When I work with people who seem to eat and exercise well, yet do not feel well or are unable to lose excess weight, I start to look at food sensitivities.
When weight isn’t releasing in spite of eating well, or if you are often experiencing symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation that can’t be explained, then you may have sensitivity or intolerance to something you’re eating.
A food allergy is your body’s hostile reaction to a particular protein found in something you’ve eaten. Symptoms can be as mild as an itchy nose to life threatening, found in many with a peanut allergy.
A peanut allergy can be a life threatening condition where just being exposed to the “dust” created when opening a bag of peanuts can result in throat swelling and difficulty breathing. These symptoms come from the body’s immune system stepping in and trying to fight off an invader. Food allergies can be mild resulting in symptoms like hives, nausea, stomach pain, or coughing to severe and life threatening to the point where it is advisable to carry an EpiPen .
However, more common than a food allergy is food sensitivity or intolerance. When we eat things our bodies are unable to digest, the reaction is an inflammatory response, rather an immune response, and the symptoms may be similar to an allergy but are rarely life threatening.
During an allergy episode, the body’s immune system is attacking a protein in the food, whereas a food intolerance or sensitivity is when your body reacts with an inflammatory response causing symptoms that you may not associate with something you ate.
For example, many people have an intolerance to dairy products, lacking enough of the enzymes necessary to breakdown the lactose in products such as ice cream and milk, resulting in gas, bloating and even diarrhea and vomiting.
Often, if you have a very mild sensitivity to dairy, you may experience an itchy nose or cough rather than intestinal symptoms, and you may never put it together that eating or drinking something with a lot of dairy is causing your nose to run or that irritating cough.
Some of the most common foods that people have sensitivity to are dairy, corn, gluten, eggs and sulfides (found in wine and dried fruit). If you find yourself suffering from ongoing, mild-to-moderate stomach, respiratory, or skin issues that can’t otherwise be explained, you may want to consider the possibility that you have a sensitivity to something you eat regularly.
Chronic heartburn is often a result of either poor food choices or a food sensitivity. Chronic headaches and general irritably is one of the most common things that I see as a health coach, in clients with a sensitivity to a particular food. Once that food is limited or eliminated, the headaches disappear and the mood improves.
The tricky part is, the food that is causing your problems may be something that you have been eating your whole life. Food sensitivities won’t show up on most allergy tests, and if you talk to your doctor he or she may not have the expertise in pinning down the cause of your discomfort.
The best way to determine if you have a sensitivity to a particular food is through an elimination diet. The elimination diet requires some planning and dedication but you will find some really interesting things about how your body reacts to certain foods.
Essentially, you eat a very limited “clean” diet for 23 days and then add one food at a time back into your diet to see how your body reacts. From day one you must journal everything you eat and how you feel, otherwise it is quite difficult to know how a particular food is affecting you.
Once you know that you are sensitive to something like dairy or gluten, then you can learn to avoid these foods or at least limit them. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly runny noses, stomach aches and heartburn disappear when the diet changes and the body now longer has to fight itself because of what you are eating.
There has been an increased awareness lately in the role that foods from the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant) play in food sensitivity, and next week I’ll talk in detail about this specific category of food, so stay tuned.