Elimination diets are when certain foods are removed from oour diet for a period of time in order to see if they are causing any problems. They can be a lot of work, but if there is a chance that a food intolerance is causing symptoms, it might be worth it to try one.

If you are not sure if this is something you want to do, or if you are sold on the idea but need help getting started, there is help available.

What Is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is a type of diet where you remove certain foods that you think your body might not be able to handle well. Later on, you slowly introduce these foods back into your diet, one at a time, while paying close attention for any symptoms that might show that you have a reaction to the food.

The program only lasts for 5-6 weeks and is designed to help those with a sensitive gut, food intolerance, or food allergy identify which foods are causing their symptoms.

An elimination diet may get rid of symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea.

If you discover a food that your body does not tolerate well, you can remove it from your diet to avoid any uncomfortable symptoms in the future.

There are many elimination diets that involve eating or removing certain types of foods.

However, if you have a known or suspected food allergy, then it is not advisable to try an elimination diet without the supervision of a medical professional. Reintroducing a food allergen may trigger a dangerous condition called anaphylaxis.

If you are unsure if you have a food allergy, speak with your doctor before starting an elimination diet. However, if you experience symptoms such as rashes, hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing, it is likely that you are allergic to something.

How Does It Work?

There are two phases of an elimination diet: elimination and reintroduction.

The Elimination Phase

The first step is to remove foods you think might be causing your symptoms for a couple of weeks.

Avoid foods that you think your body cannot handle, as well as foods that are commonly known for causing unpleasant symptoms.

There are a number of foods that can potentially trigger an inflammatory response in the body, including: nuts, corn, soy, dairy, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables, wheat, gluten-containing foods, pork, eggs, and seafood.

If you want to figure out whether your symptoms are caused by food or something else, you should try removing certain foods from your diet for 2 to 3 weeks. If your symptoms don’t go away after that, it’s a good idea to tell your doctor.

The Reintroduction Phase

In the next phase, you will slowly reintroduce the eliminated foods back into your diet.

Each food group should be introduced individually, over 2–3 days while looking for symptoms. Some symptoms to watch for include:

  • Rashes and skin changes
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in breathing
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Changes in bowel habits

If you experience no symptoms after reintroducing a food group, you can eat that food without worry and move on to the next food group.

If you experience negative symptoms after eating a certain food, then that food is likely a trigger food and you should remove it from your diet.

The entire process, including elimination, takes roughly 5–6 weeks.

You should speak to a doctor or dietitian before eliminating entire food groups from your diet, as doing so could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Food Sensitivity vs Intolerance

A food sensitivity occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food.

Unlike food allergies—which involve the immune system—food sensitivities occur when the gut reacts poorly to specific foods and ingredients. These reactions generally unfold in a couple of ways:

  • Inflammation: Certain foods irritate gut tissues, leading to symptoms throughout the body. For example, the amines naturally present in red wine can expand blood vessels, triggering migraines in some people.
  • Indigestion: Other times, the digestive tract fails to properly break down certain foods. For example, you’ve probably heard of lactose intolerance. Some people’s intestines don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose, a sugar present in dairy. The result: gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Symptoms That Can Be Addressed by an Elimination Diet

A growing body of evidence shows that food sensitivities can lead to a wide range of unwanted symptoms.1,2 For example, food sensitivities have been linked to:

  • ADD/ADHD3,4
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue5
  • Headaches6,7,8
  • Obesity9
  • Pain10
  • Rashes
  • Stomach aches

And much more.

You may wonder why symptoms of food sensitivities show up all over the body, not just in the gut.

The gastrointestinal tract does more than digest food; it also has its own nervous system.

TheGI tract is rich in neurotransmitters, hormones, chemical messengers, enzymes, and bacteria. It is home to 70 percent of your body’s immune system.

While certain foods may not trigger an overt allergic reaction, they may contribute to other digestive problems. These can include an imbalance of microbes in the gut, problems with motility (movement) of the digestive system, abnormal detoxification, and intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

The reason why problems in the gut can manifest as various other symptoms is because the gut is connected to the nervous system. Therefore, issues in the gut can affect other parts of the body.

If you’re suffering from food sensitivities, following an elimination diet could be the most profound dietary change you’ll ever make. For some people, the results can feel miraculous.

The Side Effects of an Elimination Diet

If you make a major change to your diet, your body will probably have some reactions to it. This is especially likely to happen with elimination diets.

Some people feel great immediately after starting a new medication, while others may feel worse before they start to feel better.

Why does an elimination diet involve a rapid and dramatic change? It’s like jumping into high-intensity interval training after being out of shape for years.

If you go from eating a lot of caffeine, sugar, and processed foods to not eating any of these things, you will notice a difference.

If you stop taking steroids suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, irritability, or skin flare-ups for a few days to a week.

Types of Elimination Diets

In this article, we’ve included a food list for one type of elimination diet, but many other elimination diets exist. They include:

The Whole Foods Elimination Diet

Many highly processed foods contain additives that can irritate or sensitize the gut in many people. These include food colorings, sugar alcohols, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sulfites, among others.

If you want to reduce the amount of chemicals you consume, switch to a diet consisting mostly of whole foods that have undergone minimal processing. This kind of food is usually richer in fiber and other nutrients that are good for your digestion, and it has the added bonus of being better for your overall health.

