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Food Sensitivities: You May Not Know You Have Them

Have you ever felt as if you weren’t functioning as well as you could be?  Have you experienced ongoing low energy, depression, anxiousness, or digestive dysfunction?  Ever tried a diet that eliminates certain food groups (e.g., grains, dairy, and/or sugars) and felt great? You may have also experienced more weight loss success. 

Either of these scenarios could be related to food sensitivities. In this article, we will discuss the difference between food allergies and sensitivities, sensitivity-related health conditions, and how to detect and regulate adverse foods.

Food allergies are rare yet easy to detect due to their immediate histamine reactions in the body with symptoms ranging from rashes and difficulty breathing to anaphylactic shock.  Food sensitivities are much more common yet difficult to identify due to their delayed immune response—sometimes up to 72 hours.

Because the reaction may be slow and subtle, many individuals can suffer from various unexplained health conditions for years. The repeated intake of adverse foods disrupts metabolic functions and produce inflammation. Chronic inflammation damages cells, tissues and organs and sets the stage for disease.

Undetected food sensitivities are a major contributor to a host of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.  Prevalent health complaints related to food sensitivities include:[i],[ii],[iii]

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)                              ADHD

Migraine headaches                                               Acne

Chronic upper respiratory infections                      Eczema

Depression                                                             Asthma

Autoimmune disorders                                           Weight gain/obesity

The connection between food sensitivities and neurologic dysfunction appears to be significant.  Deficient nutrition and food sensitivities can deplete serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that impacts sleep, mood, cravings, and relaxation.  Another neurologic dysfunction is food addiction—the experience of intense cravings for food our body can’t tolerate. Ironic, isn’t it?  We eat adverse food and addictive opioids are secreted from our brains. More consumption = more opioids = more cravings.

Common food sensitivities include:

Wheat/gluten                                                             Cow dairy

Soy                                                                             Corn

Peanuts                                                                      Eggs

Tree nuts                                                                    Fish/shellfish

But these are just the usual suspects—there are many more.

So, how can we identify our sensitive foods? One method is a blood test for IgG antibodies. Specific food sensitivity blood tests prove to be an accurate measure of IgG and/or IgE mediated-responses to various foods included in the panel.

These include:

  • Life Time Fitness’ 24-food allergy/sensitivity test
  • MRT
  • RAST

The benefits of such screening are illustrated in a 1996 study by Baylor Medical College, where 98% of subjects who complied to a diet based on ALCAT results exhibited fewer sugar cravings, more energy, more weight loss, and improved body composition.[v]

Two other common identification methods are the elimination and 4-day rotation diets,[vi] which require strict food avoidance, compliance and discipline. Consulting with a registered dietitian is recommended before you start. Keeping a food journal is necessary.

Elimination diet: Remove any food suspects completely from the diet for at least 2-4 weeks.  You remove potentially adverse foods during the elimination phase and then reintroduce each (one at a time) back into the diet. Monitor and log your reactions.

4-day rotation diet: Most Americans eat the same foods day in and day out without variety. The food monotony, alone, can lend to food sensitivities.  The 4-day rotation diet involves rotating foods every 4 days. Thus, if you eat corn on Monday, you would not eat it again until Friday. 

For more information on Life Time’s 24-food allergy/sensitivity test or the elimination and 4-day rotation diets, please contact your club’s registered dietitian or weight loss coach.

Share thoughts, questions and comments below.

Written by: Cindi Lockhart, R.D., L.D., Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


[i] Weidenhiller M. Food Intolerance – etiology of functional disorders and therapeutic possibilities. Med Monatsschr Pharm. Sept 2006; 29 (9): 320-6.

[ii] Alternative Approach to IBS and migraine is winning over providers. Dis Manag Advis. Jan 2004; 10 (1): 6-10,1.

[iii] Kleiner SM. Sense and food sensitivity: coping with allergies and food intolerance. Phys Sportsmed. May 1998; 26 (5): 105-6.

[v] Kaats GR, et al. The short term efficacy of the ALCAT test of food sensitivities to facilitate changes in body composition and self-reported disease symptoms: a randomized controlled study. The Bariatrician. 1996.

[vi] Montalto M, et al. Adverse reactions to food: allergies and intolerances. Dig Dis. 2008; 26 (2): 96-103

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Reader Comments (22)

Hey Cindi! Wow, now you're writing articles that go out to hundreds of people....It's a good article. Wish I lived closer to be able to get the testing done. Take care

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

I was really disappointed when I went back to school for my Dietetics degree. They in no way would discuss what I just read in this article. I'm glad to see Dietitians are now seriously looking at food sensitivites. I am grateful Lifetime is working diligently to educate the masses with critical info that mainstream medical doctors, dietiitians and health and fitness experts have ignored. Keep up the good work.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey Keena

is it possible to post which clubs offer this test?

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbc lagrange il

I have a daughter who is 11 years old now. When she was 18 months old she suddenly came down with JRA. It surfaced in her left knee. We battled it for about 4 years. They don't know what causes it or how to cure it. All we could do was manage the symptoms. Though, one time the Dr. did mention food allergies as a possible cause. This got me daughter drank a lot of milk each day. So I tried an experiment and ordered organic milk(I thought maybe all the growth hormone / antibiotics they give the cows was having an adverse affect). After she drank this kind of milk for about a year the JRA went away and did not come back until I went back to regular milk years later. After drinking it for just 2 weeks her knee swelled up again and we went right back to organic and the symptoms stopped!

