What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger…
When some ancient sage wrote, “One man’s food is another man’s poison,” he was talking about food allergies. We know that food allergies are fairly common but what we don’t realize is that food allergies, food intolerances, and environmental allergies can make us fat.
When we think of allergies, we typically think of skin rashes, digestive difficulties, or hay fever. We think of the TV commercials where the beautiful woman or man is strolling through a field of flowers, sneezing and rubbing her eyes, and then when she takes the drug, the world is again a flower garden – this time without the itching and sneezing.
That is a very limited view of allergies, however. Allergies are more than hay fever or rashes. More than bout of diarrhea or constipation. Allergies can be a powerful influence over our health, and over our struggle to lose and maintain weight.
An allergy is an immune-system response to a substance the body perceives is toxic. An allergen can be pollen, dust, molecules of foods (wheat, dairy), or undigested proteins from common foods.
An intolerance is a non-immune system response to substances, and intolerances can be either environmental or dietary. Intolerances can be caused by a number of factors like enzyme deficiencies. Some individuals are lactose-intolerant, for example, because they do not produce lactase, the enzyme that digests milk sugars.
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Both allergies and intolerances can provoke symptoms all over the body, and can produce symptoms up to seven days after exposure.
When people believe that they have allergies, they often seek the counsel of a physician who specializes in allergies but this may not be the best course, especially in the case of food allergies because allergists typically test for only one or two types of Ig response. Food allergies often fall into a category of allergy response not commonly tested by the standard skin prick tests. Allergy testing will not be helpful in discovering intolerances.
Symptoms of Allergies
Allergies and intolerance can affect virtually any part of the body with virtually any type of symptom. Any food or additive with the food can cause a reaction. Some people respond to single foods; other people respond to combinations of food (wheat and dairy together, for example). Because the body may respond immediately or may not respond for several days after exposure, and because standard allergy testing is useless in the face of intolerance or other types of allergens, it becomes dauntingly difficult to learn just what is making us sick (or overweight).
Some common allergy/intolerance symptoms include the following:
• Weight gain
• Bloating of the stomach and/or abdomen
• Skin rashes
• Diarrhea, constipation, or alternating diarrhea and constipation
• Mental confusion or other learning problems
• Itchy, runny eyes / blurry vision
• Hay fever symptoms
• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or other hearing problems
• Aches and pains
• Arthritis-like pain
• Gout-like pain
• Palpitations of the heart
This is not a complete list! See how far ranging these symptoms are? See how many systems of the body can be affected? No wonder it can be so difficult to trace what foods or environmental influences are causing our difficulty.
Many people do not realize that the only outward symptom of their allergy can be weight gain. Many people have assured me, “I’m not allergic to milk! I’m not allergic to wheat!” but when they eliminate these foods from their diet, they begin to lose weight rapidly.
How Does An Allergy or Intolerance Cause Weight Gain?
The influence of an allergen/intolerance on weight is not well understood. However, clinicians cite three basic problems of weight and allergies: depositing the toxin in added fat tissue, water retention, and lowered metabolic rate.
When the body is constantly exposed to an allergen and does not have the ability to readily excrete it from the tissues, it will often retain water in an attempt to flush it out of the system, or it will store the toxin in fat tissue. When current levels of toxic material overwhelms the body current fat cell capacity, it builds new fat to handle the toxic load. Most people do not move their bowels several times per day, or drink so little water that the kidneys cannot flush toxic material, and when the body cannot eliminate efficiently, the body has no choice but to store toxic material within the tissue itself, building new “toxic waste storage depot sites” as needed.
The third problem caused by allergies is the problem of lowered metabolism. According to one doctor, Dr. Elson Haas, author of The False Fat Diet, “Food reactions create five metabolic roadblocks to weight loss:
- They slow the metabolic rate.
- They increase the hormones that cause weight gain.
- They create hypoglycemia.
- They depress energy.
- They contribute to illness (which makes regular exercise much more difficult).” (1)
Many of my students have lost weight just by eliminating their allergic foods, and the side benefits included improved energy, fewer headaches, and so on. When we remove irritants from the body, it responds back in so many positive ways.
Allergy Testing: What Works?
Several types of allergy testing are available today. Unfortunately, none of the tests are perfect, and no allergy testing will test for food intolerance. Many clinicians prefer to use a variety of methods to determine just foods “annoy the body.”
ELISA, very helpful in determining delayed-reaction allergies or other types of food allergies, is used to test over 100 foods with just one blood draw, and rates the allergy potential in terms of how drastically the body responds to the allergen. Some people are highly reactive to specific foods; others are only mildly reactive to the same foods. However, the ELISA test is not very precise, and only tests two immune responses: IgA and IgG (IgG is a delayed sensitivity test).
The RAST test (skin test) tests for an IgE reaction. Accuracy with both the RAST and ELISA leaves them helpful but not definitive.
The “over-the-counter” pulse test can be useful in pinpointing either allergies or intolerances. Again, the pulse test is not definitive; it is not perfect. It’s value is in hinting at possible problems with intolerance or allergies when the medical tests are not available, or are not accurate.
Allergies and Intolerance Are Very Common!
The most common food allergies include wheat, corn, dairy, soy, sugar, eggs, and peanuts. However, this list is deceptive because one can be allergic to any food. My students have pinpointed allergies to bananas, carrots, lettuce, and other seemingly harmless foods.
If you are struggling with weight that doesn’t seem to budge no matter how carefully you adhere to your diet, I encourage you to start checking for allergies. One of my students lost about fifteen pounds on the Wings program, then stopped losing weight about twenty pounds short of her goal. Nothing seemed to budge the scales until she discovered her allergies to bananas, and upon removing bananas from her morning breakfast drink, she lost four pounds almost immediately and her energy levels increased dramatically.
1. Elson Haas, M.D., The False Fat Diet (NY:Ballatine Books, 2000), 55.
Tags: allergies chemicals weight-gain wellness