It seems as if almost everyone these days has food sensitivities—or thinks they have them. Then, again, I bet there are lots of folks who never thought about the possibility who actually suffer from them. Whichever the case, most of us lump together allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities and don’t really understand the difference among them.
“Getting to the bottom of food sensitivities” (Environmental Nutrition, 10/16. p.7) provides a comprehensive explanation that will help you recognize if you’re on the sensitivity continuum. “Allergies can cause an immediate measurable immune response and intolerances are delayed, reproducible symptoms often caused by the lack of an enzyme or other factor necessary to digest a food.” For example, people who lack the lactase enzyme have difficulty digesting dairy products. Others become symptomatic when they ingest chemicals like caffeine, salicylates or histamine which are naturally found in foods. Allergies and intolerances are at one end of the continuum and sensitivities are at the other.
One of the most talked about reactions is to gluten. “…people with celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can have similar symptoms,” but the latter is harder to diagnose. If you want a bona fide diagnosis to food sensitivity symptoms, see a doctor, preferably an allergist, and be aware that all gastrointestinal problems might not be from food intolerance. Says Clifford Basset, MD, Medical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY, “In a small percentage of cases, we do uncover specific food allergies, but [they] are not the cause of gastrointestinal complaints in the majority of cases. Only about 3 percent of adults suffer from [them].”
Even if you don’t have celiac disease or a diagnosable food intolerance, you might still have “intestinal upset, skin reactions, and even headaches” from eating certain foods. If you have negative results from allergy testing, make an appointment with a registered dietician and start a trial-and-error process of elimination to discover what, if any, foods are causing your problems. If there is evidence that you’re allergic to a food, you’ll need to eliminate from your diet. With a food intolerance or sensitivity, you may be able to eat it occasionally and in small doses, but you won’t want to ingest large quantities often.
Many dysregulated eaters continue to have cravings for and eat foods they’re intolerant of or allergic and sensitive to. When you 100% want to take care of your body, you say no to whatever harms you. You’re not being denied these foods. Rather, you’re choosing to avoid them in order to take care of yourself. Reframe deprivation as self-care and it makes healthy food choices a great deal easier to make.