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If you’re reading this blog, then you probably know that there is a direct link between what we put in our mouth and our overall health. Real food — meaning food that is as close to the way it is found in nature — is always going to be the cornerstone of good health. You can do amazing things by just making a few tweaks to your diet. I have heard incredible stories of healing from people who changed their diet and their health improved dramatically.
It may seem like an easy concept — just eat real food — but in today’s world, the topic of food can be quite overwhelming and confusing for a lot of people. Basic nutrition wisdom has been lost and we live in an era where our food supply continues to be polluted and degraded with every passing year.
We have a Western medical system that gets pretty much zero nutrition training in medical school, and what they do get is all very much skewed by political influence. We have an alternative medicine system that has also dropped the ball to some extent because, while they do have much better nutrition understanding, they still forget that each person is unique in their dietary needs and what works for one person may not work for another.
I love alternative medicine. It is what I use for my own health challenges. But I have also seen a drastic lack in the attention to bio-individuality when it comes to dietary recommendations. I have worked with a number of practitioners who have gotten stuck in the thinking that their diet of choice is the best and only way that people should eat.
This does a great disservice to their clients and patients. 🙁
I recently polled my wonderful members of my private Facebook community (I’d love to have you come join us here) to ask what topics they were most interested in and how I could better support them as a coach on their healing journies.
There was a resounding call for help figuring out what foods work best for your body.
You see, even though I am a huge fan of real food, not all real food is going to be suitable for everyone. I am a big (and I mean BIG) advocate of ditching diet dogma (i.e. you’re good if you eat this, bad if you eat this, humans should never eat that, etc.).
Diet dogma ruins people’s lives.
What happens when you “go paleo” and start having health problems? Paleo is supposed to be a great way to eat, right? It should work for everyone shouldn’t it since the “experts” all say that humans should never eat things like grains, legumes, or dairy.
Don’t get me wrong. I think paleo is a great way to eat IF it works for you. But, have we ever stopped to think about individuality when it comes to food?
No. Like I said, this is an area that is drastically lacking in both Western medicine and alternative medicine.
We now have countless styles of real food eating, all developed by reputable practitioners and industry experts, but we still have a lot of people who are still struggling with their health even though they are eating in an “ideal” way.
Diet alone cannot cure everything and if your diet is not working for you, you need to be willing to change. But what do you change to? How do you know what foods work for your specific body and what foods do not?
That is exactly why I wrote today’s post. I know it’s a bit long, but bear with me. It’s chock full of info that will help you move further forward on your own healing journey.
When Did Food Become So Darn Complex?
One of the main pillars of good health will always to be nutrition. Eating real food that is as close to the way nature intended it is always best and there are amazing things that can happen to our body when we give it the right building blocks to repair, heal, and thrive.
That said, in today’s world, the topic of food can be quite overwhelming and confusing for a lot of people. Basic nutrition wisdom has been lost and we live in an era where our food supply continues to be polluted and degraded with every passing year.
Of the 85,000 new chemicals developed in the last 60 years, a whopping 90% of them have never been tested for their effects on human health. And what’s worse is more than 9,000 of these chemicals are showing up in our food as additives. Scientists currently estimate that humans carry at least 700 toxic chemicals in our bodies that have not been studied (source).
I don’t share this to freak you out (because that stress is not going to help you heal your body), but rather to bring more awareness to the issues we face surrounding food. Even if we are eating good quality food, studies continue to show that the nutrition in that food is far less than when our parents or grandparents were eating the same food.
Hang on, I am digressing here…Story of my life. 🙂
Back to figuring out what foods work for you!
Now, this can be a bit of a complex issue, especially for those dealing with chronic illness or other conditions where food choices can be tricky. In light of all the nutrition info we hear every day, it can be confusing to figure out what foods work for you and what do not. So today I am sharing some basics that almost everyone can use to get started. And then if you need extra support after this then you can go from there.
I want to preface this by saying that I come from a very food neutral place. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods in my world. There are simply foods that work for me and foods that don’t. There are going to be foods that work for you that won’t work for me and vice versa.
Over time I have learned what works for my body and what doesn’t and I make my choices based on this. AND, this is constantly changing depending on where I am in life at that moment so I try to stay fluid (not rigid like I used to be) and accept that even if a certain food works well for me now, it might not in the future. And there may be foods that don’t work well for me now that might in the future.
When it comes to nutrition, we have to remain fluid and ready to evolve. Our dietary needs are always going to be changing. What we need when we are 20 is going to be different than what we need at age 40. Whatever dietary style you are following now may not work well for you in 5, 10, or 20 years.
If I could communicate one single takeaway from this post, it would be to stay open to change and let go of the rigidity of whatever dietary style you follow now. Be willing to evolve as your body evolves and life cycles change.
On a side note, when it comes to restricted diets, there is some new info coming out about the damage that highly restrictive diets have on the microbiome. Our microbiome needs variety (and lots of it) to stay healthy and happy and those who have followed restrictive diets long-term may be paying a high price with potential microbiome damage taking place. This is still a new area and I will continue to educate myself and share more as I do.
