Elimination Diets and Severe Eczema: Mistakes to Avoid

by Rachel Zohn Health Writer

Many people with moderate to severe eczema give elimination diets a try, hoping it will help ease their inflamed, irritated, and itchy skin. But elimination diets only work if you do them properly. Lily Nichols, a licensed dietitian who has worked with dozens of clients for skin-related issues, shares how to avoid the most common elimination diet mistakes and what you should consider before you begin.

Someone creating a diet plan surrounded by healthy foods.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet requires that you remove particular foods or food groups from your diet to pinpoint exactly what may be triggering your eczema. For some, the removal of certain foods may result in better eczema control. This is a short-term eating plan which can take several weeks and sometimes longer, depending on the number of foods you are sensitive to and the severity of your symptoms.

Bag of flour with spikelets of wheat, milk and eggs.

Eczema and food sensitivities

Some of the most common foods that people are sensitive to and may trigger eczema include grains, sugars, dairy and oftentimes eggs. Corn and soy also cause reactivity. But each person is different. The goal with an elimination diet is to remove all those things that may be causing your symptoms to worsen and then slowly reintroduce them back into your diet to see which ones are problematic. In order for the plan to work, you have to be willing to commit for a period of time.

Woman suspiciously reading food label.

Testing your suspicions

If you have a strong suspicion that one particular food is causing your problems, try removing that food from you diet for two weeks. It may take four to seven days to see an improvement. After two weeks, you can decide whether you want to introduce that food back into your diet. If you do so and your eczema flares again, there’s a good chance that food is problematic for you.

Blood prick food sensitivity test.

Food sensitivity testing

If you are uncertain which foods you may be sensitive to, or if you have tried multiple elimination diets without success, you may want to consider getting food sensitivity testing done. The results of this lab work can help guide you in determining which foods are best to eliminate and which foods should be safe to eat without triggering a reaction.

Woman writing down a list of foods.

Inclusion as much as exclusion

Another benefit to food sensitivity testing is knowing which foods you have been tested for that you didn’t react to. Knowing what foods to include is just as important as knowing what foods to remove from your diet. You may begin an elimination diet with a small list of foods to eat, but as the time goes by, you will add a variety of foods back into your diet.

Woman eating ice cream.

Not sticking with it

One of the most common mistakes people make is not sticking to an elimination diet. A few days on your plan and then a day of eating something you shouldn’t will completely throw of your results. The only way to truly pinpoint problematic foods is by completely eliminating them for a period of time to see how you feel when they are out of your system. It may take four to seven days to feel better once you’ve stopped eating a food you are sensitive to.

Woman reading a food label in a grocery store.

Careful planning can equal success

The key to a successful elimination diet is having a carefully thought-through plan. At first you will need to be extra-careful when grocery shopping. Read all food labels and come up with meal and snack plans that only include the foods and ingredients you can eat. You may be doing a lot of cooking at home for a few weeks!

Young adults sharing pizzas at a party at home.

Considering the social side

Planning ahead also includes thinking through how you will socialize with friends and family. If you go to a party, you may need to think about bringing your own food. Do you want to let people know what you’re doing and why? Also, be prepared to skip social drinking (for now). Alcohol is usually included in eliminations diet to give your digestive tract a chance to fully recover from inflammation caused by food sensitivities.

Man looking sad at a holiday dinner.

Think about timing

An elimination diet can be a lot of work and it’s not a lot of fun to eat a restricted diet. Before you embark on this commitment, take a look at your calendar and think through when would be a good time to try it. For instance, the holiday season, with its emphasis on parties and meals, might not be the easiest time to resist temptation.

Shopping cart full of products.

The ultimate goal is variety

You shouldn’t eat an overly restricted diet forever. The goal of an elimination diet is to eventually include as wide a variety of foods as possible into your diet, while knowing which foods trigger your symptoms and at what dosage they cause problems. Staying on an extremely limited diet for too long can cause nutritional deficiencies. Also, your body may overreact by becoming sensitive to those few foods that you do eat.

Group of friends eating salads and smiling.

Final results

You may find that some foods will always trigger a reaction, while others are only a problem if you eat a food too often or eat too much at one sitting. With time, you may be able to include some foods you’re sensitive to in limited quantities. Once you know your triggers, begin testing with new foods. Done correctly, an elimination diet can show good results. Lily Nichols, for example, says that her patients can see up to a 70 percent reduction in symptoms by the end of one month.

Rachel Zohn
Meet Our Writer
Rachel Zohn

Rachel Zohn is a mom, a wife, and a freelance writer who is striving to find the best way to juggle it all and maintain a sense of humor. She is a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in writing about all things related to health, wellness and the human body. She enjoys writing about various health topics, including skin conditions such as eczema, different types of cancer and seasonal allergies.