Food sensitivities are shiftier and can exact an even greater toll on our health because they’re more challenging to identify, often causing the ensuing cellular inflammation to rage on for years. Many people have food sensitivities and have no idea.
Because a food sensitivity often rears its ugly head a few days after the offender is eaten, it can make it difficult to trace the irritation to a particular food. Identifying these rabble rousers can have a profound effect on your health, as silent inflammation is a major player in the onset of all degenerative diseases, according to the functional medicine community.
Symptoms of food sensitivities include, but are not limited to: fatigue, drowsiness after eating, brain fog, poor memory and concentration, agitation, mood swings, intense cravings (especially sugar, refined carbs, and starch), abdominal cramping, difficulty losing weight, depression, restlessness, irritability, headaches (including migraines), swollen and painful joints, muscle pain and stiffness, gas, bloating, flatulence, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, blurry vision, broken sleep, skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, acne), recurring sinusitis, and asthma.
Here’s another kicker. Eating foods that we are sensitive to can also up the ante on autoimmunity, including autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s). Just as the body launches a seek-and-destroy mission on the thyroid in the case of Hashimoto’s, the body will also see offending or inflammatory foods as the enemy and will antagonize the whole autoimmune response, making it difficult to get a handle on Hashimoto’s, or any autoimmune condition.
And…eating foods that our bodies see as “enemies” also increases our stress response, causing our adrenals to pump out even more stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). So while having a food sensitivity itself can cause people to hold on to weight or gain weight, wayward cortisol (“the belly fat hormone”) sets up camp around our midsection.
How To Snuff out the Fire
This Elimination/Provocation Diet (eliminate, then provoke the body) is very telling and can have a life-changing impact on your long-term health. It can be one of the most important things you ever do for your wellbeing and is considered “the gold standard” for identifying foods that don’t love you back. (Forget blood (ALCAT, for example) or skin testing for food sensitivities – these tests are a waste of time and money, as they’re been repeatedly proven to be inconclusive.)
Eliminate these foods 100% for three weeks:
- gluten (including wheat, barley, and rye) *
- nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, and peppers, including cayenne powder)
- peanuts (which are legumes, not nuts)
* If you have Hashimoto’s, gluten should be categorically, 100% avoided, always. Do not reintroduce.
After three weeks of this clean slate, reintroduce each food one at a time, eating 3-4 servings of that specific food on your reintroduction day. (Nightshades and nuts don’t need to be separated out, meaning on the day of your nightshade reintroduction, you can eat any and all nightshades and on the day of nut reintroduction, you can eat any and all nuts.)
Monitor symptoms for 2-3 days. If you have a reaction, BAM. There’s your answer. Reactions include an acute occurance of any of the symptoms listed above.
If you have a reaction, eliminate that food for approximately three more months while you continue to take a quality probiotic, glutamine, and to drink bone broth. If you think three months is a long time, ask yourself if you’re willing to live with your symptoms – and your autoimmunity. What if, after three or so months, your gut was healed (for some, it takes longer) and you could reintroduce that prior troublemaker without problems? When you think about the span of your lifetime, three months just doesn’t seem like that long, does it?
An easy way to eliminate these potentially offending foods is to use a combination of 1. Sarah Schatz’s amazing meal plans and; 2. Dr. Mark Hyman’s Ultra Simple Diet. In his book by the same name, he shares a shopping list, meal plans, and recipes. These resources offer the easiest (and most enjoyable) way I know of to eat well and keep blood sugar balanced during this “diet.” (I hate that word.) This is a cleansing and detoxifying diet, and many people feel amazing – lighter and brighter, more energetic, more positive, and most people report losing a few pounds within a mere week.
Please know that elimination of foods we’re sensitive to can cause withdrawal symptoms for some people, such as fatigue, headache, or mild skin reactions. These usually subside in 2-3 days, so don’t despair. Taking a heaping teaspoon of powdered fiber (not Metamucil – something like this (or any gluten free psyllium, triphala, or acacia fiber)) in 8 oz. of water and/or taking activated charcoal capsules can alleviate symptoms quickly.
Recommendations and tips:
- Read all food labels – the food industry can be tricky with naming ingredients.
- Many prepared foods have hidden additives and fillers that contain wheat and egg byproducts.
- Avoid packaged, canned, and convenience foods during this “diet.” (I hate that word.)
• Prior to starting, take a week to journal/document all foods eaten within a day and perform for 7 consecutive days.
• Document all physical, behavioral, and emotional concerns to determine a baseline.
• Set a date on the calendar to start the program. (Allow for mental preparation.)
• Plan meals in advance to ensure sticking to the program.
• Eliminate the most common foods that trigger sensitivities: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, and soy.
• Eliminate for two to four weeks, and then reintroduce each food, one at a time, every 72-96 hours.
• Monitor yourself closely for reactions, which can be emotional, behavioral, physical, cognitive, and social.
• When reintroducing a food group (dairy), make sure to journal all symptoms and any changes in behavior for up to 4 days.
• Make sure to also document the time of day and the intensity of reactions.
• If no reactions occur upon reintroduction, still proceed with caution by rotating that food group with a frequency of every 2-3 days to avoid re-reaction.
• After 4-6 weeks, a more regular eating schedule is usually appropriate for the previously offending food.
• When offending foods are found upon reintroduction, remove that food group for another 2-3 months, followed by the above reintroduction plan.
Most common foods that trigger sensitivities are: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, and soy.
Foods to avoid
• ALL processed sugars and sweeteners.
• Grains: Wheat, oats, rice, barley, buckwheat, corn, quinoa, etc.
• Dairy: Milk, cream, cheese, butter, whey. Ghee is OK.
• Eggs or foods that contain eggs (such as mayonnaise)
• Soy: Soy milk, soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, soy protein, etc.
• ALL processed foods
• Canned foods
Foods to include
• All veggies: Asparagus, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, carrots, celery, artichokes, garlic, onions, zucchini, squash, rhubarb, cucumbers, turnips, watercress, etc. ( I realize that many of your children don’t eat any of these, so just try to incorporate as many veggies as possible.).
• Meats: Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, organ meats, etc. Best choices are grass-fed and preferably from a local farm.
• All fruits
• Gluten-free grain: quinoa, tapioca, and sorghum.
• All rice
• Nuts and seeds
• Coconut: Coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut milk, coconut cream.
• Olives and olive oil
The basic idea is: autoimmune disorders begin in the gut as it is from the intestines that nutrients are absorbed (or not) into the bloodstream and that foods that we are sensitive to can rupture the gut lining, so to speak, and cause other things besides nutrients to pass into the bloodstream (like undigested food, which gets attacked by your immune system which senses an invader-this is known as “leaky gut”).
Avoiding foods that may have an adverse effect on digestion, as improper digestion due to hard-to-digest foods is thought to be the cause of all autoimmune disorders.
So the deal with an elimination diet is: cut a bunch of stuff out at once, give it long enough to get out of your system; add it back in one at a time. Observe and record results. Repeat if necessary.
So I dug in, and decided it was time for a Whole30. Basically they created a 30 day Paleo reboot where you are challenged to only eat Whole foods for 30 days. You do not consume any grains on the program, which I’d already eliminated. In addition, I took their clean eating Paleo approach and cut out dairy, legumes, any added sweetener, artificial or real, and seed oils (canola, corn, etc), and alcohol. As per the Whole30, we put away the scale for 30 days. On top of that, I followed the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol and cut out seeds, nuts, nightshades (tomato, potato, peppers, eggplant) eggs, and caffeine.