If you’re fed up of trying to figure out whether you have a food intolerance, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been there!
That fear of eating anything when you’re further than a five-second sprint to a toilet, I get it! I spent years wondering what was going on with my digestive system before I was finally diagnosed with gluten intolerance.
If you’re one of the lucky people out there who can eat whatever you fancy without any signs of a food intolerance then please ignore this post and carry on eating anything you want. But if you are having digestive issues then this post will clear up some confusion.
There are so many things it’s possible to have an intolerance
Keep a food diary
This was the first thing my GP advised me to do when I started experiencing digestive issues and it’s always the first thing I recommend when anyone asks for my advice.
Whatever your digestive issues are (wind/diarrhoea/constipation/bloating/stomach pains – I could go on but you get the point) it’s best to keep a record of what you’re eating, so you can figure out what causes these symptoms. Also, make sure you actually write down what your symptoms are each time they occur so you can get a clear picture of what’s going on.
Each time you eat or drink take a few seconds to write it down or put it in the notes on your phone, making sure you put the time down too. Then keep a note of when you get any symptoms – specifically what the symptoms are and what time they occurred.
Yes, it will be the strangest diary you’ve ever kept, certainly nothing like the one from your teenage years which mostly contained scribbles of undying love for your crush. But trust me, it’s worth keeping this diary because it will get you a huge step closer to figuring out why your stomach keeps acting
After a week or two, you should start seeing some kind of pattern between what you eat and how your body reacts. It might not always involve an upset stomach either – from the food diary I noticed I felt exhausted every time I ate gluten. So write down exactly how you feel and you might see symptoms that you originally had no idea were even related to what you ate!
Remove then reintroduce
Once you’ve got an idea of what food might be causing your issues it’s time to check whether it is actually that thing. To do this, you’ll need to remove that specific food from your diet and then reintroduce it.
So let’s say you’ve assessed your food diary and realised that every time you eat gluten you end up running to the toilet at a speed which could rival Usain Bolt.
What you’d need to do is remove gluten completely from your diet. There’s a lot of discussion about how long you should remove it for, but my personal opinion is two weeks. So make sure you don’t eat anything that even contains a tiny bit of gluten for two whole weeks and
At the end of the two weeks, try eating something that contains gluten (while making sure you’re near a toilet, if that’s your main symptom), and make a note of how your body reacts (if at all) in your food diary. If your symptoms disappear during the two weeks without gluten and then return when you reintroduce it there’s a pretty big chance you’re intolerant to gluten.
If nothing changed when you were keeping the food diary, you can check back through your original symptoms and try to figure out if you perhaps pinpointed the wrong food as the culprit. Or you could speak to your GP to check you’re not deficient in any vitamins/minerals, or to make sure you don’t have another health issue that you mistakenly thought was
This bit might be tricky as some GPs are hesitant to test for food intolerances, but if you think gluten is the culprit then I believe you should request a test for Coeliac Disease. If gluten didn’t flash up as your arch enemy then don’t worry about getting a Coeliac Disease test though as that’s purely for gluten.
In true TV/radio presenter style, I feel like I should now say that other food intolerances are available. It’s just that I’m so used to writing about gluten intolerance that it’s the first thing I think of.
If you are thinking of requesting a Coeliac Disease test from your GP, I’ve written more about what you need to know before you have it in another post. For example, if you are having the test then you need to keep eating gluten for at least six weeks beforehand. So check my post to make sure the test is as accurate as possible.
Have a trial run
Ok, testing aside… After you’ve figured out what’s been causing your digestive issues and you’ve done the ‘remove then reintroduce’ cycle, try removing that particular food from your diet again for about a month. Do this as a trial run to see if your symptoms clear up completely.
If your food intolerance symptoms don’t clear up, start keeping a food diary again and take it to show your GP. The advice I’ve given will help if you have a basic intolerance and just need to figure out what food to avoid. But if you’ve got any kind of health issue that goes deeper than a simple intolerance then a GP will be able to help far more than I can.
For most people, the simple steps in this post will be enough to clear up the confusion and help you to start enjoying food again, rather than dreading what your reaction will be each time you eat.
I hope my advice helps you!
If you’ve already discovered what was causing your food intolerance issues, what helped you? Did you keep a food diary?