Allergies are the worst. But even more awful than that, not knowing what triggers them can drive anyone crazy. While most allergies are caused by pollen from flowers, animals, or medication, food is also a big trigger for a lot of people.
There are lots of tests people can take to figure out what they’re allergic to. The most common would be the skin allergy test, where your doctor exposes you to common allergens by pricking or applying them on your skin and seeing what reacts. You can also take a more comprehensive blood test, but all of these procedures can be quite costly.
If you’re at wits end and don’t have the money to spend on allergy tests, the elimination diet is a pretty effective way to figure out if you have any food intolerances. And best of all, it’s free.
Elimination diet? What’s that?
While the elimination diet is called a diet, there are no weight-loss benefits to it. Instead, what it does is help you figure out what food allergies you may have by taking away specific food items from your typical menu and then later reintroducing them. You usually have to completely stay away from these food items for two to four weeks.
Aside from typical allergens, food can cause the manifestation of allergic symptoms like eczema, itching, tingling sensations in the mouth, and swelling in the lips and other areas. The severity of the symptoms varies, and can even result in abdominal pain, trouble breathing, and nausea.
The goal of the elimination diet is to cleanse your body of any traces of specific food items and check if there’s a reaction when it’s reintroduced into your diet.
In my case, I have severe eczema. One of my triggers is stress (unfortunate, really), and another big trigger for me is certain types of food. After my doctor recommended that I try the elimination diet, I was told to avoid all types of food that began with the letters “ch.”
It’s important for me to mention that my doctor was a little… unique in this sense. Most physicians usually recommend categories to eliminate, so you probably won’t end up with the no “ch” diet unless you go to the same doctor I went to.
After two weeks of no chips, chocolate, chicken, cheese, chickpeas, chestnuts, and alcohol (it wasn’t a “ch” food but my doctor insisted), I found out I was allergic to chicken (unfortunately) and cheese (this development was not going to stop me).
My skin cleared up a fair amount after that and I now know what foods to avoid. I still indulge in some of my food triggers from time to time, but at least I can plan for what to do after. And debate with myself if it’s really worth it or not.
The hows of an elimination diet
Before trying an elimination diet, you have to first sit down and figure out what to eliminate. Aside from looking at the list of most common food allergens, you have to take into consideration what your body reacts to when you eat it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a severe reaction. It can be as simple as getting a headache after eating some fried chicken, or having stomach issues after a burger.
After that, it’s best that you consult with your doctor. The elimination diet will introduce a series of changes to your body, and making sure that your doctor has your back and can track your vitals and changes is a good level of safety to implement.
There are three levels to the elimination diet—simple, moderate, and strict. The simple level means you just have to remove one or two types of food or food groups. The moderate level dictates that you have to avoid several food groups at once, like all types of animal-derived products, dairy, processed foods, eggs, nuts, and so on. For the strict level, you’ll only be allowed to eat a small list of foods and avoid everything else.
Whatever diet you choose, you’ll have to avoid all the food you’re eliminating for either a two or four-week period. If you accidentally have a bite of something you’re not supposed to eat, you’ll—sadly—have to start again.
Some helpful tips from an experienced eliminator
Something else you’ll have to be careful with while you’re on a cancellation diet is doing your groceries and eating out. Always check the labels and ingredient lists before buying anything because it might have something you’re supposed to avoid in it.
If you’re in a restaurant, double check with your server for ingredients. Ordering something like ramen or soup may seem okay, but if you’re trying to cancel out chicken from your diet, many restaurants use chicken broth as a base.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend eating out if you’re trying an elimination diet because there are too many factors to worry about. Cross contamination of food (like using the same oil to fry fries and chicken) is also something to watch out for. When you’re on a moderate or strict elimination diet, your food sensitivity can skyrocket. This could also be a culprit for allergies.
When it’s time to reintroduce food, make sure you carry an antihistamine with you at all times. This was something I wish I knew when I decided to eat fried chicken at 4 a.m. before a flight and had an allergic reaction. You should also tell your friends or people you dine with so that they can help you if you have any adverse reactions.
Allergies—and honestly, this diet—can be a pain, but it’s better to figure out what they are as soon as possible. Figuring out your allergies can improve your health and just your day-to-day quality of life. If you’re thinking of trying it out, be strong! It’s an investment and very much worth it.