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The Elimination Diet Vs. The Whole30 Diet — What’s the Difference?


There are a few reasons why someone might go on an elimination diet like Whole30. Maybe they’re experiencing allergy symptoms, bloating, indigestion, skin problems… the possibilities are endless. Ideally, by cutting out a selection of possibly triggering foods, an elimination diet diet will help the person identify what may be bringing on these symptoms. That way, the person is able to cut out said food — at least for a while — before maybe re-introducing it in the future.

Woman’s World spoke to Sarah Lynn Quick MS, RDN, CDN of Sarah Lynn Nutrition on the difference between an elimination and a Whole30 diet. She explains that Whole30 focuses specifically on eliminating refined sugars, processed foods, grains, legumes, and dairy, whereas elimination diets are generally personalized.

“Whole30 instructs all participants to eliminate the same foods, regardless of symptoms or any other health history,” she says. “It’s not very personalized and may result in the participant cutting out foods they don’t necessarily need to. It can be beneficial in terms of minimizing processed foods, and reducing inflammation.”

Elimination Diets Help People Identify Intolerances

Woman holding her stomach in pain on a bed
Many often turn to elimination diets to figure out which foods are triggering unpleasant symptoms, such as stomach pain.LaylaBird/Getty Images

There are many different kinds of elimination diets that people can follow. Some might adhere to an elimination diet for thyroid issues, while others might follow an elimination diet to lose weight. There are so many different of diets that involve eliminating certain types of foods, but one of the most popular regiments in this category is known as the Whole30 diet.

Eliminations in general, Lynn Quick tells us, are useful for identifying foods that trigger symptoms like stomach pain or bloating: “Once the food trigger has been identified, the goal is to add in small amounts of that food back into the diet and monitor tolerance,” she explains.

Sometimes, They Help Dieters Recognize Certain Foods Should Be Eliminated Entirely

Woman opening fridge at grocery store
Elimination diets may help someone decide which foods aren’t right for them.Chirayu/Getty Images

Even though elimination diets generally allow people to reintroduce “trigger” foods, sometimes it helps people realize it should be permanently eliminated from their diet. “Elimination diets allow us to keep as much variety in the diet as possible by identifying very specific triggers,” Lynn Quick says.

If we have to eliminate a food a patient enjoys or an entire food group, the patient may feel deprived and struggle to follow the diet. It’s important for me as a dietitian to emphasize that the elimination is temporary and will hopefully result in the patient feeling better

Lynn Quick

Elimination Diets Have Grown in Popularity Because It’s Often Seen as a “Magical Solution”

A woman deep in thought
Some turn to elimination diets to diagnose foods that trigger symptoms such as brain fog.SolStock

Lynn explains that elimination diets can be useful. But, she says, they’re often used by non-professionals to hopefully be a cure-all. “I think symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, digestive distress or sore joints are very common among adults, and they see elimination diets as a possible, promising solution,” she says. “This is a prime example of magical thinking and a non-medically supervised elimination diet should never be a substitute for appropriate diagnostic testing and medical care.”

Some, Which Are Often Prescribed, Have Been Widely Researched

That said, Lynn discourages non-professionals from trying an elimination without supervision. However, she emphasizes that many types of prescribed elimination diets are useful in medical settings, for different reasons.

“For medically supervised elimination diets, such as the low FODMAP diet or the IFM elimination diet, more research has emerged in recent years regarding their effectiveness, so more practitioners are adding them to their GI treatment toolkit,” she says. “I would like to emphasize that medically-supervised elimination diets are only used after proper diagnostic testing has occurred.”

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Whole30 Is a Very Popular Type of Elimination Diet

Whole30 is a 30-day regimen that many follow as a “nutritional reset” rather than an elimination diet. For the full month, dieters are expected to cut out grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, refined sugars, and processed foods. Doing this allows them to identify any foods that might be triggering allergies or unpleasant symptoms such as acne, bloat, stomach pain, or indigestion.

But Whole30 Isn’t Always the One Dietitians Recommend

“I have never recommended the Whole30, but I have suggested eliminating many of those same food groups due to patient symptoms and patterns within their food journal,” Lynn Quick explains.

