While most people associate eating with pleasure, for some, the relationship with food is more complicated. Many struggle with food-related allergies and/or sensitivities that cause inflammation and can lead to poor health.
Health-related issues such as autoimmune illnesses, irritable bowel and digestive problems, chronic fatigue, migraines, depression/anxiety, brain fog, asthma, joint pain, and skin flare-ups can be triggered or worsened by food choices. But how do you know which foods are bad for you and which are okay to eat?
Elimination diets offer an option for people caught in a cycle of inflammation and who struggle with one or more health issues. They offer a noninvasive way to gather information about your body so you can avoid the foods that irritate your system.
“Elimination diets, which remove all possible culprits like dairy, gluten, soy, sugar, and others from a patient’s diet for several weeks before reintroducing foods one at a time, are a common first step” in treatment, says gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin, MD, of Johns Hopkins Hospital. But, he adds, it’s not necessary to start “too big” and eliminate everything at once. Sometimes just one or two foods are the problem.
As with all health regimens, the protocol needs to work for the person. The success of an elimination plan depends on a person’s lifestyle, history, and willingness to stick to the diet.
Elimination diets may increase the stress of already living with a chronic medical condition. The organization and tracking required can lead to burnout and feelings of hopelessness. Some people with chronic health conditions already struggle with nutritional deficiencies and maintaining healthy weight. Elimination diets can focus on “discovery” at the expense of much-needed nutrition and calories.
When too many food items are eliminated at once, follow-through is difficult. Elimination can imply “going without,” and it can be hard to comply when many of your go-to foods are taken off the table, so to speak.
Even when you faithfully follow an elimination diet, it might still be unclear which foods are causing problems and how they are related to your symptoms. In that case, you may want to work under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
If you’d rather ease into an elimination diet, other options exist.
Mindful eating is a good place to start. Sometimes the pleasure and taste of food seems worth the heartburn, headache, and sluggishness. However, mindful eating requires paying attention to foods you crave, foods you have an aversion to, and foods that make you feel tired, bloated, and sick. Being mindful of these patterns and knowing your history is a first step toward making choices that enhance health and well-being.
Johns Hopkins Medicine identifies the most common food allergens as:
Also, some foods, such as gluten and artificial sweeteners and additives, are known to cause inflammation in the body.
Start by reviewing how much of your diet consists of these foods. Eliminating one of these items at a time may be enough for you to start feeling better. But, depending on your medical history, you may need to eliminate all of the common allergens before your symptoms begin to subside.
If any version of an elimination diet doesn’t suit your needs, there are other options to address food allergies and sensitivities. Blood tests for food allergies in addition to a holistic approach called Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) can answer questions while offering a noninvasive treatment to eliminate allergies to food, for instance.
Keep in mind that it’s important to be aware of your health history and to create an integrative plan that works for you.
“Food Allergies,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.HopkinsMedicine.org
“Rethinking elimination diets and FODMAPS: A common-sense approach to IBS,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.HopkinsMedicine.org
“What is NAET?” www.NAET.com
Contributor Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW