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Eczema Relief: How to Identify Food Triggers Without Losing Your Mind

  Guest blogger Wendy McCallum, LLB, RHN, is a food coach & educator who followed her passion for real food by leaving her law career and returning to college to learn more about nutrition. She now operates Simple Balance Consulting, through which she helps clients reach their wellness, weight & nutrition goals. You can follow Wendy on Facebook and Twitter or visit her at her website.
Eczema can be one of the most frustrating ailments out there: It often comes with a seemingly endless list of possible triggers, unpredictable flare-ups, and relentless itching with no relief in sight. If you or your child suffer from eczema, or, as it’s otherwise known, atopic dermatitis, chances are you’ve “done it all”, including eliminating household chemicals, changing detergents, and reducing environmental allergens, anxiety & stress whenever possible. You’ve probably also tried medications such as steroid creams, that work for the short term but that can have undesirable side-effects with long-term use. You may also be aware that in some cases, eczema has a dietary trigger, in that certain foods can cause an allergic or inflammatory response that manifests as eczema. Just eight common foods that make up 90% of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, wheat and shellfish. Maybe you’ve tried to eliminate these or other foods for a period to determine if there is in fact a specific food trigger in your case. More likely though, while you’ve thought about undertaking an elimination diet, you’ve been afraid to start or have tried, but only been able to keep it up for a couple of days because you couldn’t figure out what the heck to eat (or feed your child) and (one or both of you) were literally starving. If I’m describing you, read on -- I’ve got the tips you need to identify food triggers without losing your mind! First of all, while health practitioners often recommend it, you don’t necessarily need to undertake the full monty of elimination diets, one that eliminates all of the most common food triggers, at once. If you have already noticed a correlation between worsening eczema symptoms and a specific food (or foods), start by eliminating that food completely for a few weeks. If symptoms improve, keep that food out of your daily diet going forward. This simple, common sense approach often leads to a significant improvement in symptoms with just one dietary change. If you haven’t made any obvious connections between food choices and symptoms, it’s still not necessary to make really drastic changes. While it may take a little longer to figure out what’s aggravating your symptoms, it’s often practically more manageable to take out just few of the more likely culprits at a time, instead of eliminating them all at once. For example, you could start with milk products and eggs but leave nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish in your diet. After three to four weeks, re-introduce the milk products first, then eggs a few days later, paying attention to symptoms and whether they worsen when a each food group is re-introduced. If they do, cut that food back out. Next, move on to a three to four-week period where you eliminate a couple of the others, then re-introduce them one at a time while tracking symptoms, and so on. That said, if you’d rather just bite the bullet and deal with all of the most likely food triggers at once, a comprehensive elimination diet is much easier if you’re properly prepared. If you take the time to ensure you do the following before you start, the experience will be a whole lot more pleasant, trust me: • Ask your health care provider or nutrition consultant if they can provide you with a detailed elimination meal plan and recipes, then go through that meal plan carefully, make a detailed grocery list, and pre-cook and freeze a variety of the recipes for the weeks ahead before starting; • If they are unable to provide a plan, do a little research online and find a suitable meal plan or recipes you can use to build your own meal plan, then buy your groceries and pre-make recipes for the weeks ahead; • Set yourself up for success by waiting to start the diet until your calendar indicates you have a relatively calm period of time ahead (vacations, social engagements and big parties make it much harder to stick with a restricted diet); • Come up with a list of substantial snack ideas that are “elimination-diet” friendly (I recommend you actually write up a list and post it in your kitchen, and try to include some protein and/or healthy fat with each snack to make it more satisfying) then stash some of those snacks in your purse, car and office, so you’re never stuck with nothing to eat; • Tell your friends and family what you are doing and and why. It’s so much easier to stick to a restricted diet if you’ve got the understanding and support of those around you; • Research restaurant menus on-line before you visit them, so you can arrive prepared and ready to order “safe” choices. If you don’t see anything on the menu that suits your elimination plan, call the restaurant and ask them what they can do for you. For example, a simple grilled chicken breast, with veggies & rice is almost always do-able. Hopefully this post has made the idea of an elimination diet a whole lot less overwhelming. You can do it! There are loads of resources available at the bookstore and on-line to help you get prepared and succeed. If you need a place to start, my recipe blog and my first cookbook, Real Food for Real Families, contain loads of real food recipes that fit the bill. Good luck!

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