Have you ever heard not to drink milk so your skin doesn’t break out? Most likely, you have. When I was in high school everyone told me to avoid dairy and sugar if I didn’t want to be constantly picking at my chin with new breakouts. Not eating dairy in an effort to avoid breakouts is an example of a food sensitivity. The goal for elimination diets is to try to and uncover food sensitivities aka those foods giving you symptoms like a breakout.
Food sensitivities can cause a variety of symptoms from skin problems like eczema and acne to digestive problems like bloating, gas and constipation.
Quick note, food sensitivities are different than food allergies. Food allergies can be life-threatening therefore you would never eat a food you are allergic too. Food sensitivities do not have that potential to be life-threatening.
It isn’t always easy to pick which food is going to give you symptoms, this is where elimination diets come into play.
What is exactly is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet has two phases. First, it removes suspected food sensitivities for a period of time, usually about 30 days, with a second phase that is a reintroduction of those foods you took out.
What can you eat on a 6 or 8 food elimination diet?
A 6 food and 8 food elimination diet are pretty similar. Typically the top 8 allergens would be removed from the diet. This would be wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, peanuts, nuts, dairy, eggs. And a 6 food elimination diet includes the foods previously mentioned but also considers the categories of tree nuts/peanuts as all nuts and fish/shellfish to be all seafood.
There are other foods that might be included in the elimination phase like corn, gluten (this would include the other gluten grains like rye and barley), alcohol, coffee or refined sugar.
This means any other foods not listed above would be fair game. An example day on an elimination diet might look like oatmeal with bananas in the morning for breakfast (make sure to get certified gluten-free), chicken lettuce wraps for lunch, shredded beef with potatoes or rice and broccoli for dinner.
How long does an elimination diet last?
During the first phase, foods are removed for a short period of time, usually about 30 days. The second phase of the elimination diet would be a gradual reintroduction of the foods you have taken out. The pace of reintroduction can be fast or slow. It might look like one new food a day or slower like one new food every 2-3 days.
Do elimination diets work?
Yes and no. Elimination diets can be really helpful for a lot of people. They help build a deeper awareness of how food affects the body. You might notice that when you remove foods you start to feel better. This is why it is critical you keep a food diary while you are going through the process. Food sensitivities are delayed reactions. This means you can eat something Monday and not feel the effects until Wednesday. Download my free diary here to use while going through the process. A food diary is my #1 tool to use during elimination diets.
Everyone has different food sensitivities. This is why general elimination diets might not be successful for you.
The reason why general elimination diets are not helpful for some people is that they will often eliminate the wrong foods. So let’s say you avoid eating peanuts and you start eating sunflower seeds instead. Well, you could be totally fine with peanuts but sunflower seeds are actually a food that causes you symptoms aka a personal food sensitivity for you.
When people try general elimination diets and find little or no success and their symptoms are still not improving this is when I recommend a personalized elimination diet.
What is the best elimination diet?
The best elimination is one that is specific and personalized to each person. When I work with my clients they have already tried doing a general elimination diet and found some success but nothing significant. Oftentimes they will tell me it worked during the elimination phase but once they started reintroducing foods their symptoms came back.
I develop a personalized elimination diet using blood testing to identify your specific food sensitivities so you aren’t shooting in the dark. A personalized plan for reintroduction of those foods is also a big part of the process. No one wants to eat 20 foods for the rest of their life. In fact, so many people are surprised when they realize they can eat more food than they did while on the general elimination diet!
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.