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If you’ve come across the diets like keto, paleo, and the Whole30 diet, then you probably know that most diets involve some form of elimination of foods – or even entire food groups.
It is easy to think that these types of diets are ‘elimination diets’, however, a true elimination diet is quite different.
Firstly – it is done for health reasons, not for weight loss. An elimination diet is conducted to determine any food allergies and food intolerances you may have.
And secondly – while popular diets are self-prescribed, an elimination diet should be conducted under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Food intolerances (and to a lesser extent, allergies) are surprisingly common. An estimated 15 million adults in the US suffer from food allergies, and it is estimated that worldwide, anywhere between 2-20% of people suffer from food intolerances.
Food intolerances can be triggered either through the natural compounds found in foods (such as natural sugars or proteins), or by the common food additives (which include antioxidants, flavor enhancers, natural and artificial colors, and preservatives).
Many of the tests used to identify specific allergens can be unreliable. But – clinical experience shows that one of the best tools for identifying food allergies and intolerances is the elimination diet.
What Is An Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your diet (generally ones that are known for causing allergies and intolerances), and then later reintroducing them one at a time and noting any symptoms.
It is a short-term plan that can take around 5-6 weeks. It is not recommended to do long-term as it can cause nutrient deficiencies. And, it generally cannot be done in a short time period, as 3 weeks is the minimum amount of time needed to heal from sensitivities and notice an improvement in symptoms. This is because it is believed that antibodies (the proteins that your immune system makes when it is negatively reacting to foods), take around 3 weeks to dissipate.
The most common foods that elimination during the elimination diet includes:
- Refined/added sugar
- Eggs, in some cases
- Usually all packaged, processed or fast foods
- Certain nightshades
Who Should Do An Elimination Diet?
If you suffer from bloating, constipation, persistent diarrhea, eczema, migraines, and acne, then you should definitely consider doing the elimination diet.
If you are feeling generally more sluggish and tired than usual, then an elimination diet may be more extreme than needed. Start with cleaning up your diet of processed foods and sugars, adding in more whole foods, then see how you feel.
What Are The Benefits Of An Elimination Diet?
Identifying – and then removing – allergies and intolerances are vital for your overall health.
By removing the foods that are causing your symptoms, you will get the benefit of reducing or completely eliminating symptoms.
But – another benefit is that you will also likely experience improved nutrient intake overall. This is because your immune system is no longer burdened by these foods and your body has been allowed to repair and heal.
How To Do An Elimination Diet
As I’ve mentioned already – it is important to do an elimination under the supervision of a trained medical or health professional, so please don’t try to follow these steps on your own!
A standard elimination diet has 4 steps – planning, avoiding, challenging, and then creating a new long-term diet.
Step 1: Planning
In addition to the list of the most common food allergies and intolerances, it's also important to know what your body specifically has difficulty tolerating.
In the planning phase, you will keep a food journal for a week, taking note of what you ate as well as the symptoms you experience throughout the day.
Your healthcare professional will then provide you with a list of foods you can and can’t eat during your elimination/avoiding stage.
Step 2: Avoiding
For two weeks, you will follow the elimination diet – sticking to the list that was drawn up in the previous step. No exceptions! If you slip up, you’ll need to start over as this affects the results (and remember – this is not safe to do long-term).
Check all labels carefully – if you are avoiding dairy, for example, you will need to look out for ingredients such as whey, casein, and lactose.
It will be easier if you stick to whole foods during this time, and avoid eating out.
Having some simple elimination diet recipes will be very helpful for this step!
You may notice your symptoms worsening a bit in the first week, and then start to improve. However – if you notice that your symptoms increase for more than a couple days, or become severe, then consult your healthcare practitioner.
Step 3: Challenging
This is the time when you’ll start to reintroduce foods or food groups, one at a time.
It will feel like a slow, painful process. But it is important to do properly so you can clearly identify the offending food.
You will only reintroduce one new food every 3 days minimum, as it takes up to 3 days for symptoms to appear.
Start with a small amount in the morning. If no symptoms appear, try two larger portions in the afternoon and then the evening. Then stop, and wait another two days for any symptoms.
If you experience no symptoms, then the food is safe to add back to your diet. But – don’t add it in just yet. Waiting until you have finished the “Challenging” step and worked through all the problem foods first.
Step 4: Create A new Long-Term Diet
Once you have made your way through testing all the problem foods, and you know what foods you need to avoid, you can develop a healthy, nutrient-rich diet to follow.
It is important to develop this in conjunction with a healthcare practitioner, as they will be able to make recommendations on what to include in your diet, to make up for the nutrients you will be lacking from eliminating certain foods or food groups.
Want to learn how you can get started with a keto diet? Learn how starting a keto can change your life!
What To Know Before You Start An Elimination Diet?
Elimination Diets Are Not Weight-Loss Diets
Elimination diets are not intended for weight loss and are not recommended if your goal is simply to lose weight. They are specifically used to pinpoint food intolerances and allergies and are too restrictive to follow for any length of time after the recommended duration.
An Elimination Diet Should Be Done Under Supervision
And I’m not talking about your best friend’s sister’s neighbor who just took an online course and is now a health coach. I’m talking about a trained, qualified, and experience medical or health professional who knows how to conduct an elimination diet properly and safely.
A medical professional will be able to order the appropriate tests in order to confirm if the symptoms are indeed diet-related, rather than representing a more serious underlying cause.
Due to the restrictions of an elimination diet, it can lead to nutritional inadequacies. This can be a problem for children, the elderly, and diabetics.
It is critical for you to choose a qualified and experienced health or medical professional to take you through this process.
Elimination Diets May Need To Be Done More Than Once
Allergies can appear out of nowhere. One day you’re enjoying your almond butter and celery snack, the next day you break out in hives!
Food intolerances and allergies can change with age, because of environmental factors, or even with pregnancy. New allergies can appear, and old allergies can disappear.
Conducting an elimination diet every few years – or as soon as you notice the symptoms reappearing – will be helpful.
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