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Do I Have a Food Sensitivity?

Photograph by Morena Escardo

If you regularly experience any kind of symptom that you wish you didn't, chances are you're eating something that doesn't go well with your body. Most integrative doctors understand this, and that is why they start their treatments by putting their patients on a simple elimination diet.

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The reason for this is that they know that food is the first place you need to go to when there is an imbalance in the body or mind. For your body to work properly, it's equally important to feed it what it needs to thrive, and to not feed it what causes it to get sick. A simple adjustment in your diet may result in complete healing or great improvement of many conditions.

You can recreate this process at home, and find out if you have a food sensitivity without having to spend much time or money on it by following this basic outline.

Step 1

Understand the basics. An elimination diet consists of taking any possible allergens out of your diet for a week or two, and then adding them back in, one at a time, to see how you feel. After a week without them, your body will have a much stronger reaction if you're allergic or sensitive to them (or you will feel it stronger, at least). So, whatever foods you choose to eliminate, go without them for a whole week, and then on day eight add one of them back and note how you feel. On the following day remove it again, and add another. See how you feel. Try each food you have eliminated in this way, one at a time. This seemingly simple process may reveal lots of unexpected things, so don't give in and eat them before it's time to add them back in yet.

Step 2

Decide what you're going to cut out of your diet. I recommend you start by cutting the usual culprits: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, sugar, alcohol and soy for 7-30 days. You can also eliminate any other common allergens (such as nuts, wine, and citrus fruits, for example), or other foods you're suspicious of causing issues. After you finish this elimination diet, you can then cut out any other possible allergens in a similar way to this one if you desire. Keep in mind that it's often the foods we eat the most of and crave almost obsessively, that can be problematic. If you eat too much chocolate, for example, or too much peanut butter, you may want to eliminate these as well.

Step 3

Understand what foods you need to keep away from. You may know that bread contains gluten, but did you know soy sauce does too? While on an elimination diet, you will have to read labels in detail because most of the foods you will be trying to avoid are hidden in almost all processed foods. For this reason, the easiest way to go about this process is to cook fresh meat and produce with no added ingredients or processed foods. But even in this case, you have to understand what to avoid and why.

Step 4

Pick the right time. If you're about to travel, have family celebrations or holidays coming up, or foresee any other obstacle to you following this diet strictly for at least one whole week, then don't do it just yet. However, don't find too many excuses not to do it, or it will never happen.

Step 5

Plan your menus. The worst mistake you can make when doing an elimination diet is to get caught off guard when hungry. If you're looking for something to eat at the last minute, you will very likely find a million and one "forbidden" things to eat, and none that adjust to your diet and satisfy you at the same time. There are many online resources to find recipes for all kinds of dietary restrictions, so spend some time doing your research and deciding what you want to eat at every meal (snacks included) for a whole week.

Step 6

Have a support system. An elimination diet is always easier when done with others, but if you're going solo, make sure you explain to your family, close friends, and colleagues why this is important. Ask for their support so they help you out, or at least don't make it more difficult for you.

Step 7

If you feel strange or uncomfortable in any way after adding any of the foods you eliminated for one week but want to make sure, you can try eliminating that food again, this time for a bit longer. Two weeks is a good time frame. When you add the food again, add it in large quantities for two days and note the difference. Listen to your body! If it's very clear that you are sensitive to a certain food, be prepared to change the way you eat—permanently. If you want to feel your best, you have to feed your body what is best for it.

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