Here's how to tell if you actually have a food intolerance.
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Elimination diets are intended to reveal food intolerances and sensitivities by nixing the worst offenders for four to six weeks. But some claim that they can actually cause new problems.
It’s highly unlikely that avoiding any food for 30 days would create a new, permanent problem, says Edwin Kim, MD, medical director of the University of North Carolina Allergy and Immunology Clinic. Rather, elimination diets make underlying intolerances more apparent, which is the point, afterall. For example, when someone who is lactose intolerant consumes dairy regularly, their body activates a backup absorption system that helps with the excess lactose their enzymes can’t break down, he explains. Thus, after a period of going without, reintegrating that glass of milk will undoubtedly cause an upset stomach; they might think it’s a new sensitivity when really it’s been there all along. Bethany Snodgrass, holistic health coach and operations manager at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute agrees: "Elimination diets are a reset for your gut to its natural state so it makes sense that foods that could have been tolerated before would appear as a sensitivity after."
Kim also warns to watch out for the nocebo effect. “After a period of strict avoidance, people are almost definitely expecting that food to cause symptoms with reintroduction,” he says. Between overloading your system with something it hasn’t had to digest for a month and concentrating on nothing but how that food is settling, chances are pretty high your stomach is going to give off an inkling of unrest.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s slim to no physical risk in a well-designed elimination diet (one where all your essential nutrients are provided in some form), says Kim. To find out what you’re actually intolerant of, “re-introduce just one eliminated food at a time, eat a normal quantity of it, and give it a week of regular consumption to count out the nocebo effect.”