HPN 31: Are Food Intolerance Tests Reliable for Healing? Plus: Identifying Root Causes, Intuitive Eating, Hair Loss Solutions and More!

February 25, 2022


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Welcome to episode 29 of Holistic Performance Nutrition (HPN) featuring Tawnee Gibson, MS, CSCS, CISSN, and Julie McCloskey, a certified holistic nutrition coach who you can find over at wildandwell.fit.

On this episode:

Maryam asks:

Food Intolerance Testing & Healing for Intuitive Eating

I’m a fairly new listener & have been thoroughly enjoying binging on the endurance planet podcast! I don’t think this question has been asked & think it’s most appropriate for HPN but feel free to direct to another episode if warranted. I am a 33 year old female dealing with amenorrhea since coming off of the IUD 2 years ago. My question pertains to intolerances; testing, reintroduction, & symptom assessment. 4 years ago, I was experiencing significant digestive issues, most notably acne (cystic looking), bloating, constipation, and bloody stools. I was advised by a friend to have an IGG test done which indicated intolerances to egg whites, wheat, gluten, brewers yeast, mustard seed, dairy, and potatoes to name a few. For years prior, And following, I can now see that I was significantly overtraining with two workout days consisting of CrossFit, spin classes, etc and underfueling. I know now many of these symptoms to be attributed to hormonal dysfunction but at that time, I was on the IUD & blamed everything on food. Prior to this testing I had been eating mainly paleo-ish from Monday to Friday, was counting calories, & had eliminated processed sugar for fear of addiction & binging. Following this test, I eliminated all of the “high” foods, of course leading to more restriction. I’ve tried to add these foods in randomly following the elimination diet but would at least think that I had symptoms such as cystic acne. I can remember having an ice cream cone and having a headache & becoming irritable, blaming it in the sugar. I also remember having lactose free ice cream and whey protein which was noted as being okay, and experiencing acne symptoms days following. I felt okay with keeping these foods out and that it wasn’t worth the potential symptoms, so just opted to keep all of the foods out. After the last two years of amenorrhea, I’ve become more aware of the impact of hormones and question the symptoms that these foods supposedly caused. So my question, how do you know the difference in symptoms between an actual intolerance and just due to re introducing a food group you haven’t had in years? I know the advice is to add in one food at a time for 3 days and look for symptoms but is there reason to believe there may be symptoms that occur without knowing? Such as low grade inflammation in the gut or acne that pops up a few days later? What would you recommend for this protocol & how would you suggest one become more of an intuitive eater after having been reliant on the same foods & calorie tracker for so long?

I appreciate you both tackling this question! The restrictive diet has had a significant impact on my life and I’m trying to eat more intuitively & fuel for performance, with the tips and guidance provided on your platforms 🙂

Again, thank you so much!

What the coaches say:

IGG Food intolerance testing & reliability

  • Science and peer reviewed research on IGG testing is insufficient and not conclusive or determined to be reliable at this point.
  • More about getting to the root cause rather than chronically eliminating foods.
  • Results with IGG food modifications, must consider placebo effect + how sustainable this will be?
  • If your gut is a mess you will react to many foods. And you CAN fix this (great news)!
  • The majority of reactions are likely more tied into gut dysbiosis so consider instead investing in a high-quality GI test, which may be more beneficial in the long run for total healing.
  • Some immune system reactivity is considered normal.
  • A detectable immune response does not directly imply pathology.
  • Study mention on IBS patients you tested food elimination based on IGG testing.
    • Consider placebo effect
  • More resources:

Other ways to heal from food reactions

  • Gut healing, look at the 5R approach
  1. remove
  2. replace
  3. repopulate
  4. repair
  5. rebalance 
  • In the healing equation, yes, a healing process may require a special type of diet ie FODMAP, anti-candida, low histamine, SCD, AIP, gluten free/dairy free, and so forth…. either partial or full, but only meant to be temporary to heal and then allow for proper reintroduction. The other problem is that these temporary special diets are not considered in IGG tests yet are huge for so many of us.
  • Always the goal should be to tolerate most if not all foods, unless a true allergy is present. and then the question is “what if i feel better when i don’t eat gluten” and i think this is fine, but the goal again should be able to tolerate some gluten without having significant reactions.


  • Gut dysbiosis and hormonal imbalance is also often the culprit for skin issues like acne.
  • Of course, dairy is a big culrpit/trigger for acne issues, but is it the chicken or the egg here when you are considering gut health? 
  • Also if there’s a history of being on BC, there can be a reaction when coming off that causes androgens (ie T) to surge, resulting in more incidence of acne
  • It’s hard to say more specifically what the exact underlying presentation and situation is for you, but again it’s definitely something that can be addressed and worked with- keeping a loving heart and knowing you are worth it!

Holistic approach

  • There is certainly a history with fear, worry and anxiety over food and imbalances within the body that have taken place (over exercising, underfueling, restriction of certain foods and so forth) and THIS is where the healing lies, to create a more calm interval environment and making peace with food+body to allow proper digestion and assimilation. Relax into your meals and see food as your friend, not the villain. 
  • Look for the root cause, e.g. body needs to feel safe for healing to occur.
  • What led you to overtrain and undereat? Body image? Control? Societal pressure? Pressure for better performance? High expectations from self or someone else? Fear of gaining weight…and why?
  • When overtrained we don’t sleep well which will disturb the whole system
  • A tricky thing is healing gut dysbiosis and special diets when also coincidentally healing ED behavior and really it often comes down to being so DONE with the vicious cycle and adopting more self-love where the elimination comes from a place of love and abundance not from restriction and control. I’ve been through this and it wasn’t easy mentally, but it’s very possible and you also end up being that much more of a mental warrior in the process where you become empowered and like nothing can take you down! You got this!

