Saturday, April 2, 2011

Behavior & Diet: Food Allergies & Cravings

There is no doubt in my mind that we crave the very foods we are allergic too. At first, this concept seemed completely foreign and paradoxical to me. However, when I tried to eliminate sugar from my diet, I experienced withdrawal symptoms. I would obsess about nothing else other than getting my next fix, preferably in the form of a chocolate chip cookie or some other sweetened carbohydrate. It did not occur to me that I was addicted to sugar and grains.

When my allergy test came back, I was shocked to learn that I had food sensitivities to just about everything, but they were most severe in the foods I loved. I zeroed in on the dairy and removed it from my diet. I had already come to acknowledge and accept that I felt better when I simply avoided milk and milk products. Grains and sugar, however, were a very different story for me. I conveniently glossed over the part of the report that said I should be avoiding both. I'd never even heard of a sensitivity to sugar before - did such a thing really exist? I rationalized my way to continue eating these foods, but in the end I had to start removing grains and sugar from my diet because they were making me sick.

It is believed that we crave certain foods because they provide our bodies with an outside form of endorphins, called exorphins. We've all heard of endorphins, they make us feel good and dull pain. That little high we get from endorphins is what keeps us coming back for more. Exorphins are little proteins or opioid peptides that our body has difficulty breaking down. Our digestive tract is studded with opioid receptors, which create a feedback loop to the brain to form the brain-gut axis. When a protein binds to a receptor, it triggers a sense of eurphoria in the brain and the compulsion to consume more of the same food. Opioids have also been shown to stimulate a histamine (inflammatory) response, which is the body's reaction to an allergy. Casein in dairy and gluten in cow's milk both contain these addictive opioids, and sugar triggers their release in the brain.

Understanding the harm grains and sugar were causing my body really helped me on the right path, but giving them up also tested my will power fully. I'd like to tell you that I was able to go 'cold turkey', but the truth is, I've really only managed to give up grains so far. The battle with sugar continues.

Finding substitutes for the foods I craved helped prevent me from feeling deprived, and that made the whole process a lot easier. My white sugar was replaced with honey and dates and my grains with coconut and nut flours. Over time, I gradually learned to cook differently and I've found that I'm not missing the old foods nearly as much as I thought I would.


No comments: