Allergies, Intolerances, and…Weight Gain

January 3, 2018

The classic picture of someone with food intolerances such as gluten, dairy, or soy intolerance is of a chronically thin, pale, listless individual, hovering on the edge of more normal life. Add allergies to the mix and the classic picture gets worse, with clear impairments manifesting both seasonally and year round.

But what if the patient doesn’t fit the classic picture?

Some of our greatest successes at COEM have been with robust, even overtly obese, individuals who rocket through school, sports, and careers, yet complain of stomach pains, fatigue, joint problems, headaches, muscle aches and a thousand varied symptoms that never seem (at least to outside observers) to slow them down. Who would believe their true level of discomfort in the face of that kind of history? We do.
When weight gain accompanies a cluster of symptoms such as listed above, and diets of many different types are followed for weeks on end without much weight loss or relief, we have to think of food allergies and intolerances. For food allergies, placing the patient in our allergy testing room is often enough to throw off the misconception that favored, much-eaten foods couldn’t possibly be part of the problem. Most patients are astonished to see their arm exhibit the angry, raised, red wheals of full-blown allergy to some of their assuredly healthful food choices, but simply aren’t healthful for their own individual body chemistry. A period of 30 to 60 days avoidance may be enough to regain tolerance to the food if then eaten NO MORE than once every 4 to 7 days, but not always. In some cases, longer avoidance, occasionally permanent avoidance, is necessary in order for the patient to feel truly well.

Unlike allergy, for food intolerance, as we’ve written before, it takes a trial strictly off that entire category of foods for at least 4 weeks and often as much as 12 weeks (3 months) before reaching a true gauge of what benefits could be gained by consistent avoidance. The 3 most common intolerances are to:

1) Gluten—in all foods containing wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, barley, and non-gluten-free oats. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy sauce, flour thickeners, etc. are common hidden sources of gluten.

2) Dairy products—in all foods containing milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, whey solids, casein (also sometimes found in soy or rice milk cheeses), etc.

3) Soy products—in all foods containing tofu, soy milk, soy protein, TVP, large amounts of soy lecithin, etc.
Unfortunately, gluten, dairy, and soy all seem to cross-react against each other in terms of the incidence of intolerance and often times all three categories must be strictly avoided for complete relief of all symptoms.

What happens when the intolerant person who has intractable obesity starts avoiding their trigger foods? Often they begin to lose weight, slowly and steadily, without nearly the effort required before. Part of the solution is that their symptoms of fatigue, joint pain, headache, or GI symptoms begin to fade after 4 to 12 weeks on the diet, which gives them much more energy to actively exercise. But mostly it seems that the avoidance of intolerant foods allows the metabolism to heal, the high cortisol levels (triggered by the stress of mal-digested foods) to recede to normal levels, and tendency to insulin resistance to normalize, so weight gain, especially central mid-section obesity, is lost. As the diet is carefully continued, they heal. Now that’s true robustness!