Important note: If you have severely disordered eating, I would encourage you to work with a practitioner on things like this so you can have focused support for your specific needs. If you have a diagnosed eating disorder, please work with your doctor or main medical support person on this. Stuff like this can be very triggering for some and it takes specific support to navigate it all.
Common Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
When it comes to figuring this out, I am sorry to say there is no easy fix. You have to be willing to do the work. Yes, you can get allergy/sensitivity testing, but I find those to be rather faulty, both in my own experience and also in speaking with colleagues and mentors about the topic.
Testing for food sensitivities can be expensive and also can produce a lot of angst around food. I’ll never forget when I did a food sensitivity test and the results showed that I reacted to pretty much everything. I eliminated all of those foods and was left with literally a small handful of things that I could “safely” eat. This did not help with my already severely disordered eating and left me feeling miserable and stressed out.
And what’s worse is that I eliminated all those foods and saw ZERO difference in my health and labs. So it was creating a lot of undue stress (and potential gut microbiome issues) for no improvement.
That was the catalyst for me to tune into my intuition. It showed me just how flawed testing can be and how my own body wisdom will trump expensive tests and expert advice every. single. day.
So now, I come from a place of starting with the basics and then moving into formal testing at a later date and only if we have exhausted every other option prior to that. On a side note, I’ve also spoken to some other practitioners who have moved away from this type of testing and are relying more on our own body wisdom instead.
Learning what foods work for you and what doesn’t means you have to tune into your intuition and inner body wisdom and sadly, this is a skill that most people have lost. It’s totally not your fault — we have not been taught how to do this which is why I am sharing this post with you today.
Some of the most common symptoms of food sensitivities are:
- Brain Fog
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Skin issues (eczema, pimples, etc.)
Since we are all unique, your symptoms may vary. You may notice that your reactions manifest in a totally different way than things I’ve listed above. This is why I cannot emphasize enough the importance of tuning into your body wisdom.
3 Ways to Figure Out What Foods Work For You
When it comes to figuring out what foods work and what foods don’t for your body, nothing can trump your own hands-on, down and dirty experience. This is YOUR body. No one else is going to know it better than you. No one else is going to be able to state, with certainty, what works and what doesn’t.
You have the power to do this. It’s time to take that power back. 🙂
1. Tuning Into Your Intuition
The simplest way to start figuring out what foods may not work for you is to start paying attention to how you feel after you eat certain things. This will take time and the willingness to really tune into your body and see if you can pick up on cues that maybe you’ve missed in the past.
This is not a perfect science as outside things like chemical or toxin exposure could also trigger some of these same symptoms, but this is a good place to start. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how tuning into your body will serve you well for the rest of your life.
It’s important to know that some food reactions may be very small and hardly noticeable. Some of them may happen right away while others can take upwards of 72 hours to manifest. And, sometimes your symptom(s) may not show up in the way you thought it would so be open to things not going the way you planned.
A good example of this is dairy for me. Dairy always has triggered congestion for me so that’s a no-brainer. Eat dairy. Feel congested. But, it was not until about a year ago that I realized that dairy also triggered a stiff neck. I would have never in a million years associated my stiff neck to the cheese I ate the day before, but lo and behold, this is one of my main symptoms. I’ve tested it a few times since then and it happens every single time.
If you choose this path, and I strongly encourage you to because you will learn A LOT about yourself and your body, just be patient, go slow, breathe deep, and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.
2. Elimination Diets
If you suspect that you could have some sensitivities or allergies to food, the gold standard will always be elimination diets. These diets remove the most common allergens from your diet for a certain amount of time and then have you reintroduce these foods to see if you have a reaction. Removing these foods completely gives your body time to heal, reduce inflammation, and lower any antibody levels so that any potential reaction will be more noticeable when you start adding them back.
The goal with this type of diet is to see if you notice any improvements in your health while these foods are out and then notice if you react to any of them when you start adding them back in. If you do, then you will be able to make better choices about what you feed your body moving forward since you’ll know that you react to one thing, but not the other.
The most common allergens/sensitivity triggers are:
- Refined sugars/flours
- Nuts and seeds
- Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes)
There is always a chance that you are reacting to foods that are not on this list, but I really encourage people to not get too crazy here to start. If you try eliminating these foods and have no improvement in your symptoms then yes, we may have to dig deeper. But for the vast majority of people, these tend to be the most common triggers and it is rare that someone will react to every single one of them. So don’t let yourself get freaked out about having to rid all of these for life.
Now, that said, restrictive therapeutic diets are what triggered my eating disorder so this is an area that I like to tread lightly and carefully. I like to make sure my clients are emotionally prepared for giving up these items because quite often it will include some of the most favorite foods. Food creates such an emotional and visceral experience for us and for good reason.
