You read here last week about how the road to wellness often follows a zig-zag path. Specifically you learned how much of an impact your digestion has on your health and vitality.
Today you'll learn about how food sensitivities can significantly impact your digestive health, how to determine your particular triggers (if any), and what to do with that knowledge.
Food sensitivities vs food allergies
For some people, certain foods are perceived as foreign invaders in the body. When these foods are consumed, the immune system mounts an attack by releasing antibodies to deal with them. In the case of a food allergy, IgE is released (Immunglobulin E). In the case of a food sensitivity (sometimes called an intolerance), IgG is released (Immunoglobulin G). It's these antibodies that allergy and food sensitivity tests look for.
This sounds confusing, but the difference between these two immune responses is very apparent once you've learned it. A great mnemonic is this:
IgE = Emergency
IgG = Gut problems
A food allergy happens every time you eat the offending food, even if it's just a small amount of it. The reaction is immediate and often severe, possibly even life-threatening.
Food allergy symptoms
Oral tingling/itchiness (with possible swelling of the tongue, lips, or face)
Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
Flushed skin, rash, and/or hives
Abdominal symptoms such as cramps, vomiting, and/or diarhhea
Food sensitivities aren't immediately dangerous and reactions are delayed anywhere from an hour or up to two days later. Also you may be highly sensitive to some foods, but only moderately or mildly so to others (meaning you need to eat larger or more frequent amounts to get a reaction). This can make it very challenging to connect your symptoms to the offending food. Over time as you continue to unknowingly eat these trigger foods, you can do serious damage to your digestive system.
Food sensitivity symptoms
Skin problems such as acne, dry/itchy skin, undereye circles, rash, eczema, psoriasis
Digestive issues such as stomach bloat, gas, acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation
Joint stiffness and/or pain
Brain fog/fuzzy thinking
Difficulty losing weight
Identifying food sensitivities + a special offer!
For years, I've counseled using an elimination diet to determine which foods are problematic for you. By removing common trigger foods for 21-30 days, you give your immune system a rest. Then you systematically reintroduce one food at a time and watch for symptoms. When I did an elimination diet years ago it was extremely apparent that I had problems with eggs and gluten.
The upside of this type of sleuthing is that it's free and you may get immediate relief. However, there are quite a few downsides. Unless you make your own food, it can be very challenging to remove all possible triggers. It can be equally challenging to carefully reintroduce foods (don't try a piece of pizza until you've systematically tried wheat flour, yeast, cheese, tomatoes, etc.). If you're only mildly sensitive to something, you may not notice any symptoms. Finally, you may be sensitive to something so common you'd never think of eliminating it (such as black pepper).
Thankfully there's a much easier and effective resource available to you, a food sensitivity test. I highly recommend one from a company called EverlyWell. In addition to food sensitivity tests, they offer more than 30 different at-home kits with no doctor's order needed.
In the case of their basic Food Sensitivity Test (which is what I used), you order it online, receive the kit in the mail, take a finger-prick blood sample, and return it in the prepaid envelope. A physician-approved lab will test it for an IgG response to 96 different foods, then email you the results.
What I learned was positively illuminating. Almonds are on my highly-sensitive list and I was averaging about a handful daily. That explains a lot about how I had been feeling. And now I know that I'm moderately sensitive to egg whites, while I'm only mildly sensitive to the yolks. There was plenty more, but I won't bore you with the details.
This kind of knowledge is power, people. I believe it's so important that I'm urging my family, friends, and now you to take one of these food sensitivity tests for yourself. If you click here, you'll be given a coupon code offering 15% off EverlyWell's test kits. For less than $170 you can have access to this potentially health-saving information.
How to deal with food sensitivities
The most effective approach would be to remove all of the foods you're sensitive to for a certain time period, even if they're only on your "Mild Sensitivity" list. If you're thinking this sounds a lot like the elimination diet I described above, you're right. But there's a big difference--this one is personally targeted to benefit you. You'll use it as a healing tool, as much as a test.
You won't have to eat this way forever. Food sensitivities can improve and even go away. As your immune system gets the chance to bounce back, your digestive system can repair. When everything's healed and working optimally, you may be able to eat foods that once bothered you, especially those from your "Mild Sensitivity" list. (This most likely won't be the case with any food allergies, though you can always have a doctor test you to see if anything changed.)
After 21-30 days, you can begin to reintroduce foods, starting with those from your "Mild" list. Eat only one trigger food at a time (though it can be mixed with foods that you're not sensitive to). If you have no symptoms within 48 hours, you can move on to another trigger food. If, however, you do notice some negative reactions, wait another 48 hours then retry that same food. If the symptoms recur, leave that one out of your diet and reintroduce something else.
In the case of foods from your "Moderate" to "High" sensitivity lists, waiting a few months while you allow your gut to heal is ideal. Then, when you're ready, reintroduce them in the same way as described above. (You can also retest with EverlyWell again to see if anything has changed.)
Heal your digestion, heal yourself
For me, this knowledge has not only been ultra-empowering, but within two days of eliminating my food triggers, I felt better than I've had in months. I'm no longer bloated or puffy. My skin is still working through some problems, but it's very mild compared to what it was going through before. The elimination part of my digestion is back to work. My energy is returning. Mostly I feel like myself again, and I realize I hadn't even known how wrong I felt until my diet was made right.
Once you know what your triggers are it'll be so much easier to begin healing your own digestion. Continue with the steps I shared with you last week:
Eliminate what's bothering you.
Get rid of the foods you're sensitive to, or suspect you're sensitive to if you're not going to test. Address other challenges for your gut, too, such as mold exposure, toxic chemicals, lack of hydration, and/or too much stress. The more potential causes you can get rid of, the better. Your digestive process can't improve if you keep putting it in defense mode.
In general, give yourself at least two weeks for this step to begin healing your gut.
Support your system.
You want to soothe your digestive system while giving it time to repair. Eat smaller meals than usual, focusing on cooked foods which are easier for you to digest. Chew thoroughly. Adding a tablespoon or two of collagen peptides is very gut-healing (you can add it to your coffee or tea). Digestive enzyme supplements and/or bitters added to plain or soda water can also help.
In addition to these Nourish Facet tips, self-care is important. Epsom salt soaks, bodywork, acupuncture, and easy walks in nature are all beneficial.
Rebuild your microbiome
Try a probiotic and/or add more cultured foods to your diet. You also want to make sure you're eating a small amount of starchy vegetable daily to give your new healthy bacteria the fiber they need to thrive.
Proceed carefully with this step. If you notice any problematic digestive symptoms, back off of this step for a day or two and then reintroduce the probiotic or fermented food in a smaller dose (if possible). Your microbiome is highly unique and this step needs to be highly individualized to your needs.