Why Your Food Intolerance Is Not Really About The Food…

Food reactions can really make life challenging.  In fact, they can cause a lot of stress and fear, and take the enjoyment out of what should be a fun activity – eating.  Not knowing if a particular food (or even how much of a particular food) is going to trigger a distressing reaction means you are constantly feeling like you are taking a risk every time you eat. 

So…the first thing you do is stop eating that food, am I right?   And that works….for a while. 

Then, you start to notice that another food that you used to tolerate now upsets your system.  Time for that one to go, as well.  Ok, no big deal.

But before too long, you’ll find that yet another food sensitivity that rears its head.  And another.  And before you know it, you’ve reached the point where you are only eating from a narrow range of ‘safe’ foods that you know you can trust.  Eating out becomes a minefield, and you are sick to death of having to base your meal choices around only a few options. 

The thing is, you are not alone.  Up to 1 in 3 people living in industrialised countries such as ours report that they experience a reaction to at least one food.  And whilst intolerances often are lumped into the category of ‘food allergy’, true allergic reactions to food account for around 5% of all food reactions.  The remaining 95% fall into the somewhat vague category of ‘food sensitivity’ or food intolerance. 

What Does A Food Sensitivity Look (And Feel) Like?

Of course, some food sensitivities are obvious – you may eat a certain food (wheat or bread are common culprits!) and notice that it upsets your tummy, causes bloating or triggers a migraine. 

But there are also food reactions that can be delayed, and therefore more difficult to pinpoint.  These can cause symptoms that you may not even think to link to a certain food – such as difficulty sleeping, low moods or anxiety, fatigue, joint pain or hormonal imbalances

What Can Cause Food Sensitivities?

Instead of looking at certain foods as being the culprit, I feel it makes much more sense to look at what is causing the body to react to a food that should otherwise be innocuous, and nourishing.

The short answer here is that to me, a food intolerance it is almost always about what is going on inside the gut.

Here are a few possible culprits that can be playing a central role in food reactions:

  • An unhealthy microbiome (your gut flora).   If your gut bacteria is in a state of imbalance between healthy vs not-so-healthy varieties within your digestive tract, this can cause you to become more reactive to foods that otherwise wouldn’t cause any issues.  Your microbiome is flexible – it actually changes in response to what is happening in your world.  The types of food you are eating, your stress levels, how active you are, any medications you are taking and even your vitamin D levels can all influence your gut bacterial composition.
  • An enzyme deficiency.  Enzymes are present in the digestive system to help you break down your food into smaller molecules so they are easier to absorb.  When your body isn’t producing enough of a particular enzyme, it is more difficult for your body to digest your food properly, and the large molecules can trigger upsets.  Whilst sometimes this can be genetic, or be part of the ageing process, your enzyme production can also be linked to the health of your microbiome, and therefore, is also a bit of a symptom in and of itself.
  • Nutrient deficiencies.  Our digestive tract is continually repairing and renewing – and for this it needs a steady supply of nutrients so that it can perform this function well.  Quality protein (from wholefoods like poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, nuts & seeds or legumes), zinc, and a steady supply of prebiotics (foods that feed the gut and help to strengthen the digestive process) are crucial to restoring optimal gut health.  And in a true ‘chicken and egg’ situation, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat hinges on how healthy your gut is in the first place – the healthier it is, the more effectively you’ll be able to absorb and utilise nutrients.

Why Avoiding The Food Isn’t The Answer

Whilst it can be tempting to simply start avoiding a certain food (and yes, I certainly agree that there are plenty of foods that can be beneficial to stay away from in the long run), it is important to recognize that eliminating certain foods or food groups can actually make the whole situation worse.  Sure, there’s likely to be some short-term relief, but in the long term this can be a double-edged sword.  It can be very difficult to obtain all the nutrients and beneficial compounds your body needs for repair, and to re-establish a healthy digestive tract lining on a restricted diet – meaning that you become increasingly reactive over time, requiring more foods to be avoided.  This isn’t sustainable, and doesn’t do anything to address what’s gone out of balance in the first place. 

Build Tolerance At The Ground Level

Food sensitivities are one of the areas I receive a lot of joy out of working with.  When I hear someone report to me that they were able to eat a ‘normal’ food at a barbecue instead of having to feel stressed or fearful about their previously limited options, that just makes my day. 

When I’m working with food sensitivities, the focus is always on doing what we can to build tolerance. In other words – what can we do to address the underlying cause, so that the body doesn’t over-react, and a greater variety of foods can be eaten, so that the fun can come back into food.  This is quite different from staring down the barrel of a lifetime of elimination diets or conducting expensive food intolerance testing (to me, a food intolerance test is more often than not simply a reflection of the gut health anyway) and I prefer to get straight to where the problem arises.  Making sure that we are supporting all layers of the digestive system and individualising this to each person.

We do this in a twofold way – rest and reset.

  • Focusing on symptom relief to allow the body a ‘window’ to rest and repair processes to occur.  We do this by pinpointing the type of reaction that is occurring, and where the problem is most likely originating.
  • Reset with the goal of improving tolerance over time, with the help of targeted, personalised natural medicines that help restore balance at the ground level. 

If you’ve suffered unnecessarily with food intolerance, there’s never a better time to seek help.  We can help you make sense of things, by providing you with a clear plan towards getting your quality of life back.


food reaction, intolerance, sensitivity

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