Is an Elimination Diet Right for You? Here’s What to Consider

A nutritionist weighs in.

By Edie Horstman
Camille Styles eating a bowl of pasta_easy vegetarian meals for one

You habitually start your day feeling bloated, sluggish, or plagued by persistent headaches. You’ve tried changing your exercise routine, sleep hygiene, and even adding meditation to the mix. Nothing seems to help. Up next? Tinkering with your diet. But knowing where to begin is overwhelming. Enter elimination diets: a simpler method to identify which foods are harming your health. When executed properly (and with professional guidance), they can be transformative.

Your elimination diet roadmap is here. With your vitality in mind, we’re sharing the 411 on elimination diets. Find out what they are, if they’re right for you (spoiler alert: they might not be!), and how to successfully implement and follow one.

Edie Horstman
Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet is a short-term eating plan. It’s less of a diet and more of a specific protocol, as it isn’t meant to last more than two months. The goal is to pinpoint food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies that contribute to a slew of health issues (digestive problems, migraines, skin conditions, fatigue, etc.). In other words, an elimination diet is designed to identify foods that might be causing adverse reactions in your body.

Woman eating grain bowl.

How does an elimination diet work?

In theory, an elimination diet is simple: it involves removing potential trigger foods from your plate and then gradually reintroducing them. That said, practical execution requires careful planning, monitoring, and discipline. (More on the length and types of elimination diets below!)

The process involves two main phases:

  1. Elimination phase. Specific foods or food groups are removed from your diet for a period, usually 4-8 weeks.
  2. Reintroduction phase. Gradually reintroduce each eliminated food (one at a time), monitoring your body’s reactions to determine if any symptoms reappear.

What is the point of an elimination diet?

Unlike standard diets—which typically focus on weight loss—an elimination diet is more about identifying (and hopefully eliminating!) the root cause of chronic symptoms. The point is to figure out which foods trigger certain symptoms in your body. If done correctly, this process will reveal how certain foods affect your body, leading to significant improvements in symptoms like bloating, headaches, fatigue, and hives.

The Upsides of an Elimination Diet

Whether you’re trying to improve your energy, minimize digestive discomfort, or support your overall well-being, there are plenty of reasons to do an elimination diet.

Identifying Food Sensitivities

One of the main reasons elimination diets are popular? Their ability to pinpoint foods that cause adverse reactions. If you’re tired of throwing darts at the wall to fix your unexplained symptoms, an elimination diet is life-changing.

Personalized Nutrition

Unlike one-size-fits-all diets, elimination diets offer a personalized approach to nutrition. By understanding which foods your body doesn’t tolerate well, you can tailor your diet to suit your unique needs. Hello, bio-individuality!

Increased Awareness

Last but not least, an elimination diet encourages mindful eating. This heightened awareness leads to healthier eating habits and a better understanding of how different foods affect your body. (A win-win!)

The Drawbacks of an Elimination Diet

All of that to say, are elimination diets worth the hype? Depending your relationship with food and/or your lifestyle, they can be a slippery slope.

Restrictive Nature

Elimination diets are restrictive—full stop. This makes them difficult to adhere to and can lead to feelings of deprivation. They can make meal planning/eating out more challenging as well.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Without professional guidance, cutting out multiple food groups goes hand-in-hand with nutritional deficiencies. It’s essential to ensure you’re still getting the necessary nutrients to thrive.


The process is lengthy and requires meticulous tracking of what you eat and how you feel. Commitment is key!

Perpetuating Diet Culture

Unfortunately, elimination diets can reinforce negative aspects of diet culture. Focusing on restriction—and the potential for obsessing over food choices—mirrors disordered eating patterns.

How to Know if You Need an Elimination Diet

Let’s back up. Before embarking on an elimination diet, it’s essential to evaluate whether or not it’s necessary. After all, not everyone needs an elimination diet! But if you experience any of the following signs, it’s worth considering.

  1. Chronic digestive issues. Persistent bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation that doesn’t improve with other treatments.
  2. Unexplained health symptoms. Symptoms like migraines, fatigue, joint pain, or skin conditions that haven’t been diagnosed— or treated effectively—may be linked to food intolerances.
  3. Previous allergies. A history of allergies or food intolerances could mean you’re more susceptible to other food-related issues.
  4. Autoimmune conditions. Conditions like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are often linked to food sensitivities. Fortunately, an elimination diet might help manage symptoms.

Different Types of Elimination Diets

Of course, there are a variety of ways you can approach an elimination diet. These protocols range from basic to highly specific—including certain herbs, supplements, or tinctures you’ll take in conjunction. Below are popular elimination diets.

