If symptoms are severe and complicated by other diagnoses, such as an autoimmune condition, Barrett recommends working with a functional-medicine practitioner or nutritionist for support. Those dealing with mild symptoms might opt to start with some DIY experimentation in the form of a simple elimination diet, such as Whole30, or the elimination diet protocol developed by the Institute for Functional Medicine. (For details on this protocol, see “The Institute for Functional Medicine’s Elimination Diet Comprehensive Guide and Food Plan“.)
“If you do that for a few weeks and feel better, don’t just stop. Take the time to do the reintroduction portion,” advises naturopathic doctor Sara Jean Barrett, ND, a holistic and functional-medicine practitioner in Minneapolis. Try each food for a few days before reintroducing the next one.
“The reintroduction piece shines a light on the one food that doesn’t agree with you, and it’s much simpler to just avoid that one going forward.”
Take note of how your body reacts. “The reintroduction piece shines a light on the one food that doesn’t agree with you, and it’s much simpler to just avoid that one going forward.”
When it comes to allergies — and the conditions that can masquerade as allergies, such as lactose intolerance or chemical sensitivities — it’s important to get a clear diagnosis and understand what you’re dealing with. “You can develop a new allergy, and you can grow out of one,” says Northwestern University pediatrics and medicine professor Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, author of Food Without Fear: Identify, Prevent, and Treat Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities. Immunotherapy can be an option for food allergies, and medications can be helpful for conditions such as IBD.
She also suggests looking for connection and support. Advocacy organizations and support groups for people with food allergies or GI disorders share resources and strategies for navigating schools or the workplace. (It’s possible to connect in person and virtually.)
One silver lining to the increase in these conditions is the growth in understanding and accommodation. Gupta notes that 85 million people in the United States now avoid buying some type of food because either they or someone in their household is reactive to it. “You’re not alone,” she says. “Even if it feels that way.”
This was excerpted from “Making Sense of Food Allergies” which was published in the May 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.