food pyramid pie chartFor decades, advertising has been informing the public of the various “answers” to the age old question: How can I “lose” 10 pounds immediately? From cutting-edge weight-loss drugs to innovative exercise equipment, the press never fails to find a way to make a commercial or place a banner on a website which grabs your attention at shedding a few pounds. Recently, the most effective weight-loss “secret” has been giving up certain trigger foods such as wheat or dairy to drop a few pounds. However, food “allergy” diets have the ability to evolve into an eating disorder in the blink of an eye, as the results seem effective when you cut a few pounds and feel healthier. Annakeara Stinson, featured in the February 2014 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine, cut wheat out of her diet when her doctor indicated that her stomach problems might be the result of intolerance towards gluten. Within one month, Annakeara had shed fifteen pounds and earned the affection of her college peers, having thought that cutting out wheat was the key to her success. After that month, Annakeara’s diet took a turn for the worse. She lost her appetite, was constantly irritable, and her physical complexion turned gray and feeble. “My gluten intolerance became an easy excuse for what turned into an eating disorder,” said Annakeara.

According to Scott Sicherer, MD, of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, “Many people are avoiding foods because of misunderstandings, not true allergies.” While you might see immediate results, it is important to understand the differences between allergies and intolerances as a lack of a balanced diet can lead to an unhealthy situation. The difference between the two lies in the details. Allergies are biological situations where your body believes a certain food is foreign, releasing histamines to combat the food, and in turn causing physical symptoms including swollen eyes, dizziness, wheezing, and itchy skin. Unlike allergies, food intolerances are not autoimmune reactions but are caused by the lack of a certain digestive protein for a certain food element such as lactose in milk. This may create isolated symptoms including gas, bloating, or diarrhea which may last until the food has completely finished its course in your gastrointestinal system. The difference between the two is that while food intolerances may create unpleasant circumstances, unlike with food allergies, you should be able to eat limited quantities of trigger foods.

While there are certain disorders such as celiac disease, a somewhat rare form of extreme gluten intolerance (affecting 1% of the US population) which damages the small intestine, it is important to differentiate whether you have a food allergy or food intolerance. Don’t use intolerances as your excuse to have an unhealthy diet. According to nutritionist Lauren Schmitt, food intolerances are seen as “a judgment-free way to have an unhealthy relationship with food that’s socially acceptable.” If you suspect you may have a food allergy, look to have it diagnosed by a team of professionals as Dr. Dennis, Medical Director of Timberline Knolls Treatment Center, vouches for the ease of valid allergy testing. While cutting out a certain food may seem to give the answer to dropping a few pounds, it is crucial to recognize the harm you may be doing to yourself. Ask yourself: Is it an allergy, intolerance, or eating disorder?