8 True Stories of How the Elimination Diet Solved Mysterious Health Issues

Some 20 percent of us have food intolerances that cause symptoms such as bloating, rashes, and headaches. The elimination diet shows us how food is both the problem and the solution.

Lisa Beres got rid of bloating and fatigue

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Lisa Beres
Doctors have found many ways to deal with belly bloat, but you might not even seek treatment if you don't consider your symptoms to be out of the ordinary.

That was the case for Lisa Beres, 46, of Irvine, California, who grew up in a home that, like many in the '80s, didn't place an emphasis on healthy eating. The symptoms she experienced from an early age happened so frequently, she began to assume they were normal, and it was only as she aged that she was able to identify them as unhealthy. She first noticed symptoms early in life in high school, when she'd experience bloating and fatigue after eating. "I was raised on a traditional meat and potato diet with white Wonder bread, milk, sugary foods, and lots of dairy," Beres said. "I really had no knowledge of how to eat outside what was served to me by my parents or what my friends were eating." She loved salads, but she would douse them in cheese and Thousand Island dressing with croutons atop iceberg lettuce. "I really thought that was healthy," she says. Beres also battled mucous and sinus issues: "I felt like something was stuck in my throat," she says. "I would wake up in the morning with so much mucus that I had to spit it out—and I thought that was normal after sleeping. I seemed to always have Kleenex or a wad of tissues on hand just in case."

Beres began eliminating foods at age 17. Eliminating suspicious foods to identify what might be causing an unwanted health symptom is called an elimination diet, and it's most often done by removing foods one at a time and recording the body's response—or you can begin with very simple foods and add others back in gradually to see if symptoms return. Foods most often eliminated in an elimination diet include dairy, eggs, corn, nuts, soy, gluten, citrus, nightshade vegetables (like eggplant), pork, and wheat. As symptoms continue or resolve, foods are eliminated indefinitely, or reintroduced after a two-week trial period for each, until you've identified the foods that are causing symptoms. There are several types of diets that eliminate foods, and specific diets, such as the IFM elimination diet boast that it allows followers to identify food triggers, reduce inflammation, and support the microbiome.

Beres says beef was the first to go in her quest to identify the culprits causing her discomfort. "Next was chicken, which was easy, because I really felt like it had zero flavor. Eggs followed, as they always kind of made my stomach turn if I was cooking or baking with them. Next, I eliminated milk, then cheese, and lastly fish; the latter two only a year and a half ago."

While Beres knew her sinus issues, constant mucus production, and general unease had improved since becoming a vegan, it wasn't until she received confirmation of her allergy to the foods she eliminated that she was certain her body had known the answer all along. "One day, I visited a phenomenal doctor in Santa Monica, and she suggested a food allergy test which is done via blood samples. Much to my surprise, the results indicated I was highly allergic to the casein in cow's milk and egg whites. I was surprised, yet I wasn't," she says. "My body was already guiding me to avoid both eggs and milk, and I had naturally done it right before having the allergy test done, so it was confirmation."

Today, Beres and her husband are completely vegan, and she says she's never felt better. "Today, I have no sinus and mucus issues or bloating. I have clearer skin, healthier hair, a normal menstrual cycle, and loads of energy. My weight is also the best it's ever been without increasing my workouts." Lisa maintains that our bodies know the answers to our health problems, and we need only listen. "Our bodies are quite fantastic and if we listen to the subtle clues, it will guide us to what is best for our health and well-being," she tells Reader's Digest. Here's what happens to your body when you start a vegan diet.

Linda Asaf stopped having hives
How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Linda Asaf

Allergies are on the rise, so it's not unusual to experience skin rashes of all kinds (here's how to identify a skin rash). But sometimes it can signal a food intolerance.

Linda Asaf, of Austin, Texas, began noticing hives on her forearms and legs in 2011. Fearful she was experiencing an autoimmune disease, she looked to an elimination diet plan for help even though she was hesitant to believe her reaction was food-related. After removing many foods she was told could be problematic including soy, milk, dairy, corn, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, and more, her first response was, "What's left?" she tells Reader's Digest.

Once Asaf began examining her food choices and development of hives, however, she saw a connection between the two. "I started thinking about what I was eating and realized my reactions were food related. For example, most mornings, I would have a big glass of orange juice and then later I'd get hives. I also noticed I would get hives after I drank milk and when I ate tofu," she recalls. Shortly after starting the elimination diet, Asaf began to see improvements in the way she felt. She explains, "I had lost weight, I was sleeping like a baby, and I was in a great mood. I was having an amazing experience, feeling so great, plus all the other benefits just from cleaning up and personalizing my diet." Once Asaf was able to reintroduce foods into her diet, she realized that many of her allergic reactions to them had diminished, including the hives that once plagued her. (Use these smart swaps in place of dairy.)

