Are Food Allergies Making You Fat?
Most of us think we probably have a good idea of the foods that can make us gain weight: candy, soda, sugar, cookies, cakes, etc. In fact, the results of a large study were recently released that confirmed what we all know – and the sugar industry does its best to hide – that sugar causes diabetes. After it makes us fat, of course.
Yet some of us remain thwarted in our fat-loss efforts even while avoiding sugar and sugary foods. We do our best to eat healthy foods and exercise and are bewildered and disappointed when we don?t lose weight. What is going on here?
The short answer is: You are likely consuming foods that are not appropriate for YOU. If we whittle this concept down, we can say that one way that a food can be inappropriate for you is that you have a sensitivity to it.
There is more than one way to have a food allergy
So many times, a client has cheerfully sat across from me and declared that they were tested for food allergies and they have none. I then ask: ?Did you have your skin pricked or your blood drawn?? Almost everyone responds, ?skin pricked?.
Skin tests check for one very specific type of allergy ? the one that can be life threatening. These types of allergies are called IgE or anaphylactic reactions. People who have these types of allergies, typically to nuts or shellfish, have an immediate and extremely strong reaction to those foods when they are exposed.
Yet, this is not the only way that you can have a food allergy. The immune system has several branches, exquisitely elegant and stratified into functions and sub-functions. We have a branch that is responsible for strong, immediate reactions, and we have a branch that is responsible for delayed, slower, chronic reactions. These are known as IgG reactions.
These delayed-onset reactions are subtle and can be a major contributing factor to not only fat loss resistance but also migraines, hay fever, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues and an enormous variety of chronic disease.
What?s going on here!?
About two thirds of the immune system lives in the gastrointestinal tract. This makes sense, because our intestines, if we spread them out, cover an enormous surface area and we are exposed to the majority of pathogens in this way, through what we swallow.
The most basic job of the immune system is to be able to sort out the difference between self ? our own tissues and cells ? and non-self particles, and to kill things that are non-self. The immune system is not terribly sentimental. Yet there is a small catch here. Clearly, the food we eat is not self?it is something we put into our self. Since birth, our immune system has been taught to recognize and tolerate food particles. In other words, to not launch a major inflammatory assault on lunch.
Delayed onset food sensitivities occur when this tolerization has been breached. This can happen in a variety of ways. Eating foods that are inherently inflammatory on a regular basis, chronic stress, infection, certain medications, certain environmental agents and genetic predisposition can all play a role. Everyone has their own unique pattern for how and why they begin to react to foods, which is why non-anaphylactic food sensitivity was ignored and dismissed by the conventional community for so long (not anymore. Show me someone who dismisses this subject, and I will show you someone who missed the bus 20 years ago).
So a perfect storm of factors occurs, ranging from genes to food to stress. At the microscopic, cellular level, what is happening?
A look inside a gut on fire
Normally, the cells that line the inside of the intestine stand very tightly together, shoulder to shoulder. They are so tightly bound together that there is a structure – called a desmosome – that buttons them together. They are only once cell layer thick, and the immune system is immediately below them. Enter months or years of some stressor. The immune cells that reside in the gut release inflammatory compounds. These inflammatory compounds make the cells that line the intestine spread apart a bit by unbuttoning the desmosome (certain foods can do this too, like gluten) . A little leak in the gut is created, and repeated thousands upon thousands of times.
As a consequence, the immune system now has direct access to food particles that happen to be sitting in your intestine. The tolerization process has been bypassed, and as a result, the immune system begins making antibodies against the foods it meets and releases even more inflammatory compounds.
These inflammatory compounds call even more immune cells to the area, and create more leaks in the lining of the gut wall. This loss of integrity of the lining of the small intestine is called leaky gut.
The immune system is now held in a cycle of stimulation and inflammation. A chronic, low-grade, smoldering inflammation is established.
This is devastating for fat loss for several reasons. Extra inflammation makes you hold water, most notably, in this case, around the midsection. Fat-burning enzymes and hormonal machinery are functioning sub-optimally as the body is on the attack. Nutritional insufficiencies can incur from mild malabsorption as a result of an inflamed intestine. Your body begins storing resources ? fat ? for the war it is undertaking. Inflammatory compounds in the gut make their way into the blood and eventually the brain. You can feel exhausted and apathetic, making you reach for sodas and sugar foods in an attempt to keep your energy up. You can imagine what this compensatory eating does for your waistline. You may also notice skin rashes, itchiness, digestive complaints, acne, PMS, irritability, and a variety of other seemingly unrelated symptoms.
What to do?
The first order of business when trying to figure out if you have food sensitivities is to take stock of the foods you eat regularly. Look out for common inflammatory foods: gluten, dairy products, beans, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, white potato) and soy. Especially notice the foods from this list that you eat regularly. As much as we may love these foods, they are major culprits when it comes to food sensitivities and fat loss resistance.
The next step is to eliminate these foods for a period or 4-6 weeks. Emphasize leafy veggies, proteins, low-glycemic index fruits and healthy fats. Take measurements of your waist circumference at the same time each week. If you notice that clothes are fitting easier, you look less puffy and bloated, and your waistline is coming down, you are on to something.
If you feel like you can?t immediately eliminate all of the foods, start with gluten and dairy and soy. In addition to being inflammatory, soy slows thyroid function, acts estrogenic, lowers testosterone, and is difficult to digest. I typically don?t recommend soy consumption, unless it is fermented.
After the period of elimination, it is time to challenge the foods. You challenge one food at a time, this is quite important. Remember that these food sensitivities are delayed. They can take up to 3 days to manifest, which is why they can be so tricky to tease out.
To challenge, eat 2-3 servings of the food you would like to challenge in one day. If you were challenging gluten, for example, use plain whole-wheat pasta, shredded wheat cereal, or whole wheat bread. Eat your servings, and then do not eat any more for 3 days. During this 3-day period after your gluten-load, you are watching for symptoms. If you feel bloated, have digestive change, mood change, hold water, get irritable, moody or get a headache, you have identified a food you are sensitive to. If, three days pass and you notice no symptoms at all, that food can then be incorporated back into the diet.
If you feel like you don?t want to jump into an elimination-challenge diet, there is the option of an IgG food sensitivity test. This is a blood test that detects IgG (not IgE) antibodies to a wide variety of foods. Based on those results, you may tailor your elimination diet accordingly.
You have likely been eating the same foods for years, and are thinking: ?Hey, I?ve been eating these foods for years and have never had a problem?. Remember that food sensitivities are most common in foods that are inherently inflammatory and that we have eaten for a long time. Until we have a look at our nutrition and begin doing some detective work, we can?t know for sure that they are not giving us a problem, particularly with fat loss resistance. We don?t know what we don?t know. Time to start exploring.