Why elimination diets don’t work



In our Nutrition Response Testing office we get people who have “tried everything” with their diet.  They are frustrated, maxed out, and overwhelmed with the information out there.  The information is helpful, though general, and we can only get to the finite individuality by seeing the individual!  A common complaint is from a mom who has tried an elimination diet to rule out offending foods and just didn’t find it successful.

Why elimination diets don’t work in my professional experience is because the food isn’t removed for long enough, and because they are trying to eliminate more than one food or category of foods.  This isn’t sustainable for most people over time.  They feel disempowered, frustrated, and come to believe that the food isn’t causing them the trouble to begin with.  And sometimes it isn’t, there are people in our practice whose diets are just fine (though there’s always room for improvement) and the underlying issue is a toxicity or immune challenge, or combination of some or all.

When elimination diets do work

What has an elimination diet work is when you remove the food for at least 4 weeks.  When I say ‘remove’ I mean ‘remove’ in every aspect.  If, for example, you’re wanting to see if gluten is a problem for you, you would want to remove that from your diet.  However, you will then have to see that it’s not in any sauces, condiments, cereals, baking mixes, pastas, rice mixes, breads, desserts, candy, gum (any gum that has a powdered wrapper you’ll want to avoid) and anywhere else you could see it lurking.  Removing it from the big stuff is easy:  buy gluten free pasta, buy gluten free cereal, buy gluten free baking mixes, BUT, you often trade sugar for gluten, which is an even bigger offender on the body’s ability to heal and function optimally.

In purchasing pre-packaged items that are gluten free you’ll notice lots of starch and sugar in the first few ingredients.  Sometimes people will notice they remove the offending food and all is well.  Others will notice they feel good initially, though, over time they start to feel the way they did before removing the food from the diet.  In those cases, the body liked the initial break then realized it was still getting sugar and starches, which can be just as problematic.

Once you have the offending food removed for a month (90 days is actually what it takes to completely dump from the system), add the food back in slowly to see what happens.  Have a whole wheat cracker or half a slice of bread the first day.  The next day have a slice of bread and a bowl of cereal.  Again, I’m just giving you an example if you’re trying to see if gluten is a problem for you.  If you add it back in slowly, a couple of things will happen:

#1  You’ll likely begin to realize HOW OFTEN YOU ATE the offending food on a daily basis

#2  You’ll notice whether it’s a problem for you, and this manifests differently based on the individual.  For some it’s gas and bloating, for others it’s full blown gastric distress with explosive loose stool.  Perhaps for you it’s a headache or pain, and for others it’s a skin condition.  Doesn’t matter what it is just notice.

I recommend keeping log of everything you eat (including candy, drinks, etc) so you have an accurate list.  Keep in mind you can have a reaction to food 7-10 days after you eat it, so keeping a log for a couple weeks at a time is very beneficial.

What to eat if you’re on an elimination diet

When you’re eliminating a food, again, let’s go with gluten as an example, you’ll be looking for what to replace it with.  Keep in mind some things just don’t have a substitute, and probably shouldn’t.  The obvious is to buy gluten free bread, gluten free waffles, gluten free crackers, etc.  What’s funny is the less obvious and more healthful option of simply eating real, whole foods.

You’ll notice the ingredient labels on lots of the pre-packaged gluten free convenience foods are full of words you can’t pronounce and perhaps aren’t even food!  So, yes, you’ll see that preparing foods from scratch will give you total control over ingredients.  And watch that sugar content in what you’re making because it’s even more inflammatory than gluten.

Stick with grass-fed meats, whole fat and cultured dairy products, lots of fruit and vegetables (double the amount of veggies than fruit), and you could even eat wild rice, quinoa, brown and white rice, and lentils to keep you satisfied.  You won’t go hungry, especially when minding those healthy fats you’ll need to get in every day.  You need the healthy fats even without eliminating food groups, though you’ll want to be especially mindful of them as you’ll likely crave the food you took away.

For more information on this topic, tune in below!


Movie on 1-18-17 at 9.42 AM #2 from Nichole Kuechle on Vimeo.

Movie on 1-18-17 at 9.42 AM #2 


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