Food Allergy FormulaRose Marie Randall, CNP May 1, 2008
Seven Steps to Free Yourself from Symptoms
Only a few short decades ago, our culture’s consciousness of food intolerances was basically limited to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions such as the rare, but dreaded, peanut allergy. Today, not only are these types of allergies becoming more common, but subtler food sensitivities that can disrupt life and erode its quality (rather than actually end it) have become unbelievably common. Now, it’s almost normal for most people to notice improved feelings of wellness when avoiding foods that our forefathers ate all their lives without incident.
I have my own theories as to why this is so. First of all, the quality of our food supply has diminished since the time of our grandparents due to decreased soil quality, genetic modification, and farming and harvesting methods that have more to do with maximizing yield and shelf life than with creating a nutritious food product.
Secondly, our immune systems, which are supposed to intelligently distinguish between threats and non-threats, are confounded almost from birth by vaccinations which bypass the body’s normal pathways of exposure to foreign substances (skin contact, inhalation and ingestion), resulting in confused, hypersensitive immune reactions. The enormous and increasing load of man-made chemicals in our food, water, air, cosmetics and household goods is another immune-taxing factor that our ancestors didn’t have to deal with. Perhaps even the energetic stresses of being surrounded by technology, of traveling to or having our food transported from different time zones and climates, of not eating according to the inherited memory of the regions from which our lineages originated, have all played a part in the rise of food sensitivities.
While we examine the causative factors and improve the health of our bodies and our planet by supporting local, organic agriculture, reducing the number of chemical pollutants in our lives, examining the effects of vaccines and technology, as well as helping reduce our bodies’ toxic load through regular detoxification, we can also take immediate action to minimize the impact of food intolerances.
As a sufferer of food sensitivities whose condition eventually led me to become a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, I first had to come up with ways to deal with my own food-related challenges. I now share what I’ve learned with those whose needs reflect my own. What follows are seven key strategies I’ve distilled from my experience.
1. Become familiar with your own symptoms. The most obvious, easiest to identify are the immediate, dramatic reactions which can take place from within a few minutes to a few hours of eating the offending food. Strong digestive symptoms (bloating, diarrhea, nausea), respiratory involvement (runny nose or stuffy sinuses, wheezing or asthmatic symptoms), or skin rashes fall into this category. But also look for more subtle symptoms not usually attributed to food sensitivities – feeling inexplicably sad, irritated, or even elated or giddy; increased anxiety, feeling hyper or unable to focus or think clearly; headaches; subtle changes in handwriting, dexterity and speech; joint pain; water retention; even accelerated heart rate or an uncomfortable awareness of your own heart beating may all be clues that you’re dealing with a sensitivity. Strong cravings for a particular food may also indicate an allergy to that food. And be aware that symptoms can present themselves up to three days after the offending food has been ingested. If it’s something you eat all the time, you may not even know that what you normally feel is actually a temporary symptom, until you’ve cut that food out of your diet.
2. Identify your sensitivities. Forget the allergist’s skin-prick test (which is poor at identifying most food intolerances). There are a couple of ways you can go about determining which foods you are reacting to, each with advantages and shortcomings. Before you make any changes to your diet, become more conscious of your symptoms with the help of a food journal. Write down everything you eat for a few weeks, as well as how you feel, and see if you can notice any cause-and-effect patterns between symptoms and foods eaten.
Then proceed to what I’d call a ‘subtractive elimination method’: subtract one food at a time from your diet (start with a common offender such as wheat or dairy, or anything that your food journal has revealed to be a problem), and notice any changes after a week or two without that food. If you are still bothered by symptoms, subtract another food and repeat. Another way (which may be faster, but will require a lot more discipline as your food choices will be severely limited) is an ‘add-back elimination method’: take out all common allergens for a week or two (gluten grains, dairy products, corn, eggs, peanuts, yeast, soy products, shellfish, citrus fruit, tomatoes, strawberries, chocolate). Or you might prefer to eat a very limited, hypoallergenic diet of lamb, brown rice and green vegetables for a week, or even fast for a few days.
After this initial elimination period, slowly add foods back one at a time and gauge any reactions. An experienced nutritionist can help with this process.
3. Identify the foods and meals you like and why you like them. Sit down and pinpoint specific aspects of the foods you or your family members like, such as flavour and texture. Then try to find less allergenic ways to match them. For example, making porridge with quinoa flakes instead of oats will deliver a similar satisfying taste and feel; almond, hemp, rice, or coconut milk can provide creamy drinks for those who miss dairy or soy milk; and toasted sunflower seeds can provide that crunchy texture for the nibblers in your life.
4. Identify your greatest obstacles: those things that might sabotage your ability to stay away from your trigger foods. The biggest complaint I hear when coaching those with food sensitivities involves issues around time and convenience. If this is your bane, pick recipes and meals that are quick and simple. Temptation is another common saboteur. In the battle between willpower and biochemistry, biochemistry will always win. If you’re addicted to the foods you’re trying to avoid (rather common), be prepared for some moments of weakness. Planning ahead really is both the best time-saver and temptation buster: have only healthy foods on hand, wash fruits and veggies as soon as you get home so they’re ready to go, and have some quick emergency snacks around at all times. If taste is an issue, don’t stop searching until you find healthy foods you love. They are out there! Also keep in mind that your tastes will change once you’re no longer comparing the subtle flavours of wholesome foods to the super-stimulating blasts of sugar and salt that dominate processed foods.
If cost is your stumbling block, go for from-scratch foods rather than prepared ones. Your best bet for cost and health are whole grains, legumes, and local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Economize without sacrificing nutrition by buying certain produce frozen vs. fresh (such as berries and peas). And extend your fish and meat budget by incorporating these foods into several recipes, rather than making them the focal point (e.g. steak or chicken wings).
5. Arm yourself with good recipes. Find a cookbook that takes your sensitivities into account so you don’t have to tinker and experiment with substitutions at dinner time, which could tempt you to reach for a more convenient option. From that source, identify recipes that align with your current tastes, try them out, and pick several sure-fire dishes that consistently work for you. Customize them a little, if necessary, copy them, and put them all in your “Favourite recipes” binder. You’ll never be stuck for meal ideas again
6. Eat a variety of foods and rotate them. Food sensitivities can result from eating the same food too often, so give the body a chance to rid itself of the residues of a particular food before eating it again. This can take up to three days, which is why the rotation diet is a cycle in which one eats a food (or its close relatives) no more frequently than every four days.
7. Examine your food-related misconceptions. Were you raised to believe that anything other than cereal, toast, pancakes, or bacon ‘n’ eggs for breakfast would just be wrong? Or that the lunch you take to school or work has to include a sandwich? Or that dinner must be followed by a sweet dessert? Release yourself from these beliefs. The only rules are the ones your body lays out for you. Be easy on yourself and have fun. Don’t indulge in feelings of deprivation; thank your food sensitivities as opportunities to break the rules and try new things. You never know – in addition to feeling better, you might find you love your new food discoveries more than the trigger-foods you left behind.
Rose Marie Randall was accredited as a Certified Nutritional Practitioner in 2003 by the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. She is also the author of How to Live Without the Nine Biggest Problem Foods Affordably and Conveniently – a cookbook for those with food sensitivities who are short on time and money.