Elimination Diet 101: How to Identify and Eliminate Problem Foods

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Food intolerances affect anywhere from 2 – 20% of the population but an elimination diet may very well be the answer for finally getting down to the root of the problem. Food specialists and health experts have been using elimination diets for decades to help people identify the ingredients causing their digestive system to be in distress. It’s a strategic eating plan that consists of – you guessed it – eliminating foods commonly known to cause inflammation and symptoms associated with food intolerances. In this article, we cover everything there is to know so you can start eliminating and start enjoying all of the foods that make you feel good.

What is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is a term used to describe a category of short-term, strategic diet plans that are designed to help you identify the items wreaking havoc in your GI tract and your body as a whole. These types of dieting plans consist of removing foods commonly linked to causing inflammation and other symptoms, such as indigestion, skin irritation, headaches, anxiety, depression, allergies, and so on and so forth.  The foods are then later reintroduced, one-by-one, so you can spot any symptoms that are being caused as a reaction to said food. 

For example, elimination diets are separated into two phases:

  • The Elimination Phase: Involves removing foods you suspect to be triggering your symptoms, as well as foods known to cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as corn, nuts, soy, dairy, citrus fruits, wheat, gluten, eggs, and seafood. This phase typically lasts between 2 to 3 weeks.
  • The Reintroduction Phase: Involves slowly bringing the eliminated foods back into your diet, one at a time. You typically have 2 to 3 days in between each reintroduction to ensure you can accurately identify any symptoms and the food causes them. Some types of symptoms to look for include: rashes, skin irritation (psoriasis, acne, eczema), headaches, migraines, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, changes in breathing, indigestion (bloating, stomach pains, constipation, gas, diarrhea) increased anxiety, depression, brain fog, swelling and so on and so forth.

If you are able to successfully add a food item back into your diet without any symptoms, you can assume that it is not one of your triggers and can continue eating it. On the other hand, if you do spot any symptoms, you have successfully identified a trigger food and should remove it from your diet.

The entire process generally takes 5 to 6 weeks, depending on how many items are being eliminated and reintroduced. And if you add

Types of Elimination Diets

There are a variety of different types of elimination diets, all of which follow the same elimination-reintroduction process of certain types of foods. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the one that is best designed for you, or you can take a look at the options below.

For starters, here is a general breakdown of the common types:

  • Simple or modified diet: A basic elimination diet that involves removing just one or two common food allergy triggers. Wheat, gluten and dairy are usually the categories focused on.
  • Moderate intensity diet: This diet plan consists of removing several groups of foods all at once, including alcohol, all animal and vegetable fats, certain fruits and vegetables, chocolate, coffee, tea, soda, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, wheat and yeast products.
  • Strict elimination diet: In more serious cases, you may choose to use the strictest type of elimination diets, which consists of eating only one selected group of foods. Commonly permitted items include some fruits and vegetables, chicken, honey, lamb, olive oil, rice (cakes and cereal), safflower oil, salt, and white vinegar. 

Drinking an abundance of water is highly recommended, regardless of the level of elimination diet you choose.

Here’s a look at some examples of common elimination diets that focus on removing specific food or categories of foods include:

  • Low-FODMAP diet: Removes short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult to digest
  • Few foods elimination diet: Removes a combination of foods you don’t regularly eat
  • Rare foods elimination diet: Removes food items you rarely eat
  • Fasting elimination diet: Consists of drinking water for 5 days or less and then reintroducing food groups.
  • Lactose-free diet: Removes all foods containing lactose.
  • Sugar-free diet: Removes all foods containing sugar or certain types of sugar.
  • Gluten-free diet: Removes all foods containing gluten.
  • Wheat-free diet: Removes all food containing wheat.

As such, what you can and cannot eat while on an elimination diet highly depends on the type you’re following and the reasons behind it.

Benefits of Using an Elimination Diet

The main purpose (and benefit) of elimination diets is to identify which foods are causing your uncomfortable symptoms, so you can remove them from your diet entirely. However, they can also come with a handful of additional health advantages, such as:

Reduce Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

Various studies have found that an elimination diet helps to improve symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, such as gas, bloating and stomach pains. In fact, people were able to reduce their symptoms by up to 26%.

Decrease Symptoms of ADHD

Those dealing with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly referred to as ADHD for short, have reported seeing a significant reduction in their symptoms when on an elimination diet. This was particularly true for children with known food sensitivities. 

Improve Skin Conditions

Elimination diets can have a positive effect on skin conditions, such as eczema, acne and psoriasis. This is particularly true if you experience symptoms worsen when eating specific foods.

Help Treat Chronic Migraines

Chronic migraines affect 2 to 3 million Americans, with the causes still being unclear. However, research suggests that inflammation may be a possible trigger. Since elimination diets remove foods known to cause inflammation, those following an elimination diet have seen a reduction in their migraines. 

Increased Energy and Mental Clarity

Elimination diets don’t just eliminate foods; they can also eliminate brain fog bogging you down throughout the day. After the initial detox phase, you may start to feel more energized and have more mental clarity.

Types of Issues an Elimination Diet Can Help With

An elimination diet can be used to help tackle a variety of different health conditions and concerns. As we saw from the list above, it has been proven to be beneficial for people with IBS, migraines, ADHD and skin conditions, but that’s only the beginning.

Here’s a quick look at all of the conditions elimination diets can help with:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders, such as Irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance
  • Chronic migraines and headaches
  • Celiac diseases: an immune reaction to eating gluten
  • ADHD: a common neurodevelopmental disorder that causes difficulties with paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours and being overly active
  • Skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis
  • Esophagitis: a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the esophagus
  • Food allergies
  • Food sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity

Elimination diets can be an effective way to identify and remove any food triggers that are causing your symptoms. It involves a strategic process of eliminating and reintroducing specific foods or categories of food, and can be used to treat a vast array of health concerns and conditions. The process can be done right at home or you may wish to speak with a healthcare provider.

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