Previously I wrote about stress and the serious harm it can do to your body over time. I mentioned that some of the conditions that can result from continual physical, environmental and mental stress include pain and inflammation, hormonal imbalance, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disorders.How can this happen? Stress causes your body to react in a way that encourages survival. Therefore, certain survival reactions take over, and normal reactions take a back seat. This causes a whole different set of hormones to be produced causing a cascade of reactions in your body that if left unchecked, cause damage to cells, tissues, organs and eventually whole body systems.

I suggest taking a close look at your lifestyle to determine where the stress might be coming from and whether or not it was preventable, avoidable or inevitable. One source of stress that we know is preventable is dietary. Certain foods will create toxicity and cause an inflammatory response.

Dr. Mark Hyman, author of "UltraMetabolism," "The Ultra-Simple Diet," and coauthor of "UltraPrevention," has treated thousands of clients with food and stress reduction techniques. I attended a lecture he gave and after, read his book, "The Ultra-Simple Diet."

In his book, Hyman explains in simple terms how stress negatively affects the body and how some foods pose a stress to our bodies. Some people may have an overt allergy to a food, an immediate reaction that warrants hospitalization, and others may have a less severe, delayed reaction called hypersensitivity that takes up to three days to be realized. This delay makes diagnosis or identification of the problem food very difficult. And since the symptoms are not severe, but are uncomfortable or troublesome, most people will turn to painkillers or other over-the-counter remedies that just mask the problem without treating the cause.

Some of the symptoms food hypersensitivity causes that result in a stress or inflammatory response by the body are mood swings, headaches, mental fog, joint pain, muscle aches, heartburn, post nasal drip, sinus congestion, sleep problems, skin rashes, fluid retention, bloating, gas, diarrhea, fatigue, fluid retention, excess weight, or difficulty losing weight and food cravings. See yourself yet?

Hyman lists some foods that one should always avoid because of their lack of nutritional value and their ability to "interfere with your metabolism." This list includes caffeine, processed and refined carbohydrates and sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, processed, packaged, junk or fast foods and alcohol. Then there some foods that more frequently will cause undiagnosed sensitivities like gluten, dairy products, yeast, eggs, corn and peanuts.

"The UltraSimple Diet" stresses a clean diet of whole, fresh foods, organic if possible to eliminate chemical toxins. For seven days, foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, brown rice, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, beans and soy are emphasized not only for their vitamin and mineral content, but also for their healing properties. These foods include antioxidants, phytonutrients, omega 3 fatty acids and fiber, all nutrients that favor healthy metabolism, encourage weight loss and help the body detoxify and heal itself.

After the first seven days, additional foods are added every three to four days, one at a time. During this time, a precise food journal is kept, outlining what foods were eaten, how much, and how the person feels on a daily basis. By following this regimen, one can first rid the body of toxins that may have been causing inflammation and some of the symptoms listed above, and second, more accurately identify foods that are offenders. For example, you're feeling good after seven days of the "detox" diet. You start adding back other foods and still feel good until the week that you added back eggs. Now you feel bloated and have heartburn. Could you be hypersensitive to eggs? Maybe. So you don't eat eggs for a while, continue gradually adding other foods, noting the results, and try eggs again in a month or so. Other components of "The UltraSimple Diet" include mild exercise, saunas, meditation, and soaking baths, all targeted at eliminating toxins and stress.

As an experiment, I followed this regimen for about six weeks. It takes commitment and a lot of planning, especially if you are not used to eating mostly whole, fresh foods and rely on take-out and convenience items. There is an adjustment phase where you may feel withdrawal symptoms from sugar and caffeine. Especially if you start during the week of Halloween, like I did. What was I thinking?

If you have been reading my articles, you know I advocate the "make small changes gradually" approach. This program is more of a cold turkey approach to improving your diet. Hyman lists certain people who should not follow this regimen, i.e. pregnant or nursing women, children and people with cancer or kidney disease, anemia or malnutrition. However, for some people, who are really suffering with a host of different ailments as listed above, who think they may be food related, and are ready to make a change, I would recommend this regimen. I definitely recommend at least reading Hyman's book. "The Ultra-Simple Diet" teaches us how to eat healthy, prevent diseases caused by stress, and plan our diet based on our individual needs and tolerances.

? Carmel Rickenbach is a registered dietician and licensed nutritionist with more than 20 years of experience. She practices in Glen Mills and Kennett Square. Readers may send questions to c.rickenbach@comcast.net

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