Food intolerances and how they affect your weight-loss
You have tried every diet you can think of, you are extremely aware of what you eat, and you have tried every exercise regime at your local gym, yet you still struggle to lose those last few kilos. Sound familiar? The reason could be that perhaps you have an undiagnosed food intolerance that is preventing your weight from dropping and your body shape changing.
BY TAMMY KACEV
What is a food intolerance?
Let’s not confuse food intolerances with food allergies. A food allergy is an immune response leading to inflammation, where even the smallest amount of a specific food can lead to immediate, detrimental and even life-threatening symptoms and conditions. Anaphylaxis is an example of one of the more common and well-known life-threatening reactions to a food allergy. Food intolerances are rather a reaction to our digestive systems. Food intolerances can also cause detrimental reactions, but the symptoms are not always immediate or life-threatening. In fact, they can occur hours to days later, resulting in a delayed reaction to a compound found commonly in a specific food group. Just like a food allergy, food intolerances also lead to inflammation. Two of the most common food intolerances include fructose and lactose intolerances.
- Fructose: The body struggles to absorb fruit sugar and causes a reaction to, most commonly, fruit, corn syrup, agave syrup and honey.
- Lactose: When the body poorly absorbs milk sugar, which is found commonly in milk, yoghurt, some cheeses and ice-cream.
What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?
The severity of food sensitivities and intolerances vary considerably from one person to the next. In fact, some of us may actually be unaware that we have sensitivity or intolerances to a specific food compound found within a food group. We may believe the foods we are eating are healthy, and should be part of our diet, since they have been part of lives ever since we can remember. We tend to ignore the symptoms, and just put up with them, blaming other factors of our lifestyles such as stress, work and lack of sleep.
There are a number of symptoms that can present as a result of food intolerances, which can be grouped into three distinctive categories. They can occur individually or in a combination with each other. The categories are based on where in the body the symptoms usually occur; the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), the respiratory tract or on the skin. Symptoms affecting the skin can include rashes and eczema, symptoms affecting the respiratory tract can include congestion and sinusitis and symptoms affecting the GIT can include diarrhoea and abdominal cramping.
Food intolerances and how they can cause weight gain and prevent fat loss
We are all aware that obesity levels have increased. The increase in weight gain and the associated health consequences have been attributed to overindulgence of sugary and processed foods and inactivity. We are constantly being told to strive for calorie control — that is, calories in should not exceed calories out. We believe we have the solution to why we are gaining weight. It seems simple. But obesity levels continue to increase, having detrimental effects on our health, both individually, and on a population- based scale. In his book The Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss, US-based allergy and nutrition expert Dr John Mansfield suggests that when calorie control does not work, the struggle to lose weight could be due to an underlying health condition. Weight gain could be the result of a condition that causes inflammation within our bodies that interferes with our bodies and our bodys’ abilities to function efficiently.
Most of our bodily processes are regulated by a feedback mechanism. When we eat, the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates our hunger hormones, receives signals from our main weight control hormone leptin, which tells us when we are full. When this mechanism is working effectively, and our cells react appropriately to leptin, our weight is more likely to stay stable and in a healthy range. Weight loss via calorie control usually works. When we suffer from food intolerances, the result is often inflammation to our digestive systems. When this inflammation occurs and is ongoing, in the case when it goes undiagnosed or untreated, it can disrupt our feedback mechanism that is regulated by leptin and the hypothalamus. It becomes difficult to manage a healthy weight and lose fat as we become leptin-resistant.
Inflammation and leptin resistance
As mentioned, leptin is our main weight-control hormone that helps us maintain our weight by sending signals to our brains, telling us we are full and that we have had enough to eat. When inflammation disrupts this hormone and its role in the feedback system, it can lead to leptin resistance. Leptin resistance works the same way as insulin resistance. Although the leptin still tries to deliver its message to the hypothalamus that we are full, the cells involved no longer co-operate. As a result, our brains struggle to send us signals telling us we are full, so we keep eating. The cells are acting out; they have become resistant. By regularly consuming the compounds we are intolerant to, there is constant inflammation in our guts and digestive system. The end result: our cells become less responsive and we become leptin-sensitive and our brains struggle to tell us we are full, so we consume excess calories and put on weight.
If you suffer from symptoms, as mentioned above, that affect your GIT, skin or respiratory tract on a regular basis and you struggle to manage a healthy weight and can’t seem to lose fat, no matter what, you may need to consider food intolerances and inflammation as the underlying cause of your weight gain.
So what’s the solution? To decrease inflammation, we have to eliminate the foods that are causing the inflammation, which is ultimately causing our cell resistance, leptin sensitivity and weight gain.
The elimination diet is a simple method that allows you to monitor the symptoms you are experiencing and the causal link, if any, that you may have from a specific food compound within a specific food group. To figure out which foods are causing your discomfort, the suspected foods that are causing the intolerance need to be removed from your diet for a short period — up to about a month. They are then reintroduced, slowly, one at a time. This will allow you to notice any changes in how your body reacts to certain foods and food groups.
Guidance from a health care professional is recommended. Please note, the aim of the elimination diet is not to restrict your diet or cut out essential foods in the long-term. Once you have figured out which compound is causing the inflammation, and which compound you are intolerant to, the goal should be to work towards creating a diet that is varied, that your body can tolerate. If you do not experience digestive or gut-related symptoms, there is no need to eliminate major food groups from your diet.
Tammy has a passion for nutrition, health, wellbeing, tness and exercise. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was inspired to take her passions one step further and make them part of her daily life. Not only did she want to become a healthier person herself; she wanted to in uence others in a positive way too. She received her Masters in Nutrition and also became a group tness instructor. Tammy teaches group tness classes, goes on regular runs and participates in marathons. She also works as a nutritionist in Melbourne. Connect with Tammy on Facebook tammynutrition or Instagram: tammynutrition