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Is Food Intolerance Really an Allergy or Just a Mental Issue?

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Many people claim to have some sort of food intolerance even if they really don’t. For some people, being gluten-free or dairy-free is a trendy lifestyle choice. But for others, these are necessary dietary restrictions due to allergies and auto-immune disorders.

Because food restrictions have become a widely accepted epidemic, people with true allergies aren’t taken seriously. How can you tell if you’re intolerant to foods, or just following another food fad?

Allergy versus Intolerance

What’s the difference between allergies and intolerances?

Allergies are said to create acute and immediate symptoms that can be life-threatening, and involve an immune system response. On the other hand, food intolerances seem to cause generally milder symptoms and don’t trigger the immune system.

While reliable medical testing can determine many food allergies, there isn’t a reliable intolerance test for most foods, except for dairy. So, if people can’t always know for sure if they have a food intolerance, why do they say they do?

Do We Need to Feel Special?

There is something tantalizing about having food issues. Whether you have legitimate allergies or mild intolerances, some people enjoy how it sets them apart. It’s satisfying when people cater to you, and it’s also an effective way to be the center of attention.

This may be a good reason for some people to say they have food intolerances.

Are You Intolerant to Food, Or To Everything That Gets Added To It?

Some people have fallen prey to the clever marketing campaigns promoting dairy and gluten substitutes. These advertisements don’t just sell to people who have diagnosed allergies. These ads also promote a healthier option, which countless others believe will improve their lifestyle, too.

For example, gluten does cause inflammatory symptoms, plain and simple.  And because most gluten is genetically modified, and heavily treated with harmful chemicals, it’s hard for some people to digest it.

The same can be said of dairy products. Even if you’re not allergic to milk per se, you may suffer adverse reactions due to everything else that’s added to the milk.

For example, cows are given heavy doses of antibiotics, medications, and hormones, and this can remove beneficial properties from it.

Is It a Health Conscious Decision?

Some people may have negative reactions to both dairy and gluten. Other’s may avoid it because they’re hearing negative things about it. In general, both groups avoid it because they think it’s healthier to do so.

But if you’re trading one starchy plant source (like wheat) for others (like rice, potatoes, and corn), you’re not reducing starch or carbohydrates, you’re just switching the plant sources around. If you’re doing this, you may be consuming a whole lot of calories.

What’s more, many gluten-free alternatives are usually loaded with sodium, sugar, additives, and preservatives. Clearly, this is not an optimal alternative either.

Is It All In Your Head?

Because it’s so difficult to get a clear medical diagnosis for food intolerances, many people can only rely on several other factors.

For example, there’s a lot of fear surrounding gluten and dairy. What’s more, when you see so many alternatives popping up in the market, you’re naturally going to think that something was wrong with the first option.

You may feel discomfort and pain after eating certain foods, but it can be maddening to know which food causes the problem.

Foods can either be safe or harmful depending on many factors: Is it raw or cooked? Organic or GMO? These factors influence your body’s response to what you eat.

If you know your body doesn’t feel good after eating certain foods, you might naturally want to avoid them. But for some critics, this isn’t a good enough reason to stop eating certain foods altogether.

They believe that unless you have a clear diagnosis for your condition, they can’t take you seriously.

Are Food Intolerances Just Eating Disorders in Disguise?

British cooking star, Nigella Lawson, said that “people are using certain diets as a way to hide an eating disorder or a sense of unhappiness and unease with their own body.” For some people, this may be the case. Justifying your dietary choices with food intolerance can mask a more serious medical condition, like an eating disorder.

However, certain foods do make others feel unwell, both mentally and physically. And it’s important to not condescend or judge these folks. At the end of the day, most people are just trying to feel well. This may mean avoiding foods that cause discomfort.

Or, they avoid foods that they’ve come to associate with pain and discomfort on a psychological level.

Do You Have an Allergy or Intolerance?

Because the medical field has yet to develop a reliable test for food intolerances, what are you supposed to do? Should you be vilified if you avoid foods you’re not officially allergic to?

If you get allergy testing done and the results were inconclusive, try the following ideas to rule out any food intolerances.

  • Keep a Food Diary: Track what and when you eat, and how you feel. It’s important to track your emotional and physical response throughout your food diary because symptoms of intolerance can occur quickly, or they can take several days to manifest. A food diary can help you track any consistent patterns.

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  • Eliminate Foods: If you’re suspicious of a certain food, eliminate it for a few days or even a month. Foods can affect your body long after you’ve eaten it. So, give your body a chance to clear it out. When you take a break from it, you can see if it’s been causing you problems in the first place.
  • Go Organic: There are many harmful substances in today’s foods, and these can cause negative reactions. So, opt for cleaner sources of the same foods and see if you feel better.
  • Eat Cooked Foods versus Raw Foods: Some raw foods are more difficult for the body to digest. If a certain food triggers negative symptoms, try cooking or slow-roasting it instead. You may have an easier time digesting and absorbing it this way.

Our food choices are influenced by our values, beliefs, and societal pressures. Even though food intolerances are trendy, it’s important to remove the stigma while you work to understand what your allergies and intolerances truly are.

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