Your Guide to Elimination Diets

Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Preparing and enjoying a meal is a great way to engage in mindfulness practices and connect with your body. Many people are unable to consume every food, however, and their food intolerances and allergies can cause digestive problems and other issues. It is important to understand the difference between the two:

  • Food allergies can appear at any age; it’s estimated that 4% of adults are affected. Allergies cause your body’s immune system to respond, with reactions of varying severity, but some can be life-threatening. This is called anaphylaxis. 
  • Food intolerance doesn’t produce an immune system response, but you can still have adverse symptoms. Food intolerances are more common than allergies. Some of the most common sensitivities are to dairy, gluten, caffeine, salicylates, amines, FODMAPs, sulfites, and fructose. 

An effective way to figure out which foods are causing discomfort is with an elimination diet. This meal plan excludes certain food groups for a specified time and then reintroduces them gradually while monitoring symptoms. This guide will tell you more about what an elimination diet is, how to do one healthfully, and the benefits.

What You Should Know About Elimination Diets

Elimination Diet Food Journal

An elimination diet has three phases:  preparation, elimination, and reintroduction. The overall process will take a minimum of seven weeks. You will need to keep a food journal to track what you ate and your symptoms to identify which foods triggered adverse reactions. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Elimination diets are restrictive, but you still need balanced meals. 
  • Each meal should include protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates that are not from an excluded food group.
  •  Common food groups to eliminate are citrus, wheat, shellfish, nuts, beef, dairy, eggs, gluten, added sugars, and soy products. 
  • Most fruits are OK to eat in an elimination diet, except for citrus.
  •  Turkey, chicken, and lean meats are generally permitted, as are most vegetables, excluding nightshades
  • Fats such as coconut and olive oils are allowed, as are dairy-milk substitutes like rice milk. 

It may seem daunting, but there are many creative ways to have delicious and nutritious meals while on an elimination diet – it will just take some planning on your part. 

How to Do an Elimination Diet

Balance Food Consumption

An elimination diet requires commitment, but it isn’t an impossible task. Your body will thank you once you’re eating only the foods you can tolerate. Here are the steps to take:

The Preparation Phase – 7 to 9 Days

Preparation is key, so don’t skip this phase. Create your food journal to look for links between what you eat and your symptoms. You can also start planning what you’ll eat during the removal phase. 

The Removal Phase – 3 Weeks

This is when you’ll eliminate food groups that people are commonly sensitive to or those you’ve identified as potential problems. This will allow you to figure out whether food or something else is causing your symptoms. Those who still have symptoms despite eliminating potentially problematic foods are advised to see a doctor to find out what else may be going on. 

The Reintroduction Phase – 3 Weeks

This phase lets you incorporate each food group back into your diet one at a time over a two- to three-day period while monitoring for symptoms of intolerance or allergies. The return of symptoms such as rashes, changes in bowel habits, fatigue, breathing issues, headaches, bloating, stomach pain, or any other problems tells you it’s time to cut that food group out. Any food groups you’re able to eat without ill effects indicate that you can move on to reintroducing the next food group. 

Note: Anyone with a known or suspected food allergy should never try to reintroduce foods they’re allergic to without a doctor’s guidance; this may cause anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. 

It’s important to remember that a food might be considered “healthy,” but if it causes adverse reactions like rashes or tummy troubles, it’s not healthy for you. That’s why an elimination diet may be beneficial for you – genetic testing is also available for determining this. 

5 Benefits of an Elimination Diet

Diet Benefits

There are many benefits to trying an elimination diet. This diet isn’t about weight loss but about learning to listen to your body and what it can and cannot tolerate as far as food. Here are five benefits of an elimination diet.

1. Identify Potential Food Sensitivities and Allergies

Food intolerances and food allergies are different, but they share many of the same symptoms. An elimination diet can be the first step toward identifying a food intolerance or a potential food allergy – and these can be difficult to isolate otherwise.

2. Find and Eliminate Causes of Gastric Discomfort

Stomach cramping, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, or other stomach upset after eating is probably from the food you ate. An elimination diet can help you pinpoint the source of such distress and ditch it for good. Food should be a source of fun and pleasure in your life, not continual pain. 

3. Improve Skin Conditions 

Some of the well-known symptoms of food sensitivities are skin changes, including eczema. Myriad sources can cause eczema, but some people find that food can be a trigger. A study following 15 eczema patients found that an elimination diet alleviated symptoms for 14 of them and helped them identify trigger foods.

4. Find Causes for Mystery Symptoms

Have you had some weird symptoms that you couldn’t quite figure out, like skin itchiness or a strange rash? Having something like that disappear during the removal phase means a specific food probably caused it. An elimination diet can help you figure out which one was the culprit.

5. Migraine Reduction

Chronic migraines are a common health problem in the United States, and some researchers believe inflammation plays a role in causing them. An elimination diet may reduce migraines by removing inflammatory foods from your diet. One study tracked 30 adults who experienced chronic migraines as they followed a six-week elimination diet. Their number of headaches was reduced from nine to six. 

Elimination diets can be a relatively painless way to identify and solve some possibly major health issues. They don’t always provide a clear answer, though, so if your problems persist, it’s advisable to see a doctor.

Get Your Nutrition and Health Questions Answered by a Professional

Elimination diets don’t have to be overwhelming. Dr. Karen Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor who is knowledgeable about elimination diets and food intolerance, and can offer expert guidance. 

Dr. Threlkel also provides genetic nutritional testing, natural remedies, and treatments for various health issues. Schedule your consultation today to see how a holistic approach to medical care can benefit you.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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