"I'm totally addicted," is a phrase you throw out about food all the time. That new pizza place, having ranch on everything, and your daily vanilla latte. Personally in a moment of weakness, illness, or sadness, if you handed me freshly made mac and cheese I would devour it like a wild beast
. Your playful addictions might actually be a sign of a more serious issue (first step is admitting you have a problem... or something like that, right?). Food sensitivities are much different than allergies, AND much more common. Food sensitivities may be behind your headaches, sleep troubles, runny nose, joint pain, stomach ache, or those last 5 lbs you just can't freaking lose. The rough news? Even an allergist won't typically find them. Here's why:
Sensitivity vs. Intolerance vs. Allergy
Food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies can be confusing. One of the major differences is that your body sends out a different type of army to defend itself. During a true allergy attack, your immune system sends out IgE antibodies (think letter E for emergency). The "E" army is smaller, but faster and much more aggressive. During food sensitivity assault, the IgG army is sent out (think letter G for more general symptoms). This army is slower, but MUCH bigger, giving you a delayed onset and a wider range for signs and symptoms. Traditional food allergies (i.e. someone's throat closes from being around a peanut) are IMMEDIATE immune reactions. If you have a full blown food allergy, you probably know about it by now. This IgE reaction (typically associated with nuts and shellfish) causes severe symptoms like swelling/hives/anaphylaxis. These allergies can be, but are not always, genetic. Allergists are focused on finding things that stimulate IgE antibodies, not IgG, and therefore miss sensitivities often. Food sensitivities are when symptoms occur 2 to 72 hours after consuming a certain food that stimulates IgG antibodies. A reaction may include but is not limited to:
- stomach pain
- nasal congestion
- gas & bloating
- foggy mind
This reaction can occur the first, or second, or tenth, or whatever time you consume the food depending on your body’s level of inflammation. A sensitivity is often due to the buildup of repeated exposures, and are often difficult to diagnose without an elimination diet or blood test. Food intolerances (a little different than a sensitivity) exist when your body lacks something essential to digest the food you're eating (i.e lactose intolerant people cannot digest dairy because they lack the lactase enzyme). Intolerances often have similar symptoms to food sensitivities and it can be hard to tell the difference.
Why is this even bad if it can't kill me?
Imagine your GI tract (mouth to colon) is one long sealed tube. In a healthy gut, things in the tube can't go into your blood stream without permission from the guards (cell mediators) at the walls of the tube. Food sensitivities can cause so much inflammation that 1. all of the guards get destroyed, or leave, and 2. A bunch of holes get poked in the wall, making it harder for the guards to do their job. Long term inflammation and a weakened gut wall allow chemicals and toxins (all the things that should be kept separate in the body) to travel in and out when they shouldn't. All of a sudden, foreign particles from the intestines are now in the blood stream, floating in places they don't belong, and that triggers the immune system to set off an alarm. That alarm leads to more inflammation (this time systemic, or all through the body) leading to super fun symptoms like headaches, bloating, stomach aches, brain fog, and more. Food sensitivities left untreated can cause long lasting damage and autoimmune diseases.
How do I know if this is me?
The first step is finding which foods trigger your specific immune system to get all feisty. This can often be tested with a simple finger prick or blood draw for efficiency, but you can also try an elimination diet. If you go the blood test route, remember you need to ask for a food sensitivity test not a food allergy test. During an elimination diet you eliminate suspected foods for several weeks, and slowly add them back 1 by 1 to see if you feel differently. Elimination diets are best performed with the guidance of a doctor, nutritionist, or health coach, and a handy dandy food journal. Get ready to pay attention to everything from your energy level to your poop quality (very important)! Elimination diets are less expensive, but involve a lot more work. Either route can be effective, depending on how much discipline and time you have.
5 SIGNS YOU HAVE A FOOD SENSITIVITY
1. You eat "pretty healthy" but still struggle with bloat, extra weight, aches, and pains.
Inflammation causes you to hang on to weight not matter how many veggies you eat, or miles you run.
2. You don't feel like your best self.
For some reason, you have had short or long term bags under your eyes, low energy, constipation, anxiety, infertility, trouble sleeping, or headaches.
3. Your seasonal allergies last a long time. Like more than a season.
Symptoms that seem like hayfever, but last more than a few months could be triggered by something inside your body, rather than something outside.
4. You're tired but you can't sleep.
Food plays a HUGE factor in our hormone cycle, and hormones are the righteous dictators of sleep, whether we like it or not.
5. You couldn't imagine giving up (insert your most addictive food group here)!
"Oh I could never give up cheese." Or bread, or cookies, or soda, or whatever. I get it, you're "addicted" and probably means you've had too much of a good thing. Addiction isn't healthy. Your most prized food might be damaging your insides.
HOW DO I FIX IT?!
Plain and simple: take away the bad (eliminate trigger foods) and add in the good (nutrition that will help repair your gut). Strictly eliminating your "sensitive" foods gives your body time to heal and repair from the inflammation that's been floating around. With inflammation tamed, your body's able to restore regulatory guard cells, a thick healthy wall, and normal traffic in and out. A solid repair period should allow you to eat a "trigger" food every once in a while and not experience symptoms. I repeat, you don't have to swear off everything good forever. Giving your gut a break from irritating foods can make you more tolerant to them later. Sensitive to dairy? Give it a 90 day break (barely any time at all!) and it might not wreck you in the future. Make the healing process go faster by incorporating probiotics and digestive enzymes. Probiotics work to repair the gut wall, and may act as "replacement guards" until yours return. Digestive enzymes help your body break down big proteins into smaller pieces, making them less likely to irritate your body, and more likely for you to get the good nutrients from your food.
Find your foods and give the "90 day heal" a shot. It's worth it for the sake of your health... after all that IS your best asset, and dang it, you're worth it.