Numerous factors affect weight loss. While diet and exercise are the primary agents of weight loss, stress, hormones, and sleep also play a role. If you’re eating healthy, exercising regularly, and can’t pinpoint another explanation for your stalled weight loss, a food sensitivity may be at play.
Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities
People use the words allergy, intolerance, and sensitivity interchangeably, but they have notable differences. An allergy triggers the production of antibodies as part of an immune response. The severity of the allergy can range from mild itching to hives to full-blown anaphylaxis. The most frequently affected body parts are the lips, tongue, mouth, and throat, but symptoms can occur throughout the body.
Intolerances occur when the GI system has a hard time digesting a particular type of food. Lactose intolerance is one of the most ubiquitous examples, as many people don’t have enough lactase enzymes to digest it. Symptoms usually affect the digestive system, such as gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pains.
While more studies are needed, food sensitivities share some similarities with food allergies. Food sensitivities are the result of immune system activities, but their presentation is harder to identify. Someone with a food sensitivity may experience a variety of responses to consuming the same problematic nutrient. For example, someone with a caffeine sensitivity may experience a stomachache one day, while their next cup of coffee may cause joint pain and stiffness. Reactions also frequently occur on a delay, which makes it particularly tricky to pin down the food causing the problem.
Types of Food Sensitivities
Unchecked food sensitivities cause chronic inflammatory reactions, such as persistent eczema, diarrhea, migraines, joint pain, and acid reflux. Prolonged inflammation can damage your health, cause weight gain, and make it difficult to lose weight.
The following are the most prevalent food sensitivities:
- FODMAPs. FODMAPs are a group of fermentable (F) sugars, including oligosaccharides (O), disaccharides (D), monosaccharides (M), and polyphenols (P). The intestines have a hard time absorbing these types of sugars, with fructans, fructose, and lactose being the most common culprits. These sugars are prevalent in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. Apples, mangoes, watermelon, pitted or seeded fruits, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and garlic are all high FODMAP foods. Many gluten-free foods also have high levels of FODMAPs.
- Dairy. If you suspect you have a lactose intolerance, it may actually be a sensitivity. Dairy products like animal milk, yogurt, ice cream, and custard are high FODMAP foods as they contain high levels of lactose.
- Gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that produces antibodies that attack the intestines. Researchers don’t fully understand what causes a non-celiac gluten sensitivity; however, GI symptoms occur in both conditions following the ingestion of gluten. Eating a gluten-free diet improves symptoms for both conditions as well.
- Caffeine. Individuals with a caffeine sensitivity tend to react as if they consumed several espressos from a few sips of coffee. They may feel nauseous, anxious, jittery, or restless. They may also experience headaches, sleep disturbances, and a rapid heartbeat.
- Amines. Amines are naturally occurring compounds that help the body break down amino acids. They accumulate in the body over time, and it can take several days for sensitivity symptoms to appear. Meat and dairy products have high levels of amino acids, as do ripening fruits, fermented foods, and browned or charred foods. Other common amine foods include tomatoes, wine, apple cider vinegar, dried fruits, berries, avocado oil, and olive oil.The immune system releases inflammatory mediators in adults and children with amine sensitivities. Inflammation is the immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and other invading germs. However, an overreactive response to amines can cause chronic inflammation and health problems. In adults, an amine sensitivity can trigger migraines and headaches. An amine sensitivity can mimic IBS symptoms, including bloating, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea. Unsurprisingly, adults with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have food and chemical sensitivities. Children with amine sensitivities often experience behavioral problems or frequent meltdowns, as the related inflammation can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety.
- Sulfites. The food and beverage industry uses sulfite compounds to extend the shelf life of their products. Sulfites also help prevent the premature browning of foods during delivery, food prep, and storage. Processed foods often include sulfites, but they can occur naturally in several vegetables and fish. Some examples include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, chives, leeks, asparagus, salmon, dried cod, garlic, and onions. Maple syrup, molasses, and products containing pectin (e.g., jams and jellies) also contain natural sulfites. Beer and wine also have sulfites, as they inhibit the growth of bacteria that turn alcohol into vinegar. Baked goods often have sulfites as well, as they are present in baking powder and cornstarch.A sulfite sensitivity often presents similar to allergy and asthma symptoms, including flushing, wheezing, coughing, hives, or a skin rash. Others may experience upset stomach, nausea, headaches, or diarrhea. Sulfite sensitivities are more prevalent among individuals with asthma, particularly those dependent on steroids to manage it.
Identifying food sensitivities is often tricky, as symptoms are vague, ubiquitous, and may vary from meal to meal. If you suspect you have a food sensitivity, a nutritionist or your physician can help you establish a low FODMAPs diet. If your symptoms improve, you can begin to reintroduce one FODMAP group at a time to identify the trigger foods.
Food sensitivities are just one possible source of stubborn fat. Struggling to lose weight despite your best efforts can be demoralizing, depressing, and damaging to your mental health. Contact us to discuss your weight loss goals and learn if bariatric surgery is a good fit for you.