Do you suffer from digestive concerns (gas, bloating, constipation), low energy, symptoms of inflammation, autoimmune disease, mental health concerns, or hormone imbalance? You won’t have to look far before finding an elimination diet that promises a cure. 


What is an elimination diet?

Elimination diets are meant to be short-term plans that remove suspected foods to see if physical symptoms are reduced or resolved. This should be followed by a structured reintroduction phase with the goal of having the least restrictions possible. These are not appropriate for food allergies but are often prescribed for food intolerances and sensitivities. When done well, they can identify problematic foods and improve physical symptoms. However, elimination diets are complex. They are often prescribed inappropriately and aren’t without risks. Possible side effects include:

·       Malnutrition – When foods are restricted, there will be nutritional implications. If these aren’t considered and planned for, there can be immediate and long-term effects.

·       Increased stress – Navigating an elimination diet is difficult. It will require planning and cooking, eliminate many convenience items and be especially challenging while travelling and socializing. Stress may play a role in some of the physical symptoms you are trying to heal, which will make evaluating the plan difficult.

·       Less varied gut microbiome (the healthy bacteria in your gut) – Limited food choices results in less varied fuel for your gut microbiome. An unhealthy microbiome may also contribute to physical symptoms.

·       Difficulty getting a real diagnosis – This point is especially true for Celiac disease but may be true for other conditions as well. I highly recommend this short video from an RD who specializes in gut disorders to explain why this is.  

 

Let me be the first to acknowledge that food sensitivities are hard and there is certainly a time and place for elimination diets. However, they are not right or necessary for everyone. How do you assess if one is right for you? Here are three questions to ask yourself before jumping in.

1.     Is food really the problem? We live in a society that is hyper-consumed with health, specifically with the effects of food on health. We also lead lives that are busy and stressful making it difficult to eat regular, balanced meals, sleep well and rest. These are all factors that affect our physical wellness and that can contribute to symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, brain-fog, aches and pains. In part one of Food: Friend or Foe? Do you have a food sensitivity? we discussed the importance of observation in detecting food sensitivities. For the same reason, it is very important to step back and consider the big picture before jumping into an elimination diet.

2.     Have you considered the nutritional implications? Elimination diets can be especially difficult for children and adolescents, women planning to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly and those involved in sports or training for events. It is extremely important to consider the effect of a restricted diet and have a structured plan to replace nutrients that may be deficient. This is where working with a Registered Dietitian can be helpful.

3.     Have you been diagnosed with an eating disorder or do you struggle with your relationship with food? If so, caution should be taken before undertaking an elimination diet and help should be found from a health professional. Elimination diets can quickly worsen the issue under the guise of health. It is important to consider that up to 98% of individuals with an eating disorder have a functional gut disorder and an elimination diet is not an appropriate treatment for this.

If you’ve considered these questions and believe that an elimination diet is the right solution for you, here are a couple of points to consider.

1.     Pick one plan and stick to it – At this point, I would highly recommend consulting a Registered Dietitian who works with food sensitivities. They can help you navigate the complexities of an elimination diet and ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs. However, if this is not an option, pick one plan and stick to it. While it’s tempting to take a little of this plan and a little of that, it can make weeding out problem foods difficult. Commit to one plan, stick it out and assess at the end.

2.     Reintroduce foods – you’ve picked one plan, followed it to the end and feel awesome. Now what? You still need to reintroduce foods!This can be scary if you are finally feeling well, but it is necessary so that you aren’t following an over-restricted diet plan.

Food sensitivities and elimination diets are complicated and we have only brushed the surface. Here are some excellent resources from qualified health professionals to give you more information.


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Kristina Isaac, RD.

Registered Dietitian

Kristina (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive. She enjoys finding creative, fun and simple ways to communicate the science of nutrition.

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