Friday, February 10, 2012

How Sensitive Are You?

Food sensitivities are really hard to pinpoint and are rarely diagnosed or acknowledged by the medical profession.  So, are they real?

I'm not going to pretend to be a medical professional, but because of my mental health training and my experience in working with addictions, I got interested in how food and other substances affect our mental health and wellness.  I started seeing the connections and so began my encouragement toward changing diet in order to change your mood.

A food sensitivity is not an allergy.  True food allergies happen in only about 5% of the population.  They are triggered by a certain food that causes the immune system to react - often in a deadly way (anaphylaxis).  Food sensitivities also may begin in the immune system, but reactions are usually subtle and variable, which causes them to be difficult to pinpoint. Some reactions can interfere with activities of daily living and create discomfort, but they tend not to be dangerous in the short term.  An intolerance to food is more along the lines of the digestive system's inability to digest a food well - for example, milk lactose.  Some in the medical field group or speak of intolerance and sensitivity as the same.  I keep them separate according to the above definitions.

I am sticking with sensitivities today.  I am going to include here a long list of symptoms that may or may not be due to a food sensitivity:  fatigue, lethargy, sleeping after eating, drowsiness, poor memory, poor concentration, mental agitation, mood swings, compulsive eating, cravings, water retention, weight problems, depression, restlessness, irritability, headaches, migraines, swollen and painful joints, physical sensitivity and increased discomfort during menstruation, muscle pain, stiffness, gas, bloating, flatulence, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, blurry vision, spots in eyes, poor sleep....and others.

It's pretty overwhelming and so many of these symptoms could be due to other issues and disorders.  I have heard of tests to detect food sensitivities, but I have no experience with them nor do any of my trusted sources suggest or recommend them - yet. You can probably look up these tests online - ALCAT or ELIZA are the acronyms.  That might be the method you take (I can not recommend or dis-recommend) or it might be easier and cheaper to do an elimination diet.  For some foods this is easier than with others.

Caffeine could be to blame for several of the above symptoms.  It's easy to locate in your food sources and therefore "easy" to eliminate.  Yes, I know how hard it is to give up chocolate and coffee/tea.  I am not minimizing that, but get through just one week and see what you find out.  If you can get through a month, even better.  You will get a much more accurate picture of caffeine's effects.

Other foods are harder to find and locate, they are hidden in our foods.  The biggest culprit is sugar.  It is in everything!  The first time I did a detox and tried to get rid of all sugar, I quickly learned that I had to make my own food in order to avoid it.  There was not a can of soup in the natural foods co-op where I shop that was sugar free.  Check your labels and you will see that ingredients ending in -ose are prevalent.  However, sugar is so worth the effort.  If I can get a client to decrease sugar intake, there are so often obvious and almost immediate reactions.  You might not be able to get rid of it completely, but do your best to decrease the sugar in your foods as much as you can by making things yourself, reading labels, not adding sugar to foods, and keeping away from sugary snacks and desserts.  And, please don't substitute with fake sugar!  Aspartame, Splenda and the like have similar and worse problems in store for us all.

Refined carbohydrates and even whole grain carbohydrates are another good one to try eliminating.  Grains, mainly wheat-based have a similar to near exact digestive effect on the body as sugar.  The more refined, the more like sugar the digestive reaction.  Mood swings, cravings, constant hunger, depression, relapse, sleep issues, irritability and others can often be reduced significantly by eliminating or reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake.  Again, it is seriously worth the effort to try and eliminate pasta, bread, pastries, sweets, bakery of most kinds just to see how you feel.  Try gluten-free, it may solve the problem.  I often recommend that clients begin with eliminating all sugar and wheat from breakfast as a first step.

Other foods to consider eliminating temporarily:  eggs, nuts, alcohol, soy (be aware that this is often used as a preservative and is in many foods),  dairy, and various protein sources such as seafood and beef.  I know this sounds overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.  Take baby steps, one food at a time.  Try not to eliminate more than one food at a time, so you know the source of your relief or problem.  Or eliminate them all with a detox and begin to re-introduce one at a time.  Get someone else to do it with you.  If you mess up and have something you were trying to eliminate, then just get back to it the next day, it's all progress and you might notice something/learn something!

What will you try to eliminate this week?

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