Therapeutic diets like the low FODMAP Diet, Anti-Candida Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and many Detoxification Diets (often anti-inflammatory and low allergy) can get the job done, but they are not designed to be used long-term. Lowering or removing food triggers for what ails you whether it be IBS, dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease or a sluggish liver is an important step towards healing, but it can also cause micro- and macro- nutritional deficiencies (leading to infertility, osteopenia, lowered immunity, etc.); unintended disruptions to the microbiome; as well as physical, mental, emotional, and social hardships overtime. These Diets are mostly designed to give your body a break, space to heal itself, and then the challenge of re-introducing potentially offending foods begins. When it comes time to transition off of a Detox / Elimination-Type Diet, the feeling may be bittersweet.
On one hand, the hope of diversifying one’s diet can be exciting, but there’s no guarantee how your body will react to the new food(s). After enjoying a significant improvement in quality of life or even a symptom-free period, some may feel anxiety and reluctance to change what they’re doing. Why fix what’s no longer broken? After mastering the elimination phase (overcoming cravings and withdrawal, learning new ways to shop and cook, etc.), these diets become fairly straight-forward: stick to the recommended foods and avoid all others. For someone accustomed to a regimen, the re-introduction phase can seem like the Wild West. There often aren’t as strict guidelines, and it can require a lot of time, patience, resilience, and keen observational skills, but it’s worth it! Remember, food is not just fuel, it’s also info, an opportunity for feedback (and I don’t just mean taste, although it’s important to enjoy what you eat too).
While the Elimination-Challenge Diet remains the gold-standard of food sensitivity testing, it’s hard for many to do well. Hence, the growing popularity of lab testing for food sensitivities and intolerances. Another quick and easy way to screen for food allergies or hidden sensitivities is to do an an abbreviated Coca Pulse Test:
- Get Calm: sit down, relax, and breath for a few mins. before you start. It’s best to do it in the morning before eating or drinking anything
- Measure: take your resting pulse for 1 min.
- Sample: take one bite of a single food (something simple like a piece of bread vs. a sandwich) and let it sit in your mouth for at least 30 secs. Chew if you like, but do not swallow
- Re-measure: while holding the food in your mouth, take your pulse again for 1 min.
- Compare: if your pulse increases by 6 beats / min. or more, it’s considered a positive test and indicates a stress reaction to that food. You should consider avoiding it
- Wash-out: if you reacted, remove the food and drink water
- Repeat: once your pulse has returned to its resting rate, you can test another single food
A Detox Diet can serve as the basis for a modified Elimination-Challenge Diet. There’s a growing body of evidence that food sensitivities can cause harm to other body systems through increased intestinal permeability and inappropriate immune responses (i.e. leaky gut). “Challenging” a food back into the diet involves:
- Moving slowly — I usually recommend adding 1 food / food group every 2 days (e.g., oranges, dairy)
- Tracking symptoms during re-introduction (note both positive and negative physical, mental, and emotional reactions in a journal or chart, which can be found online)
- Introducing the least inflammatory foods in their least inflammatory form first (those with the lowest likelihood of triggering a reaction, e.g., egg yolk before egg white)
- Waiting for abnormal reactions to subside (at least 2 days without symptoms) before adding 1 food from another food group
- Familiarity with food “families” (e.g., nightshades, fructans, polyols, gluten, etc.) as the response to foods belonging to the same class can be similar
- Working with a healthcare professional to manage distress, interpret the data, and do further work-up and testing as necessary
One benefit of all these Diets is the fact that they force us to look at the relationship between our food choices and how they affect the way we function and feel. Making modifications or disrupting unhealthy habits in how we eat can be powerful, it has the potential to change our relationship with food and break-free of patterns that harm us.
Most people can benefit from an annual or semi-annual detox, and there are many evidence-informed therapeutic diets to treat specific health conditions. Changing what you eat may not solve all your problems, but it’s a good start. Many conditions and diseases are partly or entirely nutritionally based. However, it’s important to know how far to take it and not just focus on what you eat but also when, how, and why you eat. The ability to enjoy a wide variety of foods without symptoms, hang-ups or regrets is a mark of vibrant health and a blossoming relationship with food.