Today, Asaf continues to keep a laser focus on her diet. "I am so much more aware of how food impacts our lives and health," she says. "I don't eat processed food ever anymore and if or when I do have a reaction, I'm quick to think about how it could be related to the food I have eaten." Restrictive diets require a commitment, but it's one that Asaf says is worth making. "I encourage people to think about how their diet impacts their health. This includes allergic reactions or something like psoriasis, which I know can be related to diet." (Check out the foods known to worsen psoriasis.) She recommends trying this kind of diet, as she can attest to its success. "You can avoid prescription medications that oftentimes only treat the symptoms, not the problem," she adds. "It's amazing what food can do for your body both good and bad," she adds.

Mark Hardwick lost weight and got his energy back

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Mark Hardwick
Mark Hardwick of Midland, Texas, was tired of trying diet after diet and hitting a plateau with weight loss—he knew he could lose more. (Use these pro tips to bust out of a weight-loss plateau.) Not only had his weight loss stalled, but his energy was flagging. He tells Reader's Digest, "I was bloated most of the time and felt my energy was not as high as it could be. I reached a limit on how much weight I could lose when trying different diets. I knew I could go lower. The foods I was choosing to eat had to be the problem."

When a good friend recommended that Mark try eliminating foods to identify the cause of his symptoms, he readily accepted the challenge. "Initially, it was challenging to pre-plan access to the clean food I was limited to," he says. "It took about a week before I got into the swing of things and my habits began to change. Withdrawal from sugar was hard, but I found that after about three days, my sugar cravings were gone." Within a week, Hardwick saw the needle on the scale begin moving once again. "In about seven to nine days my energy started to increase and I began losing weight again. I wasn't bloated any longer. When I started to eliminate food, I found convincing evidence of the foods that didn't agree with my system," he says. During the diet, Hardwick eliminated sugar, nuts, gluten, and peppers. (These are the secrets that people on a low-sugar diet swear by.)

Today, when Hardwick strays from his diet, he remembers why he's on it. "Old habits tend to creep back into my eating from time to time. When they do, my old symptoms come back. The good news is now it's easier to get back on course," he explains. Hardwick believes trying a different way of eating has allowed him to tailor-fit a diet that gives him exactly what his body needs, and he encourages others to do the same. "I have tried many different diets. Learning the foods that are not right for your system is the key to long-term success. The better you feel, the easier it is for you to form and keep better eating habits," he says.

If a food intolerance isn't behind your fatigue, these healthy eating habits will boost your energy.

Carol McDonald beat insomnia, joint aches, and eczema

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Carol McDonald
After 30 years of experiencing unwanted symptoms, Carol McDonald knew she had to get to the bottom of the problem. Doctors couldn't offer a proper diagnosis, and even popular weight loss programs weren't helping remove the stubborn pounds that refused to budge. She tells Reader's Digest, "My symptoms were unexplained weight gain and an inability to lose weight even when counting calories. I suffered from extreme fatigue, inability to go to sleep and stay asleep, overall achiness in my joints, and eczema." (These are the signs of eczema to never ignore.) She adds, "Some of these symptoms had been going on for over 30 years. After consulting with several different types of Doctors, and not having much luck diagnosing the root of my problems, I suspected it was food related but had no idea where to start."

Once Carol began eliminating problematic foods, she quickly saw results. "I had results within two weeks. In tracking my sleep patterns, I found I was falling asleep quickly and most importantly, staying asleep all night—something I haven't been able to do in years. I was steadily losing weight, and suddenly had energy and no afternoon fatigue," she says. Though she says continuing the diet when the weight loss began to slow was challenging, she is glad she continued, as her life today is better than ever. "Life for me is wonderful! I have energy like I haven't had in years! I have figured out what foods work for me and which ones to avoid. The symptoms I had previously experienced are all gone." She adds, "We have our first granddaughter coming in January and I'm going to be healthy and strong for her arrival."

Carol wants others to know the power of dietary habits and the effect they have on daily life. She advises, "Before going to a slew of doctors, try working with your diet and figuring out what foods are causing inflammation, digestion issues, or other symptoms." These are the foods that account for most food allergies. "Once you figure what foods work well for you, it no longer becomes a diet, but a lifestyle—and it's so easy to say no to certain foods because you don't ever want to feel bad again. Having the power to truly help yourself in such a tangible way is both life changing and life-giving."

