The vicious food addiction

Eight years ago, my doctor first suggested I eliminated wheat, dairy and refined sugar from my diet. Aside from not knowing what was left for me to eat, I had to battle some pretty mad cravings for breads, pastries, crackers, ice cream, flavoured sauces and more.

I took the challenge seriously, though, and stayed strictly away from these forbidden foods. Within a few short weeks, my cravings went away and I started feeling better – I had more energy, I wasn’t getting sick (with recurrent sinus/throat infections), and my stomach’s almost constant grumblings finally fell silent.

Of course, being human, I eventually cheated. I ate some chocolate that someone had brought to the office one day, ate a piece of garlic bread in a restaurant and had some flavoured chips one hungry afternoon. So the big question then became – so what? Did it affect me? How did I react?

First off, I of course felt guilty for not having the will power to refuse free premium Belgium chocolate (who could?!) But feeling guilty about food is never a good thing. To be honest, after this first slip, I really didn’t feel anything different. I didn’t feel any symptoms, I didn’t break out in all over hives, I didn’t get diarrhea and I didn’t feel unwell at all. The only thing I really felt was a lingering satisfaction at having enjoyed that wonderfully rich, smooth and delicate piece of chocolate. I felt so satisfied, in fact, that I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day. Then, all I could think about was having more!

Welcome to the wonderul life of living with a food allergy. Lesson #1: Eating food that you are avoiding will make you crave it more.

Over time, and from repeated slips of will power, I also learned a few things about my body and how different foods actually affect me. This is hard to observe if you’re eating foods that your are allergic or intolerant to on a daily basis. But once you’ve eliminated culprit foods for at least a month, you will easily notice their effect on your body if you reintroduce them to your diet. After a few accidental experiments, I’ve learned that chocolate can give me headaches, itchiness, put me in a bad mood the next day, and on the rare occasion give me diarrhea (all signs of intolerance).

Wheat and gluten, on the other hand, give me a runny nose and excess mucous (signs of an allergy), both of which make me susceptible to getting throat and sinus infections. This might explain why as a kid, I would get 3-4 such infections a year, usually coinciding with exams or other times of high stress.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a cycle of addiction that my body goes through when I consume gluten. My initial reaction to eating gluten is generally a runny nose and sneezing. After a few hours though, eating more gluten temporarily relieves these very same symptoms, only to be followed by worsened symptoms. For the person who isn’t paying attention to this reaction cycle, the subconscious could easily learn an erroneous lesson: “Eating more gluten = feeling better,” and herein lies the real reason for food addiction. Even though it makes you feel worse in the end, the temporary relief or “pleasure” you gain from eating the offending food makes you want to eat it more. If you feel your nose is getting stuffy, your subconscious tells you that eating wheat will make it go away, even though it is actually the very thing that is causing it.

To succeed with any diet, you need to feel fulfilled and not deprived. This is why so many people fail with fad diets, and why many diets actually encourage you to “treat” yourself in moderation. With food allergies and intolerances, though, I tend to disagree with the “cheating a bit is ok” philosophy. That’s because it’s not a question of weight of washboard abs, it’s a question of your health and wellbeing. If you are Celiac, even the smallest amount of “cheating” can cause physical damage to your body. And if you’re intolerant or allergic to foods, eating them will only make you want to eat more and will undermine your overall health.

 Feel fulfilled by finding food alternatives that are allowed in your diet. You can eat cake that is gluten-free, dairy-free and free of refined sugars! You can still eat bread, you can still eat pizza and you can still have sticky ribs! You just need to learn how to adapt your recipes to your unique needs.

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