Sneaky Food Addictions

By: Catherine Ebeling, RN, BSN

You may not think you have food addictions but you really could. Think - what foods do you eat day in, and day out on a regular basis?

Often these may not even be foods you realize you are eating, but exist as ingredients in many packaged foods. Foods and food substances, eaten every day can often cause chronic health problems like weight gain, puffiness, inflammation - and even more serious health conditions like migraine headaches, arthritis, osteoporosis, neuropathy, bladder infections and other illnesses associated with long-term nutrient deficiencies.

One of the most overlooked and least understood parts of diet is food allergies and sensitivities. Did you know that a large percentage of the population has food sensitivities and don’t know it?

Food allergies or sensitivities do not always occur as a big, full-blown allergic reaction with hives, shortness of breath and anaphylactic reactions. Often these food reactions can occur on a ‘sub-clinical’ level without obvious symptoms. But not always obvious is the inflammation and reaction on the cellular level.

As surprising as it sounds, it is possible to be both allergic and addicted to a food or chemical substance, and quite often this is the case. The two things go hand in hand.

This sets up cravings with both physiological (physical) and psychological (mental or emotional) discomfort, withdrawal symptoms and cravings when the offending food is not available.

While there often is a much longer list, the top offenders are usually foods that contain wheat, dairy, corn or soy. And if you think about it, its pretty hard to avoid these foods as they are the ingredients in many, many processed or packaged foods—and often disguised as ingredients you may not recognize.

What happens in a food sensitivity reaction? Foods that are partially digested leak through the cell wall of the intestinal lining. Since 60% or more of the immune system lies in the digestive system, the undigested particles of food are attacked by the immune system as if they are foreign invaders.

When the immune system is activated, our bodies react almost as if we were sick. The ability to fight outside (bacterial or viral) infections drops, inflammation in the body rises, and a reaction occurs. Often it’s an ongoing reaction.

When reactions occur to foods that are eaten on a regular day-to-day basis, there is constant chronic inflammation that can manifest as a variety of symptoms.

Part of the weight gained from food allergies is fluid retention caused by inflammation and the release of certain hormones. In addition, some foods do not break down and digest properly, particularly carbohydrates, in the intestines which can result in a swollen distended belly, indigestion, and gas production.

What’s more, eating the offensive foods creates physiological reaction in the body similar to the reaction to an addictive drug. Certain foods release substances in the body that create an almost euphoric high. This reaction is similar to when a drug addict gets a ‘fix’. Feel good hormones are released, the body reacts and then withdraws.

It is significant that all addictions are similar in this regard, whether it is cigarettes, coffee, heroin, wheat or milk products. This is the stage in which chronic symptoms of disease emerge.

Now just about any clinical symptom can result from the allergy-addiction syndrome. Dr. Ellen Grant reported in the medical journal, Lancet, that 85 percent of migraine sufferers could be rendered symptom-free when they followed a diet free from common food allergens. There is also clear evidence that arthritis, asthma and diabetes may be caused by an allergic reaction.

The allergic reaction itself can result in a drastic reduction in blood sugar with the accompanying symptoms: weakness, hunger and irritability. Often food allergies will cause a feeling that you cannot get enough of that particular food.

Allergic hunger is pathological in that it does not respond to the normal satiety control center in the brain when food is consumed in normal amounts, so both the addictive and allergic responses to allergy can cause uncontrollable eating behavior.

Many, many people have hidden food allergies, which become addictions. Food allergy reactions are not always immediate and severe, but often subtle and delayed.

Food allergies can also cause symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, irritable bowel syndrome, sinusitis, irritability, headaches, eczema, psoriasis, acne, autoimmune disease, depression, insomnia, PMS and more. Other symptoms of food sensitivity can include migraine headaches, heartburn, joint pain or arthritis, canker sores, chronic respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, bronchitis, and chronic bowel problems such as diarrhea or constipation. Chronic food allergies can affect virtually any system in the body.

Often one of the best ways to detect a food sensitivity or delayed allergy reaction is to look at the foods that you eat every day, all the time. Can you go without them? Think about it, if you cannot live without your daily bread, bagel, cereal, etc., its highly possible you have a sensitivity to that food and most likely it is causing an inflammatory reaction in your body, in addition to causing you to overeat.

What’s the solution? Anyone who is trying to lose weight or has any kind of chronic health condition should look at food allergies or sensitivities. Become suspicious if you eat a particular food every day, and that includes most of us, or if you have a favorite food that you eat often or crave. Pay attention when you are eating - are there certain foods you just cannot get enough of?

Since the most common offenders are wheat, corn, soy and dairy products, the next step is an elimination diet.  Remove all the foods that contain wheat, corn, soy and dairy from your diet for a minimum period of two weeks.

That means reading every label and scrutinizing everything you are eating. Most processed or packaged foods contain these ingredients in some form, so eating simple, one-ingredient, natural foods is the easiest way to avoid the allergens, and it’s far healthier as well.

It’s important to note that wheat is the primary content of most all flours (except gluten free) and prepared items, so that means foregoing bread of all kinds, whether its whole wheat, rye or white; pastas, crackers, cookies, cereals, and more. Wheat and corn starch are also commonly used as thickeners in sauces and gravies as well, so beware when eating prepared soups or eating out when sauces are served with foods.

The elimination diet is NOT easy. You will feel intense cravings the first 24-48 hours after you start and you may actually begin to feel sick as your body detoxes the offending substances out of your body.

Rest assured though, about 4 or 5 days into the elimination diet, you may suddenly feel like a brand new person with boundless energy, sparkling mental clarity, and smooth glowing skin. Not only that, but many lose 5-10 pounds a few days after being on this elimination diet from water weight as the inflammation in your body decreases. As you continue on the diet, you may also lose real weight, since you are not overeating the offending foods to get your ‘fix’.

After the two weeks, you may slowly re-introduce the allergenic foods, one at a time. Try adding wheat back in for a day, then wait 2 more days to record delayed symptoms. When you add in a food, eat it for three meals a day to get the full reaction. You may be really shocked! Allow yourself a couple days before you test another food.

Functional food and chemical allergies have been largely ignored by most medical doctors. One reasons for this is that there has been no miracle drug that can be heavily promoted by the drug companies, so the doctors would not be encouraged to diagnose the disease and then treat it. Until now there has been no simple, easy cure for allergies.

The simplest answer is to eat pure, natural, whole foods like grass fed meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid processed, packaged convenience foods and fast foods. Don’t eat something if you do not know the ingredients. Most likely it has wheat, corn, soy and/or dairy in it.

Nutritional treatment in the form of vitamin, mineral, amino acid and glandular supplements accompanied by avoidance of allergenic foods offer the critical answer to this problem.

Identifying and avoiding foods that you are sensitive or allergic to is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and your health. The answers can be life-changing.