Get to the Root of Your Symptoms With an Elimination Diet

Get to the Root of Your Symptoms With an Elimination Diet

Feb 08, 2021

If you’ve decided this will be the year you finally get to the bottom of what’s causing your mysterious health problems, it may be time to consider an elimination diet.

What you eat has a profound impact on your wellness — the right foods help keep you healthy, while the wrong ones can make you sick.

Undiagnosed food sensitivities and allergies are often at the root of the seemingly inexplicable symptoms my patients present to me. An elimination diet allows you to identify these hidden triggers.

What is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet involves avoiding certain foods for a prescribed period of time (usually two to four weeks) to see if avoiding these foods helps clear up any symptoms you’re having. You eliminate foods from your diet, then gradually add them back in to see how your body is affected.

People react to food in different ways. Some have food allergies, which cause an immediate reaction that can be severe. Others have sensitivities to certain foods, where the reaction may occur hours or even days after the offending food is eaten. Still others experience food intolerance, where they typically react to chemicals in food like histamine or MSG. One study estimates that food sensitivities and intolerances affect between 15 and 20% of the population.1

An elimination diet helps you identify any allergies, sensitivities, or intolerance that may be affecting your wellness. Even if your problems don’t seem to be food-related, sensitivity or intolerance could be triggering your symptoms. Asthma, eczema, celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders are all linked to food sensitivities.2

Foods to Avoid on an Elimination Diet

It can be overwhelming to know where to start with an elimination diet. My colleagues at the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) have provided this helpful list of foods to avoid.

  • Sugar (including white and brown sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, etc.)
  • Soy (and products containing soy)
  • Soda
  • Shellfish
  • Processed meats
  • Pork
  • Peanuts
  • Grains that contain gluten (including all types of wheat, rye, spelt, and barley)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Corn
  • Coffee and tea
  • Chocolate
  • Beef
  • Alcohol

It’s best to keep these foods out of the house during your elimination diet so you won’t be tempted by them. You won’t learn anything if you don’t truly eliminate these potential triggers.

Foods You Can Eat During an Elimination Diet

Although the list of foods to avoid may seem long, there are many things you can still eat while following an elimination diet. Here are some that are approved by the IFM.

  • Vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Poultry
  • Nuts (except peanuts)
  • Legumes (except soy)
  • Healthy oils (like coconut, extra virgin olive, and avocado)
  • Gluten-free whole grains (like quinoa, rice, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, and teff)
  • Game meats
  • Certain fruits (like blueberries, raspberries, and kiwi)
  • Fish
  • Dairy substitutes

I always tell my patients to go grocery shopping and stock up on IFM-approved foods before starting the elimination diet. That way, they never have to worry about going hungry because they always have something on hand they can eat while sticking to the diet.

Reintroducing Foods on an Elimination Diet

Once the elimination stage of the diet concludes, it’s time to start reintroducing foods. You’ll want to add them back in one at a time and eat a generous amount of each food. The order of reintroduction doesn’t matter, so feel free to start with the food you’ve missed most and go from there!

This is the part of the diet where it’s important to tune into your body — and take notes. As you introduce individual foods, you’ll want to pay close attention to any symptoms they may trigger. Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Skin irritations or breakouts
  • Insomnia
  • Sinus congestion or runny nose
  • Itching
  • Flushing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Gas

With each food you reintroduce, give yourself two days to track symptoms. If you don’t experience any, you can keep eating that food and reintroduce another one. You’ll continue with this pattern of reintroducing foods and tracking symptoms until everything you eliminated has been added back in and tested for a reaction.

Guidance and Support During an Elimination Diet

No matter how vigilant you are about tracking your symptoms during an elimination diet, you may find yourself with questions. Is what you’re feeling a reaction to a certain food, or dehydration? Are you fatigued because of a food sensitivity, or because you didn’t sleep well? As these questions arise, it can be very helpful to have professional guidance.

At My Pure MD, we offer support through every step of the elimination diet. We can work with you to devise an eating plan that meets your specific needs, so that you can finally get to the bottom of what’s been causing your symptoms. It’s time to find the answers you’ve been seeking.


  1. Acker WW, Plasek JM, Blumenthal KG, et al. Prevalence of food allergies and intolerances documented in electronic health records. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017;140(6):1587-1591.e1. doi:1016/j.jaci.2017.04.006
February 8, 2021

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