What Is An Elimination Diet and When Might I Need One?
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What Is An Elimination Diet and When Might I Need One?

What Is An Elimination Diet and When Might I Need One?

Posted 17 days ago

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

If you’re struggling with unexplained bathroom troubles, persistent brain fog, or constant skin rashes, you may be wondering if what you’re eating has anything to do with your symptoms.

It’s definitely possible. The gut microbiome affects all of these bodily systems and processes, and the health of your gut microbiome is profoundly impacted by what you eat.

Elimination diets can help you identify which foods may be exacerbating your problems. If you’re interested in trying an elimination diet, here’s some need-to-know info.

What Are Elimination Diets?

Elimination diets are designed to help you identify foods that may trigger health issues. They are strict, short-term plans that focus initially on eliminating the most common foods that trigger particular health issues. After a few weeks of completely avoiding these foods, you slowly reintroduce them one-by-one so you can assess how your body responds. If your body responds negatively, then you should continue avoiding that food.

Because of their strict nature, elimination diets are designed to be temporary. Although you may stick with some portions of the diet to avoid foods that you respond negatively to, you’ll likely be able to reintroduce many foods that don’t cause any issues as well.

Some well-known elimination diets include the low FODMAP diet, the Autoimmune Protocol, and the Whole30 program.

You can even create your own elimination diet, particularly if you suspect that a certain food is causing you problems. You’ll need to strictly avoid the suspected trigger food for at least 2 weeks, then try a serving again and see how your body responds to it. If you have a poor response, it may well be contributing to your health concerns. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to follow up with your healthcare provider after uncovering a potential link between a food sensitivity and your symptoms.

Who Could Benefit from an Elimination Diet?

People may use elimination diets to troubleshoot digestive issues, skin problems, fatigue, allergies, pain, inflammation, and more.

The gut plays a role in a number of body functions — from mood and cognition to digestion, blood sugar control, immune activity, skin integrity, and more. If you’re eating food that irritates your gut, it could have far-reaching effects on your health. 

For this reason, unexplained health issues may motivate you to try an elimination diet. Just remember, if you have any underlying health conditions to let your healthcare provider know your plans.

Potential Benefits

The major potential benefit of elimination diets is that they help you identify trigger foods so you can remove them from your diet and experience improvements in your symptoms and quality of life.

Depending on your purpose for following an elimination diet, the symptoms that improve for you may vary. However, some people report:

  • Fewer allergic skin rashes
  • Fewer bouts of constipation or diarrhea
  • Less abdominal pain
  • More alertness
  • Less brain fog
  • Better mood
  • Less bloating and gas
  • Less joint pain

Potential Downsides

Elimination diets can seem very strict and hard to stick to, especially during the initial phases when you must adhere very carefully to the diet.

They may also be expensive and time-consuming because you’ll likely need to purchase specific or specialty ingredients and cook all of your meals and snacks at home.

Common Types of Elimination Diets

Here’s a quick run-through of some of the most common elimination diets.

Low FODMAP Diet

The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet used to help manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), characterized by constipation, diarrhea, or both — along with bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.

FODMAPs — fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols — are sugars that move slowly through the gut, collecting water and fermenting into excessive gas. This can lead to pain and digestive problems in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found in a variety of foods — including wheat, legumes, milk, and certain fruits and vegetables.

However, a low FODMAP diet has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms.[*][*]

Autoimmune Protocol

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a stricter version of the paleo diet that incorporates elements of elimination diets to help improve the symptoms of autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders develop when the immune system is overactive and mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy cells. They are often characterized by widespread inflammation, which can be due in part to gut health problems.[*][*]

Autoimmune disorders that may improve from following the AIP diet include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and inflammatory bowel disease. Other conditions may also improve from using AIP, but there is scientific evidence for these two conditions in particular.[*][*]

AIP utilizes paleo principles (no wheat, grains, dairy, legumes, or processed foods), but also requires you to avoid all sugar substitutes, eggs, tomatoes, nightshade vegetables, coffee, alcohol, nuts, and seeds during the initial elimination phase.

