Elimination diets sound scarier than they are. What makes them even more confusing is the fact that health experts and lifestyle gurus disagree on whether or not they’re good or bad. Regardless of what you’ve heard before, here are five things you need to know about elimination diets, plus a quick guide on how to get started.
1. Elimination diets are not about eliminating foods. They're about finding the foods that work best for your body.
Sure, you eliminate some foods in an elimination diet, but it's short-term and so that you can identify “trigger foods.” More importantly for the long-term, an elimination diet helps identify the foods that will nourish and delight without causing negative side effects.
2. Elimination diets have two main phases.
Most of the time, when people think about elimination diets, they're referring to a diet is a relatively short-term eating plan to identify “trigger foods” as well as “safe foods.” Once the diagnostic diet is done, it’s important to build a healthful diet full of safe foods only. This is also known as a maintenance phase elimination diet.
3. Elimination diets are different for everyone.
While human beings have a lot in common, there is also a lot that makes us unique individuals, from variations in our DNA to our environmental exposures. That means a grilled cheese sandwich may be lunch for one person (yum!), but a stomach ache to another.
That’s why there is no single definitive elimination diet. They are customized to the individual. This is important to understand because there is a lot of misinformation out there. For example, if a celeb tells you not to eat, say, grapefruit, does that mean grapefruit is bad for everyone?
Unless your body doesn’t like it, why deprive yourself of a perfectly good source of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants, not to mention its fresh, sweet-tart flavor? The more options we omnivores have, the easier it is to build a healthy diet.
4. They are not a fad.
The elimination diet as a more formal therapy for food sensitivities has its root in 1920s medicine.
5. Elimination diets can help identify allergies and optimize health.
Not all food sensitivities are easy to test for, and that’s why clinicians are still using elimination diets as part of their diagnosis process. In addition to food allergies and sensitivities, there is something to be said for eliminating “junk” from the diet.
Who wouldn’t benefit from that? This kind of elimination diet isn’t about eliminating foods that attack the body in an individualized way; instead, it’s about cleaning up the diet so that it provides optimal foods for optimal health to live an energized, active life. Rather than address the absence of disease, it’s about the presence of health.
How to get started
First, I’ll note that it’s always smart to work with a qualified registered dietitian or allergist with nutrition expertise. An elimination diet has five basic phases:
1. The assessment phase includes keeping and analyzing a food and symptom tracker.
2. The planning phase involves preparing yourself, your household, your kitchen, and your grocery lists for what you’re about to do.
3. The avoidance phase is when you eat according to the elimination diet, and you put a lot of your preparation and planning into action.
4. The challenge phase is when you start to reintroduce foods, one at a time, into your diet to determine whether they are safe for you.
5. The change phase is when you incorporate changes to the way you will eat for the long term, so that you can keep your symptoms at bay.
Here’s an elimination diet that can help just about everyone. It eliminates processed foods and artificial ingredients.
- Most packaged foods (But use common sense! Brown rice in a bag is OK, for example.)
- Multi-ingredient foods (Again, use good judgement!)
Keep in mind that it’s not personalized to you, and is meant for a generally healthy person. Give it a try for a few weeks, and see how much better you feel.
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