10 Signs There’s Something Wrong With Your Diet

Ever heard the yarn about the boiling frog? If you put a frog in boiling water, it leaps straight out again – but in a pan of gradually heated water, the frog doesn’t sense the danger until it’s slowly been boiled alive.

Your health is sort of like that frog, and the water is what you eat. You definitely know something doesn’t agree with you if it makes you violently ill. But it’s easy to go through life eating whatever’s tasty or convenient, and feeling a bit blah but telling yourself that’s normal for anyone with a busy life.

It’s only when you completely hit the wall that you realise something’s wrong. And that’s when you might try to radically overhaul your diet – whether that’s going vegan or paleo, or cutting out sugar, gluten, caffeine, dairy or FODMAPs.

But before you get to that point, stop and listen to your body. Something you might dismiss as just a temporary annoyance or embarrassment could be a signal for you to gently nudge your diet in a different direction.

Lee Holmes started to investigate the power of eating properly in 2006, when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and fibromyalgia. She turned her health around without drugs by devising an anti-inflammatory diet based on fresh, seasonal and unprocessed foods. Now Lee is a holistic health coach, a wholefoods chef and the author of the bestselling Supercharged Food cookbook series.

We asked her what health problems might lie behind 10 common physical signs – and what you can eat or drink to help.

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#1 Headaches

Reach for your water bottle before the painkillers, because many headaches are caused by dehydration. A telltale sign is if a tension headache becomes worse when you stand up, move or bend over. And if you’re a migraine sufferer, you may be more likely to get one when you’re dehydrated.

Lee agrees that drinking more water is a great step. “And stay away from processed, ready-made meals, as they contain a lot of salt,” she adds. Too much salt can dehydrate you just as quickly as a lack of fluids.

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#2 Greasy skin and breakouts

You’re no longer going through puberty, so why the shiny, pimply face? If you’ve noticed that your skin’s been breaking out more frequently than usual, the culprit could be too many refined carbs. Indeed, studies have linked acne to high-GI foods.

Lee recommends cutting down on sugar, as well as processed and starchy foods such as cereals and flour products. “Include more real food carbohydrates like vegetables and fruits,” she says.

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#3 Intense cravings for sweet or salty foods

Do you keep a stash of chips, chocolate and other snack foods, find yourself ducking out to a nearby vending machine, or munch mindlessly in front of the TV? Assuming you’re not pregnant, cravings could mean your balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) is out of whack. Craving salt can mean low-functioning adrenals or a need for electrolytes. Sugars are addictive and mess with your blood sugar, making it spike and then crash, and when it does – you want more sugar.

Many processed low-fat snacks are stacked with hidden sugars, and commercially baked snacks are laden with unhealthy trans fats. “Avoid sugar,” says Lee, “and eat more essential fats like avocado and coconut.”

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#4 Fatigue

Sure, you lead a busy life – but just because three thirtyitis is in Urban Dictionary doesn’t mean it’s normal to sag in the mid-afternoon. Nor should you feel ready for bed when it’s not even 8pm. Dehydration can easily make you sluggish, so drink up! But it’s just as likely to be dough or pasta-based meals that make your blood sugar spike before the inevitable crash.

“Stabilise your blood sugar levels,” Lee advises. This means swapping refined carbs for low-GI wholefoods that release energy more slowly. “And eat more balanced macronutrients: protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates.”

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#5 Grumbling and churning noises from your guts

A growling gut is the noise your digestive tract makes as its muscles propel food along. It can sound pretty loud when your empty stomach vibrates, signifying you’re hungry. Often it’s nothing to worry about, says Lee – “just the sign of your food being digested.”

But “if you’re experiencing symptoms such as diarrhoea then it could be a sign of an allergy or intolerance,” she adds. If nausea, bloating, flatulence or abdominal pain accompany your noisy gut, keep a diary of what you eat and when your symptoms kick in. You can use it as a baseline if you decide to do an elimination diet later.

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#6 Dry or cracked lips and mouth

Are your lips uncomfortably dry and tight? Do you find yourself constantly licking them, or picking off flakes of skin? Do you have soreness or cracks at the corners of your mouth? Dry lips sometimes indicate dehydration, but they’re also a sign of vitamin and mineral deficiency.

The fix? “Include more vitamin B-rich foods in your diet such as leafy greens, eggs and nuts,” says Lee. Lean meat and fish including tuna, sardines and salmon are also high in B vitamins.

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#7 Emotional stress, anxiety and insomnia

Sure, life’s a juggling act, but usually you’re much more in control than this. If you find yourself feeling anxious, panicky, vague and fuzzy in the head, and struggle to sleep at night, you could be low on micronutrients, and/or overdoing your caffeine intake.

The first step? “Reduce the amount of caffeine and stimulants in your diet, such as coffee, tea and chocolate,” says Lee. Instead, a comforting glass of warm milk contains calcium and tryptophan amino acids (which help produce the sleep hormone melatonin), while bananas are high in potassium and magnesium, and almonds contain B vitamins and amino acids.

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#8 Acid reflux

When stomach acid gets regurgitated back up into your oesophagus after eating, you can recognise it in several ways: as that classic heartburn feeling in your chest, as a sour or bitter taste in your mouth, as difficulty swallowing, or feeling like there’s a lump in your throat. Even a persistent sore throat, hoarseness and a dry cough can be ‘silent’ signs of reflux.

“Avoid fatty, spicy and acidic foods as they can aggravate the acid reflux,” recommends Lee. Some of the worst culprits are citrus, caffeine, onions, pastries and fried foods. Alcohol can also exacerbate the problem.

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#9 Frequently getting colds

Getting one or two colds a year is normal, but if you feel like you’re constantly sick, or you’re taking longer to recover from each bout with the aches and sniffles, ask yourself if you might be taking too much on. “A poor immune system can either be a sign of stress or a poor diet,” Lee points out.

To supercharge your immune system, supercharge your diet, says Lee: “Include more nutrient-rich real foods in your diet, and avoid any processed, sugary, refined foods.” Aim to eat more foods in season, and as close to their natural state as possible.

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#10 An itchy rash

Doesn’t it drive you mad? If you can’t figure out where your rash came from – and over-the-counter creams aren’t helping – you could be having an allergic reaction to food. “Remove excess sugar from the diet and check any allergen that may be causing the rash, such as preservatives or artificial ingredients,” Lee says. Switching from convenience foods to unprocessed alternatives could eliminate the problem.

She adds: “Also check your brand of washing detergent as sometimes these can cause rashes.” Try a fragrance-free brand; sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is another common irritant because it strips away the skin’s protective moisture layer.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She founded online pop culture magazine The Enthusiast, and is author of Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.