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Leslie Abernethy beat gas, bloating, and weight gain

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Leslie Abernethy
After hearing about a diet program at a conference, Leslie Abernethy of Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, knew that a change in lifestyle could be the answer to her gas, bloating, and weight gain. She recalls, "I realized I had to make a change and figure some things out." She eliminated a lot of foods in the first 10 days, including citrus, dairy, garlic, onions, nightshades, nuts, gluten, corn, soy, alcohol, and most animal proteins. "I later brought all of these back into my diet one by one, to test them and figure out which worked well and which were problems." Sometimes bloating is normal, here are eight reasons why.

Abernethy began the diet near Christmas, which caused her to have a small setback, though she quickly got back on track and continued to make progress. She recalls, "Around Day 10 I began experiencing a lot of big changes. I discovered much more energy to get through the day successfully, and it allowed me to be much more productive. My 'monkey mind' disappeared, so I was able to have much clearer focus, and to step back in moments of stress to calm myself, instead of getting carried away in the moment."

Abernethy's success with the diet has caused her to not only continue this new healthy habit but also to monitor herself closely for slip-ups. "I protect my meal times very carefully now, and making sure I get enough protein at lunch has been a huge game changer for me." (Here's how to load up on lean protein.) She also started eating breakfast consistently every day and avoiding the foods that caused her symptoms. "These changes allow me to get through my day with consistent energy, and not experience the afternoon crash that was such a common thing for me before. If I do fall off the wagon, I know how to get back on track right away again," she explains.

With no plans to undo the progress she's made, Abernethy is in it for the long haul. "This was much more than a food program to me, and more of a complete lifestyle dissection, and creation of the lifestyle I want to live moving forward. This really set me up for a healthy lifestyle, and I feel well-equipped with the knowledge and tools I need to continue with this for many years to come," she says.

Kim Taylor beat chronic headaches and knee and back pain

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Kim Taylor
The chronic headaches and knee and back pain that Kim Taylor of Austin, Texas, experienced increased dramatically after the birth of her second child at age 40. It was at that point that she knew there had to be a missing link between her chronic pain her lifestyle. After speaking to a friend who had successfully completed Kim Love's Personalize To Thrive program, a program that walks individuals through a specific diet that eliminates common problematic foods to target health concerns, she became convinced she had the answer to her problem. "I immediately began to wonder whether there was a direct correlation between my chronic pain and the foods I was eating," she recalls. Though eliminating the foods she was accustomed to eating was difficult, Taylor pressed on. "By far, the first three days were the hardest," she says. "I wasn't hungry, but I had a headache and felt slightly ill. I had to resist the sugar cravings. I was very surprised at how physically addicted I was to sugar," she says. After the rough beginning, Taylor began to see results shortly after. Kim Love, founder of Personalize to Thrive, says, "Elimination diets allow people to more easily shed weight while also discovering high energy, improved sleep, better digestion, and reduced inflammation. If done correctly, these improvements can emerge as early as 10 days, and will occur in the absence of any cravings or hunger."

"I won't ever forget the feeling I had on day eight," Taylor remembers. "I jumped out of bed around 5:45 a.m. and had more energy than I could remember having even in my twenties. I slept soundly all night and nothing in my body hurt. I didn't have a lull in the afternoon and stay energized until around 10 p.m. The biggest surprise was that my headaches and pain were gone. As I slowly introduced new foods, I was amazed at the foods that my body was reacting negatively to—they were actually foods I always thought were the healthier option: chicken and corn," she explains. "I discovered that chicken was causing my migraines. It didn't matter whether the chicken was boneless, skinless, organic chicken or not, but every time I ate chicken I got a migraine. When I introduced a single corn tortilla, the very next day I gained over three pounds! I've tried corn in every manner since, and it now makes me physically ill if I accidentally ingest corn," she adds. Even nutritious foods can make you gain weight. Here are 50 things your doctor wishes you knew about losing weight.

Today, Taylor uses her newfound information about her own body to drive her diet decisions and encourages others to do the same. "It is one of the most impactful, common sense actions I've ever taken for my health," she says. "Too many doctors are quick to prescribe medication to mask the pain. The pain is there to tell us something is wrong with our bodies. Masking the pain does not fix the overall health issue. If changing what you eat can make you healthier, why wouldn't you? I fully understand being addicted to food, but I've also been able to overcome that addiction. I'm not saying I never eat other foods that are not good for me, I do. But, now I know I can reset my body any day and feel years younger within a week," she says.

