Are you breaking out more than before? Are digestive issues getting you down? Is your energy level plummeting often? Food sensitivities could be getting in your way. If you’re not sure what’s stressing your gut out—gluten, dairy or just nightshade vegetables—an elimination diet is the gold standard for allergy testing. We spoke to experts about five things you need to know if you’re trying to ID what’s wrong.
Know what you’re looking for
“Elimination diets can be useful in trying to figure out the cause behind issues like asthma, allergies, migraines, joint pain, digestive troubles and skin problems that may be the results of a food sensitivity that lead to gut dysfunction,” says Dr Tal Friedman, head of naturopathic research, development specialist at award-winning wellness resort Chiva Som.
“The elimination diet works by removing one potential irritant every week,” advises Payal Kothari, an integrative nutritionist and gut health coach. ”So, for example, you could start with removing dairy on week one, then eliminate gluten and packaged foods on week two, and then skip sugar for week three,” she confirms. She says that you often know what is most likely making you feel sick, and so if you feel like dairy is not working for you, removing it can help you confirm it.
“The major irritants for the gut are gluten, dairy, refined sugars and preservatives (that come in packaged foods). Elimination of these and others depending on your individual tolerance levels works as a detox and reboot of the organs,” states Payal Kothari, integrative nutritionist, gut health coach. Other top food allergens could include eggs, nuts, peanuts, seafood, wheat, soy, mustard, celery and sesame according to Dr Friedman.
Maintain a food diary
Pros suggest having a food and symptom diary that can help you identify patterns between eating habits and symptoms. So, for example, if you start sneezing every time you eat nuts, you’ll know that’s what’s wrong. “Follow up on maintaining a diary by ticking the boxes with yes and no and listen to your body’s signals and how you feel,” advises Kothari. “You will know if you are on the right track based on how you feel. If dairy is the trigger, then on after two days of avoiding it you will feel lighter and more energetic,” says Kothari.
Keep the rest of your lifestyle constant
Once you choose to actually try an elimination diet program, pros say that it is important to avoid making other lifestyle changes at the same time, like working out more than before or adding new supplements to our routine. This makes it more challenging to figure out what the dietary sources of the symptoms could be.
Reintroduction of restricted food groups is as important as the elimination process. “When you add the foods back—scheduled and one at a time—you’ll want to monitor for any changes,” says Dr Friedman. “These symptoms can be insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, rashes and acne, headaches, bowel changes, bloating or a scratchy throat,” Dr Friedman adds.
Elimination of triggers reduces the load on the gut, which helps it to heal itself. “Once your gut starts to absorb the nutrients there is an overall reboot of internal organs,” states Kothari. Once you have identified the triggering foods, you can modify your diet to help improve your digestion, absorption and microbial balance.