Hi everyone, Dr. Junger, here.
I’ve found that consuming Toxic Trigger foods too often is one of the main reasons why people do not feel their best, even when they’re eating a mostly clean diet.
Today I want to show you how to test for your Toxic Triggers and then what to do with the results.
Recap: What are Toxic Triggers foods?
Let’s remind ourselves again about Toxic Triggers. “Toxic triggers” are foods that cause indigestion, inflammation, bloating, fatigue, and, if consumed over long periods of time, minor ailments, full-blown diseases, and major health challenges.
I call these foods “triggers” because they provoke some kind of negative reaction in the body. For example, gluten may trigger digestive issues or autoimmune reactions, while dairy products may create mucus, fatigue, and skin problems.
The five most common toxic triggers are gluten, dairy, processed sugar, coffee, and alcohol.
How do I discover my Toxic Triggers?
The best method for discovering your toxic triggers is to test them. I recommend that people test foods through dietary change rather than through blood work or food sensitivity testing. Not only is it cheaper to do, but I’ve found that the results are clearer for the person doing the testing.
When you test them through diet, you learn to become sensitive and aware of your body’s responses to different foods. This is part of the long-term benefit of changing your diet --- you get to know your body better!
While the accuracy of food sensitivity tests is improving each year, false positives are still common. That said, if you are working with a functional medicine doctor, there are ways to utilize food sensitivity testing in conjunction with dietary change.
My recommendation is to start by changing your diet because you’ll “clear the noise”, and then if you choose, you can refine with specific lab tests.
Let’s go over the two simplest ways to begin testing for your toxic triggers.
1. Go on the Cleanse Diet for 10 days. The Cleanse Diet removes the most common toxic triggers all at once. It lays out all the foods that are allowed and all the foods that are excluded. Simply eat from this list for a minimum of 10 days.
2. Do a cleanse. The Clean Cleanse is the best way to test for your triggers and do a deep rejuvenating cleanse. I recommend doing a cleanse 1 to 2 times a year.
Doing option 1 or 2 is the first step in discovering your toxic triggers but it’s only the first. The second step is called the Reintroduction process. This step is as important as following the Cleanse Diet because you will get direct feedback from your body about how these foods are affecting you.
The Reintroduction Process
The Reintroduction process is the way we test foods after you have completed the Clean Cleanse or have followed the Cleanse Diet for at least 10 days. If you go back to your normal diet immediately after your Cleanse or Cleanse Diet without knowing what your toxic triggers are, you may begin to feel “off” without knowing why.
I see this happen all the time.
Someone will do the Cleanse or Cleanse Diet and feel great. They feel good because they’ve removed the most common toxic triggers and given their digestive and immune systems a rest.
But they didn’t do the reintroduction part, so they don’t know which foods are causing their problems.
I’m going to share with you a 7-day version of the Reintroduction process but yours may be longer or shorter depending on how many foods you are testing. I recommend that you start with testing gluten and dairy. They are the foods I have seen cause the most health issues. After you’ve tested them, you can move on to other foods like eggs and corn.
Step 1: Reintroduce gluten, 2 to 3 times a day for 2 days
Eat gluten two to three times a day, for two days, and then notice how you feel over the next forty-eight hours. Aside from the gluten, keep eating exclusively from the Cleanse Diet.
Make sure to add in gluten by itself so if you have a reaction, you’ll know it’s coming from the gluten. Try adding only bread to your breakfast, and then some pasta for lunch or dinner.
Step 2: Record Your Reactions in a Journal
Over the next 48 hours, keep your awareness on how you feel after eating and throughout the day. Use a journal to record any reactions you might have to gluten. Here are some of the common issues I see:
- skin breakouts
- foggy mind
- low energy
- achy joints
- mood swings
- poor sleep
Not everyone will react to gluten in the same way. You may notice your reaction immediately. Others might notice their reactions the next day. That’s why it’s important to test gluten over the course of two days.
