Before my PhD program - which required me to narrow down to the major (sugar addiction) - I had studied food intolerances.
Many books on this topic start with food reactions, then move on to chemicals in our homes and offices, gasoline fumes, and more. As important as these things are, they are not about nutrition.
My concern for food intolerances has always been their association with addiction.
Recently, I "attended" a webinar by J. Virgo, whose first book was (I think) was about food intolerances and how to eliminate those foods to improve health and lose weight. The webinar rekindled my interest in food intolerance and addiction.
Common triggers for food intolerances include chocolate, corn, soy, wheat (or other foods containing gluten), peanuts, dairy products, eggs, sugars and other sweeteners.
What does food intolerance look like?
Signs and symptoms can include headache/migraine, joint pain, fatigue, drowsiness, heart palpitations, depression, irritability, stomach pain, bloating, and many more.
Since the digested food travels through the bloodstream, the effects of intolerance can appear almost anywhere in the body.
Food reactions may be the same every time a food is eaten, such as a rash.
Or reactions may vary - eg, a non-itchy rash once and itching with no rash again.
The reaction may be cumulative. Perhaps a small portion of the food does not cause a reaction, but eating a portion of it again that day, or several days in a row, does cause a reaction.
Addiction is another possible reaction that may develop over time.
What causes food intolerances?
The reasons are many, but let's keep it simple.
One reason is genetic intolerance or a tendency towards it.
We can become intolerant of the food we eat too often or in large quantities. Overeating consumes enzymes specific to the digestion of this food, so complete digestion is prevented.
This may cause improperly digested food particles to travel through the digestive system and bloodstream, triggering an immune reaction. Undigested and unabsorbed food does not provide any nutrients.
We can also react to the food we eat with another trigger food. So the list of trigger foods may grow, eventually leading to malnutrition.
Food interactions may change over time
The guiding principle of the human body is balance.
When a trigger food is first eaten, the body attempts to restore balance by ridding itself of the offending food. It prevents absorption by attaching antibodies to the partially digested food while it is in the intestine. This may be successful in eliminating the food before it passes into the bloodstream.
If food enters the bloodstream, it can lead to inflammation. The acute reaction may be brief, and the body may return to balance quickly.
If someone continues to eat a trigger food over time, the body undergoes adaptation. The immune system may become slower (or less able) to respond. The reaction may now appear more slowly than the acute reaction. Signs or symptoms may last longer, sometimes for hours or days.
How can this turn into an addiction to food?
The immune response to a triggered food includes the release of stress hormones, opiates such as endorphins (beta-endorphins) and chemical mediators such as serotonin. This combination can produce temporary relief from symptoms through the analgesic effect of endorphins and serotonin, as well as elevating mood and a sense of relaxation.
In this way, eating exciting food may make a person feel better almost immediately and even believe that the food is beneficial.
The release of endorphins usually involves a concomitant release of dopamine. The combination of these two brain chemicals and serotonin makes up what I always call the "addictive package." Avoiding food may lead to withdrawal.
After long-term use, someone may eat the trigger food not to feel the pleasure of the "high" chemical, but to relieve distress and withdraw without it. It is almost a textbook addiction.
How does intolerance/addiction affect health?
When someone addicted to a trigger food continues to eat more of it, the immune system must continue to adapt, and they may become hypersensitive, reacting to more and more foods — especially those eaten with the trigger foods, or with sugar.
Continuous demand on the immune system can lead to immune depletion and degenerative reactions, depending on genetic vulnerabilities. The above signs and symptoms are just the beginning.
It's very rare for me to write, comment, or poke around online, but after thinking about the idea I decided to share with you some of my thoughts on what fitness is, what it's really about, and who should be considered fit. Of course that's only my opinion at this point in history, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless. I am writing this, admittedly, out of disappointment. I am constantly reading people-friendly articles, newsletters and blogs in order to learn and improve myself in this industry we call fitness, but recently I've come across a number of people who are very fit to draw lines in the sand (in terms of fitness), in my opinion, you don't really need me to be there.
Now you've heard me say it a million times! Fitness is usually (technically) defined in a way that relates to optimal levels of:
Body Composition (fat vs. lean body mass)
While this is true and I certainly agree with it, I think what we are talking about is a quantitative way of looking at a qualitative issue. Yes, sports. How far, how much, how low, how high, how strong, how far, how high, how long - these are the things we often associate with sports. In America we tend to be a quantitative society. We want to know how much money a person has, who has the most friends, who spends the most on clothes, who has the least body fat, who can press the most bench, and who can run the longest distance in the least amount of time. We are obsessed with numbers, quantities and saving points.
So I ask the question: Is fitness really a quantitative thing? Or could fitness be a qualitative thing? Maybe a combination of both? what do you think?
The only thing I can say about this is that fitness (for me) is more than how many times you can lift the weight, how far you can run or if you are flexible enough to put your feet behind your head or not. For me, fitness is about things that can't always be measured with numbers, it's about more than a number, weight, distance, and point.
I tell my clients that we all have strengths and weaknesses at different stages of our lives. At 24, I had 9% body fat over the course of a year, could squat 700 pounds and bench press 405 pounds for reps. I can't do that anymore. But I can do 35 pull-ups, stand on a stationary ball for as long as possible, and touch my face with my knee when stretching, all the things I couldn't do as a 24-year-old monster kid. Were you fitter then or now?
Take a look at the people around you. What is their story? What are their experiences? Are they fat? Are they too skinny? Maybe they are really weak and can't lift much weight. Maybe they have a low level of stamina and can't run long distances before they explode. Think about it for a moment and then ask yourself: If their current level is better than it was previously, is the fact that they are not living up to your idea of fitness that should really matter? If you think about any of these things, they all depend on one thing: your perception of that person. I take the position that physical fitness evolves as a person goes through life. What you thought about fitness early in your life may not be the same idea you have about fitness later. I encourage you to embrace fitness throughout your life no matter what its current face.
to improve! improve somehow. You may not always be able to do what you did when you were young, but there are ways you can become better than you were. And I've seen people who were very empty like young men who steadily improved their level of physical fitness as they got older. One of my clients, Lisa, told me that she (in her sixties) is in the best shape of her adult life. Isn't that what fitness is all about? If you're really thinking about fitness, isn't it about getting better and improving and doing what you need to do to feel better about yourself and your physical body? Aren't these things mostly about quality rather than quantity?
I think so. I think fitness has an infinite number of faces and takes on an infinite number of properties. I encourage you to try not to see decency in such a narrow range that you forget that decency is, above all, about people. It's about people getting better, not being the best. Fitness isn't a sport, it's not a race, and nobody scores. Fitness is about you as an individual. You may be a massively successful athlete like Lance Armstrong or Drew Brees (both are fit) or you may be like my client Lisa (also a fit person) who decided in her sixties that she wanted to walk with more energy, feel more stable and be able to play with her grandchildren.