Making Sense of Food Sensitivities

By on November 11, 2011

By Ashley Barnes

Have you ever eaten a food and instantly had a negative reaction? Today I ate a microwave Thai dish for lunch. I don’t eat a lot of packaged dishes like this, but I didn’t have any leftovers from last night’s dinner and this seemed like a quick fix. And, it turns out, a big mistake. I read the ingredient list and it mentioned shrimp. Now I know I’m allergic to shellfish, but I’ve eaten this dish before with no reaction so I figured it must not have enough shrimp to trigger anything for me. So I ate the dish – and almost instantly I started having a reaction. Not a reaction you would expect with a food allergy—itching, swelling, shortness of breath. Instead, just after my last bite I got a headache, my chest felt tight, I had pain in my shoulders/upper chest cavity, my heart rate increased, I felt shaky, my vision was slightly distorted, and I experienced slight heartburn. WOW. I didn’t expect that. And not so long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to discern that reaction came from the food I just ate either.

Most of us don’t experience strong reactions because we eat so many foods and drinks that are not optimal for our body that our internal senses are numb to the effects. When we continually eat a lot of nutrient-deficient food, top it with a sugary drinks and alcohol, and mix it with foods to which we’re sensitive, the body doesn’t know what to react to first. Often food sensitivities often don’t show up as quickly as my reaction to the Thai food. It may be days later when we get a headache, constipation, or chest pain. At that point, we don’t associate it with the food we ate two days ago, so we take something to alleviate the symptoms and keep on eating the offending food. The result of this cycle is the eventual emergence of issues such as inflammation, chronic illness, pain, and fatigue.

My experience with discerning food sensitivities started with what I now know is exhausted adrenals. I started having lots of unusual symptoms – the same ones I mentioned above, along with extreme fatigue and no stamina for exercise or even life in general. After much testing, focused mostly on my digestive system, medical doctors found nothing alarming. I finally went to a naturopath, who gave me an adaptogenic herbal supplement for adrenal support, and I also reduced foods that were making my adrenal exhaustion worse, such as refined sugar, preservatives in packaged foods, and caffeine, and voilà! I felt so much better. But the real lesson for me came with coffee. I love coffee and have never been dependent on the caffeine, even with the worst fatigue, so I thought switching to decaf would be sufficient. However, I still felt bad. Since I had cut out most all typical offenders, it seemed coffee had to be the culprit. And sure enough, once I completely eliminated it, I quickly felt better. But even more than that, I discovered that the coffee had been having such a strong effect on my body that it masked the reactions caused by other foods. Once the coffee was no longer in my system, the effects of other foods were very clear. In fact, my body’s reaction to foods is now often instantaneous, as in the Thai food experience from today.

Thankfully, if we take the time to be mindful with our eating, we can better identify specific issues with food (such as sensitivities or allergies) before we become chronically ill. Here are some simple tips to help you identify your food issues:

Keep a food diary. Start keeping a diary of everything you eat. Record how you feel immediately after eating and again 2 hours later. Notice any patterns. Do this for at least 2 weeks to get an accurate reading. A month is even better. If you need help getting started, I can send you a food diary document that I’ve used in the past.

Eat slowly. Not only is eating slowly better for digestion, it can also help us nip a food reaction in the bud. If we shovel in the whole meal (like I tend to do) before our body has time to react, the reaction we get may be much stronger than if we had taken the time to savor one or two small bites. Eat slowly, allow yourself to actually taste the food you’re eating, chew it completely (digestion starts in the mouth, you know), and then allow time for your body to start processing the food before you take another bite.

Cut down on the “bad” stuff. Let’s face it, we all know the bad things in our diet that we really need to reduce or eliminate. Do an honest inventory of your diet (a food diary can help with this too), then one by one reduce or temporarily eliminate food and drinks that you know aren’t serving your best health. Record what seems to make the most difference in how you feel.

Try eliminating. Elimination diets sounds can scary, but here’s a simple one to try. The most common food sensitivities are dairy, gluten/wheat, citrus, and eggs. For one week only, eliminate all foods with these products (yes, you can do this!). Then on Day 8, add in food from one group, let’s say dairy. Record how your body feels and any obvious reactions. On Day 9, take dairy back out & add in gluten/wheat. Again record your reactions and feelings. Continue until you’ve added all foods back for one day. Once you’ve tested all the foods, add back any that didn’t cause a reaction! If there are other foods you suspect are causing problems for you, use those in your elimination experiment as well.

Don’t eat it! If you know something causes a problem for you, don’t eat it. Sounds simple enough right? But I ate my lunch knowing it had shrimp in it and somehow justified it because I’d eaten it before. Humans are odd creatures, aren’t we? Animals in the wild eat something once and if it makes them sick, they simply don’t eat it again. We eat things all the time we know are bad for us with the disclaimer, “Everything in moderation”. Often this is the justification we give ourselves when we want to eat something we know we shouldn’t. The truth is, no matter how good something tastes or how moderately we eat it, if it makes you feel bad it’s not worth it. I’ve yet to meet any food that’s worth having such a strong reaction or feeling bad. Except maybe ice cream…

 

Ashley Barnes is a holistic health coach helping women learn to love themselves & their bodies through whole food nutrition, lifestyle tips, and self care. She trained with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC and also has an M.S. in Training & Employee Development and a B.S. in Psychology. To schedule a FREE Discovery Session, contact Ashley at (502) 889-7955 or visit http://www.yourtruebliss.com/.

About Ashley Barnes

Ashley Barnes is a holistic health coach helping women learn to love themselves & their bodies through whole food nutrition, lifestyle tips, and self care. She trained with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC and also has an M.S. in Training & Employee Development and a B.S. in Psychology. To schedule a FREE Discovery Session, contact Ashley at (502) 889-7955 or visit www.YourTrueBliss.com.

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Making Sense of Food Sensitivities