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Should You Try an Elimination Diet?

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Elimination diet. The name sounds kind of scary…and very restrictive. An elimination diet is not a long-term “way of life” diet but more a relatively short-term dietary experiment that could help you feel better and a lead to a healthier future.

What is an elimination diet?

The goal of an elimination diet is not to lose weight but to identify a food that you might have a sensitivity or allergy to. It is recommended that elimination diets be undertaken with the supervision of a doctor who can ensure that you continue to take in the right amount of nutrients for your lifestyle and activity level.

An elimination diet is not a quick fix as it can take several weeks of eliminating specific foods to figure out which one may be the source of an allergy or sensitivity.

Who should try an elimination diet?

Those who are having unexplained gastrointestinal issues such as pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc. might want to try an elimination diet to see if what they are eating might be the source of the problem.

Food sensitivities and allergies have been linked to autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis as well as other conditions such as asthma, skin disorders, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, mood disorders, ADD/ADHD, migraines, kidney problems, and narcolepsy.

Because of the number of illnesses linked to food allergies and sensitivities, those who are suffering from any of these might consider an elimination diet to determine if they are caused by a specific food or groups of food.

Although there are many ways to treat gastrointestinal disorders depending on the symptoms, one of the easiest and least costly is an elimination diet.

How an elimination diet works

The most successful elimination diets remove the most foods, which gives a greater chance to pinpoint exactly what might be causing the gastrointestinal symptoms mentioned above.

It is suggested that you keep a food journal while embarking on an elimination diet so you can keep track of what foods you have eliminated and when and what foods you reintroduce and when, as well as what symptoms you have or don’t have when foods are eliminated or reintroduced.

The easiest way to get started is to eliminate the foods that are the most common causes of allergies or sensitivities. These include milk, eggs, gluten, nuts, shellfish, and soy. Next up might be corn, pork, chicken, beef, beans, lentils, citrus fruits, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, nuts, and coffee, which also might be potential allergens.

You also may consider eliminating foods that you eat on a daily basis or very frequently. You might find that the food you eat most often is the source of trouble. Sometimes, eating too much of one thing over a number of years can result in an intolerance.

In addition to keeping notes in a food journal, elimination diets require a good bit of time scrutinizing food labels to ensure that you aren’t unknowingly eating something you have eliminated. If you are eliminating gluten, for example, it is obvious that regular bread, pizza, pasta, cookies, crackers, and doughnuts are off limits. But gluten can be found in a wide variety of things you wouldn’t expect—canned tomato soup, vitamins, chewing gum and toothpaste, for instance. Be diligent about reading labels so you know exactly what you are eating.

How long should an elimination diet last?

There is no prescribed length of time for an elimination diet but 7 to 10 days is common. It really depends on how long it takes to pinpoint the food causing the allergy or sensitivity. Some elimination diets can go for weeks or even months before the food culprit is found. And in some cases, elimination diets are not successful at all because something else is the source of the problem.

Reintroducing eliminated foods

The purpose of an elimination diet is not to restrict your consumption of potential allergens forever but to eliminate them from your diet and then reintroduce them to see if your symptoms recur. You can only do this of course if your symptoms have improved or are completely gone.

One by one, start reintroducing the eliminated foods back into your diet and see if the symptoms return. It is suggested that you add back a new food and then wait for two days to watch for symptoms before introducing another new food. This is where that food journal comes in handy to keep track of foods that are reintroduced to your diet and potential reactions to them.

You can now see why the process of elimination and reintroduction of foods can span weeks or even months depending on the number of foods you eliminate and then later reintroduce.

Training while on an elimination diet

Continuing to train while on an elimination diet is fine as long as you are taking in the proper nutrients in the right amounts to compensate for the foods you have eliminated.  And of course, it depends on what foods you are eliminating. If you have a hunch that coffee is causing your digestive woes and that is the first thing you are eliminating, you don’t need to be concerned about compensating for its absence. But if you are eliminating things like gluten, dairy, and meat, you will need to make sure you are getting those nutrients from other sources.

Depending on the symptoms that caused you to begin the elimination diet in the first place, you may not feel well enough to continue your current level of training. Those who are experiencing gastrointestinal cramping, diarrhea, bloating, etc. might be too sick to train and taking some time off during the elimination diet may be beneficial.

In either case, you may want to consult with your doctor or a nutrition professional prior to beginning an elimination diet to make sure that you aren’t too sick to train and also to ensure that you get enough nutrients from other sources to continue to fuel your training appropriately.

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