This is because there are more personalized elimination diets out there, that she finds to be more helpful than Whole30.

There is a well-researched elimination diet called the ‘low FODMAP’ diet that is used to alleviate symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and help identify triggering foods. This requires eliminating primarily fruit and vegetables high in fermentable sugars and adding them back into the diet in small amounts, if possible. There is also an elimination diet through the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) that aims to accomplish the same goal as the Whole30.

Lynn Quick

But Whole30 is Just One Type of Elimination Diet

Woman speaking to dietitian
Dietitians tend to prescribe more personalized elimination diet plans than Whole30.Kosamtu/Getty Images

Although it’s the most “popular,” Whole30 is just one type of elimination diet. In a guide to identify food sensitivities, Ohio State University lists off a wide range of alternative elimination diets, including:

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Whole30 — and Elimination Diets in General — Can Be Extremely Tough to Follow

A woman holds her head in her hands, as if she's tired or upset
Nutritional defiiciencies are common when people follow elimination diets, which is why it should be prescribed and supervised by a dietitian. Johner Images/Getty Images

One of the major drawbacks of an elimination diet is the fact that they are often quite restrictive. Whether you’re eliminating alcohol, dairy, gluten — or all of the above — socializing or family meals can become extremely difficult.

“Whole30 requires the elimination of whole food groups (food groups that have years of research to support their health benefits),” Lynn Quick explains.

This usually isn’t an issue if it is temporary and you feel that you are intolerant or allergic to these foods. Unfortunately, most patients I’ve talked to that have tried the Whole30 have viewed it as a weight loss diet and tried to follow it long term. I don’t ever recommend following an elimination diet without medical supervision.

Lynn Quick

Because They’re So Restrictive, Those With a History of Eating Disorders Should Be Wary

With that, an excerpt from Veteran Affairs states that elimination diets may exacerbate existing eating disorders. Therefore, those with a history of eating disorders should proceed cautiously, and consult a dietitian beforehand.

“Be cautious of instilling a fear of food,” the Veteran Affairs advises.

Dieters Can Also Become Deficient in Certain Nutrients

Just as it is with any diet, elimination diets can result in nutrient deficiencies. To combat this, an explainer from Medical News Today stresses the importance of consulting a dietitian before adhering to an elimination diet. That way, Lynn Quick explains, dieters won’t risk becoming deficient in any crucial vitamins or antioxidants.

“Elimination diets are meant to be very temporary because they usually involve cutting out whole food groups, which can lead to feelings of deprivation and nutrient deficiencies,” Lynn says. “Elimination diets should be medically supervised to ensure nutrient needs are met.”

Whole30 Is an Elimination Diet, but Many Prescribed Elimination Diets Out There Are More Useful

“Elimination diet” is a broad term for a diet that simply involves cutting out several food groups, in order to identify intolerances. Whole30 is one type of elimination diet that has gained tremendous popularity over the last few years, for being a “nutritional reset.” It simply involves cutting out refined sugars, alcohol, grains, and dairy. There are other types of elimination diets, however, such as the six food elimination, and the four food elimination diet, which involve eliminating less types of foods.

How long should someone stay on an elimination diet?

While Whole30 lasts 30 days, other elimination diets vary. Speak to a dietitian before starting or continuing any type of elimination diet.

What is the best type of elimination diet?

A dietitian will determine which elimination diet is right for you, based on your symptoms.

What are the benefits of Whole30?

Aside from helping dieters identify intolerances, adhering to a Whole30 diet may help control blood sugar levels, restore the metabolism, and with other health problems. But instead of self-diagnosing intolerances, it would be best to speak to an expert on how to approach the identification of inflammatory foods.

What are the benefits of Whole30?

Many view Whole30 as a nutritional reset. Supposedly, it helps identify inflammatory foods, and instill healthy habits.

What is the point of an elimination diet?

Elimination diets generally help people identify foods that are triggering symptoms such as bloating or indigestion. But dietitians tend to prescribe different ones to different people, based on their symptoms.

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