10 Signs that you may have Food Sensitivities or Intolerances

Dr. Kimberley O'Brien Blog, Food, Health, Lifestyle Leave a Comment

Food sensitivities and intolerances are different from food allergies and they cause an entirely different set of symptoms in your body. These delayed immune reactions to food are extremely common and lead to a number of the chronic symptoms that I see my patients struggling with on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully, the symptoms of food sensitivities can often quickly be resolved by learning how to personalize your diet to best fuel your body!


10 Signs that you may have Food Sensitivities or Intolerances

10 Signs that you may have Food Sensitivities or Intolerances


How many of the following signs and symptoms of food sensitivities do you experience?

1. You feel bloated, puffy or swollen

Bloating, swelling, and puffiness are all signs of water retention, which is caused when there is excess inflammation within your body.  

Do you look in the mirror and find that your face looks puffy, especially around your eyes?  

Do you feel bloated and like you just can’t lose those extra pounds around your waistline?

Do you have indentations in your ankles after wearing socks at the end of the day?  

If you experience water retention this tells us that your body is inflamed and our job is now to identify exactly WHAT is causing your inflammation, bloating and swelling. In my naturopathic practice the first place I start with my patients is by identifying whether they have food sensitivities, allergies or intolerances.

Taste the rainbow

2. You’re always tired or feel like you have “Brain Fog”

Do you struggle to get up and out of bed each morning?

Or maybe you feel foggy and tired each afternoon, clutching to an extra cup of coffee to help you stay awake.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of food sensitivities, and it’s caused by of the inflammation your body experiences when specific foods provoke your immune system. Think about how you feel when you’re fighting a cold or the flu… your body may be achy and it’s not unusual to feel exhausted! This is no different than when your immune system is triggered by foods in your diet.

The fastest way to identify whether specific food triggers are causing your fatigue is to do the elimination phase of an elimination diet. An elimination diet removes the most allergenic foods from your diet for 11-21 days, and it only takes that long for your energy to significantly improve if your fatigue has indeed been caused by food sensitivities. If you’ve been struggling with fatigue, completing an elimination diet is a great approach to help you identify the underlying cause of your low energy and to rediscover your vitality!

3. You experience frequent sinus congestion or post nasal drip

I used to wake up each morning sniffling and sneezing for the first hour of my day, and I was always clearing my throat repeatedly after each meal. I thought I had environmental allergies, perhaps to dust, because I experienced these symptoms daily no matter what I seemed to eat!

Years later while training to become a Naturopathic Doctor I did blood testing for food sensitivities and I also completed an elimination diet. I was AMAZED when only a week or two after starting the elimination phase of the program (which removed all of the most common food sensitivities from my diet) my sinuses were entirely clear!

The immune reaction that is elicited when you experience a sensitivity to particular foods causes your body to release histamine. Histamine causes the dilation of blood vessels and leads to local swelling within your sinuses, causing you to experience a “plugged nose”. This inflammatory reaction often also leads to excess mucous production, which I see especially in patients who are sensitive to dairy products like milk or cheese.

4. Dark circles or bags under your eyes

These dark circles are also referred to as “allergic shiners”, and they occur when chronic sinus congestion causes poor circulation in the small blood vessels under your eyes. The veins swell and darken, causing dark circles and puffiness. Although environmental allergies can also lead to these cosmetic concerns, food sensitivities are an often overlooked cause!

5. You’ve been diagnosed with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

As a naturopathic doctor, diagnosing that you have irritable bowel syndrome is just the beginning of our investigations! The diagnosis means that there is “something” irritating your bowels, and this “something” can often be specific foods. Since the symptoms caused by food sensitivities can be delayed, often not occurring until the day AFTER eating these foods, specific ingredient triggers are often overlooked as a potential cause of IBS.

When I work with patients who are experiencing diarrhea, constipation, bloating and other digestive concerns, I almost always start by helping them to identify whether these concerns may actually be symptoms of food sensitivities. In my practice, I find that the staggering majority of my patients experience food sensitivities as at least one of the underlying causes leading to their digestive concerns.

