You’ve probably heard of the elimination diet, but have you ever tried one?
An elimination diet is one that eliminates certain foods over a period of time, in order for you to discover which foods may be causing reactions in your body. Dietitians in the know have been helping their clients for decades with elimination diets because in most cases, they work! And they often reveal some startling results that would have otherwise been difficult to uncover.
An elimination diet can be difficult, but it’s totally doable. It’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t necessarily giving up your favorite foods forever. You’re simply eliminating some of them for a while to see if you feel better after doing so. After that time, you’ll ideally discover which foods you’re sensitive to, remove them from your diet, and get back to eating the rest.
In this article we’re going to explore the ins and outs of an elimination diet, while learning exactly how to carry it out if you think it would be of benefit to your overall health and well being.
Why do an elimination diet?
You might want to try an elimination diet for several reasons. Many people suffer from undiagnosed food sensitivities that can lead to more serious health issues down the line. Between 2 and 20% of people across the globe suffer food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances.
These food sensitivities can wreak havoc on a person’s quality of life, causing anything from skin rashes and sleep issues to digestive problems like bloating, stomach cramps, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. Food sensitivities and allergies can eventually lead to more serious health problems like leaky gut syndrome, chronic inflammation, depression, arthritis, asthma, ADHD, cognitive decline, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, obesity, and migraines. And, because many of these issues are caused by sensitivities rather than true allergies, they may not show up on a standard allergy test, which makes them hard to diagnose.
Common foods that many people are allergic or sensitive to include wheat, dairy products, nuts, eggs, corn, soy, seafood, citrus fruits, and vegetables in the nightshade family, which include tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers. When you consider that many processed foods contain a form of gluten or corn, it’s easy to see how these hidden ingredients can make it difficult to identify the source of a food reaction.
We follow an elimination diet to get to the bottom of these mysterious reactions. It’s hard to figure out what’s causing your tummy aches or incessant bloating on your own. But by eliminating the possible suspects listed above, you’ll often solve the case and improve your quality of life in the process! An elimination diet does the trick because we remove these usual suspects, test our body for symptoms over a specific time period, and then re-introduce them into our diet — one food at a time — in a systematic and methodical way.
Sound like a plan? Okay, let’s move on!
How to do an elimination diet
An elimination diet involves two stages: the elimination stage and the reintroduction phase.
Elimination phase of an elimination diet
This phase makes up the first half of your diet and will last for 3 weeks. During this time, you will eliminate any potentially problematic foods from your diet. These are the foods that cause the majority (90%) of food allergies and reactions:
- Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
- Citrus fruits
- Starchy grains, such as barley and oats
- Refined sugar
- Packaged or processed foods
For the first three weeks, you’re going to stop eating all the above foods. Don’t replace these foods with anything you’re not used to and always read labels to make sure you’re not consuming the above suspects without realizing it. Keep a food diary during this phase. Note how you feel during this time. You’ll refer back to this journal during the second phase.
You may be wondering, what can I eat? If your diet typically contains a lot of these foods, it may be a big adjustment to eliminate them. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy foods you can still eat, such as:
- Leafy greens
- Green vegetables
- Vegetable soups
- Lean animal protein, such as wild-caught fish and organic poultry
- Fruits other than citrus fruits
- Plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, and quinoa
- Water and herbal teas
Depending on the state of your current diet, this may be difficult at first. You may also experience reactions in the beginning, such as headaches or flu-like symptoms. Remember that it’s only temporary, and you will soon be feeling much better and be much closer to identifying the sources of your troubling symptoms.
Reintroduction phase of an elimination diet
Now that three weeks have passed, we start the next phase. Keep that food diary handy, because you’ll need it as you reintroduce foods back into your daily meals. For one day, reintroduce one food to your diet — dairy products, for instance. Enjoy dairy products for one day while noting any changes in your body or mind in your food journal. After one day, return to your elimination diet. Watch for the common food intolerance symptoms. These include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Overall fatigue
- More headaches or migraines than usual
- Breathing difficulties
- Stomach cramps
- Changes in bowel movements and habits
- Bloating or gas
- Pain or stiffness in your joints
- Skin reactions
Some symptoms, such as digestive issues, often arise immediately after eating the food in question. Other reactions, such as skin reactions, may not arise for one or two days. This is why it’s important to reintroduce only one food at a time. If you experience any of these symptoms, note them in your journal and eliminate the problematic food once again.
The good news is, if you reintroduce a food and experience no negative reactions, you can safely add this food back into your diet!
If you have a known food allergy that’s already been diagnosed by your doctor, these foods should obviously not be included in your reintroduction phase. If you’re confused as to whether or not you have a known food allergy, pay attention to whether or not your skin breaks out in hives or any other rash after eating a certain food. If you experience swelling or breathing difficulties, these are also signs that you’re allergic to a particular food or food group.
After two more days of being symptom free, you can reintroduce yet another food group — eggs, for example. Again, eat and enjoy these foods for one day while noting what symptoms, if any, arise. If you experience any issues, eliminate that food from your diet and move on to the next food group for reintroduction.
As you can see, this could take a bit longer than 6 weeks if you cycle through all foods one at a time during the reintroduction phase. It’s a trial and error effort, but with time, you should begin to discover what’s causing your issues, and what foods you’re allergic to. You may also find that once certain unhealthy foods are out of your system, you no longer have cravings for them. Keep making notes in your journal to help you get to the bottom of things like a true dietary Sherlock. This journal will help you further down the road if you decide to do another elimination diet at a later date.
Need help figuring out your ideal diet? At Elite Physique, we believe an equal balance of nutrition, activity, rest, and confidence is the foundation for achieving a healthier you. Our personalized weight-loss program is designed to address the underlying factors that often make weight loss difficult, including food sensitivities and chronic inflammation. Contact us today for your free consultation!