Basic Elimination Diet

Focuses on removing the most common allergens like dairy, gluten, soy, nuts, eggs, and shellfish. This method is suitable if you have general symptoms and no known specific food allergies.


Targets specific carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) that can cause digestive issues. This diet is often recommended for those with IBS.


A 30-day program that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy to promote whole, unprocessed foods and identify potential triggers. You can read our take on Whole30 here!

Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet

Designed for those with autoimmune diseases, this diet removes grains, legumes, nightshades, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and processed foods. It focuses on nutrient-dense foods to reduce inflammation and promote gut health.

The Right Way to Do an Elimination Diet

No matter which elimination diet you choose, planning and monitoring are key. To guide your journey, consider the following steps:

  1. Consult a professional. This is so important! Your healthcare provider (or ideally, a registered dietitian/naturopathic doctor) will help plan a balanced elimination phase.
  2. Create a food diary. Track what you eat and any symptoms you experience. This helps identify patterns and correlations.
  3. Plan your meals. Prepare a list of foods you can eat and plan your meals to ensure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
  4. Stay committed. Follow the elimination phase—strictly—for at least two weeks. Any deviation can skew your results.
  5. Monitor and reintroduce. Pay close attention to your body’s responses as you reintroduce each food one at a time, spaced a few days apart. Jot down any symptoms that reappear.

How should you track your symptoms on an elimination diet?

To get the most bang for your (elimination diet) buck, you’ll need to effectively track your symptoms. And while it will feel like a chore, you’ll be thankful you did. In terms of keeping a detailed food diary, write down everything—yes, everything—you eat and drink each day. Include portion sizes and preparation methods if possible.

Alongside this, note any symptoms you experience, their severity, and a time stamp. Be specific about how you feel (i.e., fatigue). Lastly, use a consistent rating system. Create a scale (1-10) to rate the severity of your symptoms. That way, you’ll be able to easily track changes over time.

What foods are typically removed on an elimination diet?

This depends, but typical contenders include:

  • Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Gluten (wheat, barley, rye)
  • Soy (tofu, soy milk, soy sauce)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Shellfish and fish
  • Corn
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers)
  • Ultra-processed foods and additives (artificial sweeteners, preservatives)
  • Caffeine and alcohol

What to Eat During an Elimination Diet

On the flip side, what can you eat during an elimination diet? Generally speaking, focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are unlikely to cause reactions. For most people, safe options include:

  • Proteins. Lean meats, poultry, fish, and plant-based proteins like lentils (if not avoiding legumes).
  • Vegetables. Most non-starchy veggies such as leafy greens, broccoli, and carrots.
  • Fruits. Berries, apples, pears, apricots, and bananas.
  • Grains. Gluten-free grains like quinoa, rice, and oats (if not avoiding grains).
  • Healthy Fats. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.

Taking Supplements on an Elimination Diet

As mentioned, it’s normal for certain nutrients to take a dip while you’re on an elimination diet (given you’re restricting certain foods/food groups). Thankfully, supplements can help fill those gaps. Consult your healthcare provider, but the following supplements are worth the pantry space—elimination diet or not:

  • Multivitamin. A comprehensive multivitamin can help cover general nutrient gaps.
  • Calcium. If you’re avoiding dairy, a calcium supplement can help maintain bone health.
  • Vitamin D. Like calcium, vitamin D3 is essential for bone health, immune function, and healthy hormones.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. If you’re avoiding fish, consider a high-quality fish oil for heart and brain health.
  • Probiotics. To support gut health, especially if you’re eliminating foods that naturally contain probiotics like yogurt.
  • Magnesium. Important for muscle and nerve function, magnesium is always worth the shelf space (particularly if you’re eliminating nuts and seeds).
  • B Vitamins. If you’re not eating grains, ensure you get enough B vitamins for energy metabolism and overall health.
  • Iron. If avoiding red meat and certain grains, consider an iron supplement to prevent deficiency.

Transitioning Back to a Regular Diet

After successfully identifying problematic foods, how do you transition back to your regular diet? With the help of your healthcare provider/dietitian, you’ll want to reintroduce foods slowly. Have patience! Gradually reintroduce each eliminated food, one at a time, while closely monitoring your body’s reactions. If your symptoms return with a vengeance, you may want to eliminate that food long-term (other than on special, infrequent occasions!). And if that’s the case, find suitable alternatives to maintain nutritional balance.

The Final Word on Elimination Diets

Ultimately, elimination diets are a very valuable tool for identifying food sensitivities—and for that matter, improving your overall health! Once you recognize your body’s unique reactions to different foods, you can make informed dietary choices that make you feel energized, balanced, and vibrant. With a trusted provider’s guidance, you’ll be able to tailor your elimination diet to meet your body’s unique needs. Cheers to a healthy, thriving body.