A few people have recently told me they are allergic to everything. I decided to write a post about what this means and how to deal with them. People who are allergic to everything often have outward signs of their allergy: eczema, asthma, hives, itching, headaches, sinus infections, they feel stuffed up, can’t breath, feel tired and overwhelmed.
Allergic to everything is no fun and there is a not-so-easy way out of this mess and it comes in the form of a diet called an allergy elimination diet.
What Does Diet Have to do with Allergies?
When I tell people to try a diet to combat their allergies, the first thing that comes in their mind is “What does a diet have do with allergies?” After all, they may be allergic to something in your environment. Environmental allergies happens to a lot of people in spring when there are dramatic increases in pollen, but it can also occur in winter when we are spending more time inside and there is less fresh air in the house. But there are good reasons why, even if you have environmental allergies that you would want to try the allergy elimination diet:
The key to understanding using diet to control your allergies are these points:
- The first is that there is very little you can do to change the outside world. Yes, you can stay inside when the pollen counts are high, but what if your problem is the mold in the house? Food allergies are something you can change easily: simply avoid the food and you solve the problem. By reducing your food allergies, you are reducing the overall “allergic load” on your body, so that when you do encounter environmental allergies, they are less likely to impact you.
- The second reason why using diet works to reduce allergies has to do with your immune system. Most people are unaware that over 80 percent of the immune system is located surrounding the digestive system. This makes sense because, when you eat foods, you are bringing the outside world into your body and your body has to determine whether this “outside world” or food is safe or not. When you are constantly eating foods that you are allergic to, you cause your immune system to become hyper-aware – leading to a more allergic you.
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance
Before we move on to the diet, I should spend a moment explaining food allergies and food intolerances:
A food allergy is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to a certain substance in a food. It means that your immune system is attacking the food you are eating as if it were a foreign invader. The body produces immunoglobulins (Ig for short) that attach to the protein in the food and then you immune system creates inflammation to try and rid itself of the foreign “invasion”. It is fairly easy to discover food allergies as there are a wide variety of skin and blood tests that can measure your body’s immune response (or the amount of Igs in your body).
In sensitive individuals, the ingestion of this substance can cause an allergic reaction in the skin, digestive tract or respiratory tract. Itching, headache, abdominal pain and choking are some of the possible symptoms
Food intolerance on the other hand refers to a physiological response that does not involve activation of the immune system. Most often, intolerance occurs when the body is unable to metabolise (digest) a food or one of its components.
The classic food intolerance is lactose intolerance, where your body lacks the ability to digest the sugar in lactose. There are many other intolerances that are the result of different parts of the immune system being activated (other than the Igs), sensitivities to certain foods, inability to digest other foods, or a toxic reaction.
Unlike allergy, which is triggered by a food protein, all foods and their components have the potential to cause intolerance in a given individual. This is why one can be intolerant to components as diverse as a sugar (e.g. lactose and fructose), a food additive (e.g. colourings) or a pharmacologically active compound (e.g. caffeine and histamine).
Although food intolerance usually takes place in the digestive system, the symptoms associated with it are not always limited to abdominal pain, flatulence, nausea or diarrhoea. In fact, such non-specific manifestations as fatigue, irritability, headache and a rash may occur, making it even more difficult to make a diagnosis.
The most common food allergies and intolerances are: eggs, grains (especially gluten grains), soy, nuts, shell fish and seafood.
Allergy Elimination Diet
The best way to uncover your allergies is to do an allergy elimination diet. You will find different types of these diets all over, but this is the one I recommend:
For two weeks, remove the following foods:
- Food Additives: Including monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial preservatives,sweeteners, flavors and all food colorings.
- Grains: Avoid all gluten-based grains, including: wheat, spelt, barley, kamut, rye, oats or triticale. Avoid pasta, flour, breads, cereals, cookies and other foods made with gluten grains. You should also exclude corn, along with high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, vegetable oils, corn chips and popcorn.
- Alcohol: Avoid beer, wine and other alcohols. If you are really strict, you want to avoid mouth wash with alcohol and cough medicine containing alcohol.
- Citrus Fruits: Including, tangerines, oranges, grapefruits, limes, lemon and any other citrus fruits.
- Shellfish: These include, crab, lobster, clams, mussels and other shellfish.
- Nuts: All nuts, including peanuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and other nuts.
- Diary: All sources of dairy, including butter, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, whey protein, yogurt, sour cream and other dairy foods.
- Soy: Soy is in a lot of processed foods, so you have to watch our for this, including tempeh, edamame, soy nuts, textured soy protein, tofu.
- Eggs: Yolks and the whites.
