What's an Elimination Diet?

It’s not about weight loss. You’re not out to delete unneeded calories or drop some extra pounds. Instead, the goal of an elimination diet is to pinpoint food that you might be sensitive to or allergic to.

You’ll need to partner with your doctor on this and make sure that you still get all the nutrients you need.

This method takes several weeks. Don’t do it if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis). If you have, you need to know your trigger food as soon as possible so you can avoid it. Talk with your doctor about that.

How Does the Elimination Diet Work?

The most common plan is to remove specific foods or ingredients from your diet because you and your doctor think they may be the reason for your allergy symptoms.

Common allergy-causing foods include milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, shellfish, and soy. Your doctor will supervise this diet over a few weeks.

The first step is to stop eating the suspicious food(s). You’ll need to read food labels carefully and ask how foods are prepared at restaurants. Keep a food diary and write down everything you eat.

Make sure you eat other foods that provide the same nutrients as the food you need to avoid. For example, if you're supposed to eliminate dairy products temporarily, you'll want to look for foods that are fortified with calcium. (Soy can be a good source, but check to see if it's allowed on your plan.) A dietitian can help you make your shopping list.

Then, you’ll slowly add back suspicious foods, one at a time. This process helps you know exactly which foods are a problem.

In your food diary, note any symptoms that you get as you add each food back in.

Lastly, you will once again stop eating the problem foods, one at a time. The list should be smaller this time. The goal is to see if the symptoms clear up for good.

Keep in mind that you could be sensitive to a food but not allergic to it. Still, the elimination diet can help you know which foods you’re better off avoiding.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 21, 2018



American Academy of Family Physicians: "Summary of the NIAID-Sponsored Food Allergy Guidelines." 

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Food Allergies."

Cleveland Clinic: "Food Challenge Test."

National Jewish Health: "Food Allergy: Diagnosis."

University of Wisconsin School Integrative Medicine Department of Family Medicine: "Elimination Diet."

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.