What To Do When Your Food Is Hurting You
It started with ear infections, which of course were treated with antibiotics. It eventually evolved into horrible seasonal allergies and headaches. As I got older they only got worse. Some days my allergies would be so bad that I would feel like I had the flu. I was treated with everything conventional medicine had to offer; allergy shots, daily meds, but without much improvement. As a teenager I got to add acne to the list of (oh-so-common) childhood complaints. What do all these symptoms have in common? Inflammation!
My father also had horrible allergies; just like me. And when I was only 5 years old he also started developing symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. This unfortunately led to a total knee replacement by the time he was 40. In his early 50’s he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (without obesity) and then suffered a (thankfully non-fatal) heart attack at 55. In his 60’s a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A testament to his hearty German genes he is still alive and well and living beyond all these diseases. But as a practitioner I can’t help but see the common link…..chronic progressive Inflammation!
After moving through all these health challenges we’ve finally started to uncover some pieces to the puzzle. One in which my father and I both share is a sensitivity to dairy. We of course drank gallons of milk at my house when I was growing up and little did my parents know that this was likely the root of my ear infections, which then led to the allergies, headaches, and acne.
So this brings me to Step 2 of our Inflammation Controlling Plan…...Identifying and Removing Food Sensitivities. First and foremost you have to fill your diet with anti-inflammatory foods while limiting or avoiding known culprits of inflammation, both dietary and lifestyle induced. Once you’ve established this foundation, then can you uncover if there are any otherwise healthy foods that are causing problems for you.
Put simply, if you’re not digesting a food well, or it’s causing any irritation or inflammation in your gut, this will over time build up and spill over into your blood. Once those inflammatory molecules start traveling through your bloodstream they can wreak havoc in a variety of places as we discussed in the Warning Signs of Inflammation.
The Therapeutic Elimination
A large part of my practice includes guiding clients through Therapeutic Elimination Diets. Uncovering what foods are causing trouble for them by removing all suspects and then slowly and systematically bringing those foods back in to see which ones cause a flare-up in symptoms. Let me walk you through exactly how I implement this process.
The first step is to identify suspects; what foods are likely contributing to your symptoms.
Start with the most common culprits: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, sugar
Then decide if secondary culprits could also be a problem: eggs, nuts
And if you're also suffering from chronic digestive complaints or an autoimmune condition I would consider taking out all grains, legumes, nightshade veggies, and even some fruits.
I know this seems like a lot and that there aren’t many foods left but there are actually lots of meal ideas you can come up with for using the remaining foods. And honestly that’s where having an expert help guide you is super helpful.
I suggest most people follow the elimination diet for at least 2-4 weeks. For those with debilitating symptoms, stay on the elimination diet until your symptoms have stabilized. How do you know when symptoms have stabilized? A very important piece of this process is tracking symptoms. Without some kind of subjective measurement it is really hard to determine what’s working and what’s not.
So I suggest the following:
- Make a list of all your symptoms (digestion, skin, pain, allergies, energy, weight, etc); include anything you can think of.
- On a scale from 0-5 (0 = not a problem at all, 5 = debilitating problem), rate each of your symptoms before you change any part of your diet.
- As you move through the elimination diet, rate each of your symptoms at least once a week to track if anything is starting to shift. Sometimes you don’t notice much of a change until you bring the food back in and then see a flare-up in one of your symptoms.
- Once you start testing foods, then you’re going to rate your symptoms daily.
The testing phase is probably the hardest part of this whole process. Simply put, by the time you’ve finished 2-4 weeks (or more) of the elimination, you’re ready to eat those foods again. And forcing yourself to be patient, go slow, and test one food at a time, can be really hard. But it’s also the most important part of this whole diet. Imagine you’re a researcher and you’re getting ready to run your experiments. You want to control for as many variables as possible so you get the best possible data out of your experiments.
My general rule is to bring one food group back in per week. Consume a pure portion of the food a couple times a day for two days. Pure just means that it’s not combined with something else. For example, if you’re testing gluten but not dairy then choose plain pasta not macaroni and cheese.
Then take the food back out of the diet for the rest of the week. This allows you the space and time to test not only for any immediate reactions but also delayed. Those are the trickier ones to identify. For example, some people find that the first day or 2 after eating dairy is not a problem and then by day 3 or 4 they start to get a flare-up in their skin or in their pain. It’s important to know that the reaction is not always immediate. This is why you need the break before you move on to your next test. Now if you get an immediate reaction the first day you try something then there’s definitely no need to try it a second day. Wait until your symptoms return to baseline before moving on to your next test.
If after a week you notice no change in your symptoms, then it’s safe to assume that food is not a problem for you and it’s okay to bring it back in in moderate amounts. I say moderate because sometimes a food eaten once in awhile is not a problem but if you start to consume it every day it becomes a problem. That would be an issue with dose and you need to be on the look-out for that.
If you did notice a flare-up in any of your symptoms, then keep that food out of your diet for now. In 2-3 months you could try testing it again. It’s quite common that over time as your gut and body heals and the inflammation is better controlled that you may be able to tolerate that food again down the road.
The trickier outcome is if you had a mild flare-up in a symptom but aren’t 100% sure it was from the food. If that’s the case, then keep the food out for now and move on with your other tests. Once you’ve finished testing everything, then test that food again and see if you get the same reaction or not.
Take Home Message
Admittedly, these diets are not easy but in all my years of practice they are THE most helpful tool I have found to get people real long-lasting results. So in my opinion, definitely worth the effort. Depending on how many foods you end up taking out I would plan on having at least 2-3 months to work through the whole process. If you approach it with that mindset, it will be much easier to get through it.
Depending on what else is going on I may suggest adding in some supplements to support the microbiome, digestion, or to help lower inflammation. This, of course, will help expedite the repair and healing time.
The bottom line is listen to your gut (pun intended). If you’re suspecting some food sensitivities, they’re probably there. And until you identify and remove them you’re never going to be able to get true control over the inflammation and your symptoms.
Use this article to help you get started and if you feel like you need extra support…..well, that’s what I’m here for! I’d be happy to chat with you to see if a guided therapeutic protocol would be the best strategy. Sign-up for a FREE 15-min Call HERE.