Shining the Light on What May Not Feel Right

Small discomforts may be a sign of delayed food sensitivity
April 18, 2015 Updated: April 17, 2015

Just before Easter, I started waking up with allergic shiners—dark and puffy little bags of skin beneath my eyes. I was in California, spending the holiday with my family, preparing to celebrate Passover and Easter and my son’s spring break.

But what’s up with the shiners? What’s my body telling me, and what do they shine the light on for me to see?

If you experience any kind of inflammation, … you can suspect that there may be a physiological response to something you’re eating.

For one, they’re telling me to “cool it.” They’re telling me that it’s an ideal time to dial it back, that I may want to invite a gentle detox into my routine.

But hold on. How did I get from shiners to detox? Let me explain.

Allergic shiners are a telltale sign of a delayed food sensitivity. But they’re not the only sign of such sensitivity.

Allergies and sensitivities can be difficult to detect. Testing doesn’t always do the trick.

That’s why listening to your body’s messages and shining a light on its responses is among the finest diagnostic tools for whether or not what you’re eating is best serving your individual needs.

 Yes, there are the obvious responses to food consumed—anaphylaxis, presenting as stomach pain, skin rashes, congestion, or the inability to breathe within minutes to hours of eating. Yet it’s important to note that reactions can be much more subtle.

Like a parent who learns to discriminate the difference in her child’s cries in order to appropriately tend to her needs, I suggest that we live as acutely in sync with our own bodies’ messages.

I’m not suggesting that you live in hyper-vigilance, jumping at every cry. I am recommending that you pay attention. Shine the light!

The little signs and clues that your body presents, like my shiners, can be the insight you’ve been looking for. They can reveal so much more of the information that you need in your pursuit of optimal health, disease prevention, and longevity.

What’s Your Body Telling You?

First and foremost, if you experience any kind of inflammation—pain being the most conspicuous clue—you can suspect that there may be a physiological response to something you’re eating on a regular basis.

The following symptoms, other than pain, are also suggestive of underlying, internal, or chronic inflammation, the kind you cannot “see”:

▪ bloating, burping, gas
▪ diarrhea or constipation
▪ fatigue, sluggishness
▪ itchy ears or eyes
▪ dark circles or bags under eyes
▪ joint pain or stiffness
▪ throat tickle, irritation, or chronic coughing
▪ stuffy noise, sinus trouble, excessive mucus
▪ acne, cysts, hives, or rashes
▪ ruddy, inflamed-looking skin
▪ flushing
▪ water retention, skin puffiness
▪ craving certain foods
▪ compulsive or binge eating

While the inflammation may build over time, until you’re bearing the weight (possibly literally) of that manifestation on a regular basis, there’s also the more subtle evidence—just like my allergic shiners.

The puffiness isn’t something I usually experience, but “hello,” it was cropping up. It was telling me something. And I listened.

So what might my shiner’s have been telling me? Yes, it was a holiday week. And, yes, I was away from home. Those are two circumstances where unknown foods might sneak into my mouth under the guise of a shared meal or a family celebration.

But upon careful reflection, there’d been nothing ingested that’s clearly off my path. I had not indulged in cake or ice cream or a glass of wine. So the culprit must be more sneaky. . .

When my family went to Andrew Weil’s restaurant, True Foods, was there some sugar used in my roasted vegetables or the sauce on my fish that my body can no longer process?

Was there something unusual to my diet in the protein powders used at either of the high-end juice bars where I purchased a smoothie?

Could it be something in the marinade that my dad used to flavor his wild salmon that I could gobble up like candy?

The truth is, who knows! I’ll never be able to identify such a sly offender. But what I can do is see the sign, take note, and recognize it’s time to reign it in and take charge of how I look and feel.

With a career born of a personal family health crisis, functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama takes the idea of food as personalized medicine beyond a clinical practice. Her online programs at and guide her clients in taking ownership over their health.