Is a 21-Day Elimination Diet Right For You?

Uhm, three weeks without cheese????

via @thedelicious

You’ve tried eating gluten free, even though you’re not sure if you’re allergic to gluten. You thought about cutting nightshades out of your diet after Tom Brady revealed he didn’t eat tomatoes or eggplant. Maybe you even went vegan for a while. And every time you cleaned up your diet, you felt a little better—but you’re not exactly sure what works for your body … and what definitely doesn’t.

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Here’s the thing—many of us have quite a few “trigger” foods that just make us feel off. For some, it’s equivalent to a serious food allergy that causes everything from hives to anaphylactic shock. But it’s far more likely that your body’s adverse reactions to certain foods or ingredients are much more subtle. Symptoms like bloating, digestive discomfort, gas, skin problems, headaches, and even fatigue can all be signs that you have a slight food intolerance.

But without taking an expensive allergy test, it can be really challenging to determine which foods are triggering your uncomfortable reactions. And even if you do take an allergy test with your physician, sometimes there are discrepancies and inaccuracies. One of the easiest, cheapest ways to find out exactly what causes a deleterious response is by going through an Elimination Diet.

What’s the 21-Day Elimination Diet?

It sounds a little intimidating, but it’s actually pretty easy to follow a 21-day elimination diet at home. There are a few different ways to go about it, but generally, you’ll start by cutting out five of the most allergenic food groups from your diet—dairy, soy, gluten, nuts, and eggs. You’ll also need to ditch fast food—the preservatives and processed ingredients in fast food can cause an inflammatory response in your body—and alcohol for 21 days straight.

Why three weeks?

It takes 21-23 days for the antibodies in your bloodstream to turn over. Antibodies are activated by intruders like bacteria and viruses, but they’re also triggered by allergic reactions. After 21 days, you should notice a serious decrease in the amount of inflammation (which is caused by an antibody response) that you see or feel. It’s really important to stay honest with yourself when you try an elimination diet—slipping up and noshing on a slice of cake or even snacking on a handful of nuts could mess with the outcome.

After you’ve completely eliminated those five allergenic food groups from your diet for 21-days, you’ll slowly start to reintegrate each group into your day-to-day. Start slowly, first adding dairy back into your eats. Two to three days later, you can try eating soy, too. Then gluten, then nuts, then eggs. As you add foods back into your meals, you’ll notice almost instantly when something causes a negative reaction in your body. Seriously, the reaction can be fast and BRUTAL! We’re talking upset stomach, headaches, hives … and even, ahem, bathroom problems.

How to tell what’s causing your allergic reactions

Obviously, if something instantly makes you feel ill, that’s a pretty good indication that you have an intolerance to that food. The good news is that food intolerances are things that can come and go—sometimes, all you need to do is lay off the eggs/tofu/gluten for a while to allow your body to recover, and then you can slowly begin to reintegrate that food into your life. Of course, if it’s more serious than an intolerance—like a dairy allergy or Celiac disease—you’ll probably need to avoid eating that food for good.