Does The Elimination Diet Help With Skin Breakouts?

We asked a dietitian and dermatologist your most pressing questions.

woman holding vegetables in front of greenery

 Alicia Rountree

We pick the brains of models day in and day out, constantly prying into their medicine cabinets and kitchen cupboards in an attempt to uncover their elusive secrets. In these endeavors, we hear a lot about eating clean and avoiding sugar, but rarely do we hear diet tips from a model who also happens to have her nutritional science degree. That’s exactly what we found in Alicia Rountree. The Mauritian model (she’s got the island hair and bronzed glow to prove it) is also a certified nutritionist and restaurateur, and she’s sharing her secrets with us.

Have you been feeling sluggish or bloated? Do you frequently get headaches or feel pain in your joints? Is your skin breaking out and appearing lackluster? It may come as a surprise, but the culprit of these symptoms may be lurking on your plate: You could have a food intolerance, meaning that your morning bagel could be the cause of your afternoon migraine.

Luckily, there is an easy and inexpensive way to determine if your body disagrees with certain foods. It’s called the elimination diet. Elimination diets are used to identify food intolerances and allergies by removing certain foods that you suspect you may be sensitive to and then reintroducing each food one at a time while monitoring for symptoms. No need for expensive medical tests—you’ll only need a little time and patience. The elimination diet requires discipline and monitoring, but your body will thank you when you find the root of your intolerance. The great thing about this diet is that it helps you discover which foods work for your body, so it’s tailored just for you. Keep reading to learn how to strike out on your own elimination journey and discover what's stressing your body and skin.

1. Take Note of Imbalances

Alicia Rountree

The first thing you should do is look for imbalances you may have already noticed: Do you get migraines, indigestion, or fatigue? How is your mood? Look closely at your skin. Do you notice redness or bumps? These could be signs that the foods you are eating are causing you discomfort, even if you are healthy. This is an important step because it will help you notice changes as they occur. But don't expect immediate results, warns Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, and CEO of NY Nutrition Group warns. "In some cases, it can take up to 48 hours to react to a specific food, so without eliminating and individually reintroducing, it could otherwise be incredibly challenging to determine specific food culprits," she says.

2. Eliminate Specific Foods

Alicia Rountree

Dr. Jessie Cheung, the founder of Cheung Aesthetics & Wellness, suggests following the diet for at least two weeks, with dairy and gluten being good ingredients to start bringing down the ax. Additionally, the elimination diet suggests also cutting out the following:

  • eggs
  • nightshade vegetables
  • sugar
  • corn
  • nuts
  • citrus fruit
  • shellfish
  • alcohol
  • caffeine

If, like us, you are already shuddering at the idea of two weeks without a coffee, take heart—you might not need the full 14 days to start noticing a difference. "The length [of the diet] would be determined by the severity of the symptoms. Typically it is modified to fit the individual and the nature of the issues," Moskovitz explains. Most of the time, she recommends paying attention—you can start reintroducing foods when you notice most reactions have dissipated. 

Since the elimination diet's goal is to, well, eliminate, make sure to up your water intake to help all the built-up toxins flush themselves out.

3. Refocus Your Diet

Elimination Diet Shopping List

During this period, your diet should consist of:

  • organic vegetables 
  • fruit 
  • whole grains 
  • wild fish 
  • beans 
  • brown rice 
  • quinoa 
  • millet
  • buckwheat 
  • tapioca 
  • arrowroot 
  • potatoes 
  • yams
  • certified gluten-free products 
  • avocados
  • cold-pressed oils

Basically, you'll want to consume plenty of fiber and unprocessed foods. You're taking your body—your stomach, specifically—back to step one of healthy, balanced nutritional consumption.

4. Reintroduce One Food Group at a Time

Alicia Rountree

"Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut. The health of your GI system and its microbiome is linked to your overall well-being. Your skin reflects that health," Cheung says, explaining that "food plays a role in the bacterial makeup of your gut, and bloating, gas, diarrhea, headaches, nasal congestion, and skin issues such as eczema can indicate sensitivities to certain foods."

After finishing your approved period of avoiding the foods mentioned above, you should definitely be feeling great. This is when you start to reintroduce each food group, one by one. For example, if you're doing a 21-day diet, on day 22, reintroduce dairy: Have yogurt or milk in the morning and some cheese in the evening, and notice how you feel over the next couple of days. You could feel something immediately, a delayed reaction, or nothing at all. Then you do the same thing again with another group, allowing at least three days between each type of food before reintroducing the next one. This will really help you notice how your body reacts to each food.

5. Note Side Effects

Alicia Rountree

"As food intolerances trigger inflammation, you may notice changes in your energy levels, sleep, bowel habits, joints, and skin rashes," explains Cheung. Now notice how you feel: Has the redness in your skin disappeared? Is your stomach flatter? Have your breakouts dropped in severity? Maybe you are sleeping better and have more energy to do the things you love? Whatever it is, record it until your timeline of the elimination diet is complete.

Symptoms may disappear and reappear as you gradually reintroduce potential irritants into your system. Try a good, old-fashioned food diary to keep track of them; scribble anything of interest down on a notepad or even in a memo on your phone.

6. Talk to Your Doctor

Eliminating any major food groups always comes with a risk. Cheung recommends having a doctor's supervision when you try an elimination diet, particularly if you suspect you have a food allergy. "You may trigger an anaphylactic response when you reintroduce the food—your body can go into shock while your blood pressure drops and your airways narrow, blocking your breathing," she says.

Consider consulting a nutritionist if the elimination diet is prolonged to ensure you're getting enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Moskovitz warns that aside from any potential nutrient deficiencies, which can be easily corrected after the reintroduction phase, those with a history of any serious medical issues, including diabetes, kidney disease, or an eating disorder and/or disordered eating patterns, may run into complications. "For that reason, it is highly recommended, if you are considering an elimination diet, consulting with a medical professional, including an MD and registered dietitian. They can ensure that you can remain healthy and reduce any potential risks," she explains.

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