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How to recognize a food intolerance or sensitivity

Up to 20% of the world's population may have a food intolerance, and that estimate keeps going up.

INDIANAPOLIS — It's not uncommon for people to experience unexplained breakouts or feelings of being "off," but it's important not to ignore those symptoms

Abbey Cook lives an active life. She runs after her two daughters, plays tennis and eats healthy foods.

"It's just the typical move and eat well," Cook said. "That was our lives. Really active family but at the same time, something was amiss."

Even back in middle school, Cook said she was itchy all the time.

"I think over the years, I was believing the lie that it was just in my head," Cook said.

After Cook had her girls, it got worse. She knew it had to be something more, and she wanted answers.

"I really decided that if I was going to be a phenomenal mother and take care of my children, I had to take care of myself first," Cook said.

After going to doctors, including an allergist, Cook found out about a food allergy: She's allergic to hazelnuts. Turns out, her body also hates wheat, potatoes and tomatoes, even though these didn't show up on her IgE test.

"By taking away these items, my inflammation went down, my joints didn't hurt as much and my pants size went down huge," Cook said. "I went from like a size 14 to an 8 without much modification and not a ton of exercise."

Credit: Abbey Cook
Abbey Cook said she was able to go down six pants sizes after discovering her food intolerance to wheat, potatoes and tomatoes.

A food sensitivity or intolerance is more common than a food allergy. In fact, up to 20% of the world's population may have a food intolerance, and that estimate keeps going up.

Healthy living expert Erica Ballard said breakouts, irregular bowel movements and a runny nose are three signs you shouldn't ignore. An elimination diet is key to figuring out what to remove from your diet, which worked for Cook.

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She started with 25 safe foods and only ate those foods for four weeks. Then, she'd introduce a new food and would wait three days to see how her body would react.

"Even as simple as when the tomato came back, the very next day, I had the congestion," Cook said. "If you think something is up with what you're eating or if you have a symptom that you just can't put your finger on, don't give up — just keep going."

Because Cook didn't give up and instead chose to listen to her body, she's more energetic, comfortable in her skin and able to pass on what she's learned on this journey to others.

"Just by listening and paying attention to what's going on, you can figure these things out too," Cook said.

Ballard recommends an elimination diet over a food sensitivity test. It starts by writing down everything you eat. Apps such as Foodility and Bowelle can help with keeping a food diary and tracking symptoms.