Updated: January 2020
When you experience food sensitivity symptoms, it is important to ask yourself, “Is food the trigger?”
Symptoms are often a combination of internal and external triggers. We tend to forget about internal triggers because we can’t monitor them. However, internal triggers are often the cause of symptoms.
- Internal triggers (changes within the body) – hormonal changes, disease status, body chemicals, etc.
- External triggers – food, inhaled substances (pollen, dust, perfume, chemicals, etc.), air temperature, vibrations, exercise, etc.
It can be difficult to pinpoint exact triggers, especially when the triggers are cumulative. A common example is a client with hay fever that has more food sensitivity during the pollen season.
Food is the only trigger we can control, so clients often want their symptoms to be food-related. This mindset can lead to an excessive focus on food and assuming that every symptom is a food trigger.
People blame (sometimes incorrectly) food for their symptoms. I see this frequently in my work with clients. A dramatic example was a client that was down to eating three foods. She was still experiencing symptoms and thought that she was allergic to all food. Several months before our initial appointment, her doctor suggested a gluten and dairy-free diet. Her symptoms slightly improved, so she searched the internet for other potentially problematic foods – leading to further and further restrictions. After our work together, she realized that food was not the cause of her symptoms and went back to her usual diet. She still had a few symptoms, but she enjoyed her meals and let go of the futile struggle to find a “safe” diet.
Additionally, she was better nourished and able to focus her energy on self-care practices. Her quality of life improved significantly. The above example is dramatic, but I see this to a degree with many clients.
The process of digestion can lead to symptoms. When you experience food-related symptoms, it is natural to search for specific food triggers. However, the physiological process of eating and digestion may be the trigger. If your digestive system is “off,” you will have symptoms no matter what you eat. In my experience, clients typically have identified a few food triggers (e.g. foods that consistently bother them), but they still have some symptoms, even on their “safe diet.” These symptoms may be from the physiological process of eating/digestion. If the digestion process is triggering symptoms, searching for a specific food trigger or a safe diet will be futile. It would be more productive to focus on calming the digestive system.
Adopt an observant mindset rather than a reactive mindset. Rather than immediately reacting to an event, take a step back and make a calm decision. A lot easier said than done! Here are some ways an observant mindset helps with food sensitivity symptoms:
- If you suspect that food may have triggered your symptoms, don’t eliminate it. Record your suspicion (food, symptoms, timing, etc.) and carry on. A journal can be helpful, but rereading your suspicion every time you open the journal can affect your perception of the food. An alternative is to write the information on a scrap of paper and put it in an envelope. Once you have several slips of paper, review them to see if there is a pattern. If the foods are random, your symptoms are probably not related to specific foods. A healthcare professional, such as a dietitian, can help you review your information to see if there is a pattern.
- If you are keeping a food and symptom diary, keep track of other factors that may influence your symptoms, such as emotional changes, weather, inhaled triggers, etc.
- If you experience symptoms with a food that you usually tolerate, other factors may have contributed. Don’t automatically assume that you no longer tolerate the food! You’ll probably be fine the next time you eat it (as long as you don’t develop fearful beliefs about the food).
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