Charlie Pace beat heartburn, allergies, migraines, and more

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Charlie Pace
The many symptoms that Charlie Pace of Austin, Texas, experienced due to complications of food choices were not readily apparent when he began to consider trying an elimination diet. "I was somewhat oblivious to many of them, but I struggled with heartburn, allergies, sinus infections, migraines, weight gain, achiness, and restless sleep," Pace told Reader's Digest. Pace had celebrated his 40th birthday in 2009 and knew his diet needed a change, so he enrolled himself and his wife, Kendall, in Kim Love's Personalize to Thrive Program. "I signed us up and positioned the program as a Valentine's Day gift! Long story short, we had no idea what we were getting into, but we loved working with Love and trusted her process. In the end, it paid huge dividends," he recalls.

Pace says his adjustment to the diet affected him both physically and mentally. "I was hungry and angry as my body was adjusting to having no gluten, dairy, animal protein, sugar, or caffeine. It was a mental and physical shock, which in retrospect was a good thing," he recalls. After the initial period of adjustment, he began to see results during the first week, including sleeping much better and feeling more refreshed in the morning. "During the second week, I was more energized in the afternoons and had no mid-afternoon energy zap. During the third week, I noticed my clarity of thinking was remarkably better and had less brain fog," he explains. Charlie also credits the diet with the many discoveries he made about his health, including an intolerance to gluten. "At that time, I had no idea what gluten was, and was not happy when I learned which foods typically contain gluten. Bread was a major staple in my diet. I'd have a bagel or piece of toast in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta—or some other form of gluten-filled food—for dinner several times a week. My allergies, and the side effects of my allergies—sinus infections and migraines—disappeared," he recalls.

Not only did Pace's symptoms begin to disappear, but so did the stubborn pounds that had mysteriously appeared over the previous two years. "An additional benefit was a loss of weight," he says. "It was clear to me that when I ate food that agreed with my body, my weight was optimized. Given I was carrying a few extra pounds when I began, the runway was long. By the end of my first elimination diet, which lasted six weeks, I dropped 35 pounds and was feeling better than ever," he adds. Just smelling these foods can help you lose weight!

What was once a Valentine's Day gift for Pace and his wife is now a lifestyle for the couple. "The more you know about how your body processes food, the better off you will be in the long run," Pace says.

Mandy Webster fought off nausea, fatigue, and brain fog

How-the-Elimination-Diet-Solved-My-Mysterious-Health-ProblemCourtesy Mandy Webster
Mandy Webster, a neurosurgery physician assistant in Austin, Texas, has had unwanted symptoms affecting her daily life since she was in her teens. As she grew older, the symptoms intensified, until she was desperate to find help for her problems. Webster tells Reader's Digest, "I was experiencing severe bloating and gas anytime I ate, nausea, and fatigue. In the mornings I woke up foggy-headed, and in the afternoons I felt a drop in energy. At night, I experienced poor sleep, and my exercise performance mildly decreased. I didn't realize how bad it had gotten until I began the food tests. I knew it was food related, because most of my symptoms occurred with anything I would eat, or even when I wouldn't eat in fear of having symptoms."

Webster eliminated dairy, soy, gluten, animal protein, eggs, nightshade vegetables, grains, caffeine, nuts, alcohol, and sugar, and focused on combining certain foods with fruit at the optimal times. She continued her intense exercise routine throughout the elimination period, but found one bad habit most challenging to beat. "I craved sugar, and my candy eating habit was difficult to break but all the difficulties passed quickly once I started feeling the benefits of the diet," she recalls. (Here's how to crack your sugar addiction.)

Today, Webster has taken the knowledge she gained during the experience of removing and adding foods to apply to her daily diet choices. She's quick to admit she alters her diet according to what she feels her body needs. "I try to pay attention to what I discovered initially, however, I have considered starting from the beginning again—because as a female I think hormones change and what worked for me before is not necessarily right for me now. For example," she says, "I might now benefit more from plant protein than animal protein. I always grab a green juice when I'm feeling really off and have intense sugar cravings," she says. These are the top sources of plant-based protein.

As a healthcare provider, Webster now recommends the elimination diet to patients to help with chronic pain, fatigue, weight, joint pain, recovery, and athletic performance, among other symptoms. "I think anyone could benefit and change a few poor habits in the interim," she says.

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