How Elimination Diets Work


The Dark Sides of DIY Elimination Dieting

Many professionals are wary of the elimination-diet trend. Maybe they're troubled by the health problems that can result from DIY elimination dieting, or from the lack of empirical evidence that it actually does what its supporters claim [source: Nassauer].

Ineffectiveness may partly result from the absence of complementary medical diagnostic tools, like blood and skin-prick tests [source: FARE]. And professionals' extensive knowledge of the processes at work in food reactions naturally makes them better equipped to interpret the subjective data the diet generates.

Human error is likely part of the problem, too. Without intensive research, it can be hard to know exactly what's in the foods we buy, so eliminated foods may not actually be eliminated [source: Woznicki]. People may not have the time to keep detailed records during the reintroduction phase.

Those who end up feeling worse on the diet may mistakenly think they haven't been on it long enough, or haven't eliminated enough foods, when in fact it might be the lack of certain foods that's making them sick [source: Freuman].

Adverse health impacts are a concern. Some people neglect to incorporate nutritional substitutes for eliminated foods, which can result in nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal problems [source: Freuman]. Elimination dieting can trigger a relapse in someone with a history of eating disorders [source: Nassauer]. It also can cause people to delay seeking expert medical help for serious problems. Some major medical conditions present with similar symptoms to food intolerance, and DIY elimination dieting may delay diagnosis [source: MCS Aware]. In people with severe allergic reactions to foods, a delay increases the risk of suffering life-threatening reactions they're not fully equipped to alleviate [source: WebMD].

Besides that, elimination diets are pretty harmless.

Actually, they can do some good, if not always the good for which they're designed. It's possible the oceans of anecdotal evidence for elimination diets' success can be attributed to one little side effect of the process: paying very close attention to what we eat. Generally speaking, this leads to eating healthier [source: Wagner College]. Add in the fact that most elimination diets make fast food, junk food, refined sugar, alcohol and countless other damaging foods off limits, and feeling less, well, icky after a few weeks is a likely outcome.

Ultimately, whether an elimination diet reveals a hidden allergy or just a better way of eating seems beside the point. Feeling better is feeling better. Everything else is gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free icing.

Author's Note: How Elimination Diets Work

I struggled with whether or not to mention psychosomatic food reactions in this article. In my research, I found that there was time (in the 20th century, no less) when all food allergies were believed to be psychosomatic – all in the sufferers' minds. They were referred to psychologists, not allergists. Considering the amount of controversy surrounding what appears to be the sudden increase in negative food reactions, I didn't want to be seen as propagating the idea that those reactions aren't legitimate medical problems. In the end, though, I decided it was worth noting and just put it off to side. It's a simple fact: In some cases, responses to "problem foods" really are psychologically mediated, and there's no reason not to explore that possibility if physical diagnostic methods fail. Feeling better is feeling better.

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