Whole30

Whole30 is a popular, Paleo-style diet that’s designed to be followed for just 30 days. Although you can use the diet as an elimination diet by slowly reintroducing foods after the 30 days are up, many people may also use the Whole30 as a “reset” or as a way to lose weight.

On the Whole30 program, you must completely eliminate added sugar in any form, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, sulfites, or “healthy” versions of junk food — like Keto waffles or Paleo ice cream.[*]

Commonly Eliminated Foods

Many elimination diets require you to eliminate the same foods because these foods can trigger a wide variety of health problems in large numbers of people. Commonly eliminated foods include:

Commonly Safe Foods

On the other hand, many elimination diets also have “safe” foods in common as well. These are nutrient-rich foods that most people have no problems tolerating. These include:

  • Plain meats, like beef, chicken, or pork
  • Non-starchy vegetables, like zucchini and greens
  • Fruits like berries, banana, and grapes
  • Cold-pressed cooking oils, like coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil

However, it’s important to note that many fruits and vegetables are high in FODMAPs, so the low FODMAP diet may differ from other elimination diets in this regard. You will also want to take a closer look at the fruits, veggies, fats and proteins you consume if you suspect oxalate, lectin, histamine, or salicylate sensitivity.

Food Reintroduction

Food reintroduction is a crucial part of any elimination diet. Although the exact steps and timing may differ depending on what type of elimination diet you’re following, they all include reintroduction as a necessary step.

After all, if certain foods don’t affect you, there’s no need for you to avoid them indefinitely.

In reintroduction, you will slowly reintroduce foods one at a time — paying careful attention to how your body responds. If some of your old symptoms return, it’s likely that the food you reintroduced is a trigger food for you. Now you know, so you can continue to avoid it. On the other hand, if you don’t have any issues as a result of consuming the food, you can safely reintroduce it into your  diet.

Top 5 Tips for Successfully Managing an Elimination Diet

Here are our top five tips for successfully navigating elimination diets, along with some of the ways that you can use the Carb Manager app to help you stay organized and on plan:

  1. Keep detailed food logs and notes. Especially when you begin reintroducing foods, it’s important to keep really detailed logs of your food and symptoms. Carb Manager provides all the tools you need to do this with our comprehensive food database and a handy notes section on each daily log.
  2. Plan and prep in advance. With any elimination diet, you’ll need to do a lot of planning and advance prep to stay on track. Fortunately, Carb Manager Premium offers recipes, meal planning tools, and personalized grocery lists to help you do just that.
  3. Keep a reference list with you at all times. Whether it’s an app or a screenshot, it’s a good idea to keep a reference list of foods you can eat and foods to avoid on your phone. Even if you’ve planned and prepped in advance, sometimes it may be unavoidable to have to grab a meal or snack on the road — and you’ll need your reference guide handy for that.
  4. Go slow. Many elimination diets have a very strict timeline for food reintroduction. This is so you can adequately gauge how a certain food affects you. For instance, the low FODMAP diet recommends reintroducing a single high FODMAP food daily for three days in a row, but only after you’ve been on a strict low FODMAP diet for at least 2 weeks. It can be tempting to rush through this process, but that might make it more difficult to figure out exactly which foods trigger your symptoms. 
  5. Get professional help. Elimination diets can be tricky to manage. If you’re struggling at all, it’s more than worth it to connect with a dietitian who has experience with the elimination diet you’re doing. They can help you choose the right foods, navigate your way through the reintroduction process, and ease any lingering doubts you may have about doing it wrong.

Ready to get started? Be sure to use all of the resources available on Carb Manager, like our recipes that are specifically designed for low FODMAP, AIP, and Whole30 — as well as our meal planning and grocery list tools. And definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for more help.