Uncovering food intolerances

Once we’ve accepted the concept that our individual bodies might require individual food choices, the question remains: How to discover which foods aren’t good for us? I first wondered if I were allergic to wheat after finishing off half-a-loaf of delicious whole-wheat bread one day while working at home on an editing project. I didn’t wait to have a screening of any kind once I discovered that wheat allergies actually existedI just quit eating wheat. No bread, no cookies, no biscuits, no pasta, no crackers. (This was in the early ’90s, when wheat-free wasn’t as mainstream as it seems to be today.)

Within weeks I was feeling much happier, more energetic and less irritable. I also seemed to be losing weight, as one might expect when avoiding all those yummy baked goods. Several months later, still feeling remarkably happy & energetic, but now assuming that cheerful & vigorous was my natural state of being, I blithely ingested a tempting wheat product … and woke up the next morning cranky, depressed and achy. After several cycles of that, over the ensuing decades, I can now truly call myself wheat-free.

Aside: Celiac Disease is not a wheat allergy. It is an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten damages the villi of the small intestines, which can cause malabsorption and a variety of health problems. Since I have never been tested for this, I label myself either wheat-intolerant or allergic to wheat. Darn unscientific, but it works for me.

A friend of mine who suspected his skin condition might be an allergic reaction refused to consider being allergic to eggs (a food he’d eaten every day of his life, he protested); eventually badgered into having an allergy test, he was aghast to find eggs listed as his most reactionary food. When he gave them up at last, however, he also gave up itchy, rashy skin for the first time in years. His general energy level increased as well. And yes, he tested it, too. Once on purpose, with a gently poached egg, and then a month later, accidentally, with a restaurant caeser salad. Both times, the itchy skin recurred within 24 hours.

Both of us, I might point out, considered ourselves healthy, fit folks with adequately balanced & nutritionally appropriate eating habitsfolks just like you, in fact.

If you want to fine-tune your food choices, don’t wait until you hit the trail. Start now. You can spring for a full-on food allergy testing (which won’t indicate any intolerances, but will include any low-level, non-deadly allergies) or experiment with careful attention to your body and record-keeping of your meals, an approach approved by the good Dr. Weil. Or you could try the Jo-method of research/investigation, which I’ll lay out in the next blog (it’s a shortcut based on other people’s research).

Probably the best method, if you have the inclination, is the tracking what you’ve eaten at each meal, and then noting any physical symptoms that pop up within the next 24 hours: sleepier than usual after lunch? can’t sleep? do any joints ache? do you feel cranky or irritable? how’s your stomach feel? your head? bad dreams? groggy in the morning? clothes don’t fit right? itchy, flushed, cold or clammy? can’t run as far, walk as fast, lift as high, stretch as much?

Notice especially if any food you eat creates a sense of mild euphoria, which can have an addictive quality. It’s certainly not uncommon for us to crave the foods that are especially harmful to us. (Chocolate cake, anyone? Or a big diet soda pop?)

As you become more aware of the affect on your body of the foods you are eating every day, you may feel inspired to cut back or even eliminate some of those foods. As you do, continue to monitor your body and notice any changes that may occur. Some folks propose “pulse testing” to check for food sensitivities; I haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t whole-heartedly endorse it, although I plan to try & will let you know my results.

What I can & do endorse is being aware that all good foods are not equally good for all bodies. Your body is individual & unique.

By taking the time & energy to determine the foods that best nourish your body, you’ll not only enjoy better health now & in the future, but also a better backpack adventure! And isn’t that what we all want?

Remember: Short cut suggestion next time!