My tried and true methods for decoding food sensitivity
Food SENSITIVITY IS A SPECTRUM
what's the difference between food sensitivity and a food allergy anyways?
- Can be life threatening. The body views the food as an invader (like bacteria or a virus) which can cause anaphylaxis (swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea).
- Symptoms: Rash, itchiness, swelling of the throat and bronchii, etc.
- Time of onset of symptoms: Immediately or within the hour of exposure
- Not Life threatening. The body can’t properly break down a food (usually due to decreased or lack of correct enzymes) which can cause a reaction.
- Symptoms: abdominal discomfort, bloating, itchiness, hives, GI disturbance
- Time of onset of symptoms: gradual, dependent on how much consumed, etc.
Allergy is the body viewing a food as an invader. Whereas sensitivity is the body not being able to properly digest a food, which triggers an immune response that can cause symptoms. With a sensitivity one could eat a small amount of the food or use digestive support (like digestive enzymes or Lactaid) to help digest the "sensitive" food. Food sensitivity is hard to understand because it's dependent on a variety of factors: type of food, level of sensitivity, and amount consumed. We all react differently to how are bodies handle stress, exercise....booze? You name it- food is no different. Food sensitivity isn’t black or white, it’s a spectrum.
HOW a food sensitivity can hurt us:
Overtime if we continue to eat foods that make our bodies react, the immune response could damage intestinal lining, cause a skin reaction, suppress immune function, and make us feel like sh*t.
Navigating food sensitivity
I strive to eat mostly gluten free and dairy free after battling digestive issues for years. The nature of food sensitivity can make diagnosis elusive. I saw many different gastro docs who couldn’t explain why every time I ate I experienced weird and/or painful symptoms. The worst part was that it was a silent battle. Because I looked healthy, the pain I endured was often discounted. After seeing great holistic docs, and a blood panel later, it was discovered that I am sensitive to gluten and dairy among an array of other foods. Relieved to have an answer-yes. Annoyed that it was to cut out gluten and dairy- also yes. I grew up in an Italian family. With my mother being from Rome and all, you can understand how this news was difficult...
Since then, eating around my sensitivities is not so bad. There are many products and places that accommodate such food restrictions. Without a lot of research, the science of food sensitivity is still at a primitive stage. Yet, so many people *now more than ever* are battling sensitivity. What could the rise be attributed to? IDK.... maybe the over exposure to chemical additives and genetically modified sh*t that the food industry pushes on us?
There is no definitive guide to operating with a food sensitivity
We as a people who love categorizing within definitive terms don't love when there is no hard and fast rule. What it comes down to is tuning into and understanding what fuels your body or slows it down. Your body is a very smart machine. If you make a habit of observing and tuning into your bodies feedback, it’s not difficult to see the foods that energize or disagree with your body. A food that doesn’t agree with you can cause stomache, bloating, or make you feel lethargic AF.
Other PoSSIBLE signs:
- Under eye circles
- Inflammation (can be present in the face, stomach, fingers, etc)
- Breakouts/hives/rashes/skin irregularities
- Anxiety, ADHD
Learn what works for YOUR body and honor that. It doesn't matter if someone thinks that sensitivity is made up, or that you'll be fine if you eat it. Respecting your body's signs and signals is a gesture of respect for yourself.
If you're reading this and you're like "holy shit that's me"...
- Track what you eat and how you feel after eating in a journal. After a couple weeks, observe whether there is any pattern around a food that is causing issues.
- Elimination diet (see below).
- Talk to your doctor or naturopath about testing.
The elimination diet is designed to help you figure out what foods you are sensitive too, not to lose weight. It entails cutting out the most common sensitive offenders (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, processed foods, alcohol, etc) in order to establish a baseline with no allergens present in your system. You then reintroduce each food back into your diet one at a time (so the effect of one food doesn't confound the effect of another) and observe whether your body reacts or not. Through this process you can identify which foods you are sensitive too. There are many different types of elimination diets- you have to figure out which one is best for you.
Below are some articles that guide you through the process
MBG: Types of Elimination diets
Precision Nutrition: Elimination diet
THE GAME CHANGER
Digestive enzymes have CHANGED my life. They help me to digest foods (both sensitive and nonsensitive) and reduce symptoms related to digestion.
I know that this post is long AF. BUT as someone who struggled with this, I would hate to leave something out that could shed some light for one you! Are there any tips and tricks that you have encountered for diagnosing or dealing with food sensitivity? As always, let me know in the comments!!