT is so key to getting results.

      How wonderful to hear you’re still finding insight from the whole program. I know I’ll continue to learn from my body week by week, just like you did. This has already been an eye-opening experience!

  2. Hi Lily, Loved reading about your first week. I’m just finishing up my leap exam and am hoping to trial it out on myself. Just curious – have you noticed any changes in how you feel that you didn’t expect?

    • Hi Lauren! Yes, and part of what made me so curious to try it out for myself is all the unexpected benefits clients report back to me (maybe they came to fix their digestion, but their headaches suddenly disappear and sinuses clear up).

      So far I’ve noticed I have a ton of energy in the morning, my recovery time after exercise has improved (I’m not sore even after an intense workout), my skin is clearer, and I’ve had no digestive upset whatsoever. All that in only been 10 days! I’ll be sharing more in future posts. Stay tuned.

  3. Hi Lily, Congrats on taking what could be a devastating journey and doing it so gracefully. Your food looks wonderful! I applaud you on both!

    • Silvia, Thank you so much! Cooking with fewer ingredients has pushed me to explore more in the kitchen, which is always a good thing! And thankfully, I still have plenty of flavor to go around. Glad to have you along for the ride. 🙂

  4. I struggle with food sensitivities so I feel for you! Cutting out gluten form my diet was a massive lifestyle change which thankfully I’m used to now. It took a while though. Your post was very encouraging! Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Sonja, Yeah, there’s always a period of transition and shall I say “mourning” over the loss of a food. Luckily, after the first week, it gets so much easier!

  5. Way to go! That chicken sounds amazing. I think about how hard it must be for people who aren’t natural cooks or who always have to go from a recipe to have food sensitivities or go on an elimination diet. Glad it is not so hard for you!

    • Hi Lacy, Yes, it’s certainly easier if you already know how to cook, but I’ve had clients who are complete beginners in the kitchen who do great. One of my clients didn’t even own pots and pans when he started! Plus I work closely with them to find ingredients substitutions and come up with recipe tweaks, so they can still enjoy their favorite foods. Since I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, it helps take the stress off my clients to figure it out all by themselves.

  6. Hi Lily,

    Is that your result list? I just got my LEAP results back and sulfites are my biggest ‘reds’!

    Apparently there are sulfites in EVERYTHING (preservatives on fruits, vegetables, etc)

    How are you managing all that? I’m thinking I’m accidentally eating sulfites when I really shouldn’t.

    Also… how are you doing now ? I’ve been avoiding my intolerances as much as possible recently and I’m not feeling the best!

    • Hi Eric,
      Yes, that’s mine. Luckily fresh fruits and vegetables don’t contain sulfites, so it hasn’t been hard to avoid. I encourage you to work with a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT) to help you interpret your results, if you are not already. It’s more than just avoiding the reactive foods. Carefully choosing which foods to include in the initial elimination diet and then strategically adding in new foods via the LEAP protocol is key to healing.

      I’m feeling great and will be sharing more details in my next blog post. Be sure to check it out and good luck!

      • Hi — I just found this website because I’m searching around about diets and food sensitivities. I wanted to comment on this post because some fresh fruits do indeed contain sulfites. Grapes are an example. That’s why even winemakers that don’t add sulfites to their wines label them “No added sulfites” — because all wine made from grapes contains sulfites, just not at the same level. This is also true of balsamic vinegars, which are often labeled “contains sulfites” or “no added sulfites.”

        • That’s absolutely true, Belle. There are food sources of many of the chemicals tested on MRT that need to be avoided if they show up reactive.

          • Tyramines are another example, but it’s also important to know that reactions are dose dependent. Working with a trained Certified LEAP therapist/ Registered DietitianNutritionist (the only Medical Professionals who spend years studying what’s in food & how that relates to disease) can really improve results!

  7. Hi, just found your website. I had MRT testing and received my results 3 weeks ago, the LEAP nutritionist I was seeing never really explained Phase I , so
    I was eating foods that weren’t tested and some foods that came back non reactive, but high green. She didn’t tell me only to select a few of the lowest green and didn’t help with meal ideas at all. My emails went unanswered for a week at a time and all she did was sell me supplements even at my first visit before my results came back and I have
    Celiac disease. I’m totally lost and not sure how to proceed I do not care to see her she has not helped me at all. Any advice I’d greatly appreciate. I’m desperate

    • Hi Laurie, I’m so sorry to hear the MRT/LEAP protocol was not fully explained. It may seem complicated at first, but can be quite simple when the results and rationale are explained. That’s part of the reason my program incorporates ample nutrition counseling time and weekly check ins.

      • Hi Lily, thank you so much for responding to my post. I’ve felt totally lost since I started the LEAP program. It’s been the hardest 3 weeks of my life. I’ve had some days where I’ve felt good only to feel bad the next day. I’d love to continue with this if someone could actually instruct me properly. I’m not sure where you are located, but I have a feeling it’s not near NJ. Do you work with out of state clients? Either by email or phone? I’m desperate and afraid to lose anymore weight
        Thanks! Laurie

  8. Would love the 3 ingredient butter cups!! I can’t see the recipe. I have been on the leave for 24 days and already feel better although there have been some ups and downs-irritability, and the first 4 days were awful, but I definitely feel better. Some of my high yellow foods and my red foods are foods that I was eating many times a week if not a day! Bananas, mangos, avacado are high yellow and I had a lot of those!

    Looking forward to seeing what the weeks hold for me!!

    • Good luck, Melanie! You’ll continue to feel better as the weeks go by and you expand your diet to have more variety.

