Elimination Diet – Why, When & How!

There are one of two reactions that occur when we contemplate an elimination diet of sorts – either excitement and relief, at the thought of detoxing and cleansing the body, or dread and avoidance at having to give up the perception of pleasurable foods! This is the exact same response when any weight loss diet is contemplated, because in essence any weight loss diet is an elimination diet of one type or another.

What Is An Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is any diet that excludes certain foods or food groups for the purpose of inducing some type of effect – this may include weight loss or alleviation of one or more symptoms. Elimination diets are recommended when it is suspected or known that certain foods in your diet are causing symptoms or ill health. Food intolerance’s and sensitivities can be implicated and aggravate many conditions, including skin disorders, fluid retention, autoimmune disease, digestive disorders, weight gain, sleep disturbances, headaches, migraines, mood disorders, fatigue, just to name a few.

How Do Elimination Diets Work?

The elimination diet will help you determine if you are sensitive to anything in your diet. This is done by initially eliminating the most common food and chemical substances that we know commonly produce similar symptoms and that people are  sensitive to. Suspect foods are eliminated for a select period of time (usually 3 weeks up to 3 months) and then each individual suspect food is reintroduced every 2-3 days to establish its effect on your body. This allows for the planning of a diet most beneficial  and tailored to your health.

It is helpful to understand that foods that are eliminated in the short-term, may not need to be eliminated in the long-term, once certain body functions are restored. The rebuilding and restoring can take the form of healing the gut, correcting any bacterial dysbiosis and supplying nutrients need for proper function. This can result in re-establishing a tolerance to previously intolerant foods but the time required for this differs from one person to the next.

What to Expect

In the first few days, some people may feel tired, experience cravings or headaches.This may be a result of withdrawal from caffeine, but also from withdrawal of the intolerant food and the up regulation of detoxification in the body. This is a perfectly normal response, and doesn’t usually last long (3 to 5 days). After the initial adjustment, the elimination of intolerant foods usually results in improvement in a wide range of symptoms, in particular, fatigue, headaches, bloating, stomach pain, general pain, mood disorders and skin problems. Once your health symptoms have improved significantly, and you have followed the diet for a minimum time (general 3 weeks), the reintroduction or challenging of foods can begin.

How Are Foods Challenged? 

The reintroduction or challenge stage involves reintroducing each suspect food one at a time (there is a specific method to introduce foods), and carefully noting any symptoms. Any new or returning symptoms experienced are likely to be attributable to that food. Remember reactive foods are not necessarily deprived from your diet forever, however, they need to be eliminated for a period of time and then reintroduced once additional treatment and healing has occurred and generally includes restoring digestive integrity.


Are Nutrient Deficiencies a Risk On Elimination Diets?

Nutrient deficiencies are unlikely if elimination diets are only short term. Eating from all the allowable food groups is important to assist in this. If elimination needs to occur over longer periods of time then supplementation is important to assist in this. Most elimination diets are not designed for long term use, understanding the nutrients lost when eliminating foods in the long term is important.


How To Make Elimination Easy!

  • Involve the whole family in most meals, just add some extras for them. This will make meal planning easier and can improve your family health due to the omission of processed foods on these diets.
  • Try to start the diet at a time where you are free from social engagements and when stress levels are low, in order to make the adjustment easier.
  • For children, close supervision is needed to ensure they do not sneak in “foods” which may invalidate the diet, it may be helpful to wait for school holidays before starting, when you can concentrate on the foods.
  • If there’s a dinner or a party that can’t be postpone, diets can be frozen for a day and the day can be treated as a food challenge. A return to the elimination diet for at least another 5 days until symptoms clear.
  • If caffeine is normally consumed then, its worth gradually reducing intake over the week preceding the diet to reduce withdrawals symptoms.
  • Cooking larger meals will allow for leftovers to use for snacks the same day or next day


Blood testing is available to test foods (see below some of the various tests) and there are pros and cons to the various types of ways to determine intolerance’s. Elimination diets are free and allow you to experience symptom relief (that may have been present for years), within a few days to a few weeks. As a food is challenged you get to experience how a particular food may or may not be effecting the body. This first hand experience can be very positive and motivating. On the down side, elimination diets can become tedious during the challenge phase, as socialising and eating out can become difficult to manage and the challenge phase can take weeks to months to get through depending on the amount of foods originally eliminated.

Antibody blood testing can be expensive, ranging from $200 to $400 or more and there can be false positives, which can make it a little confusing. There usually are only certain foods available for testing (usually up to 90, although more and more are becoming available), whereas the elimination diets the foods to challenge can be limitless, in saying that most people only eat certain foods and these really are the only ones that need to be tested. The benefits of testing can be easy and simple, you test, receive a list of the foods which are reactive, and then it’s just a matter of removing those foods. With antibody testing it is important that the foods you are having tested have been in your diet for the months leading up to testing.


IgG ANTIBODY TESTING – these antibodies determine delayed onset hypersensitivity reactions to foods, its delayed in that it may take several hours or days for a reaction to occur and it can persist for weeks or even months. This is why foods which cause IgG reactions are difficult to determine.

IgE ANTIBODY TESTING –  are immediate onset, hypersensitivity reactions, they occur immediately or soon after exposure to the allergen, food or inhalant, because these reactions occur within seconds to hours after exposure, symptoms can include anaphylaxis, swelling, itching of the throat, eyelids, face, mouth or tongue, hives, atopic dermatitis, nasal congestion, wheezing or asthma, bloating, stomach, abdominal pain or abrupt diarrhea. There can be a later reaction about 4 to 6 hours after the initial reaction and persist for days with symptoms like oedema and inflammation. Because an IgE reaction is so immediate, often its much easier to determine the culprit.

IgA ANTIBODY TESTING – these are primarily immune reactions, which trigger immunological trigger effects of specific IgA antibodies and merit close consideration where chronic inflammatory diseases are present.



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