Identifying Food Sensitivities: The Missing Piece

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You or your client is doing everything right but nagging symptoms persist. 

It’s frustrating! You’re eating clean, whole food, plant-based diet- yet still struggling with nagging symptoms—fatigue, hormone imbalance, leaky gut, dysbiosis, inflammation, and more. 

You might already realize that what you eat and when you eat can have a profound impact on health, and determining what diet is best is dependent on understanding how they react to functional foods. Without first identifying possible food sensitivities, regaining health can be near impossible.  

If you’re a functional healthcare practitioner, you know that when symptoms persist, it’s imperative that this complicated problem be untangled in order to identify the root cause of these warning signs.  

Where do you start?

The Gold Standard

The gold standard for identifying food culprits is an elimination and provocation process, especially now that it’s known that food sensitivity testing is flawed. The drawback is both practitioners and clients can find the process confusing, frustrating and overwhelming. In addition, most techniques  have a critical flaw that can result in overlooked culprits or unnecessary restrictions.

This is why I will dedicate 3 blog installments to the unique process I’ve developed.

It’s thorough, reliable, and effective. 

Whether a practitioner providing support or a client desperately trying to identify problematic foods, this clearly explained, step by step process will uncover those food culprits preventing health goals from being achieved.  

The 4 Phases of Food Sensitivity Detection

To effectively identify food sensitivities, I break down the elimination and provocation process into 4 phases:

  1. The Preparation Phase
  2. The Elimination Phase
  3. The Reintroduction Phase
  4. The Maintenance Phase


Phase 1: The Preparation Phase:  Identifying Suspects – The missing piece.

There is no substitute for the Preparation Phase.  Much to my surprise, it’s missing from most elimination and provocation processes. Its primary purpose is to identify trigger foods. Without it, sensitivities can be missed or entire food groups are unnecessarily eliminated. It’s the phase that can take the most work but glean the most benefits when done correctly.  

1)  Assess symptoms

The first step is to list any and all symptoms a person is experiencing. This could be everything from a runny nose to heart palpitations. It’s  important to include any diagnosed condition such as asthma or chronic sinusitis. I also ask questions that address how a person feels after eating.  Each answer is assigned a numerical value. The final score reflects the likelihood that symptoms are related to food sensitivities.

 2)  Food Frequency

Next, a 10-page document explores what is eaten, how often, and specific lifestyle habits around food. This includes listing favorite foods,  binge foods, and foods craved. It all begins to create a valuable picture.

 3)  “No, Go, Maybe” Protocol

Review the food list created with red, green, and yellow markers in hand. 

RED = NO Mark in red those foods known to be the most common allergens: gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, peanuts, strawberries, citrus, shellfish, and chocolate. Include all foods already known  to cause symptoms. These are the first foods to eliminate.

GREEN = GO Highlight in green foods rarely or never eaten, new foods eaten AFTER symptoms appeared, and those foods known to create calmness, great energy, and a focused mind. These are the foods to include.

YELLOW = MAYBE  Yellow highlights those foods that “might” create symptoms.  This could be natural sweeteners like stevia or processed foods that contain hidden ingredients. These are the foods that must be closely watched as possible triggers.

4)  Tracking Food Intake and Symptoms

Work with this list of food. Keep meals simple and use a  journal to track foods and symptoms. It might be surprising to find a food highlighted in green is causing a headache or a runny nose occurs every time a favorite salad dressing is eaten. This is how to learn to recognize trigger foods.

Food Religions- The exception to the rule.

In a previous blog I talked about the problem with food religions. However, during the investigative Preparation Phase, symptoms may be associated with a food group that contains things such as oxalates, lectins, or FODMAPS.  If so, it’s important to eliminate these food groups for the time being.

A food religions chart is included in the functional food guide you can download here for free.

Provide Support

Throughout the process assessments, spreadsheets and charts are used as tools to stay organized and on track. With close attention and documentation, it’s amazing what’s discovered. 

I always remind clients to take their time and remain patient. They’re laying the groundwork for future success.

In my next blog I’ll explain Phase 2: The Elimination Phase, in my Food Sensitivity Detection process.  I’ll include one of the most overlooked aspects of food culprits that leads to a common mistake. 

If you want to learn more, membership in the Body Freedom Nutrition Lab or Empowered Self-Care Lab gives you access to videos, worksheets and  step by step instructions for the 4 phase elimination and provocation procedure that is so effective at identifying food sensitivities. Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training (NEPT) students explore additional ways to make this critical process successful for clients.

Listen to my podcast, ReInvent Healthcare, where I deepen the conversation about how practitioners who want to make a real difference can empower clients to achieve their wellness goals. 

Identifying The Root Cause of Disease: Functional Medicine Doctors
Chronic sinusitis – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
Why keep a food diary? – Harvard Health
Foods That Can Causes Kidney Stones: High Oxalate Foods to Avoid
Lectins | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
FODMAP Diet: What You Need to Know | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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