Discovering Food Sensitivities
About 3 years ago, I went to an integrative doctor with some mysterious health issues that seemed to fluctuate with my cycle, leading her to conduct the DUTCH complete hormone panel. This test revealed very low circulating cortisol (the hormone responsible for giving us energy throughout the day), indicating a Stage 4 Adrenal Fatigue Diagnosis ~ Total Burnout.
Since reducing total stress on the body is crucial in order to heal Adrenal Fatigue, we needed to discover any hidden food sensitivities. Consuming foods you are sensitive to leads to an immune system reaction, which creates inflammation and stress.
I was shocked to discover that I was highly reactive to wheat, dairy, and eggs. These are foods that I was eating at nearly every meal yet I wasn’t having any sort of reaction that I was aware of. When I decided to cut them out, however, I lost around 15-20 pounds while still eating like a horse. I was also flooded with a ton of new energy! I had been eating these foods for so long that I didn’t know what I *could* feel like. My experience and observations since led me to write the blog post, “We’re Not Fat; We’re Inflamed. The effect of chronic stress on the body.”
But that wasn’t all! When I quit eating gluten, I quit needing coffee which I was using to counteract fatigue. This led to *much* better sleep... a solid 8 hours without a 2am wake-up, which I had just accepted as normal. My mood is better; I have less (and often no) PMS, and way less low-back pain. I also had a foot rash disappear, which had plagued me on and off for about 20 years... All that itching and scratching, trying different prescription creams, and not to mention the mental space it took up trying to figure out what was going on! And surprisingly, I also stopped experiencing so much motion sickness on the windy roads around here. Crazy, right?!
The number of people with food sensitivities has been skyrocketing but we don’t generally suspect food to be the cause of our ailments. And oftentimes, we’ve just gotten so used to feeling a certain way that we don’t even realize that we could feel better. Most conventional doctors don’t even consider food to be the culprit and will medicate the symptoms away while ignoring the root cause.
Understanding the link between food and how we’re feeling takes mindfulness. The relationship isn’t always obvious since symptoms can take days to appear. As an example, I discovered through an elimination diet (we’ll get to that) that nightshades (a family of vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.) was causing me joint pain but it wasn’t showing up for 48 hours! Once I finally understood the connection, I saw it happen like clockwork, two days later ~ every time!
The food reactions that occur can be surprising! I really like this list of 21 food reactions that I found on this blog.
Feeling tired, sluggish, lethargic
Trouble concentrating and staying focused
Unusual tingling sensations
Susceptibility to catching colds & viruses
Unpleasant body odor
Frequent gas, bloating or indigestion
Allergies and/or food sensitivities
Skin problems especially acne and eczema
Constipation, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upset
Anxiety and anxious feelings
Irritability and crankiness
So how can we figure out what our food sensitivities are?
Well, there’s the quick and dirty way… a food sensitivity test. Or there’s the more accurate elimination diet, which requires time and commitment. I’ve done it both ways a few times and I’ll give the breakdown below.
Food Sensitivity Testing
For me, this was the best way to get started. It was fast and easy, but it was unfortunately expensive and didn’t paint the full picture. I’ve done two tests, a couple of years apart, because I wanted to see if I had made progress in reducing my sensitivities and I had (more on that later).
The first food sensitivity test was performed by the lab at a local Integrative Medicine practice. They drew my blood and called me back in a of couple weeks later with the results. The second test I did was an at home test through Everlywell. I was glad to have my partner with me as I could not bring myself to prick my own finger but once I got the results back I was happy we had done it. The results were easy to read and didn’t require two trips to see the doctor. I highly recommend!
There is some debate over the accuracy of these tests. There are different levels of reactivity for different foods and I will say that for me, the foods that came back as *highly reactive* were spot on. I know now through my education at Institute for Integrative Nutrition that there can be many types of reactions that occur throughout the body and these tests will not catch them all as they only test for a couple of types of antibodies, but it's a great start.
This is the gold-standard in identifying food sensitivities. I have also done a number of elimination diets, which have helped increase mindfulness, break food addictions, and gain an overall better understanding of my relationship with food.
How to do it... Essentially you remove certain foods from your diet for a predetermined amount of time, usually at least three weeks but the longer the better. Six weeks has worked well for me to notice an improvement in my symptoms before bringing the restricted foods back. You then reintroduce these foods back one-at-a-time, every four days while watching for reactions. Here is a comprehensive guide by the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Well, the most common food sensitivities are: wheat, dairy eggs, corn, and soy ~ the bulk of the American Diet, however, the foods you choose to eliminate may be different for everyone. In general, I’d start with the most common food sensitivities listed above and then, if you’re having specific symptoms, Google them! Use terms like “foods that cause joint pain”, “foods that cause eczema”, “foods that cause IC flares” and go from there. If you have an auto-immune condition, I’d definitely look at eliminating sugar and gluten. Chemicals and additives in processed foods can also cause food reactions. Check out this post on A Whole Foods Diet for more information.
Lastly, I do want to mention that multiple food sensitivities are a sign of Intestinal Permeability, aka “leaky gut”. If you find that you have multiple food sensitivities, you may want to find a Functional Medicine doctor to work with. I will be sharing more about what Leaky Gut is and what the typical healing protocols look like in a future post. I’m also considering leading an online group journey through the elimination diet. Please let me know if you’d be interested.
Best of luck to you all! I’d love to hear about your experiences ~ feel free to reach out!
The information presented on this website is not intended as medical advice. I am not a doctor and this is not a diagnosis or treatment plan. I am a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and regular gal who cares deeply about public health. I am simply sharing my experiences and expressing my views.
If you believe you have a medical condition, please see a doctor. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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