I am a huge believer in the food sensitivity problem, largely because finding and eliminating a food sensitivity has literally changed my life. That sounds really cliché, but it’s actually true. Just keep reading and I’ll explain.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivities are a little bit mysterious, but one thing we know for sure is that it isn’t an allergy in the conventional sense. If you eat a peanut and swell up and have to go to the hospital, that isn’t a food sensitivity. That’s a food allergy and it’s pretty easy to spot (just look for the ambulance and the disgruntled school nurse wielding an epi-pen.) Food sensitivity is allergy’s sneakier, tricksier second-cousin. Your immune system is reacting to a food, but it’s not reacting in a huge dramatic way that gives you a clue to what’s happening. It’s also not reacting immediately so you can put it all together in a nice simple way, like peanut + me = badness. Instead, it’s a vague, ambiguous process that can’t be identified through normal means – you have to actually be your own science experiment, and god knows that’s fun. Actually, I’m a bit of a geek, so I do *love* any kind of science experiment.
Eating a food that you’re sensitive to create a slow-moving background level of inflammation that just keeps your body irritated enough to make whatever else might be going on worse. Everybody’s body has a weak spot – some place where they’re most likely to break down – and that’s where the low-level inflammation from a food sensitivity hits. It just creates inflammation that people say is just “normal” for them, or just “aging” or something that’s “in their family.” Uh-huh. So – here’s my story:
I grew up being a bit of a (read: ENORMOUS) tomboy. The things I liked doing were all a little rough-and-tumble like hiking and camping and building things and riding horses and skiing into trees and dancing for hours on end. When I started having joint pain pretty young I just assumed it was because I road-tested my body and that it was “normal” (did you spot the dead-giveaway?) Yep. It’s also “in my family” to have joint pain, so there’s that. Here’s the thing: when joint pain starts at around 6 years of age, it’s only going to go downhill. By the time I got out of med-school I was having pain that made me feel like an 80-year-old woman and to shuffle when I first got out of bed. It may occur to you that this isn’t, perhaps, “normal.”
I had a great patient at that time and I was happily telling her all about how to discover her own food sensitivities at home, which involves the being-your-own-guinea-pig thing. We’ll talk about it in a minute, but it is a little involved. Anyway, I’m explaining all of this to her and she looks me dead in the eye and says “this is the hardest thing anyone has ever asked me to do. Have you done it?” After which there was a pause, then a somewhat reluctant “no” from me. The bottom line is that she agreed to test her food sensitivities if I would test mine. Sigh.
So, I did. As it turns out when I eat wheat I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck – but not until the next day. So the day I eat wheat I feel great and have no troubles at all, then the next day I wake up and can hardly move. I’m achy (like 6/10 pain), stuffy, puffy and swollen and pretty darn irritable. If I stay away from wheat I actually don’t have that. Huh. Huge thanks to that patient, by the way, to whom I owe a lot of health.
Could I have a Food Sensitivity?
Yep, you could. Pretty much everyone could. That’s the strange thing about food sensitivities. It can be a food you were raised with, that you’ve always eaten, that has always been a favorite and it could still be causing you a tremendous amount of trouble. Here are some general symptoms and conditions that I’ve seen associated with food sensitivities (not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination):
- Pain of any kind including arthritis, neuralgia, fibromyalgia, gout.
- Mood disorders including depression, anxiety, mood swings, and OCD.
- Behavioral disorders like ADD, ADHD, oppositional-defiance, outbursts and anger issues.
- Digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, indigestion, gallbladder sludge and stomach pain.
- Hormone issues like hypothyroid, PCOS, irregular cycles, low sperm count, diabetes.
- Autoimmune disorders like lupus, hashimotos thyroiditis, Behcet’s, psoriasis.
- Skin problems like eczema, hives, itching and acne
- General issues including allergies, fatigue, weight gain, and swelling.
Finding Your Food Sensitivities (or, Being Your Own Guinea pig)
Testing your food sensitivities is a simple process, but it does take some work – mostly in reading labels. Here’s what you do:
- Eliminate: Eliminate the food you’re testing COMPLETELY for 14 days – this means read your labels because wheat, corn, dairy and soy are in all kinds of things that you wouldn’t suspect.
- Challenge: Enjoy the heck out of the food you’re testing for a day. If you’re testing wheat then have wheat day. Eat some waffles and pasta and a great french bread with a ton of butter.
- Observe: Like any other good experiment you have to be a careful observer. After your challenge day, take the food you’re testing back out of your diet for three or four days and watch to see what happens in your body. For most people, the fireworks start the day after challenge day, but sometimes it’s even more delayed than that. Your body will tell you clearly if you’re sensitive to something.
- Retest: This isn’t actually necessary, but if you’re like me you’ll go through exhaustive mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you aren’t actually reacting to that food (my big rationalization was that I actually got a flu, which coincidentally started the day after wheat day.) So if you don’t believe the reaction the first time, then after your observation period, have another challenge day. This time, believe your body when it tells you it’s sensitive (I could rationalize one well-timed flu but two is too much).
What Should I Test First?
The big four food sensitivity foods are:
Wheat (but it’s good to test Gluten too), Dairy, Corn and Soy
And those are in everything so read your labels!! Look in weird places like soy sauce (which has wheat), and salad dressings (which have everything).
The next most popular foods to react to are:
Nightshades (tomato, potato, peppers, eggplants), Citrus (lemons, limes, grapefruit), Beef and Chocolate
The great thing is that you can eliminate and challenge one food at a time or if you want to do it all at once you can just eliminate everything and go down to a really simple diet and then re-introduce foods one at a time. This is a choose-your-own-adventure type of experiment.
I would highly encourage anyone who is having health problems to start testing themselves for food sensitivities – it truly does make all the difference in the world. For me, I went from a roughly 6/10 daily pain level to a 1-2/10. That is pretty freaking awesome – especially since I don’t have to take any drugs or supplements to do it. As a side bonus, my allergies dropped down to almost nothing – I don’t take allergy medications except for the occasional mold-mix on days when Austin is literally covered in mold.