Step 3: Eat from the Cleanse Diet for two days
After you have reintroduced gluten for two days, it’s important to return to the Cleanse Diet to give your body a chance to relax, removing the gluten. For the next two days, return to eating three meals a day exclusively from the Cleanse Diet.
Step 4: Reintroduce Dairy, two to three times a day for two days
Now you’ll follow the same process with dairy that you did with gluten.
Eat dairy two to three times a day, for two days, and then notice how you feel over the next forty-eight hours. Record what you notice in your journal, so you won’t forget.
Again, don’t combine toxic triggers, so try having a glass of milk in the morning and a few pieces of cheese with your lunch or evening meal.
Step 5: Review Your Journal
Take a look at what you wrote down over the past week. How did your body respond to gluten and dairy? Did you notice any changes in your digestion, sleep, or mood after your reintroduced them?
Everyone has different reactions but I do see patterns. I like to classify the most common reactions into three categories:
- No reaction: I felt fine and didn’t notice any changes in my digestion, mood, etc.
- Medium reaction: I felt bloated and gassy, tired, itchy, or uncomfortable. My sleep felt off.
- Strong reaction: I felt sick, developed diarrhea, or developed a lot of mucus. I had a strong headache or developed a rash.
Once you have gone through the Reintroduction process, you need to decide what to do with the information your body has given you. The majority of the people I work with have a medium-type reaction to gluten and dairy and some have a strong reaction. If this is the case for you, the two best options are to Remove or Rotate these foods.
Let’s take a look at both options:
If you had a strong negative reaction to a Toxic Trigger, this is your body telling you that it’s important to eliminate this food from your diet completely for a period of time. We know that removing a favorite food from your diet can be challenging, but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term gratification. Many people continue to become healthier simply by removing their key Toxic Triggers. For those people with autoimmune conditions or serious gut problems, this may be an important option or you.
If your reaction to a Toxic Trigger is in the mild to medium category, it’s probably not necessary to eliminate it forever. That said, you will benefit greatly from reducing your frequency of exposure to these foods. Once you know the specific foods that trigger you, you can rotate them in such a way that you don’t eat the irritating ones more than once a week.
Do I really have to remove the toxic triggers?
It all depends on how seriously the symptoms affect you. For some people, the symptoms are a real problem (i.e. Hashimoto’s, arthritis, etc.). For others, the symptoms are less severe and dealing with a runny nose or a stomachache after eating trigger foods at a party may be worth it from time to time. You’ll need to decide this for yourself.
The Practice of Remove and Rotate
I think of Removing or Rotating your toxic triggers as a practice. I say this because changing your relationship to certain foods won’t happen overnight. A lot of the toxic triggers we love are addictive. They taste good, at least initially, and we’re conditioned to seek them out when we’re in search of comfort, a short-term high, or a treat.
So, be gentle with yourself during this process. There will probably be some ping-ponging back and forth between removing a food that bothers you and then adding it back in. Over time, you will become more skilled at dealing with this and often, the desire for foods that taste good now, but make you feel bad later, will begin to subside or at least be reduced.
Regardless of whether you may be ping-ponging from time to time, the key point of the Reintroduction process is that now you know that a certain food is affecting you. And the foods that might be affecting you now may not affect you later. A food that previously gave you indigestion may not a few months from now. As you continue to eat clean and your health and gut improve, you may be able to eat wider and wider varieties of whole foods without issue and indulge in a toxic trigger without all the symptoms. And that’s the point.
With robust health comes a natural reduction in food sensitivities. I want you to be able to eat the widest variety of whole foods possible and to enjoy the tastiest meals. Restriction of foods or food categories (i.e. carbs, fat, protein) is generally unsustainable. Yet, to get to a vibrant level of health, we often need to do some restriction in order to discover what our toxic triggers are right now.
I’ve found it to be true that discovering your toxic triggers and taking steps to reduce their intake can radically alter your health for years to come. The goal here isn’t to be a purist. The goal is to become clearer about the connection between what you eat and how you feel. With that knowledge, you are guaranteed to feel better, look better, and have the health you need to show up strong in every area of your life.