When it comes to chronic pain and depression, we now know that these states — and a host of conditions that accompany them — are caused by the inflammation of microglia (immune cells) in the brain. The microglia turn on inflammation, and when they reach a tipping point, they become hyper-reactive. The slightest assault can set them off, triggering system-wide inflammation that can be difficult to stop.
That makes the case for adopting healthy habits (eat well, exercise, meditate) even stronger. We need to give our bodies the nutrients and care they need — making sure to avoid the foods that are the likely culprits for allergies and sensitivities.
Here’s how to figure out if your diet is causing inflammation:
Try a low-inflammation diet
For six weeks eat only brown rice, fish, chicken, eggs, fresh fruits, and vegetables. (Organic, grass-fed beef can be included in the diet as well.) This diet eliminates most of the foods people are allergic or sensitive to, such as wheat, soy, and milk products.
Here’s why it’s important to keep a food diary: Allergies and food sensitivities may not show up for hours after you eat the offending food or spice, but if you pay attention and note how you’re feeling throughout the day, you’ll increase the odds of making connections between the food and your response. Be sure to start your diary at the beginning of the diet, so you can make an accurate comparison in six weeks.
This means no caffeinated coffee, tea, or alcohol. It also means no NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen) to inflame your gut. If you typically drink more than two cups of coffee a day, it might be best to cut your consumption in half every few days until you are coffee-free. After a week or two of easing off caffeine, you should be able to go without coffee and not get a headache.
Evaluate your process
Rate the following factors in your diary:
- Energy Level
- Ability to Focus and Concentrate
- General Pain Level
- Specific Pain Level
Complete the diary at the same time every day. Feel free to add comments about your sleep, digestion, and any other aspect of your health or mood. Additionally, make note of any unusual life events.
Add back foods
After six weeks, gradually add back new categories of food, one at a time, one week at a time. A good food to start with is dairy. Pay close attention to see if you experience gas, bloating, or other reactions. The next week, add soy products, such as tofu, soybeans, miso, and soy sauce. The following week, add wheat, such as bread, cereal, pasta, and canned or frozen foods with wheat fillers.
You will be the best judge of whether or not these foods have a negative effect on your energy level, your mood, or your ability to concentrate.
Signs of allergies
If you lose as much as five pounds or more the first week, it may be a sign that you’ve been eating foods you’re allergic to and your tissues have been swollen. Other signs of allergies include migraines, numbness in the arms or legs, inability to focus, poor concentration, fatigue, depression, brain fog, headaches, mood fluctuations, itchiness, sneezing, gas, diarrhea, sinus congestion, and skin rashes.
Delayed reactions are not uncommon. You may get a headache in the morning from something you ate the night before. This is why it’s important to add foods back into your diet very slowly.
Prepare for the toughest part
While the first two weeks will be the hardest, the other difficult period is after the six weeks, when you are feeling better but starting to add in new foods. It can be frustrating to learn that you are having a negative reaction to one of your favorite foods. Maybe you add gluten in for a few days, but soon realize you’re experiencing bloating, congestion, and brain fog. Many people will ask: “Does this mean I can’t eat wheat anymore?!” Truthfully, you can eat whatever you want. It depends on whether or not you can live with the consequences.