In our honorable, never ending, quest to improve our body composition, the majority of people like to focus on supplements, training plans, macro targets and various nutritional strategies (such as carb back loading, cycling, ketosis, etc.).
Which is all very well.
But before all of that can (or should) even begin, there are some fundamentals that needs addressing.
Firstly, there needs to be a focus on food quality.
This is a topic for another day, and one which many of you will have heard discussed many times before.!
As you can probably imagine, my preference is to concentrate your nutritional lifestyle (I’m not a fan of the word ‘diet’) around single ingredient unprocessed foods.
But there’s an additional, extremely important, often under looked, step that must be taken before we can get into the more exciting stuff.
That is to address any food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies that we may have, and ensure that these are removed from the diet.
Doing that will help to put our body into a healthy state from which it can progress more rapidly towards our ultimate goals.
Yes, for some of you this may be a boring subject….
Reading about carb back loading, and the fact that someone tells you it’s ok to stuff your face with doughnuts can be far more interesting.
But it could be the reason you aren’t making the progress in the gym that you thought you would be – bearing in mind how well you eat, or how hard you train.
It could also be the reason for your poor skin, your IBS, your bloating, or even something such as Crohn’s or Colitis.
Before we go any further, it’s worth just clarifying what allergies, intolerances and sensitivities are, and what’s the difference between.
Allergies are normally an immediate reaction to a food you have eaten. The body’s immune system assumes that the food is harmful and creates antibodies to fight it off. This can then ultimately result in various (sometimes severe) symptoms, including stomach cramps, itchy skin, swelling of the face, skin rashes/hives, sickness, diarrhoea, chest pain and anaphylaxis.
Food intolerances are generally much more common than allergies, though many of the symptoms can be quite similar.
The primary difference is that intolerances do not generally elicit an immune system response, but rather the food that is eaten has perhaps upset the digestive system in some way.
Intolerances – unlike allergies – can often be dose dependent. By this I mean that a person may find that they can eat/drink a small amount of a certain food (a little milk in their coffee, for example) with no issues, but when the portion size increases (drinking a whole glass of milk), then that’s where the symptoms show themselves.
The most common intolerance is an intolerance to lactose – primarily found in dairy products.
The common symptoms of food intolerances are stomach pain, bloating, gas, stomach cramps and sickness.
Food sensitivities can give similar symptoms to allergies and intolerances. However, the response to them can often be much less immediate and delayed for a period of time, sometimes up to several days.
As well as the normal symptoms that allergies and intolerances can bring, sometimes sensitivities can be more subtle, and include things such as tiredness, blocked sinuses, small skin conditions, etc.
With food sensitivities it may be that the affected person is sometimes able to eat the food without any issues, but every once in a while will develop symptoms. It’s unclear why this is the case but it’s this, combined with the fact that symptoms are often delayed, that makes them difficult to diagnose.
The Guilty Foods
It’s possible to have reactions to any foods, but there are some common culprits.
Gluten and dairy are those which most people will have trouble with. Official stats for gluten intolerance especially would suggest that only a small percentage of the population are affected but my experience would suggest that it is much higher.
Aside from gluten and dairy, other commonly problematic foods include eggs, tomatoes, and nuts.
As previously mentioned, the symptoms can be wide ranging and include things such as gas, bloating, stomach cramps, constipation, poor energy levels, skin rashes, or blocked sinuses. Sometimes the reaction may be severe, sometimes very subtle.
It’s even possible that you have always suffered with some of these problems and just never really thought about it because you’ve become used to them over the years.
As previously mentioned your lack of progress in the gym could also be explained by frequent consumption of foods that you have reactions towards.
(note – please don’t just jump on this as an excuse though. The main reason for lack of progress is eating the wrong types of foods, not training hard enough, and not getting sufficient sleep/rest).
When we eat things we are allergic, intolerant or sensitive towards, it causes inflammation in our bodies.
Now inflammation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s needed to help our bodies heal. The inflammation we experience when we eat something we shouldn’t is our body’s way of trying to remove the food from its system.
But when we are chronically inflamed – which can occur if we repeatedly eat these foods – then that’s when we can have real problems.
The constant inflammation will increase cortisol secretion in the body and over time affect our insulin sensitivity. These things, in combination, will seriously affect our body’s capability to lose fat and build muscle.
Addressing the Problem
The simple solution is to remove the foods from your diet.
But that can be easier said than done.
Quite often it can be very difficult to even identify what is causing the problem.
Allergies can quite often be easier to work out because they normally reveal themselves fairly immediately after eating.
But intolerances and sensitivities can take longer to show themselves.
I have recently developed a sensitivity to almonds, which results in some small red rashes in specific places on my face. However, it occurs 2 days after eating the almonds.
Identifying the fact that something you ate 2 days ago is causing some small rashes on your face is not simple, and can take some real trial and error (not to mention expertise).
For some people, just ‘cleaning’ up their diet will help to solve the problems. Moving to a more Paleo approach (eating primarily unprocessed foods – meat, fish, veg and some fruit) will often help and then, if necessary, foods can gradually be reintroduced.
This is known as an Elimination diet. This is where you remove foods from the diet, as above, and gradually reintroduce foods and test for reactions.
It may be that simply moving to a Paleo style diet still won’t solve the problem, and more foods will need to be removed.
I’ve listed below a few of the others that you should consider removing first…
- All nuts
- All dairy (which you may have already removed if strictly Paleo)
- Beans / Lentils
Note that this isn’t a complete list – but is a good place to start.
In reality, you could have built up intolerances to anything you eat on a regular basis.
For weight trainers, building up intolerances/sensitivities to whey, casein, chicken and eggs can be especially common because these foods are largely predominant in a weight trainer’s diet.
Please also note that you can’t just go for a day without some of these foods and expect symptoms to disappear. I would suggest that you need to leave at least a week (often longer) to see if removal helps or not, before trying something else. It can be a very slow process.
I’ll also add here that ensuring optimal health of your gut will help your body to deal with some of these foods much better. The use of pre and probiotics, digestive enzymes, and glutamine, can all play a role in the health of our gut and our immune system.
Once the symptoms have disappeared, you can then start to gradually reintroduce foods. Again this is a slow process. Once you have gone for at least a week with no signs of issues, then you should pick a food group that you have removed, consume it one day and then remove again.
Leave around 3 days to check for symptoms and ,assuming there are no signs, you are probably ok to continue to consume that food going forward.
You can then test another food, using the same process.
Told you it could be slow!
Once you have identified the problematic food, this should be completely eliminated from your diet for a period of at least 4 months – thereby allowing your body to repair. You can then re-test to see if you still have any problems.
If you had extremely severe reactions to the food in the first place, I’d suggest you try to remove forever.
Lamb and Pears
If you really wanted to take action, it’s often thought that lamb and pears are two of the least problematic foods. You could, therefore, scale your diet back to eating only lamb and pears for a short period of time, allow the symptoms to disappear, and gradually reintroduce foods from there. That could be very dull to start with, but if you have severe symptoms, it might be something you want to consider.
Obviously be careful when doing this. It’s not suitable for everyone. A two food diet is obviously extremely restrictive and lacking in a variety of nutrients, so shouldn’t be done for an extended period of time. It can often be worth seeking professional advice before embarking on something such as this.
The above can obviously be a long slow process. To identify the cause much more rapidly, there are several types of food intolerance tests available that you may want to consider. These will often involve skin prick tests or even hair analysis.
However, these tests are notoriously inaccurate so will by no means definitely solve the problem. Some of them can also be particularly expensive.
Hope you found this article of use. It’s an important subject, and addressing these problems can have an extremely beneficial impact on your health. If you need any help in identifying foods that you may be having issues with, then please contact me.
This article was provided by nutritionist Greg Williams who is an expert at helping busy people lose fat fast and build muscle by optimizing their nutrition. Check out his awesome website at www.IamGregWilliams.com