Back in 2017, I started getting pretty gnarly headaches a couple of afternoons a week, seemingly out of the blue. I figured I might be drinking too much coffee or not enough water, but after a long period of experimentation, it turned out that my body didn't like my new favorite meat substitute: seitan. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently I had gone through a rough approximation of an "elimination diet." Following an elimination diet for headaches can, according to at least one expert, help you find and cut out whatever food might be contributing to your pain.
First of all, I want to be clear that even though the idea of an elimination diet might sound like a very restrictive way to eat, it's actually just a method for determining which foods, if any, are contributing to your negative health symptoms. According to Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, a nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, this temporary way of eating can help you figure out which foods aren't hurting your body, and then you can have the peace of mind to eat those foods as much as your heart desires. "The whole goal of an elimination diet is not actually elimination; it's re-introduction," Moreno tells Elite Daily over email. "You'd hate to permanently reject so many nutrient-dense wonderful foods."
While they'll almost certainly look different from person to person, Moreno says elimination diets usually last between four and six weeks overall. "Elimination diets are not supposed to be permanent; we always want you to access the most nutrients you possibly can," she explains.
But this also means you can't figure out what's bothering your body after going just one day without eating a certain food that you suspect is contributing to your pain. According to SELF, in order to properly follow the elimination diet, you should cut out the food that you think might be contributing to your pain for at least a full two weeks before reintroducing it to see whether it affects you. One study, published in the medical journal Nutrition and Health, instructed 115 children to follow elimination diets to relieve headache symptoms, and the researchers emphasized in their findings that "headaches can be triggered by the cumulative effect of a food that is frequently consumed, rather than by single time ingestion." So even if you've never developed a headache after eating a bowl of mac and cheese, for instance, dairy could still be a trigger for you if you're eating it on a regular basis.
If you're interested in identifying what might be upsetting your stomach or giving you headaches, you might want to take a look at some of the most common irritants. According to Moreno, these include foods like aged cheeses, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol (especially red wine), dried fruits, artificial sweeteners, yeast, sourdough, fermented products, pickled foods, smoked or dried fish, processed meats and meat alternatives, and peanuts.
But, Moreno cautions, "everyone's triggers are completely different, so you may want to eliminate a lot and then add back in to determine the culprits." You should also make sure that you're drinking plenty of water, she says, because dehydration could actually turn out to be the real culprit.
No matter what food you try cutting out first, make sure you're paying close attention to your body throughout the process, says Moreno. "Being systematic, careful, detailed, and collecting data is essential."