I have food sensitivities, I’m not just a picky eater!

Headlines that include any phrase relating to, and including, food sensitivities, intolerances, gluten-free, lactose-free and sugar-free catch my attention. Recently I was flipping through a glossy food magazine (from back to front, as I do for photos first, advertisements last) and I stopped to read an article about food intolerances. What I read, though, was not in favor of helping food intolerant people create a more manageable diet, or even a first-hand story of someone who had figured out a system that works for them, but instead was an incredibly accusatory, know-it-all style of article that stated people with food sensitivities (or anything other than a medically diagnosed, and therefor valid, food allergy) are “just plain fussy”. Whoa. Who you callin’ fussy? Me? You callin’ me fussy? Put up your dukes, glossy food magazine, because I take serious offense to that statement.

Another mainstream magazine wrote about the difficulty in questioning whether a food intolerance is really a problem of the gut or simply an excuse for “picky eaters”, as well as about the fashionability of food intolerances these days.

Again: whoa.

Something I learned early on in my food sensitivity days was not only the difference between food allergies and food intolerances/sensitivities, but also that the latter is much more difficult to figure out. An allergy is an immune-system response in which your body mistakes a certain food for a harmful invader and creates antibodies to fight it, with symptoms that can come on very quickly (anaphylaxis, hives, etc); shellfish and peanuts are often used examples of a food allergy. Think of an allergy like the cut&dried version: it’s more black & white, easier to diagnose by a doctor, and because of this can be (but not always) easier to manage than a food sensitivity.

In contrast, a food sensitivity is a response from your gastrointestinal system, a result of poor food absorption from the intestines into the bloodstream, followed by symptoms such as (yes, i’m saying yukkie words here): gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or abdominal pain, and sometimes right away (I’ve experienced symptoms within 15 minutes of eating a food I shouldn’t have) or after several hours. For me, other factors like anxiety, stress, over-excitement, lack of sleep and alcohol can also play a role in how my gastrointestinal system reacts to food.

So why do I get so irritated when I read articles that label me as a “picky eater” who chooses a food sensitivity because it’s “fashionable”, written by a person who has never experienced the (incredibly unpleasant, embarrassing, uncomfortable) results of a food sensitivity? Because I’ve spent years feeling awful after meals, and not knowing why. Because I’ve spent countless hours with first western doctors, then Naturopaths trying to find a manageable diet solution. Because I know how much better I feel when I avoid the foods I’m sensitive to.

So if you are wondering if you have a food sensitivity, don’t take these kinds of articles to heart. Do your best to try and figure out what foods don’t sit well with you by first keeping a journal, noting if there are any factors that make digestion easier or worse, and then go see a Naturopath to help you get on your way to a solution. And trash that glossy food magazine article in the recycling on the way.

~ written for Willowtree and shared on Foodists


9 Responses to “I have food sensitivities, I’m not just a picky eater!”

  1. Posted on May 20th, 2011


    (That was all I was going to say, but the site complained that it was too short!)

  2. Posted on May 20th, 2011

    a short comment is better than no comment ~ thanks joseph.
    ~ j

  3. Posted on May 22nd, 2011

    Great article, thanks Jackie!

  4. Posted on May 22nd, 2011

    I’m infamous for teasing people for food choices, but it’s all in jest of course. It’s your body and you’re the only expert opinion that matters. I think what you’re doing here and on Willow Tree is fabulous and will help many people come to terms with their own dietary challenges without having to sacrifice flavour or enjoyment of good food. Keep it up Jackie!

  5. Posted on May 22nd, 2011

    thanks jules & mark! tina & i have been ovewhelmed by the positive comments from people both from foodists and willowtree itself, either because they themselves have food sensitivities or their partner/child/parent/friend does. we both struggled for a long time thinking we would never be able to go out for a yummy restaurant meal, or even cook one ourselves, without suffering later. but we’ve figured it out, and now we’re here to help!
    ~ j

  6. Posted on June 13th, 2011

    Jackie, I agree totally! and it’s very hard when your food sensitivity is something that’s very common. Mine is onions and garlic, especially raw. Raw onions and garlic leave a harsh bitter taste in my mouth that can last up to 24 hours, and not only can I taste it, but others can smell it (I have been informed). I have had people deliberately serve me these foods as a “joke”, because it’s not an allergy, I’m only being a princess. It’s hard in restaurants, too, because no one lists these as ingredients – they are just assumed to be there.
    Thanks for being a voice for food sensitivists! (if that’s a word!)

  7. Posted on June 13th, 2011

    Thanks so much for your comment Kristal – us food sensitivists (totally a word) must stick together! Please don’t ever hesitate to let us know if there’s something we can do to support you and your garlic/onion-free diet. And keep in touch!

  8. Posted on June 23rd, 2011

    Thanks for sticking up for all of us “intoler-ants”, Jackie. I too, have a condition that requires the strict avoidance of many foods… to the point that going out for dinner – restaurant or private home – is almost impossible. Consequently, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen coming up with alternatives recipes for all the starch, carbohydrate, gluten, lactose and sugar laced things I cannot eat. Perhaps the writer accusing people of hyper sensitivity is feeling guilty about the bad food choices they make and are jealous of those of us who have the awareness and discipline to say ‘no’ to what doesn’t work for us.

  9. Posted on June 24th, 2011

    Michella ~ I like your theory. Good luck in your kitchen, and I hope Willowtree can help.
    Keep in touch!
    ~ j

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