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If you have a food intolerance, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to a fifth of the world’s population has one, and that number is rising. However, you might be unsure if that includes you. Maybe you notice your stomach hurting after some meals but don’t know how to isolate the problem. The solution? An elimination diet.
What is an elimination diet, and how do it?
An elimination diet is when you omit a food or food group that may be the source of intolerance. Many try elimination diets after suspecting citrus, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, or beef products as culprits. You might assume this food is causing digestive problems or other symptoms. Either way, you don’t feel good after eating it and don’t know why.
After deciding the food to isolate, creating a game plan is essential. What healthy options can substitute the food with? Can you plan recipes ahead of time? Without these answers, it will seem easy to sneak the food back in.
You should stop eating the food for at least a few weeks. James Rouche, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said that eliminating the food for long enough is the key to success. “You wouldn’t be able to get a good sense just a day at a time,” he said. “You have to do it over an extended period.”
While you’re abstaining, keep track of your problem symptoms. You can either do this with the help of a registered dietitian, like James Rouche or with a food journal.
How do I reintroduce the culprit food?
You’ve gone without your identified food for a few weeks; now what? It’s time to wear your analyst glasses and determine how your symptoms have progressed. Don’t worry if there’s no improvement – that’s an answer! You know that the eliminated food group was not the offender, and you can repeat the process with your next guess.
If your symptoms have improved for at least five days, try introducing the problem foods back into your diet. For example, if citrus was your culprit food, reintroduce a few slices of orange first. Keep tracking your symptoms, and your intolerance hunch is correct if they start returning!
If you find yourself struggling through the process, James Rouche recommends seeking professional help. “A registered dietician can provide a specific plan and ensure you have adequate nutrition,” he said.
He also cautions that an elimination diet is not for everyone, such as anyone undergoing physical changes like adolescence or pregnancy. Everyone has different protein and calorie needs, and maintaining health is of the utmost importance.