Taking The Mystery Out Of Food Re-Introduction

Author: Lily Mazzarella 
Observations gleaned through a decade + of guiding clients through anti-inflammatory/elimination diets.

You’ve been working hard at eating clean, doing an anti-inflammatory/elimination diet (like the Summer Inflammation Soother), and you’re feeling pretty damn good.

So it is with trepidation, excitement and relief that you approach the re-introduction of potentially problematic foods left off in this time.

Some guiding principles:

Choose ONE food at a time. Don’t muddy the waters—the most unclear reintroductions occur when “I was at a party and I had wine and this really delicious bread and some cheese and then some chocolate so I’m not sure what is making me feel so terrible.” I typically suggest people start with eggs, since they are an “expander” food: if you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy to them, they can broaden your food options tremendously, and make traveling easier.

Eat that food daily, for 3 days in a row. Sometimes delayed sensitivities take time to emerge, and sometimes repeated exposure is the issue. You don’t necessarily have to eat the food at every meal! Just make sure to have a good serving of that food in its most straightforward state at least once a day. So, for eggs, eat 2-3 eggs per day, scrambled, over easy, hard-boiled—you get the idea.

Keep a diary or food log. This is a critical observation period, and things can get complicated quickly once you’re really in the thick of reintros.

Watch for signs that a food may not be working for your body. In a sense we’re “lucky” if a food causes immediate symptoms: GI upset, bowel changes, headache, congestion or lip/mouth swelling. These reactions are hard to ignore or override. But there are other signs that we less commonly associate with food reactions, or are on a longer arc: brain fog, mood changes (particularly weepy/irritable/self-critical), precipitous energy drops, anxiety, palpitations, disturbed sleep, skin outbreaks, worsened PMS, joint pain, muscle aches/tightness, hot flashes, urinary irritability and reactive weight gain. This last one is a very precise indicator for some people—eating a food can cause weight to fluctuate by 1-5 pounds in as little as a day. This is a sign that a food is causing inflammation in your system.

If a food causes a reaction (or you suspect it does), leave it out, and let your body come back down to baseline. This washout period takes about 3 days. It’s important to ensure the next food has a fair shot. “Will I ever be able to eat that food again?” you ask. And my honest answer is: we don’t know yet. When the gut is given the herbs, nutrients and time to truly heal, many foods can be eventually be re-included in the diet. Other foods remain lifelong sensitivities or allergies—or just poor fits for your body. Some people find, for example, that they just don’t do well with too many grains in the diet over all, or with nightshades. This isn’t a failing on your part! It’s your unique expression—where genetics meet environment. 

If a food causes no reaction, leave it in and move on to the next food. That’s right, just hit repeat!

A couple of final thoughts on re-introduction phase:

This is obviously hard (but not impossible) to do while traveling. Set yourself up for success with elimination diets by choosing a time when you are not cruising around airports or on a road trip.
You can do this on your own, but the guidance of a practitioner is tremendously helpful. They can help you interpret what is happening, and help determine next steps or supportive therapies depending upon your results.

If find you are reactive to most things, don’t freak out—this may not be forever! Stay on your healthy anti-inflammatory diet and work on your gut health. You may need to balance the microbiome in your small or large intestine, or give your GI tract nutrients and herbs to aid with intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

Try a food in different forms: dairy for example, presents many different forms that people tolerate variously. You can try plain yogurt, hard cheese, soft cheese, milk….just not ice cream. Other ingredients (including sugar) present confounding factors. If you don’t tolerate cow dairy, you might do okay with some goat or sheep dairy. Some folks can have tomatoes cooked in to a dish, but not eat them straight.

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