You’ve tried every healthy eating plan and fad diet in the book, but can’t seem to lose those love handles. Sound familiar? It could be because the same good-for-you foods you’ve been religiously tucking into on your health kick are actually the problem – meaning you have an intolerance.
When you eat foods your body is sensitive to, it triggers inflammation, which studies have found is linked with weight gain. However, with a little detective work and the nasties off the menu, that excess baggage will slowly start to shift.
Intolerance or allergy?
An intolerance is when a type of food you eat causes irritation or inflammation in your body. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common include weight gain, bloating, headaches, skin problems, diarrhoea and constipation.
A food allergy is different. Here, the immune system responds to the food as if it were a threat. This results in immediate negative reactions such as rashes, stomach upset or, in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
Process of elimination
You can work out if you have a food intolerance by removing, then reintroducing foods from your diet. In her book, The Virgin Diet (Harlequin, $22.99), nutrition expert JJ Virgin suggests removing the common intolerance foods from your diet (see The Usual Suspects, below) for three weeks to allow your body to rest and reset. After 21 days, reintroduce gluten, soy, eggs and dairy, one each week for the next four weeks, and see if they trigger any reaction. But continue to avoid corn, peanuts, artificial sweeteners and sugar as much as possible.
Symptoms of intolerance can be slow to appear, so the best way for you to isolate an intolerance is to keep a food diary. Just jot down when and what you eat, plus any bad reactions you have in the days afterwards, then simply connect the dots!
Keep in mind that while short-term elimination diets are relatively safe, you should always chat to your doctor before changing your eating patterns, especially if you have health issues.
What can I eat?
Throughout the elimination period, stick to a plant-based, high-fibre diet with lean proteins such as free-range poultry, fish and grass-fed beef. Stock up on dark, leafy vegetables, salad greens, sweet potato, pumpkin, nuts (not peanuts), seeds, herbs and fruits including avocados, berries, lemons and limes. Use healthy fats for cooking such as coconut oil, ghee and canola oil. And, for salad dressings and salsas, go for extra virgin olive oil.
Feel the difference
If you discover you do have an intolerance that’s linked with weight gain, and remove the offending food from your diet, the results will appear quickly. Not only will you feel more energetic, but the bloating will disappear and you can finally say goodbye
to those extra kilos.
Four steps to success
1. Stop eating the common intolerance foods for three weeks.
2. Instead, eat a plant-based, high-fibre, lean- protein diet.
3. After three weeks, test one food type (gluten, soy, eggs, dairy) each week for four weeks to see how your body responds. Avoid peanuts, corn, sugar and artificial sweeteners during this time.
4. Keep a food diary to help you identify potential food sensitivities.
The usual suspects
Gluten is found in most grains, especially wheat, barley, rye and processed foods such as bread, pasta, cereal and baked and pre-packaged goods. There are now many gluten-free products on supermarket shelves but it’s important to read labels carefully as many are high in sugar.
Soy is in most Asian foods, tofu, energy bars and shakes, some protein powders, sauces and, of course, soy dairy products.
Dairy includes cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk, yoghurts, cheeses, butter and baked goods. While you cut it out, you will still need good sources of calcium to protect your bones, so stock up on sesame seeds, spinach and salmon, or take a calcium supplement.
Eggs contain acid that can cause inflammation. They are used to make baked goods, breads, custards, noodles, sauces and salad dressings.
Peanuts can trigger food allergies but cause inflammation, too. You will find them in baked goods, biscuits, cereals, muesli bars and Asian foods.
Corn makes an appearance in brekkie cereals, crackers, popcorn and corn-fed chicken, plus some flours and syrups.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners lurk around every corner, including in low-fat foods, baked goods, breads, sauces, fruit juices and soft drinks. If you simply must sweeten your food, xylitol or stevia are the best options.