Eliminate Just 1 Food or Food Category

This is a good option if you’re pretty confident about which food is causing your issues. For example, if you know from experience that you get sick after eating dairy, you could eliminate dairy from your diet for 3 weeks and then reintroduce it to see how you feel.

Eliminate up to 4 Foods

Once you’ve done that, eat as you normally would for about two weeks. This option is good if you are pretty sure about which foods bother you. You eliminate 1-4 foods that you think might be a problem, and then eat as you would normally for two weeks.

The Precision Nutrition Elimination Diet

This is often called the “elimination diet” because it is a happy medium between hardly removing any foods and removing so many foods that you feel like you cannot make it through another day.

There is a food list later on in this story that goes into detail about which foods to eat and which ones to avoid.

The Full Elimination Diet

This type of elimination diet is much more extensive and excludes many types of food, including meat, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, as well as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

You should only try this diet with the guidance of a professional.

The FODMAP Elimination Diet

FODMAP stands for:

  • Fermentable
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • And
  • Polyols

The carbohydrate fibers in this text are not fully absorbed, which can trigger a range of symptoms including gas, distension, pain, diarrhea, and constipation in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The low-FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Monash University in Australia to help alleviate symptoms of IBS.17 The diet has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms in people with IBS.17

The FODMAP diet is a specialized form of medical nutrition therapy that is more complex than a typical elimination diet.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS and think you might have a FODMAP issue, you will need the help of someone qualified to offer medical nutrition therapy, such as a FODMAP-trained nutritionist.

Other Types of Elimination Diets

There are several types of elimination diets, in addition to the traditional one described above.

Here are a few different types of elimination diets:

  • Low-FODMAPs diet: Removes FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates that some people can’t digest.
  • Few foods elimination diet: Involves eating a combination of foods that you don’t eat regularly. One example is the lamb and pears diet, which is popular in the US, where lamb and pears are not commonly eaten.
  • Rare foods elimination diet: Similar to a few foods diet, but you can only eat foods that you rarely ever eat, as they are less likely to trigger your symptoms. Common foods on a rare food diet include yams, buckwheat, and starfruit.
  • Fasting elimination diet: Involves strictly drinking water for up to five days, then reintroducing food groups. This type of diet should only be done with permission from your doctor, as it can be dangerous to your health.
  • Other elimination diets: These include lactose-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and wheat-free diets, among others.

Benefits of an Elimination Diet

An elimination diet is a short-term diet that helps you identify which foods are causing you discomfort so that you can remove them from your diet.

However, an elimination diet has many other benefits, including:

It May Reduce Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a very common gut disorder that affects between 10–15% of people worldwide.

An elimination diet often helps alleviate IBS symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, and gas.

The study found that those who followed the fake diet reported the same amount of symptom relief as those who followed the real diet. One study of 150 people with IBS found that an elimination diet that excluded trigger foods resulted in the same amount of symptom relief as a fake diet that excluded the same number of foods.

The people who followed the elimination diet and stuck to it the best saw a reduction in their symptoms by up to 26%.

It May Help People With Eosinophilic Esophagitis

EE is a chronic condition where allergies cause inflammation of the esophagus, the tube that delivers food from the mouth to the stomach.

If you have EE, it’s harder to swallow food that is dry or dense, and that increases your risk of choking.

There have been many studies that have shown elimination diets can be helpful in reducing symptoms associated with EE.

146 patients with EE were studied and it was found that over 75% of them experienced significantly fewer symptoms and less inflammation when following an elimination diet.

It May Reduce Symptoms of ADHD

A behavioral disorder that affects a small percentage of children and adults, ADHD is characterized by problems with focus and hyperactivity.

Some studies suggest that eliminating certain foods from your diet may help reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Eliminating certain foods from one’s diet can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, especially among those who are sensitive to certain foods.

However, eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

If you eliminate certain foods from your diet, you may not be getting all of the essential nutrients that you need, which could Impact your growth, especially if you’re still a child.

It May Improve Skin Conditions Like Eczema

There are a group of skin conditions known as eczema which present with symptoms such as red, itchy, cracked, and inflamed skin.

There are many different causes of eczema, but many people find that their symptoms get worse when they eat certain foods.

There have been a few studies conducted that suggest that if you remove certain foods from your diet, it may help alleviate symptoms associated with eczema.

Out of fifteen eczema sufferers, fourteen found that by cutting out certain foods from their diet, their symptoms were alleviated, and they were able to identify which foods were their triggers.

It May Reduce Chronic Migraines

An estimated 2-3 million Americans suffer from chronic migraines.

Although the root cause of migraines is still unknown, medical research suggests that inflammation might play a role in triggering the condition.

An elimination diet is a type of diet that removes foods that cause inflammation and has been shown to reduce chronic migraines.

The study found that an elimination diet can help reduce the number of migraine attacks in people who experience them frequently. 28 women and 2 men participated in the study, and all of them reported a reduction in the number of headaches they experienced over the course of the 6 weeks that the study took place.


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About Rhoda ...

Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

She is the creator of the Elegant Eating Solution, an affordable program that helps women avoid weight regain and feel great about themselves, without restrictive eating.

Elegant Eating is based on the science of protein leverage and follows the unique R.E.M.A.P approach to successful aging.

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