- Sweeteners: honey, fructose, dextrose, maple syrup, white sugar, maltose.
Foods that may be allowed include:
- Grains: You can choose any of these grains: rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, foods such as rice cakes or crackers made from these grains are okay.
- Fruits and Vegetables: All vegetables and fruits are okay except the citrus fruits and strawberries. Salad greens are generally great, as are broccoli, cabbage, carrots and other vegetables.
- Beans: All beans are okay except soy beans.
- Protein: Meat is generally okay.
If you find you react to a food that is generally considered safe (I’ve seen this with potatoes), then add that to your avoid list. The foods you crave, unfortunately are often the foods you are allergic to, so be prepared to have some serious cravings. The foods you crave are also the ones you should reintroduce first. I generally recommend that you stay away from all allergic-like foods for two weeks and then start testing. You test by trying just one food at a time (per day), you should also consider eating a lot of it to make sure of the reaction. Wait a day or two and then try the next food.
There is hope if you are allergic to everything. Following an allergy elimination diet is hard, but it is the best way to find foods that don’t agree with you.
Read also: Why You Should Not Go For Extreme Diet
What to do if you can’t eat anything
There is a food trap that some people fall in to where the number of foods that they feel that they can eat slowly dwindles down to almost nothing.
I’m going to suggest to you that this problem doesn’t make you crazy, but it is largely your brain’s fault (or maybe it is better described as your genes fault).
This problem is probably best explained by the book Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Omnivores have a problem that no other type of eater has: deciding what to eat. A cow, for example, never wonders what it is going to put in its’ mouth, the grass it is walking on is always the answer. Likewise, you don’t see lions or sharks contemplating their dinner choices; if it is running or swimming away then it is on the menu.
We omnivores, though, have to test foods to see if they are okay for us. The key to understand why this might be a problem is to understand that omnivores attach how they feel after they eat something with whether the food is good for them or not. This is a handy tool to have: You eat some berries you think are okay to eat and later you get a stomach ache; next time you see that berry, you stay away from it.
The problem is that this omnivore-avoidance-system isn’t very accurate. Studies have shown that people are poor predictors of what might be good or bad for them. Part of the problem also lies in the complexity of the food we eat; many of the meals we eat are a mixture of many different foods. To add to the difficulty deciding what to eat is that we might be feeling bad for other reasons and just think it is the food we are eating.
So, when you are spiraling out of control and unable to find anything to eat, consider that many things you think are not good for you, may be okay.
What to do next?
Let’s say that you have thought about the above and tried to add in more foods, but still find that there are foods that you still cannot eat. Here is a plan for taking your diet to the next level.
Many people want to turn to testing to find out what foods they are allergic to. My experience is that testing generally doesn’t help. Testing done on the skin is silly as the part of the immune system responsible for protecting the skin is different from the immune system in your gut. Blood testing gets you a bit closer, but will only show foods that you are allergic to and not those you have intolerance to. The best testing is removal and reintroducing of foods.
Your brain is closely tied to your digestive system. Scientists are now calling this the Gut/Brain axis: as you think, so your gut feels. If you are stressed out or anxious, your gut will respond. Many people with digestive problems find that they go away when they are on vacation (and they usually eat worse than they normally do). Consider taking supplements for anxiety such as Kava Kava, theanine, Ucalm, or others.
Some of your problems may be due to not having enough digestive enzymes. Get a very high quality digestive enzyme and see if that helps.
The bacteria in your gut may also be part of the problem. Try using a product called Zyflamend that is used for inflammation, but I have found works wonders on the gut. You can also go on an anti-yeast or anti-parasite program; make sure you take enough of the herbs for it to be successful.
Some combination of the above will work for you. It is a difficult path to return to normalish eating, but one well worth the journey.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If I am breastfeeding, should I avoid certain foods so that my child does not develop allergies?
You do not need to avoid milk, eggs, peanuts or other foods while breastfeeding. There is no convincing evidence that avoiding certain foods will prevent your child from developing an allergy.
How do I know if my child has a food allergy?
Most of the time, your child will eat a food more than once before developing allergy symptoms. For example, the first time your child is exposed to nuts, he or she will probably have no reaction. If he or she becomes allergic to nuts, the next exposure may be more severe.
How can you test for food intolerance?
A common food intolerance is lactose, fructose, sorbitol and histamine intolerance, as well as gluten intolerance (celiac disease). There is also the alternative medical theory of IgG4-mediated intolerances.
Tests: with the help of breath tests (fructose, sorbitol, lactose intolerance) and blood tests (histamine intolerance, gluten intolerance) you can test whether you have a food intolerance.