Elimination diets have become quite popular in recent years. Celebrities and social media influencers praise diets such as Keto, Raw, and Paleo for their massive weight loss. The truth behind elimination diets isn’t as glamorous as the media would have you believe. In fact, total elimination diets can actually cause more harm than good, unless you’re being guided by a doctor.
What is a total elimination diet?
The answer lies in the name. No matter what total elimination diet you’re following, you need to eliminate one or more types of foods from your diet. You could eliminate sugar, processed foods, vegetables and fruit, meat, dairy, fats or carbs.
What’s so wrong with total elimination diets?
If excess sugar and excess fat in our diets cause heart disease, obesity, and other health issues, why is it wrong to completely eliminate them? The reasoning behind this is simple. No food is “bad” or “good.” Some foods are just higher in nutrients than other foods. Your body needs a little bit of everything to survive. Eliminating whole food groups sets the stage for nutrient deficiencies that your eliminated food group would have provided you with.
There’s a mental aspect to elimination diets as well. As soon as you label a food “bad” or tell yourself that it’s off-limits, you’re putting yourself at risk of developing an eating disorder. Think about the foods that you consider “treats” or “indulgences.” Does your mouth water when you picture yourself eating them? Are you flooded with guilt? Do you feel like you’ve done something “bad?” Even the word “cheat day” shows us how wrong our view of these forbidden foods is. Cheating is wrong, and by labeling foods this way, we’re only increasing our desire to eat them. After the meal is finished, the guilt and shame we feel is heightened. (1)
The benefits of eating a variety of foods
The flip side of this is moderation. If we embrace all food groups as okay to eat, we take away the lure forbidden foods have. Our cravings and desires decrease, which means we’re less likely to binge on them when we have the opportunity. This is a much healthier approach to our diet.
Eating a little bit of everything not only helps our minds but it helps our bodies as well. Different food groups provide our bodies with specific vitamins and nutrients. Eating a mix of all foods ensures that we’re giving our body the nutrition it needs to thrive. (2)
Related: What Is Clean Eating?
Dangers of Specific Total Elimination Diets
Technically a total elimination diet could be the elimination of anything. You could say you’re not going to eat green vegetables and count that as a total elimination diet. However, there are some popular elimination diets that you’ve most likely seen or heard of at some point. Each of these diets carries its own risks
The Keto diet asks you to keep your total carbohydrates to 50g a day or less. The purpose of this is to switch your body from using glucose as fuel to burning ketones that are created from your stored body fat. The problem with this is that bread and pasta aren’t the only sources of carbohydrates. There are carbs in almost everything you eat, including fruits and vegetables.
People on Keto often cut vegetables and fruit from their diet to reduce their net carb count. This forces them to eliminate essential vitamins and nutrients.
For example, a banana is a healthy food that’s loaded with potassium and vitamin B6. However, it also has 23g of carbs. Since this is half of your daily carb allowance on Keto, most people would completely cut out bananas. (3)
This is just one example. However, you can see how quickly you could deprive your body of essential nutrients by eliminating foods that are higher in carbs. People on Keto are often low in both electrolytes and fiber. This can cause a host of health problems, including low blood pressure, kidney stones and an increased risk of heart disease. (4)
The Paleo diet asks you to eliminate any foods that couldn’t be eaten by your ancestors back in the days when humans were hunter-gatherers. This means that it’s a diet high in fish, meat and vegetables that could be foraged. However, on Paleo, you can’t eat most grains, legumes and dairy. This is because Paleolithic people didn’t spend enough time in one place to plant and harvest crops or raise dairy animals.
This can lead to mineral deficiencies causing people to be low in calcium and vitamin D. The Paleo diet’s focus on meats also offers the opportunity to consume way too many saturated fats. This can increase your risk of high LDL cholesterol levels, poor bone density and kidney disease. (5)
Raw Vegan Diet:
The Raw Vegan Diet is a subset of veganism. Like veganism, there are no animal by-products or meat eaten, which rules out cheese, milk, yogurt, fish, beef and poultry. However, this type of veganism adds that you should only eat completely raw foods or foods that are not heated past 104-118F.
People following the raw vegan diet are usually doing it to lose weight. This is different from regular veganism, which is often a moral choice. Although high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit, a raw vegan diet is often lacking in vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12. This can lead to poor bone health, increased risk of tooth decay and lowered fertility rates. (6)
Related: Is Becoming “Veganish” A Real Thing?
What about medical elimination diets?
Nutritionist or doctor supervised medical elimination diets are a different story. Medical elimination diets involve the elimination of certain food groups. This is done to identify the food intolerance or allergy that might be causing health problems. Weight loss is not the purpose of a medical elimination diet, and they’re not trends. There is a specific medical reason that your doctor or nutritionist is asking you to eliminate certain foods. At the end of the day, it makes sense to eliminate the trouble food because it’s causing more harm to your health than it is good. (7)
Popular forms of total elimination diets such as Keto, Paleo and Raw Veganism can cause nutrient deficiencies and increase your risk of disease. Unless prescribed by a medical professional, you should avoid total elimination diets. Instead, if you’re concerned about your health or weight, you should speak with a nutritionist. A Nutritionist can examine your diet and help you fill in any nutrient gaps you might have so you can achieve your health and/or weight loss goals.
Kaitlyn Bain is a professional health and wellness writer with a passion for helping her clients educate their readers on healthy lifestyles.