How To Do An Elimination Diet For Optimal Physical and Mental Health

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Saad Ansar

Key Information

Elimination diets remove suspected foods for a short period

Elimination diets aim to identify food sensitivities and allergies by avoiding certain foods for 2-12 weeks and then reintroducing them gradually.

Elimination diets can improve physical and mental health

Elimination diets can relieve symptoms such as digestive issues, joint pain, skin problems, depression, brain fog, and fatigue caused by food reactions.

Elimination diets are not suitable for everyone

Elimination diets should be done under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian, especially for children, people with severe allergies, and people with nutritional deficiencies.

Elimination diets require careful planning and monitoring

Elimination diets involve keeping a food journal, following a specific protocol, and avoiding nutrient gaps. They should not be done for longer than necessary.

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These days you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t prone to some food allergy or sensitivity.

Health issues caused by food reactions range from short-term discomfort to more severe chronic autoimmunity.

In some cases, food sensitivities may even be life-threatening.

Many ingredients in the modern food supply can trigger these reactions.

Using an elimination diet can be an effective way to identify and eliminate your most problematic foods.

The following article details everything you need to know to do a successful elimination diet and get on your way to health and wellness.

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What Is An Elimination Diet?

Eliminating foods from your diet that you believe your body won’t accept is the objective of an elimination diet.

The items removed from the diet are then gradually reintroduced as you keep an eye out for any reactions.1Meyer, R., Godwin, H., Dziubak, R. et al. The impact on quality of life on families of children on an elimination diet for Non-immunoglobulin E mediated gastrointestinal food allergiesWorld Allergy Organ J 10, 8 (2017)

It aims to identify food sensitivities and detect which foods are causing symptoms in those with a sensitive gut, food intolerance, or food allergies, and it only lasts 10-12 weeks.

By this approach, an elimination diet may minimize bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea symptoms.

It is believed to be a gold standard for helping with food sensitivity. An elimination diet effectively treats or alleviates conditions such as ADHD2Nigg, J. T., & Holton, K. , Restriction and Elimination Diets in ADHD TreatmentnChild and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2014, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)3Atkinson, W., Sheldon, T. A., Shaath, N., & Whorwell, P. J., Food elimination based on IgG antibodies in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised controlled trialGut, 53(10), 1459–1464, and leaky gut syndrome.

The elimination phase helps the microbiota and reduces inflammation by ridding the body of substances and foods it may be sensitive to or intolerant to.

To avoid any unpleasant symptoms in the future, you can eliminate the food from your diet once you have successfully discovered one that your body cannot tolerate well.

However, you should only attempt an elimination diet under the guidance of a medical practitioner if you have a suspected food allergy.

Reintroducing an allergy-triggering food might result in the life-threatening condition anaphylaxis.4Susan Waserman & Wade Watson , Allergy, Asthma & Clinical ImmunologyAllergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology volume 7, Article number: S7 (2011)

Consult your doctor before beginning an elimination diet if you think you may have a food allergy. Rashes, hives, swelling, and breathing difficulties are indications of an allergic reaction.

Types Of Elimination Diets

There are various elimination diets—an elimination diet works by consuming or avoiding particular food groups. There are six common types of elimination diets. The details of each are as follows:

Simple Elimination diet:

A simple elimination diet avoids many common foods, including beef, processed meats, dairy products including milk and sour cream, eggs, almonds, citrus fruits, wheat, seafood, added sugars, alcohol, energy drinks, gluten, and soy products.

Children and adults frequently use a straightforward elimination diet to identify food allergies or sensitivities.

This kind of diet eliminates several potentially allergenic foods at once to determine which foods are to blame for diseases, including migraines, IBS, and skin disorders.

Gluten-free Elimination diet

The gluten-free diet (GFD) has been used as a medical treatment for immune-mediated diseases brought on by gluten, including celiac disease (CD), dermatitis herpetiformis, gluten ataxia, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Now it is being used beyond its medical advantages.5Aljada, B., Zohni, A., & El-Matary, W., The Gluten-Free Diet for Celiac Disease and BeyondNutrients. 2021

A gluten-free diet forbids you from eating anything that contains the protein gluten. That includes foods susceptible to gluten contamination, such as triticale and seitan, as well as those manufactured from wheat, barley, and rye.

If wheat products are avoided, you cannot consume bread, muffins, biscuits, and croissants. Gluten is present in certain typical foods that are processed. Also prohibited are potato and tortilla chips, processed lunch meats such as soy sauce, hot dogs, and salad dressings.

You should read food labels carefully because many sauces and salad dressings include gluten in addition to food additives.

Low FODMAP diet

This elimination diet plan was developed to reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and managing IBS symptoms with a diet low in poorly absorbed, fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPs) has proved to be a successful method. 6Barrett J. S., How to institute the low-FODMAP diet Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology. 2017

It recommends avoiding foods that include the components in the FODMAP acronym for two to six weeks, on average.

