SPECIAL REPORT: Elimination diets – good or bad for you?

The saying goes "you are what you eat" and now the latest diet craze is taking that to heart.

It involves people cutting entire food groups out of their diets to cure a variety of ailments, often without the guidance of a health professional.

News Leader 9's Barbara Gauthier investigates whether these elimination diets really help or if they cause bigger health problems than they may cure.

When Jessica Lee Anderson decided to go on a diet, it wasn't so she would look better, but rather so she would feel better.

"I ate a lot of processed food, I ate a lot of fast food, and I had just gotten so tired," Anderson explains. "I wasn't feeling very well."

So after doing some online research she decided to go on an elimination diet, cutting out wheat along with eggs, nuts, and most processed foods.

"Eliminating certain things in the diet had helped other individuals so I figured what the heck let's give it a chance," Anderson said.

Dietician Marjorie Nolan Cohn, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says while medically supervised elimination diets have been around for a long time, they've recently become a hot trend amongst everyday people.

"Elimination diets are definitely gaining popularity," Cohn said. "We have wheat free, gluten free, nut or seed free, as well as dairy free."

She says the idea is that cutting out certain foods can cut down on certain symptoms, ranging from digestion issues to skin irritations while improving immune system health and increasing energy levels.

"For someone who has a medical condition that warrants eliminating certain foods or food groups, the quality of life just improves dramatically," Cohn said.

But gastroenterologist Linda A. Lee believes many people mistakenly go on an elimination diet that don't actually need to do so.

"The problem is that people think that often it's an allergic reaction that's triggering these symptoms when actually there's no allergy at all," Dr. Lee said. "Sometimes diet is not a cause of symptoms. You might end up eliminating a lot of foods and not feeling any better. If you eliminate too fiercely, then you can run into nutritional problems."

Cohn adds that cutting out certain food groups without the guidance of a medical professional could leave you at risk of other health problems down the road.

"Someone who goes gluten free could actually increase their risk of diarrhea on a regular basis," Cohn said. "People who go on a carb free diet are actually increasing their risk for constipation. And a dairy free diet is also going to contribute to potentially setting yourself up to have low bone density or osteoporosis later in life."

Dr. Lee suggests instead of elimination, many people should consider moderation instead.

"If you have specific symptoms that you want to address, I would really encourage you to discuss it with your doctor first before you decide that you're going to embark on an elimination diet," Dr. Lee advised.

As for Jessica, she says her elimination diet gave her a new lease on life and she's committed to staying on it for the long haul.

"I do miss pizza, I miss other type of things," she said. "But nothing tastes as good as just feeling awesome."

Cohn says it's important to remember that elimination diets are a treatment, not a cure, to what ails you.

If you do find one that eases your symptoms, you'll have to eliminate that food group forever to keep reaping the benefits.

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