Dieting and Food Allergies

by Jen Silard

As a hypoglycemic and gluten, dairy, and chemical preservative-intolerant woman pursuing a personal trainer's license and Health and Wellness Counseling certification, I can say with full confidence that it is entirely possible to maintain and/or cultivate healthy eating habits while dealing with food allergies. From personal experience as well as my studies, I would even propose that food allergies can simplify a dieter's goals - making them more achievable out of necessity.

The greatest pitfall for any dieter is backsliding. When a dieter decides to forsake restrictions and reaches for whatever tempts them, it could be based on a lack of motivation, insufficient planning (i.e. no healthy alternatives available), or ignorance. For an individual dealing with food allergies, these pitfalls will be much less of a hindrance.

While food allergies can be annoying or dangerous, they force you to plan ahead and to stay within your boundaries; your choices will not be based on willpower, but on necessity. The dieter who makes a food choice because they want to will not be accompanied by the dieter who is allergic to that food choice: the consequences are much more serious.

Another positive aspect to dieting with food allergies concerns the lifestyle simplification required by those with allergies. Most processed foods (i.e. those high in sugar and fat) or "junk" foods (mass-produced, preservative-laden or chemical-processed boxed, bagged, canned) have a greater amount of ingredients than those of healthier, organic options (simple and unprocessed foods). An individual with food allergies will usually be forced to eliminate the less healthy foods because they have a greater "risk factor".

Although some food allergies may eliminate "good" foods (such as nuts, shellfish, and a few others), it seems that the majority of restrictive diets simply eliminate "bad" foods. In addition, it is possible to substitute alternatives for the "good" foods that may be eliminated.

For instance, although my diet eliminates dairy, which contains calcium, a nutrient especially essential for women, I am able to take calcium supplements and substitute some soy alternatives (which are higher in protein) to make up for any calcium deficiency. My diet also forces me to eat foods which are higher in "good" fats (i.e. nuts, shellfish, lean meat) and to eliminate unhealthy sugars and chemicals.

As previously mentioned, an individual with food allergies is also forced to plan ahead; a skill which is essential to any dieter. When traveling or eating out, I have learned to pack healthy (healthy out of necessity, not only choice!) or "emergency" snack bags so that I am prepared.

Although I may be frustrated at times that I don't have the "freedom" to hit up a vending machine when I'm hungry, in truth, that "freedom" is really one more thing for a dieter to be enslaved by. In other words, the non-allergic dieter always will always face the temptation to "cheat"; the allergic individual will not.

While these "blessings in disguise" for the dieter do exist (and there are many more), the downfalls to dieting with food allergies could most likely be found in two things: difficulty with adhering to a specific diet (i.e. South Beach, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc.) and the consequent necessity for more time-consuming planning and strategy.

However, as food allergies become diagnosed at a greater frequency, more and more diets or dieting "agencies" are making room for individuals with food allergies, and more and more companies are creating alternatives for those individuals. Many local chain grocery stores and restaurants now advertise products that could only be found at organic food stores just a few months ago.

All in all, any individual with food allergies looking to lose weight should be consoled that they have the lifestyle, mindset, skills, and self-control from necessity that are demanded for a non-allergic dieter out of conformity. Their road to health and fitness will be much less difficult. It simply requires a greater refinement of the strengths they have already set in place.