So many of our happiest memories likely revolve around food in some way — birthday parties, holidays with family, celebrations of milestones, etc. So, when we are faced with giving up certain foods, even if it may only be temporary, there can be a whirlwind of emotions that come with that. It’s totally normal and I don’t want you to think there’s something wrong with you if this happens for you.
One of the most important things I like to do here is to approach this like an experiment. You’re playing detective with your body. You’re learning to be curious about things, about what works and what doesn’t, so that you can have more energy or more clarity.
Remember, nothing has to permanent, nothing has to be forever. This is just an experiment.
If you’re feeling a lot of resistance or this is triggering some unwanted thoughts or behaviors, then definitely reach out to me privately and we can dive a little deeper and I help support you. This is an area I am super passionate about because of my own experiences.
You can choose to eliminate all of them at once or you can choose the ones that you suspect may be the biggest culprits for you. This is totally up to you and I want you to make an empowered decision that will work best for your needs. If you choose not to eliminate them all at once, then you can always come back and do a round 2 down the road if you desire.
You can do longer if you prefer, but 30 days is the minimum to really let your body rest and inflammation decrease. When you are ready to reintroduce foods, you will need to do so slowly and carefully. Only add one food at a time and really pay attention to any possible reactions. Remember it can sometimes take 72 hours for symptoms to occur. Don’t rush the reintroduction and really rely on your intuition here.
3. Carb and Starch Tolerance
Ahhh, carbs. No other food group seems to be so hotly debated right now. You’ve got people who love them and people who hate them and everyone has plenty of data to prove they are right. There’s a lot of vilification of carbs so I really try to remain neutral on the topic. Some people can tolerate a lot of carbs, others can’t, and still others fall everywhere in the middle.
When I talk about carbs, I’m not really talking about the carbs found in non-starchy vegetables (though those can be problematic for some people if they have severe metabolic issues). For the general person, I’m mainly talking about the starchy carbs like rice and other grains, potatoes, some squash, fruit, etc., as well as sweeteners, flours, etc.
Truly, the best way to know what your carb tolerance is will be to test it. This is a “level 3” strategy, so it’s why I saved it until last, but I can tell you that this type of testing and number tracking can be really beneficial for people, especially those who may know or suspect they have metabolic issues where blood sugar tolerance could be impaired. Any type of chronic illness can cause endocrine system issues so it’s not a bad idea to know where you’re at.
Remember, there is no right or wrong here. You’re not “good” if you have low numbers and “bad” if you have high numbers. You are simply gathering information so you can make more empowered, educated decisions about your health. 🙂
If you’re ready to give this a try, you’ll need to buy a glucometer (blood sugar testing device – this is the one I recommend) and start testing your blood sugar before and after you eat a carbohydrate. You’ll want to take your blood sugar before you eat so that you can have a fasting or pre-food reading. Then you’ll want to take it again at 1 hour, 2 hour, and 3 hour marks to see how your blood sugar levels are tracking throughout the digestive process.
This will be the best way to get accurate info about YOUR specific carb needs. People who are highly in tune with their bodies may be able to know immediately how a carb or starch is affecting them, but not everyone is going to be able to do this.
If you’re going to do this process, I advise eating one type of carb at a time so that you can know exactly how that food is impacting you. If you eat multiple starches in one sitting then it will be hard to know if you are reacting more to one and not the other. Believe it or not, not all carbs and starches are the same for all people. I know of people who have found that when they started testing their blood sugar they found that they could tolerate rice, but couldn’t tolerate sweet potatoes. Or they may be able to tolerate plantains but not regular white potatoes.
Carb tolerance is HIGHLY individual and if there was one thing I could change about the current state of nutrition it would be to stop vilifying them across the board and start doing what works for YOUR body.
Final Thoughts + Additional Reading
These three strategies can take you a long way in figuring out what foods work for you and what don’t. I really like to focus on keeping things simple. It can get so overwhelming out there when it comes to nutrition and health and that overwhelm can often leave us feeling stuck. I don’t want that to happen for you, so go slow, be patient, and BREATHE.
If you want a little additional reading, here are some extra articles you may enjoy:
- 5 Signs You May Have Hidden Food Sensitivities
- Have Food Sensitivities? Info to Help.
- Binging While On a Restrictive Diet for Your Health? Read this.
If you’ve been struggling with your relationship to food and body and are ready to find the peace and freedom you’ve truly been craving, know that you’re not alone. Whether you’re dealing with binge eating, overeating, yo-yo dieting, body shame/hate, or a combination of the above, know that these symptoms are holding a deeper message for you.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to the years of feeling out of control and compulsive around food (resulting in body shame) and shift into a place of peace and freedom then I can help. Come join my 7-day Food & Body Freedom eCourse (it’s free!) here.
This eCourse came from my passion for helping women transform their relationships to food and body. What you desire IS truly possible if you are ready, open, and willing. It is time to say goodbye to the years of control, compulsive behaviors, limiting beliefs, scarcity of joy, and actions driven from a place of fear and feelings of unworthiness, once and for all. Learn more and sign up here.