Food Allergies and Eating Disorders

If a person has the biological predisposition for an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, any situation that causes them to experience a reduction in the amount of calories they are consuming has the potential to create a negative energy balance. A negative energy balance is created whenever a person is burning off more calories than they are consuming. It is this negative energy balance that can trigger an eating disorder.

With that in mind, it is understandable how dieting is a common precursor to an eating disorder in a person who is predisposed to having one. However, there are other reasons that a person might have a negative energy balance or a deduction in the number of calories that they are consuming. Illness is one such potential cause, and food allergies are another.

Common Food Allergies

The most common food allergies include:Food Allergies

  • Peanut – 1.4 percent of children in the USA suffer from a peanut allergy. This type of allergy tends to be a life-long allergy as unlike other types of allergies it does not go away as a person gets older.
  • Gluten/Wheat – 0.4 percent of children are allergic to wheat. This is different from celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder. 1 in 133 people have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten.
  • Milk – 2.5% of children under age 3 have an allergy to milk and many will outgrow it eventually. An allergy to milk requires strict avoidance of milk and is not to be confused with lactose intolerance.
  • Lactose Intolerance – Caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in the gut. Consumption of dairy can lead to digestive discomfort (nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea), but is not life-threatening. Symptoms can be reduced with over-the-counter medications such as Lactaid, taken prior to eating dairy.
  • Eggs – 1.5 percent of children are allergic to chicken eggs. Egg is present in many types of baked food, so this allergy can affect the amount of calories that a person is able to consume safely.
  • Fish – 0.1 percent of children are allergic to fish.
  • Shellfish
  • Soy – 0.4 percent of children are allergic to soy; this is another product that can be present in a lot of processed goods.

Celiac Disease

Gluten intolerance or celiac disease is different from a wheat allergy. This is where gluten is eaten and has an adverse effect on the body. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is used to describe people who are not celiac but have symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Due to the more recent fashionability of the gluten intolerance, many more people have begun to avoid gluten or suspect that they have a gluten intolerance. For the most part, this avoidance of food containing wheat and gluten stems from a genuine belief that doing so is healthy or beneficial for the body. There are also some people that use the concept of not eating wheat as a dietary rule to stop them from gaining weight. If a person restricts their food intake for whatever reason and falls into a negative energy balance as a result – if that person is biologically predisposed to eating disorders there is a high risk that an eating disorder will develop.

Food Related Anxiety

For some individuals that have suffered from an intense adverse reaction to a particular type of food, an aversion to eating is created by the negative experience that they had. An example of this might be a child or adult with a nut allergy who experienced an anaphylactic shock as a result of eating a food with peanuts in. After the reaction, they may experience anxiety around eating food due to their fear that they will accidentally eat something that will cause them the allergic reaction again. If this is not addressed, the person might reduce their calorie intake as a result of their anxiety around food; if they are someone who is predisposed to an eating disorder, this could be dangerous for them.

What To Do If You Suspect You Have A Food Allergy

If you suspect that you have a food allergy it is important that you get tested. If the tests show that you have an allergy to a specific type of food you will need to plan on not eating that food, but you will also need to make sure that you do not fall into a negative energy balance as a result. You can work with a dietitian in order to make sure that you get all of the nutrients and calories that your body needs. If you have recently decided that you want to be gluten free for health reasons. it is important that you make up for any nutrients that might be lost. Look for substitutes that you can eat and if you are unsure how to do so, work with a nutritionist or dietitian.


Return To Causes Of Eating Disorders

Return To Home Page



Written By Tabitha Farrar – 2014


Celiac Central