In this diet, sour cream, milk from cows, lamb, or goats, chocolate, and yogurt are forbidden among the many dairy products. Dried fruit, stone fruit (such as peaches), apples, cherries, mangoes, and papaya are also prohibited.

You’ll need to avoid several foods, such as high-fructose corn syrup, agave, and artificial sweeteners. These foods also include a variety of vegetables, such as squash, cabbage, and broccoli; beans and lentils; coffee, tea, and juices made from low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables; and beans and lentils.

You determine which foods might be causing gastrointestinal distress and other symptoms after two to six weeks by reintroducing the items you had avoided, and then you change your diet accordingly.

GAPS diet

The GAPS diet, which stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, works to repair the gut lining. An introductory diet and a complete GAPS regimen make up the GAPS diet.

According to the GAPS diet website, the introduction phase is intended for people with severe digestive problems, such as persistent diarrhea, IBS, Crohn’s disease, gastritis, and ulcerative colitis. 7NATURAL DIGESTIVE HEALING

It is also designed for those suffering from severe neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

After completing the first six phases of the diet, you can begin the complete GAPS program. New proteins, animal fats, hydrogenated oils, fish, seafood, organic farm-fresh eggs, fermented foods, and vegetables would make up most of a comprehensive GAPS diet.

Specific Carbohydrate diet

This fairly restrictive diet plan restricts grain products and foods with lactose and sugar and requires the removal of most carbohydrates. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet forbids the use of foods containing sugar added, wheat, potatoes, rice, or oatmeal. This exclusion diet has been used in the therapy of inflammatory bowel disease. 8Braly, Kimberly et al, Nutritional Adequacy of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel DiseaseJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition vol. 65,5 (2017)

Elimination Diets And Food Allergies

Experiencing allergy symptoms can be frustrating, especially if you are unsure of their origin. Numerous unpleasant and unsettling reactions can be ascribed to food allergies, including chronic digestive problems, hives, other rashes, joint discomfort, and shortness of breath.

An elimination diet identifies food sensitivities or intolerances and assists in the diagnosis of food allergies.

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances

Food intolerance symptoms can match those of food allergies, which leads to confusion between the two conditions. The concept is not that confusing if you pay a bit of attention.

Food Intolerance:

Food intolerance does not affect the immune system and does not result in life-threatening allergic reactions or anaphylaxis. The amount of food ingested is typically correlated with food intolerance reactions. Depending on the individual, they might not start to happen until a specific minimum amount of the meal is consumed.

Additionally, allergy testing does not detect food intolerance.

Understanding food intolerance can be challenging. Food additives can occasionally make migraine headaches, rashes, or stomach trouble from irritable bowel syndrome more frequent and severe.9Mansueto, Pasquale et al, Food allergy in irritable bowel syndrome: The case of non-celiac wheat sensitivitynWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015

Food Allergy:

Food allergy has an impact on the immune system. A variety of symptoms can be brought on by even small amounts of the offending food.10Yu, Wong et al, Food allergy: immune mechanisms, diagnosis and immunotherapyNature reviews. Immunology vol. 16,12 (2016)

Some of the symptoms may be severe or even life-threatening.

Food allergy is shown by the presence of food allergens and antibodies against these allergens in the blood or gut. 11Valenta, Rudolf et al, Food Allergies: The BasicsGastroenterology. 2015

Specific tests are available to detect the rise in IgE titer during an anaphylactic reaction to a food allergen.

Common Signs Of Food Sensitivities

Food allergy symptoms include unsteadiness, fainting, dizziness, tongue-tingling, or itchiness. Hives, eczema, nasal congestion, wheezing, or breathing issues are also common.

Food can also trigger diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, bowel habits change, stomach pain, or rash on lips, face, tongue, throat, and other body parts.

Symptoms of food intolerances include stomach discomfort, bloating, wind, and diarrhea, as well as itchy, rashy skin. 12Sheila E. Crowe, MD, Food Allergy Vs Food Intolerance in Patients With Irritable Bowel SyndromeGastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2019

Most Common Trigger Foods

These trigger foods cause ninety percent of food allergy reactions:

  • Milk (mainly in children)
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts such as pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and brazil nuts
  • Wheat Soy Fish (mostly in adults)
  • Shellfish (mostly in adults)
  • Less common trigger foods include corn syrup, gelatin, meat, sesame seeds, and spices.

Most Common Symptoms Addressed By Elimination Diets

A food elimination diet can help in overcoming two types of symptoms. These include:

Physical Symptoms (Gut, Skin, Joints, Pain, etc.)

  • Elimination diets can relieve symptoms like gut discomfort and digestive issues, joint pain, inflammation of joints, and skin conditions like eczema and itching triggered by certain foods.

Mental Symptoms

  • Using an elimination diet to eliminate these foodstuff helps you identify what’s going wrong in your daily diet so you can amend your diet.

