Sometimes we just feel blah, and we have no clue why. Logically, we know it has a root cause and can be tracked back to some type of environmental influence, but how in the world could you possibly pinpoint that cause when you're bloated and crampy on a daily basis food or no food? Or maybe you're not, and you feel great most of the time, but ever-so-often, something sets off your symptoms and you just haven't discovered what that is out of the pool of possibilities. I'm scenario 1, by the way. Having had SIBO for over one-year straight, I am constantly (although finally starting to heal) /randomly feeling cramps, getting super bloated, and have other weird tummy issues. So how am I suppose to identify intolerances alongside this? That was the question I had for so long, but feel like I finally have some answers to. This is going to be totally different for everyone, but I have some steps you can take to try to identify your own.
#1: Elimination Diet
-Now I know this is what everyone says, but it's true, and it works. Here's a good link to explain the steps if you have never done one before. I would suggest doing this as strictly as possible, without forgoing essential nutrients. For me, I eliminated eggs, dairy, gluten, legumes, nightshades, sugar, alcohol (even the amount in vanilla extract), grains, cacao, and most starches. Basically an even stricter AIP. All of this sounds overwhelming, but remember that it is only for a short time, and there are ways to assure success!
a. Plan out your meals!
-If you are at a total loss (which I plan to do a series on elimination diet meals soon), SCD meals on Pinterest are a great way to start! You'll have to seek out the ones without nightshades, eggs, and dairy if your plan is to avoid these, but SCD meals without those are plentiful if you spend time looking.
B. Pack snacks.
-Basically, never don't have a snack. Literally, bring elimination diet friendly foods with you EVERYWHERE! There will be plenty of times you are out of your kitchen when you realize you're starving, and only have access to snacks you are trying to avoid. These are the times when you are most likely to fall off track and ruin the process. PLAN AHEAD!
C. Refrain from meals out
-This isn't a hard and fast rule, but more of a tip to make your life easier. There are some restaurants out there that are super clean, and that you can identify and track every ingredient used. Most restaurants are not like this, and you are not going to know exactly what is in your food. This is where the problem sets in. If you begin to have symptoms after a meal out, you are not going to be able to identify what the culprit was, which throws of the whole purpose of the elimination diet. If you must eat out somewhere during the elimination phase, ask questions, and order as simply as possible (no sauces, no spices, etc.) So it can be done, but if at all possible, it will be best and easiest on you to avoid this during the initial phase.
#2: Tracking Tracking Tracking
-To sum it all up...track EVERYTHING! This entire process is about being your own detective. And to be a good detective, you need to keep extremely detailed notes to help you in the solving process. The more organized you are in this process, the easier it will be for you in the end. This process should begin from the very beginning, even in the elimination phase when you feel like you're eating nothing. Even the small group of foods you are currently eating could be causing issues. Or, maybe those issues are slowly going away as days pass without the irritant foods in your diet. Either way, start the process from the beginning and note what you observe.
a. Keep a food log
-Write down EVERYTHING you consume EVERYDAY with ALL the ingredients. I did this in my planner under each day's notes, which really helped me out in tracing stuff back in the end.
b. Keep a mood log
-Directly under your food log, write down your mood for that day. Were you up and down, steady, happy, sad, anxious? Even your mood can point to intolerances.
c. Keep a symptom log
-Anddd directly under mood, write down your symptoms for that day. If you see connections after a particular meal, you can also draw arrows to connect suspicions. The most important part that most people miss in this phase is downplaying things that seem insignificant. EVERYTHING in this phase is significant. Write down if you seem to be breaking out more, if your joints are achey, if you have cramps, if your period seems heavier or more painful OR lighter and less painful than usual, if there is even a small rash somewhere on your skin, weird bumps somewhere...etc. I mean EVERYTHING! Being so concise like this is how I identified that the red, flat dots I get on my face are actually an autoimmune response to when something I am intolerant to has entered my body. If I would have never written this down and taking it to my doctor, it could have been easily overlooked as some weird, insignificant symptom, but now, this is the main symptom I can identify to read what my body is telling me.
-The very last phase is based off of how disciplined and purposeful you were in the last stage. This is where the detective work comes in. Now you can look back through each day of your elimination diet and reintroduction phase, and try to make connections you didn't already make. Look back and forth between days and look for symptoms that can be traced back to a food that you ate the day before, the day of, etc. Also, remember that (a) symptom(s) do(es) not have to be directly after a meal to be connected. Try your best to find patterns, and take note of what those may be. Also, if possible, try to identify what symptom seems to be most prominent for your body. If you can figure out if cramping, bloating, fatigue, or a rash is what points most often to your body telling you somethings not right, you can more easily look at for that particular symptom.
I hope this article was helpful to you identifying your intolerances, and learning to interpret what your body is trying to tell you. When you begin to look at your health as more than untraceable symptoms, finding root causes becomes an exciting and interesting subject! I think we all get into this symptom focused mindset, because this seems to be the mindset of most modern medicine/allopathic doctors. When we take something to a doctor, we are asked our most obnoxious symptoms and nothing else. From here, they prescribe something to mask those symptoms, which, in turn, brings along more symptoms that are once again, simply masked. The cycle is endless, and it is up to us to take control of our own health in a world with a very different view of what that means. There truly always are root causes, no matter how hidden and confusing they are to find. Let's make this process fun!