Food sensitivities are often an unrecognized cause of recurring symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, and nausea. If you’re regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, elimination diets can help you identify if certain foods may be the cause. By eliminating suspected triggers from your diet and then reintroducing them one at a time, you to see if they cause any reactions. In this post, we will discuss what an elimination diet is, how it works, and how to try one yourself.
What is an Elimination Diet?
While the word “diet” is often seen as a means to lose weight, the goal of an elimination diet is not to count calories, track carbs, or fast. An elimination diet lasts 4-6 weeks and is a process of systematically removing and reintroducing potential food sensitivities from your diet. Intolerance to certain foods can cause chronic symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach pain and other digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, or allergic reactions (e.g., skin rashes). At the end of the reintroduction stage, if you identify a specific food or food group as the cause of your symptoms, you might consider cutting it out completely.
How it Works
An elimination diet works in two parts: elimination and reintroduction. The first phase, elimination, lasts for about 2-3 weeks to give your body time to adjust to the absence of potential sensitive foods. The most common foods to eliminate in this phase are:
- Dairy products (including milk, cheese, and ice cream)
- Gluten (including many breads, snack crackers, and cereals)
- Legumes (including beans, soy-based products, and lentils)
- Starches (including corn, oats, and pasta)
- Fats (including butter and margarine, hydrogenated oils, and mayonnaise)
- Sugars (including white and brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and honey)
- Nightshade vegetables (including tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers)
- Meat and fish (including shellfish, eggs, and processed meats)
- Caffeinated or alcoholic beverages (including coffee, soda, and black tea)
If your symptoms subside during this phase, you likely have an intolerance to one or more of the foods you eliminated—and the reintroduction phase can help you identify which foods are triggers. If your symptoms persist, your primary care provider to find the cause.
After 2-3 weeks of avoiding the above foods, it’s time to enter phase two: reintroduction. During this phase, reintroduce each eliminated food group individually and wait 2-3 days before reintroducing the next group. This is the time to identify which foods, if any, trigger one or more of your symptoms. It is helpful to write down the following information in a journal:
- The date
- What food or food group you are reintroducing
- What symptoms you experience during or after reintroducing a new food group (including skin rashes, stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and joint pain)
If you reintroduce a food group and don’t experience any symptoms, it is likely safe to keep in your diet. However, if the opposite is true, consider cutting out the food group entirely and/or finding substitute foods that don’t cause your body to react poorly.
How to Get Started
Before starting an elimination diet, be sure to visit your primary care provider or nutritionist to see if it is the right decision for you and your health. People with severe reactions or food allergies should only try an elimination diet under the approval and guidance of their doctor due to the risk of anaphylactic shock.
If you decide to start an elimination diet, the first step is figuring out what foods your body might be sensitive toward. This can include any combination of the foods previously mentioned or other foods you suspect. Next, be sure to stock up on a variety of foods you can eat during your elimination diet—such as non-citrus fruits, non-nightshade vegetables, rice, turkey, salmon, alternative milks, non-hydrogenated oils, and fresh herbs and spices. Look at this as a time to find new favorite recipes! Finally, only follow an elimination diet for the recommended amount of time. Eliminating certain foods and food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies if done for too long or without the guidance of a medical professional.
If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms due to food sensitivities, an elimination diet might be helpful. There are several variations of the elimination diet that might work better for your specific food sensitivities, so schedule a visit or telehealth appointment with your primary care provider to discuss if one is right for you!