Side Effects Of Elimination Diet

Elimination diets are often free of hazards and side effects. When you begin this diet, there are a few things to watch out for and consider. First of all, you should only use an elimination diet temporarily.

A diversified diet full of nutrient-dense foods is necessary for your overall health. It doesn’t help to refrain from eating these things for months or years if they aren’t the root of your issues.

Later on, this may result in nutrient shortages. An elimination diet’s adverse effects are more likely to affect children. They must acquire all the nutrients they need in their diets because they grow more quickly. When the diet is sufficiently supplemented, the degree of a food elimination diet has little effect on the growth or nutritional condition of food-allergic children.

Children with food allergies should be closely monitored by their doctors and dietitians while removing one or more key foods from their diet.14 Berry, Melissa J et al, Impact of elimination diets on growth and nutritional status in children with multiple food allergiesPediatric allergy and immunology : official publication of the European Society of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology vol. 26,2 (2015)

How To Do An Elimination Diet: Step By Step

How To Start An Elimination Diet

Elimination and reintroduction are the two parts of an elimination diet.

Elimination Phase

For a brief period of time, usually two to three weeks, you must eliminate the foods you believe to be the cause of your symptoms. The elimination phase should be continued for at least four to eight weeks for best results.

You stop eating foods you believe your body can’t handle as well as those known to bring unpleasant symptoms.

Nuts, corn, soy, dairy, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables, wheat, gluten-containing foods, pork, eggs, and shellfish are a few.

It’s not necessary to remove all these foods from the diet simultaneously.

You can decide if your symptoms are brought on by certain foods or something else. The best action is to call your doctor if your symptoms persist after cutting out the foods for four to eight weeks.

Reintroduction phase

The following stage is the reintroduction phase, during which you gradually add one of the eliminated foods at a time that you have cut out from your diet.

Over two to three days, each food category should be introduced slowly while monitoring any symptoms. You can presume that it is OK to consume and go on to the next food group if you don’t experience any symptoms throughout the time you reintroduce a food group.

This can be time-consuming, depending on how many foods you have eliminated.

However, you have effectively identified a trigger item and should eliminate it from your diet if you have adverse symptoms like those listed above.

You should not reintroduce foods on your own if you have encountered adverse effects during the diet.

The complete procedure of elimination and reintroduction lasts more than ten to twelve weeks.

Consult a registered dietitian or your doctor if you intend to cut out a lot of food groups. A nutritional shortage could result from cutting out too many dietary types.

After you’re done with both phases you will be able to identify foods that are or are not suitable for use in your food diet.

Tips For Longterm Success

Here are some tips so your elimination diet can be a success:

Avoid foods that you’ve identified as problems; observe when you react and also take help from a doctor so he observes you for a few weeks. Make sure to eliminate all the trigger foods from your diet as much as possible.

Keep a food journal. A food journal is a convenient way to record every trigger food you’ve discovered. A food journal is a list of the items you consume and a daily log of your symptoms. 15Sara A. Arscott, PhD, et al, The Elimination DietUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison. 2018

It is beneficial to reflect on the following questions.

  • What foods do I consume most frequently?
  • What meals do I want to eat?
  • What do I eat to make me “feel better”?
  • Which foods would be hardest for me to give up?

These appear to be the foods that you should avoid the most frequently.

Keeping both these tips in mind your doctor can create an elimination diet plan most suitable to your body.

Elimination Diet Food List (What You Can Eat)

You can eat foods from the following list during your elimination diet:

  • Majority of fruits, except citrus.
  • Most vegetables, except nightshades, and grains, including buckwheat and brown rice.
  • Wheat alternatives include gluten-free bread made from rice, corn tortillas, or quinoa.
  • Fish and meat include salmon, wild game, lamb, and other cold-water fish.
  • Alternatives of dairy products include unsweetened rice milk and coconut milk.
  • Healthy fats include coconut oil, flaxseed oil, and cold-pressed olive oil.
  • Water and herbal teas, black pepper, fresh herbs and spices (apart from cayenne pepper and paprika), and apple cider vinegar are some examples of the spices, condiments, and other ingredients.


You can learn which meals your body can’t tolerate properly with the elimination diet. An elimination diet may help you identify the items causing symptoms you suspect may be diet-related if you’re experiencing any of them.

Elimination diets are not suitable for everyone, though. Without the supervision of a physician or nutritionist, children should not attempt an elimination diet.

Similarly, those with allergies should only experiment with an elimination diet under a registered dietitian or doctor’s guidance.

It’s crucial to remember that short-term elimination diets are recommended because prolonged limitations may result in nutritional deficits. Tell us your experience with an elimination diet if you have any!


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Erik Abramowitz is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), Naturopathic Doctoral student, health coach, and father. He is the primary content creator for and the host of the Holistic Nootropics Podcast.

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