It all starts with a symptom. Some sort of symptom that tells you things aren’t right. It can be something as small as a rash that randomly appeared, acne that won’t go away, redness around the mouth, never-ending congestion, something as vague as behavioral problems, or it can be as big as full body hives or anaphylaxis. Whatever it is, the suspicion of whether or not an allergy or sensitivity exists all begins because a symptom was observed (or tested for) and you want to know what to do next.
Let’s start by defining an allergy versus a sensitivity or intolerance. According to FARE (Food Allergy & Research Education), “a food allergy results when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein – an allergen – as a threat and attacks it.” In contract, a food sensitivity “(With the exception of celiac disease), food intolerances do not involve the immune system. Although food intolerances may cause some of the same symptoms as a true food allergy, they cannot trigger anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction.”
Assuming you have seen some sort of symptom(s) or have been allergy tested and are now questioning whether or not it’s an allergy or sensitivity, that’s what brings us to where you are now. If you are basing your assumption of an allergy on an allergy test, whether it’s blood or skin, the chances of a false positive are approximately 50-60%, per FARE. Investigate more about the diagnostic testing available to you here.
In my own experience with my son, the skin prick test was able to determine the foods that he was anaphylactic to, but it completely missed the foods that he was sensitive to. In contrast, the blood test he was administered showed numerous false negatives and also still missed the foods he was sensitive to. As a result, we spent years cutting out the foods the allergist told us to and completely overlooked any other possible culprits that caused his unbearable eczema because we were told he wasn’t allergic to it. After numerous pediatricians and allergists, we finally began working with a homeopathists to help cure his allergies. He ended up not curing his allergies, but instead eliminated his asthma, and I can proudly say that my son has not used a nebulizer, Albuterol, or Pulmicort for more than three years now. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide relief for his eczema, but he made us more aware of the side effects of steroids and lotions on children’s bodies that make them grow dependent on it.
About a year later, we met a nutritionist who is fully responsible for getting our lives on track and leading me to become the resource that I am today. Hanne Salome of Raw Evolution has been a Godsent to our family. We hired her in December 2011, and she immediately came to our house, inspected our food, took us grocery shopping, and taught us how to cook and eat a plant-based lifestyle without denouncing any other form of eating, but mainly by cutting out all processed foods to get my son’s body back to baseline.
Ah, that so very important word – BASELINE. In my own terms, it means to return the body to it’s ideal state where there are no symptoms. Refer back to paragraph one to see that there are infinite symptoms, but all of this work begins as a result of one thing: because a particular symptom was questionable and you wanted to get to the bottom of what caused it. That one symptom is what we’re working to eliminate, and when you have eliminated it, you have reached your baseline. In my son’s circumstance, it was eczema, and if and when his eczema was gone and his skin was completely clear, we were at baseline. Well, for the first time since we identified that my son had allergies, we finally reached baseline under the guidance of Hanne who taught us about the healing power of foods instead of simply how to eliminate foods from our diet because that clearly didn’t work.
After a month on a raw/vegan diet with Hanne, my son finally reached his baseline, and his skin was beautiful! He went from skin eruptions and constant pussing and scabs to beautiful, perfect, clean skin just like when he was a newborn!
Once we started introducing foods back in, we found out that the foods that he was sensitive to were the foods that the allergy tests completely missed. From then, our buying and eating patterns completely shifted, and instead of cutting out the foods that he was allergic to, we replaced our eating patterns with foods that give us power and energy and heal us from the inside out. Instead of packaged food, we make our own snacks at home. Instead of conventional produce, we only buy organic produce. When I see my grocery cart being more full of products in packages than fresh produce, I call Hanne to check in and let her know that I need a pep talk to get back into the lifestyle of healthy eating. Yes, it is more expensive. We actually eliminated a car payment, and I drove an old beater car for more than a year, so we could adjust to the significantly increased cost of groceries. Now, the majority of our monthly budget goes to foods, and we could not be happier about it. I am so proud that my youngest son who was born in 2010 has never had a bit of fast food.
I am only human, just like everyone else, and often times I need to recharge my system and get me back on track to eat the foods that power me up. I have gone through and highly recommend the 28-Day Vegan Challenge by Angela Pifer to get adjusted to a gluten-free and vegan lifestyle. I am not preaching that you need to be gluten free or vegan, but changing the way you eat with the goal of getting to baseline is so important because once you’re there, you’ll do anything possible to maintain it. I have found that following a gluten free, vegan (which is automatically dairy-free and egg-free) diet, makes it easier to also eliminate other main allergens of soy and nuts when you’re trying to find your baseline, and following the guidance of a nutritionist is also so important.
Another option is to follow an elimination diet where you slowly eliminate one food group (for example, gluten) for two weeks until it has completely left your system and see if your symptoms are gone. If they are gone, then try to introduce the potential culprit back in its most wholesome form (for example, bread) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If your symptoms reappear within a couple of days, then you have found one of your allergies or sensitivities. But don’t stop there because there may be more foods that are bothering your system! Spend a couple of weeks on your gluten-free diet to make sure the symptoms remain gone. If they appear again after you have continued eliminating gluten from your diet, then move on to the next allergen (for example, dairy), and keep that out of your diet for two weeks and test it again. Continue to perform this same exercise every two weeks until all of the remaining major allergens (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, peanuts, shellfish) have been tested, then follow up with any other foods that you have a feeling you may be sensitive to, but aren’t really sure. Now’s the time!
Now that you have the idea of how to identify if you’re allergic or sensitive to something without using official diagnostic tests that are often only accurate half of the time, continue on to my next (much shorter) section entitled How Do I Get Started Going Allergy-Free?