Digestive issues when reintroducing foods

  • The majority of absorption happens in the small intestine where you have these wavey finger-like projections that jut out of the small intestine known as Villi and microvilli. 
  • These are used to digest and absorb your food, and like other parts of digestion, they are affected by stress and reduced energy. 
  • When this happens, they atrophy – leading to poor digestion, bloating, constipation, and missing out on much needed nutrients you need.
  • Goal is to heal the gut in this way.
  • Also: slower transit time can occur when a food is brought back in. Could also affect bowels. These factors lead the person to believe these foods ARE bad and having symptoms confirms their fear. BUT this may just be a temporary response, the body is out of practice so continue to include the foods and digestion will improve.

Intuitive eating

  • Bit by bit work on full permission and pay attention. Let go. Stop pushing. Patience and trust. 
  • Setbacks are a part of the process. Make peace with the worst case scenario. Giving full permission to eat all the foods throughout the week. 
  • When people begin to intuitively eat some lose weight, some gain weight, but most stay the same.
    • Unfortunately, we live in this culture where we believe (have been hammered to believe) that gaining weight is the worst thing that could ever happen to us, therefore losing weight is the best thing.
  • Honor the body for the work it’s doing at rest to keep you alive. Learn more about it. It’s always working FOR you.
  • You have to love yourself if you want to make a change, you have to believe you’re worthy of better health. Cultivating a loving relationship with yourself/body and not only listening to it, but acting For and With it, will change your life. 


Annie D asks:

More on Greens Powders + Hair Loss

Listening to HPN 30, which led me to two questions:

1) Athletic Greens – is that bad for a morning vitamin routine? Julie – you spoke against green powder, so not sure if that includes AG or not. I drink that before my coffee (w. heavy whipping cream nom). And of course get lots of veggies throughout the day. It doesn’t replace that. But am I a victim of podcast marketing (I think you’re the only pod that I listen to that doesn’t market AG ha!)? 

2) Hair loss. I turned 40 this year, and have noticed significant hair loss – more in the form of breakage and thinning than actual bald spots. I just scheduled an appointment at LabCorp to get things looked at. But is there anything else that I could or should be doing? Maybe re-listen to the thyroid episode – ? 

What the coaches say:

Greens powders

  • If you’re bloated or feel weird from it, then yes it may be too many ingredients at once for your body.
  • Limit these powders, maybe a few times a week or during stressful periods, low sleep, high exercise, traveling, when everyone around you is sick etc. Not necessary if you’re cooking at home and eating a whole food nutrient dense diet. I just like myself and my clients to get back to the basics and eat more simply. Whole foods instead of powders. Prioritizing cooking more and getting into the habit of meal prep. 
  • Yes on paper it looks like a “clean whole food” product and is fabulous for a lot of people, but not necessary. 
  • What is DONE to the food we eat matters. Using powders as supplements has a time and place and there are great ones out there, but should be used just as that, a supplement for when you’re under high stress, training, or in a food desert.
  • Don’t need to throw these things out just understand that they may not be a cure all as these types of products are often hyped up to be.
  • Podcasters and marketing are directed at general audiences and they may not know what YOU specifically need or don’t need.

Hair loss

  • Definitely start with the full thyroid panel if you haven’t yet, what you describe certainly lines up more with a thyroid issue. For example, hair loss and present differently which can then tie it to different root causes. 
    • TSH, free T3, free T4, anti-TPO, anti-thyroglobulin, total t3, total t4.
    • May also test cortisol and sex hormones, HPA axis (for this run a DUTCH test).
      • Estrogen makes hair soft and silky while testosterone makes it thicker and coarser. Too much estrogen can make hair too thin and soft, and an oversupply of testosterone, unbalanced by enough female hormones, can make hair fall out.
    • We need adequate iron stores to grow hair back so low iron and ferritin should be checked.
    • B vitamins to repair as well as adaptogens especially if stress balance is off.
    • Protein deficiency, excess dieting, and insufficient zinc and EFAs can increase hair loss
    • Also consider stress, exercise and fueling- are you over training and underfueling? This imbalance can affect hair- hair loss, brittle hair that breaks easily.
    • Also too harsh of shampoos can cause hair loss, so check what you’re using, how often, see if there’s a more gentle and natural option.
      • Or if you really want to go out on a limb, here’s a personal testimony- Tawnee stopped using all shampoo and conditioner in January and there was a transition where hair gets really oily at first but then it balances out and I’ve noticed less hair loss when I brush and in general. 
      • Of course some hair loss is normal but we all kind of know intuitively when it’s more than our norm. 
      • Watch for “dirty” ingredients: parabens, silicones, sodium laureth sulfate, phthalates.

Comments (2)

  • Tiffany Kari says:

    Hi! First off know I absolutely love your episodes with Julie and Lucho! In this session Julie mentions training clients/ teaching classes virtually through a platform that is not YouTube. Are you able to share what platform she uses?

    Tiffany from Duluth, MN

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