      Regarding the PB cups, I didn’t follow a recipe. Just used unsweetened chocolate (it was the only one I could easily get without soy lecithin, which I’m reactive to), sweetener of choice (for you, based on your MRT results), and peanut butter. I melted the chocolate and spread it in mini muffin papers and let cool. Filled with peanut butter/sweetener mixture. Then topped it with more chocolate. Enjoy!

  9. I just finished my first week of the MRT diet. So far so good. Sinuses not constantly running down the back of my throat, and I believe I am beginning to feel a little more energetic.
    It was hard to do without eggs, broccoli, almonds, strawberries, and grapes, (what, you mean no wine!?!) to name a few. Luckily I’ve been eating organic for a long time, and have always been a label reader.
    I’m 72 years old with rheumatoid and osteo arthritis plus fibromyalgia. My doctor said lots of all kinds of stress has contributed to the demise of my health, and the increase of my girth. Stress!! Me!?! Just had our 50th wedding anniversary. 50 years with the same man? Now that’s stress.
    Wish me luck.

    • Stick with it, Beverly! I’m still reaping the benefits nearly 2 years later. 🙂

  10. Just got my Leap/mrt results today…
    ALL meats except Turkey(which I don’t like) off the table. No eggs, salmon, wine, caffeine, pistachio among others of course ….
    Looks like I will be eating only tilapia and quinoa…
    Where do I get my protein ?

    • I’m curious, were you ever retested and did you challenge any of your red foods?

  11. Thank you for posting this! I, too, just finished week 1 of the LEAP diet. I’ll look forward to following your journey!

  12. Ellen Stucker / I,too, have had problems with wine. I have had the red face, but only simotemes, and it doesn’t matter whether it is inexpensive or expensive. This has only happened with red wine, not white. Occasionally, I have had problems with racing heart, but not always. I have also had problems with stomach cramping, and diarrhea, but not always. Sometimes I have congestion problems, and occasionally, I will have a headache the next AM, and have noticed a couple of times thatthe roof of my mouth has felt as if those little lines up there will feel raised and a bit sore. I don’t know what to make of it all. I supposedly am allergic to sulfur drugs, but I was tested in many compounds and all were negative. I have no food allergies that I know of. I have been getting a little paranoid lately, as I have been worried about anaphylaxsis and wine. I have been in anaphylaxsis once and on the way another time or two. I don’t understand if I am allergic to wines, why don’t I have the same symptoms everytime, and why don’t I have a stronger reaction, like some of the posts on this website. I am a severly allergic person, but after taking shots for 25 years every week; I hardly even suffer from hay fever anymore. My allergies are to pollens, some molds, animals, etc. And, I have a good many drug allergies. I saw on another website posted under this one on Google, that there is new research on what is being tested for wine allergies, etc., and I am anxious to move on and read it, as I love wine, and am sick of suffering for it. I have always been a beer drinker, and it gives me no problems, but after reading So. Beach that it immediately turns into sugar in your body,& causes such weight problems, (yes, me!) then I had hoped to move onto wine. I have irritable bowel, and a bad case of diverticulosis and this stomach-ache I get from even one half glass of wine is so annoying. Ellen

  13. I never had food allergies. At least I never thought I did. Until I got this frozen shoulder. so many things trigger a sharp pain in my arm. I had no idea it could be like that. Now thinking about it, i wonder if maybe my sciatica will go away or at least hv the pain reduced by really eliminating those foods that trigger pain. I’m starting to do that now.

    And to add to your collection of good foods to eat, i take a tablespoon of black seeds daily with 3 dates and a spoonful of honey. Foods of the prophet. that has kept me going through this pain. Amazing stuff…. Do try it.

  14. I just started the leap diet 2 days ago. I loved all the comments. I can’t wait to get my e-book.

    • Good luck!

  15. Hi Lily! Thanks for sharing your story. It sound like you’re still sticking with the plan (i.e. avoiding reactive foods)?

    I’m curious to know if you happened to have headaches or fatigue your first week? I’m on day 3 and heavily struggling to focus at work, much less stay awake, and I’m a complete grump which is very abnormal for me. Is this expected, does it get better?


    • Yes, and it got better. For most it improves in the first week or two. It can also be a sign that you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients (which happened to me; here’s more on that).

  16. Just got my LEAP results, preparing to start Phase 1. Everything on your low reactivity list is on my high reactivity list. Will be giving up many favorites, broccoli, lemon, shrimp, bell peppers. Absolutely no prepackaged anything since I’m highly reactive to corn and soy which are in almost everything. Fortunately, I prefer fresh fruits and veggies. Giving up wine and coffee a few weeks will be the hardest but looking forward to the health benefits on the flip side. Best of luck to all who are committed to better health through smarter food choices.

  17. Hi Lily
    I am starting my leap diet Saturday. I did it 6 years ago. I felt great. My ulcerative colitis got better, sinus improved, lost a need it 26 lb. I am 73 years old, the diet going to be very challenging do to healthy issues. I am hoping I will be able to do it again. Will use your recipes. Giving up Coffee will be hard.. Best of luck to you and anyone out there . I KNOW THE DIET

  18. Hi Lily, love your story and recipes. I can 100% relate to everything you say in your first week as I’m having the same experiences with shopping and cooking…. I am having severe leg cramping in my first week. I emailed my dietician and she just replied that I’m getting all of the nutrients I need in the 25 foods. So…I did my own research and read that going off of coffee cold turkey could cause muscle cramps. Have you heard this?

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