What is an Elimination Diet and How to Start One?

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    With so many different kinds of food available today, the options seem limitless. However, this abundance has also led to a rise in both food allergies and gastrointestinal issues. It’s estimated that approximately and at least .

    Elimination diets present an opportunity for you and other Americans to take back control of your health by finding out which foods you should avoid.

    In this article, we’ll answer some fundamental questions about elimination diets and explore how your body can be given a chance to heal through this process. But, first, we’ll discuss the basics and even to provide you with the info you need to start an elimination diet and follow through successfully.

    food commonly avoid  - remove gluten

    What is an elimination diet?

    An elimination diet is the removal of foods from your diet to identify allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities. There are generally two phases involved.

    The first is an elimination phase, where you abstain from eating any foods you have chosen to eliminate. This usually lasts anywhere from four to six weeks.

    The second is a reintroduction phase where eliminated foods are slowly introduced again. This is done one-by-one at a slow rate to observe how your body responds and reacts to each food. Most doctors and dietitians recommend about one food per week.

    As you go through this process, be on the lookout for stomach pain, cramps, changes in bowel movements, and bloating. Other signs the food you’ve just reintroduced may not be suitable for you include headaches, migraines, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, joint pain, rashes, or other skin changes.

    What foods are commonly avoided in an elimination diet?

    Generally, people don’t reach the point of going through an elimination diet unless they are pretty desperate to find out what is bothering them. For this reason, it’s good to go as hardcore as possible and restrict as many potential aggravators as possible.

    Food and drinks you should consider eliminating include:

    • Dairy: This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, sour cream, ice cream and kefir.
    • Grains: No corn, rice, quinoa, wheat, millet, rye, buckwheat, bulgur, sprouted grains and oats. In general, this will also remove gluten from your diet.
    • Legumes: No beans or lentils of any type, including soy, chickpeas, peas and peanuts.
    • Nuts and Seeds: Cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and all of their oils, dairy-alternative milks, butters and flours.
    • Citrus: Don’t eat citrus fruits or consume any juices or products that use them as an ingredient. This includes oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes, to name a few.
    • Alcohol: This includes for drinking, cooking and even in your supplements or tinctures.
    • Food Additives, Stabilizers and Preservatives: Some notable ones are carrageenan, MSG, sulfites and anything that ends with “-amine.” But the list does go on!
    • Certain Animal Proteins: Some animal proteins, such as eggs, shellfish and beef, cause reactions of varying intensities. Avoid as many as possible that you’re unsure about. 

    What should I do before starting?

    An elimination diet is a serious thing, and there can be no “slips” or “cheat days” like when we’re eating for a calorie deficit to drop weight. Even minor setbacks or mistakes may be grounds to restart the process again.

    For this reason, it’s imperative to look ahead and plan appropriately.

    Meal planning and preparation are going to be invaluable to you, especially during the initial elimination phase. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to grab whatever’s convenient.

    Also, look ahead at your social calendar. Group dinners, holidays, and more need to be factored in. Don’t use them as an excuse not to do your elimination diet. Just consider how you’ll accommodate yourself.

    Who should consider an elimination diet?

    Anyone with suspected food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities can do an elimination diet. For example, suppose you’re having gastrointestinal discomfort or skin and rash issues after eating but can’t pinpoint easily what is causing them. In that case, an elimination diet will set the stage for this discovery.

    How do I get started?

    If you currently deal with any serious medical issues or suspect a serious food allergy, it’s best to work with your doctor or a trained nutritionist when embarking on an elimination diet. They may recommend getting allergy tests done first as a way to identify specific foods from the get-go.

    Also, suppose you’re helping a child or growing teen with an elimination diet. In that case, it’s also important to consult a healthcare professional. As elimination diets require restricting many food types and groups, it may interfere with natural developmental processes.

    If you fall into neither of these categories, simply make the list of foods you will be avoiding and plan your shopping and eating out accordingly. Once you have everything prepared, set a start and end date for the elimination phase. Again, four to six weeks is good.

    Then, plan your reintroduction phase. Take your list of foods you’ve eliminated and turn them into a reintroduction schedule. One food per week is a nice, slow pace. But you might go as quickly as every three days. Get yourself a journal and keep notes on how each food makes you feel as you add them back to your diet.

    You may also want to consider having an accountability buddy during this program or someone you are doing the elimination diet with. This will take some of the psychological impacts out of the process and help you feel less alone as your body goes through changes.

    After you have all this sorted, it’s time for kickoff!

    What should I do after?

    After you’re done reintroducing foods, you’ll have a list of those that didn’t cause you any problems and those that did. Then, the hard part is over!

    Obviously, anything that caused significant allergic reactions or intense gastrointestinal discomfort should be avoided.

    However, those that you’re only slightly sensitive or intolerant to may be harder to make your mind up about. In some cases, adding digestive enzymes or , that aid in gut health to your routine will be enough to cope with the little things.

    Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the food you eat. But the less you indulge in things you know will bother you, the better you’ll feel. As a result, your physical, mental and emotional health will all benefit. And though life may be slightly less delicious, it will be all the more enjoyable without the constant issues caused by those foods.