Can't lose weight?

You may be allergic to the foods you crave most
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of the curious facts about people with food allergies is that they often appear to be addicted to the very food that is causing their problem. "How can that be doing me harm? I feel better when I eat it," they will say, as they crave foods that may give them irritable-bowel syndrome, eczema or asthma. It may even contribute to bingeing and an inability to control food intake. Food allergies can make it difficult for you to stick to a diet. They can lead you to feel hungry most of the time.

One of the curious facts about people with food allergies is that they often appear to be addicted to the very food that is causing their problem. "How can that be doing me harm? I feel better when I eat it," they will say, as they crave foods that may give them irritable-bowel syndrome, eczema or asthma. It may even contribute to bingeing and an inability to control food intake. Food allergies can make it difficult for you to stick to a diet. They can lead you to feel hungry most of the time.

Of course, craving particular foods can be a sign of a need for a nutrient that is in the food that is craved. A deficiency of potassium may result in you craving avocados and bananas, and a shortage of zinc may lead you to relish sunflower seeds and oysters.

However, in the case of allergic reactions to food, the body often seems to be doing the opposite: without realising the connection, you crave the foods that give you distressing symptoms. Your experience of eating these foods is that they make you feel better. The reason for this seems to be that eating the food turns off the craving. But why would you become addicted to foods that harm you?

Although it is not totally clear why you may become addicted to your allergen, endorphins (the body's own "feel-good" chemicals) and food particles that mimic endorphins are likely to be involved. Several studies have shown that endorphin production increases during allergic reactions. It is believed that if you are an allergy sufferer your body becomes adapted to that higher level of endorphin activity and so craves the allergen in order to maintain endorphin levels.

The allergy-addiction link may also throw light on why some people find it impossible to stick to a diet, developing seemingly irresistible cravings. There are two possible scenarios. You could be allergic to some high-calorie food such as chocolate or crisps and find it extremely difficult to moderate your consumption because you are addicted to it. You follow your diet but the urge to eat the allergen becomes greater and greater until you can resist it no longer. As calm returns you realise just how much you have eaten and feel depressed - which in turn causes you to eat more.

The other possibility is that you experience cravings, but for some reason do not connect the withdrawal symptoms with a particular food. In this case you keep on eating different foods without feeling satisfied. You only stop when you consume the allergen. Calorie consumption can be very high even if the allergen is to a low-calorie food such as lettuce, because of all the other food that is eaten without satisfying the "hungry" feeling before you get to the lettuce.

If you have addictive allergies, you may wake with a '"hangover" even when you have not consumed alcohol the night before. During the day you eat the food and satisfy the craving, but during the night withdrawal symptoms begin. You will probably not feel well until you have consumed your addictive allergen and temporarily turned off the craving. Some people will not make it through the night without having a snack of their allergen to keep their withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Finding and correcting addictive allergens can make it easier to follow a healthy diet and so lose weight. Thinking about what you crave may point you in the right direction. As with cigarette smoking, if you abstain from the addictive substance for long enough, the craving will pass. Recognising this can strengthen your will power. Without this understanding, it is easy to feel that the craving will always be there and that you are fighting an impossible battle. Unfortunately, relapses are very common with this approach, just as in other forms of addiction.

Fixing the allergies can be a more lasting solution. For this I recommend health kinesiology (www.hk4health. co.uk; 08707 655980). Based on the Chinese acupuncture system, it offers non-invasive ways of finding and correcting allergy problems. Achieving a healthy body-weight is undoubtedly a problem for many people. Removing addictive allergens can help to achieve that goal.

Jane Thurnell-Read's book 'Allergy A to Z' is published by Life-Work Potential (01736 719030)

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