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What’s an Elimination Diet, and Should You Try One?

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You’ve probably heard of elimination diets from friends or family, or on social media. The main reason people go on one is to discover which foods they have an allergy or intolerance to. As you probably guessed from the name, they do this by eliminating certain foods from their diet for a while.

The intent of an elimination diet is to discover which foods or ingredients are causing problems. You won’t starve on one. However, we won’t lie, you might feel like you are because you’ll have to avoid some of your favorite foods for a few weeks or longer. And it can feel like forever.

Still, these special diets can be integral in resolving symptoms that might have plagued you for years. Below, we’ll look at how elimination diets work, and what they can reveal about the foods you eat.

How Do You Go on an Elimination Diet?

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Elimination diets are all different. Some folks might only have to eliminate one thing from their diet, while others might have to eliminate a few.

For example, if there’s a chance you might have a gluten intolerance, your doctor might suggest you stay away from it for a few weeks or even a month. As you’ll quickly find out, breads and grains have high amounts of gluten. So it’s bye-bye to breads, pastas, cereal, and even beer, for a bit.

After you’ve been gluten-free for the designated amount of time, you’ll slowly introduce it back into your diet, while monitoring your body’s reaction.

If you’re having trouble breathing after meals, experiencing itching, or having any other allergy symptoms, your doctor might suggest you remove foods that are common allergens. Again, you won’t permanently have to remove them—unless, of course, you find out through your elimination diet that one of them is the culprit.

Then, instead of introducing all of the allergens back into your diet simultaneously, you do so gradually, adding one back each week or two. Your doctor might also recommend that you keep a food journal to track your experiences with each food as you add it back.

Introducing only one food back each week or two, gives your body a chance to react to it—or not. You can attempt an elimination diet on your own, but it’s always best to discuss any drastic changes to your diet with your doctor first. This is especially true if you’re on any prescription medications or have any heart issues.

Unless you discover that one of the foods you’ve tested was making you sick, elimination diets aren’t meant to be permanent. A well-balanced diet is good for your health, and skipping certain foods constantly can alter your overall health.

If you discover that you do have to cut out gluten, you’ll need to find another source from which you can get the vitamins and nutrients in gluten-rich foods. For example, you could increase your intake of fiber via fiber-rich vegetables.

Should You Try an Elimination Diet?

A woman on a couch with an upset stomach.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Not sure if an elimination diet is right for you? Food intolerances and allergies can have many negative effects on your health, so the first thing to do is figure out if you’re experiencing any of these.

Below are some common symptoms you might experience if you have a food intolerance or allergy:

  • You often feel fatigued: Many things can cause fatigue, but inflammation is one of them. To find out for sure, eliminating inflammatory foods like refined sugars and nightshade vegetables might be helpful.
  • Digestion problems soon after meals: Whether it’s constipation or diarrhea, this could be a sign of a food intolerance, IBS, or something else. If your doctor has tested you and come up with nothing, an elimination diet might help.
  • Mild allergy symptoms: Not all reactions to a food allergy require an immediate trip to the emergency room. Mild symptoms include stomach distress, itching, wheezing, nasal congestion, and more.

It’s best to speak to your doctor before trying an elimination diet if you’re regularly experiencing any of the symptoms above. He or she might want to test you for other issues first based on your lifestyle or medical history.

If you do end up going on an elimination diet, just remember—you’ll be able to have some spaghetti with garlic bread again in just a few weeks. In the meantime, some salad recipes will probably come in handy.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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