Written by John Immel,
IntroductionIf you're plagued with strong cravings for the exact food you have an adverse reaction to, you may be dealing with an addictive allergy. Addictive allergies present a strange paradox - how can you possibly be addicted to something you're allergic or intolerant to?
In addictive allergies, the reaction tends to be relatively low grade - it's bad enough that you feel unwell after eating the food, but not so bad that it motivates you to remove it from your diet completely. Also, people who regularly eat a food they are allergic to tend to develop a certain level of tolerance and may not even notice the digestive repercussions anymore.
I was one of those people...
If you are experiencing digestive distress and suspect an addictive allergy, or are struggling to give up a known allergen, this article will walk you through the most common culprits of addictive allergies, the impact they have on digestive health and, most importantly, the steps you can take to overcome them.
Common CulpritsWhen foods are categorized as being "off limits," you may have noticed that they seem so much more tempting. Knowing what foods you are allergic or intolerant to often isn't enough to ensure you can completely avoid them in your diet. For example, you may feel congested and heavy every time you eat a pizza, or anxious and irritable after a bar of chocolate, but yet you still crave (and eat) these foods.
The cause isn't just psychological. Your body may be craving the nutrients in those goods. When you do attempt to remove these foods for your diet, you might feel some withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawals can be powerful and eventually cause you to cave and start the addictive cycle once again. Whether psychological or physical, it is a known fact that many foods become even more desirable as you try to restrict them.
Unfortunately, the foods that are the most common allergens tend to be the most addictive. They are also difficult to avoid as they show up in almost all processed foods. Some common culprits of addictive allergies include:
The Impact of Addictive AllergiesAddictive allergies can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, especially because, by the nature of addictions, you tend to eat the offending substance quite frequently. Ingestion of an allergic substance triggers an inflammatory response in the gut. Recurring inflammation in the digestive tract can destroy the villi of the small intestine and cause malabsorption of nutrients.
Chronic inflammation may also damage the integrity of the gut wall and lead to leaky gut. The immune system tries to protect the body from anything that passes through the gut barrier into the blood. While food particles are viewed as nutrients inside the intestines, they are perceived as an enemy or foreign invader if they pass through the gut wall and into the bloodstream undigested. In leaky gut, allergies may worsen as the immune system is on high alert.
Addictive allergies can also trigger a binge and purge cycle, and may lead to unhealthy eating patterns and even an eating disorder. It can be very difficult to eliminate and resist a food you are supposed to avoid, and this type of restriction can provoke binging on that substance. Indulging in this food will not, however, bring the desired effect. In fact, it will likely make you feel much worse as your body tries to cope with the allergen, and purging may feel like the best option.
"I was allergic to red meat for five years. Every time I ate it, it would cause a dramatic upset in my digestive system. It took me a long time to work through this issue and fully resolve it. I can tell you that over those five years, a hamburger seemed very delicious to me. It seemed highly desirable, partly because beef is a really dense source of protein and blood building nutrients. I tend to run a little bit anemic and so that red meat just looked so good. It was like my body knew that it would help rebuild my blood, and that it would be supportive to me. I'd get strong cravings and I'd think, "How good would it be to just eat a one big juicy beef burger?" However, when I ate the red meat, my body went into a tailspin. I would get rashes. then I would want to get it out of my system as quickly as possible. I wanted purge it by taking laxative. I knew I just somehow had get it out of my system to stop the discomfort. The point that I am trying to make is that many allergies - and it seems like a paradox - but many allergies actually become obsessions, and even addictions."
Overcoming Addictive AllergiesOvercoming addictive allergies can be tricky business. In many cases, ingesting the offending substance can actually make you feel good in the short-term. Take your morning cup of coffee as an example. You get an immediate high and energy boost, even though in the long-term it frays your nerves and damages the adrenals. All addictions have this quality - what hurts the body appears to offer some short-term relief, and that's what makes them so confusing. However, the long-term effects can cause significant damage.
Find the SourceRemoving the foods you're allergic to is the first and most obvious step to overcoming an addictive allergy, but this is easier said than done. Do an elimination diet if you're not sure which foods you have a reaction too. It is beneficial to undergo an allergy test to verify your concerns.
Learn how to interpret your food cravings. What about the hamburger are you craving? A source of iron? A source of protein? The cheese on top? If you can identify what your body needs, you can find non-allergens that satisfy it. Cravings don't come from thin air, they come for a reason.
Substitute with a Healthy AlternativeNext, find a healthy alternative that authentically gives you what you need. This will make change easier and more realistic to maintain. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee to get you through your afternoon slump, take a short nap if possible or go to bed one hour earlier. Or, if naps don't perk you up, try a stimulating cup of ginger tea and a short walk. In my case, instead of eating red meat, I researched other blood building foods. Now I don't crave burgers as much.
Some other examples of healthy alternatives and remedies for common addictions:
Even if you find a healthy alternative, there may be a couple of days, or even weeks, during the withdrawal period that feel uncomfortable. It is difficult to give up something with an addictive quality, even if you know it is causing you harm. Be as disciplined as possible during the hard parts and the silver lining in the cloud will appear as you wean from the dependency.
Combat CravingsStrong cravings tend to come from a distorted appetite. Your appetite goes haywire if you are regularly eating foods you have an inflammatory response to. Cleaning out the gut and regaining digestive strength (agni) will restore a balanced appetite and reduce insatiable cravings. Consider a kitchari cleanse to eliminate allergenic foods and gently scrub out your gut.
Restore Gut StrengthEven once you have overcome your addiction to an allergenic food, your intestines can be left damaged and depleted. Reduce any residual intestinal inflammation with Pitta pacifying foods, particularly pear juice to soothe the digestive tract and pomegranate to reduce inflammation.
There are also a number of Ayurvedic herbs, such as cooling aloe vera and demulcent shatavari that are known for their restorative qualities, helping heal the intestinal lining. Amalaki is generally the top choice in Ayurveda to reduce inflammation resulting from allergies and restore the integrity of the gut wall.
ConclusionIt seems counterintuitive to continue eating foods you have an allergic reaction to. However, the most common allergens are often the most addictive and near impossible to avoid in processed foods. Generally, the allergic reaction or intolerance itself is not so serious that you are forced to remove it from the diet completely, but that does not mean your digestive tract is getting away unharmed.
The gut becomes irritated and inflamed with each bite of an allergenic food. Even though the food may taste delicious and bring some temporary satisfaction, the long-term effects can be detrimental. Addictive allergies can trap you in an ongoing cycle that feels impossible to break.
If you suspect you are dealing with an addictive allergy, it is a good idea to get tested for allergens to verify your concerns. It requires discipline to remove addictive foods from your diet but Ayurveda has many tools to help you identify and eliminate the source of the problem. Long-term, Ayurveda also offers guidance on diet and lifestyle to reduce inflammation resulting from addictive allergies, and healing herbs to restore gut strength.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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