Could food sensitivities be the root cause of your digestive symptoms and IBS? If so, by identifying your food sensitivities and personalizing your diet you may experience significant relief within as little as a few days!

You experience frequent headaches, migraines or joint pain

6. You experience frequent headaches, migraines or joint pain

Pain is another sign of inflammation, which can be caused by immune reactivity to foods that you are eating as part of your everyday diet. The most common food culprits leading to joint pain and headaches tend to be either wheat and gluten-containing grains or nightshade vegetables. The nightshade vegetable family includes potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and a few other foods including goji berries and red pepper-based spices like cayenne and chipotle. In the case of these foods, it’s a chemical referred to as “alkaloids” that build up and cause pain and inflammation in genetically-susceptible individuals.  

Completing an elimination diet will enable you to quickly determine whether your headaches, migraines or joint pain are caused by food sensitivities or intolerances, as well as to identify which particular foods are triggering those concerns.

7. You struggle with eczema or other skin rashes

Eczema is also referred to as ”atopic dermatitis”, and it is an inflammatory skin condition that leads to itchy red rashes on your skin. If you experience eczema you may find that your skin is more sensitive to environmental triggers like hot water, dry weather or various soaps and cosmetics. What’s often overlooked is that people with eczema may also have underlying food sensitivities that can exacerbate this inflammatory skin reaction (1)

I help my patients with natural, holistic skin care and my first goal is always to help them identify whether one or more foods in their diet are specifically triggering their eczema or other skin concerns.  It can take a few weeks for eczema to clear up once inflammatory foods are removed so it’s important to have patience in the process as your skin heals.  

8. You experience acne breakouts, especially on your chin or cheeks

I used to experience terribly inflamed, cystic acne so I know firsthand just how much of a toll this can take on your self-esteem. At the time, I didn’t realize that foods like wheat, dairy, almonds, and cashews were in fact leading directly to my breakouts!

What I know now as a Naturopathic Doctor is that the health of your skin is a window for us to assess your digestive health and hormone balance. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, your chin and cheeks are representative of the stomach and large intestine acupuncture meridians, which are both involved in digestion.  After years in practice I’ve noticed a pattern that if you experience acne, especially on your chin and cheeks, food sensitivities are a likely culprit. 

As you assess for food triggers via food sensitivity blood testing or by doing an elimination diet, it can be very helpful to also incorporate other natural skin care practices to help clear up your skin.  The exciting news is that if food sensitivities are at the root cause of your breakouts, your skin can be transformed within a few weeks of personalizing your diet to better fuel your body!

9. You have asthma, wheezing or other respiratory symptoms

Asthma is a condition where your respiratory system is more reactive to certain stimuli like cold weather, exercise, and environmental allergens.  Did you know that specific food triggers can also cause this reactivity?  While the identification of your food sensitivities may or may not resolve your asthma or respiratory symptoms entirely, it can often lead to a significant improvement in your symptoms as evidenced by medical research (2).

You get sick with every cold or flu that goes around the office

10. You get sick with every cold or flu that goes around the office

If your immune system is constantly utilizing all of its resources to fight the inflammation caused by food sensitivities, you may find yourself feeling depleted and run down. I see this time and time again in my patients, and I have also experienced this personally prior to identifying my own food intolerances. In addition to my chronic sinus congestion, I would get sick with a cold several times per year and I often experienced low energy and brain fog.  

Food plays an incredible role in our health and it forms the foundation for each and every treatment plan that I create for my patients.  Do you know whether the foods in your diet are fueling, or fooling, your body?


Elimination Diet Meal Plan

How many of the above symptoms of food sensitivities do you experience on a day-to-day basis?  

Identifying my own food sensitivities enabled me to transform my health and I’m on a mission to help you do the same! Please make sure to download my free guide, “A Naturopathic Guide to Identifying your Food Sensitivities” to learn how to personalize your diet and transform your health. I also have an online program, the Elimination Diet Meal Plan, that provides you with all of the recipes, meal plans, ingredient guides and information that you need to get started on your own elimination diet today!  


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10 Signs that you may have Food Sensitivities or Intolerances

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