Asian woman looks longingly at chocolate and milk at the end of elimination diet

How Long Is an Elimination Diet?

The list of potential migraine triggers can seem endless when you’re considering an elimination diet. It also can appear to include just about all of your favorite foods.

  • Gluten – pasta, pizza crust, bread, bagels and baked good
  • Dairy – cheese, ice cream and milk
  • Caffeine, chocolate + wine – there are no words for this category!

Then you spot “healthy” foods on the list like citrus fruits, avocados, tomatoes, nuts, and seeds.

So, what gives?

An abundance of questions

If you’re like me, your immediate question is, what CAN I eat? And how long do I need to follow an elimination diet before I know my triggers? Neither are easy answers, but I’d like to share my experience with you hoping it helps, and I would love to hear your experience in the comments below.

My first elimination diet

My first elimination diet was when I was rather young and in the throes of debilitating migraines. The countless medications weren’t managing the migraines the way I had hoped. I simply wanted fewer days in my dark bedroom and the bathroom. I was willing to try anything – including eliminating some of my favorite foods. I wanted my health more than I wanted those foods, even as a kid.

How to do an elimination diet properly

A proper elimination diet eliminates all possible triggers for three to six months, evaluates your results, and then reintroduces each food one at a time and tracks the results. I didn’t know that at the time, so I started with what I knew – chocolate, nuts, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine were common triggers. So, all of them were out immediately – no exceptions.

The impact on my migraine attacks

Within the first month, I could feel a noticeable difference. I was still getting migraines, but they were less frequent and less debilitating. After three months, I tried reintroducing them, but with any bite, a migraine soon followed. It was clear; these were personal triggers for me.

Later, I learned that gluten, dairy, and eggs were possible triggers, so I went back to it again. I found gluten to trigger migraines, and while I felt better without dairy and eggs in my diet, they didn’t trigger migraines for me. Thankfully, I tested well for fruits and vegetables.

How can you begin?

First, start with a list of possible migraine triggers. You can do one of two things with it. The proper way to follow it is to eliminate all possible triggers for three to six months. If that feels too overwhelming to you, you could either engage the support of a nutritionist or health coach, or you could do it in stages. Start by eliminating the top three food triggers on the list that you eat most often.

How long do you need?

The standard is three to six months, but you’ll most likely start to notice a difference after the first 30 days.

How do you reintroduce the foods?

The reintroduction phase is important. If you reintroduce all three foods at once and then get a migraine, you don’t know which of the foods was a trigger. So, choose one food at a time and introduce it on a migraine-free day and keep a food journal. I like to test a food three times before I feel confident in knowing if it’s a trigger.

The bottom line is elimination diets take time and patience. They’re not easy, but they are worth it. Knowing which specific foods trigger your migraines and being able to possibly reduce the frequency and/or intensity of a migraine is what it’s all about.

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