An Elimination Diet Is the Best Way to Figure Out Which Foods Make You Feel Like Crap

Stacey C. Slagle

Diets designed specifically for losing weight or bulking up are a dime a dozen. Some stipulate that you should count the calories of macronutrients you’re eating every day. Others stress nutritional minutia like the glycemic index. Still others are more concerned with when, rather than what, you’re eating.

At GQ, we’re believers in watching what you eat, but usually in service of overall health, not some number on the scale. A big part of this is avoiding food you’re intolerant of. You should avoid eating food that makes you feel bad after you eat it, in other words. 

The problem is that it’s not always obvious what’s giving your stomach trouble. Sometimes it’s clear: if you’ve got a sour stomach the morning after three glasses of red wine and a greasy hamburger, there’s probably no mystery there. But often it’s possible to have the vague sense that something’s wrong without an obvious trigger. 

Feeling better overall is often the rationale behind restrictive dietary changes, like a keto diet, or veganism. (Or, ironically enough, the carnivore diet). And if you’ve ever had a coworker do the Whole30, you surely heard about how much better they felt during it. But the benefits of restrictive diets like these are hard to qualify. Even if they make you feel good, is the primary benefit the restrictions themselves? Or is the diet good simply because of a few foods it ends up avoiding?

There’s a case to be made that what we put into our diets isn’t always as important as what we’re taking out of our diets. If that sort of experimentation sounds intriguing, then an elimination diet is something to consider.

It’s Not Exactly a Diet

Although the term is in the name, an elimination diet is not about losing weight. Its true purpose is to identify foods that might lead to some sort of adverse effect. Maybe eating white bread makes you groggy or burpy. Maybe drinking a glass of milk leaves you feeling bloated or sick. These sorts of food intolerances  are no fun, and might be dodged inadvertently by participating in a restrictive diet that severely limits all sorts of food choices. 

The elimination diet is more intentional. Start out by eating normally without any changes to your diet, but keep a log for several weeks of what foods you eat and how you feel after eating them. Once you have a list of foods and the symptoms they cause, you’ll have a better idea of what you could potentially take out of your diet. Then completely eliminate anything you suspect you’re intolerant of. 

Stick With It

When you do begin the elimination diet, try to follow it for anywhere from four to eight weeks. What’s important to bear in mind is that eliminating problem areas in your eating patterns isn’t just about removing certain foods. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for specific ingredients. If your weeks of journaling leads you to taking dairy out of your diet, then you’ll also want to watch out for other foods that might have whey or lactose, as the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—which has a comprehensive guide on elimination diets—points out.

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