I am wondering if she should avoid dairy all together? Will Lifetime in South Jordan do this test on an 11 year old?

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Wood

I discovered that I have these sensitivities through a really good functional medicine doctor who was able to completely help me with things that had been plaguing me for years. This article is 100% on with what she did for me and I can say completely that it is almost miraculous what happens when I avoid the things I need to (which is now all the time because it helps me feel great).

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBart Massey

To Kathy: Are you from Bloomington, IL? :) If so, hello & welcome!!!

To Audrey: Agreed! I have been in the profession for > 20 years & through additional functional/holistic training, was able to learn how much more deeper health, metabolism, and weight are. Many lives are now impacted by our different focus.

To BC: what club do you belong to. Most all, other than NY or NJ clubs offer this testing.

To Tamara: That is great news & I commend you for experimenting with your daughter. Cow dairy & gluten are the 2 most common food "allergens", so you could certainly cut out the dairy & just make sure to supplement with a high quality calcium/magnesium + Vitamin D supplement with your daughter. Unfortunately, Life Time can only offer these tests to adults > 18 years of age, but if you search your area for some of the other tests mentioned I bet you will come up with many other options. :)

To Bart: That is wonderful! I am so excited for you to feel so good & to take the time/effort to seek out someone who could help you uncover this hidden problem for you.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

This is a very good article.
I suffered from migraines for over 20 years. My doctor had me do the blood tests for IgG/IgE antibodies.
My biggest reaction was to rice. I ate a healthy diet and found many of the foods I ate had rice as an ingredient, and rice was a binder ingredient in some vitamins I was taking every day!
I totally avoid rice now, as well as sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives found mostly in wines and dried fruits.
My headaches are 90% cured!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

My 8 year old daughter has been suffering from neurologic problems since I can remember. She stopped gaining weight at 1 year old and had only gained 4 pounds by the time she was 4 years old. She was a whopping 24 pounds. Her teeth began to rot. She started throwing up daily at 3 years old. Began heat sensitive painful rashes at 2 years old. Was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Sensory Integration Disorder at 5 and has been on an IEP since then. We refused to give her ritalin because she was so under sized and clearly not healthy. We didn't want to aggrivate her health issues in order to relieve her neurologic issues. We were at a loss!!! A friend from Childrens' Healthcare of Atlanta recommended a Naturopath who has made miraculous turn arounds in children - something she whitnessed. We tried it and we are now on the path to having a healthy child. He found several things like yeast overgrowth and mercury, but he also found a food sensitivity to MSG. We saw minor improvements when he treated for yeast and mercury, but when we eliminated all sources of MSG along with HCFC, Dyes, and Preservatives her behavior improved DRAMATICALLY. She is now in the 10th Percentile for height and weight gaining SIX pounds last year!!!! Don't delay in finding out if you have food sensitivities. It can change your life!!!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

For those in Atlanta, Dr. Seneca Anderson is the Naturopath I mentioned.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

This is a great article. I was diagnosed with Lupus 4 1/2 yrs. ago. After a year of extremely poor health I discovered (on my own, Dr.'s weren't any help) that I had allergies to gluten and soy. I have now tested negative for Lupus for almost 2 yrs. now and am symptom-free as long as I stick to the diet.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

To Joyce: So happy you found that out & who would have thought anyone could have an intolerance to rice?? And yes, the "hiddens" in food are so amazing and why we fully support whole, natural foods to help alleviate this situation. When I was tested, some of my severe sensitivities were to chicken, pork, carrots, and broccoli!

To Holly: Wow!!! What a story that completely impacted your daughter's function and health. I am SO happy you were able to uncover some of those sensitivities and get your daughter back. :)

To PJ: Another awesome, self-directed, impact on health and functioning. I commend you on digging deep and experimenting. Good for you! Unfortuanately, MD's are not standardly trained in nutrition or these deeper metabolic disruptors, so we need to seek out alternated sources many times.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

My three daughters now 2,5,6 have all had the test done, including myself since I nursed them all for several years each. We found out the even though they weren't eating some of the foods they tested sensitive for I had to watch what I was eating because I was nursing. My list and their lists were very similiar. You can get these tests done from any Naturopathic doc as young as one or two. Just keep rotating foods. That's your best bet.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I am pleased to see this email. I just joined lifetime and have been impressed with their classes etc but this shows me that they are really taking wellness seriously. I had been sick with ibs and all kinds of other stomach troubles for the past few years. I was just recently tested by a Naturopath using the ALCAT and I had all kinds of food sensitivities. Although dairy was my main cuprit. When I eat what I am supposed to it is amazing how much better I feel. I think that anyone who has run out of options for what is causing their problems should get this testing done. Thank you for putting this information out there.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRenee Harding

I am new to Lifetime and also really impressed with this article. I am a Nurse Practitioner who works for an integrative health clinic in the OP area - obtaining certification in Functional Medicine through It is few and far between you see great information like this out there for the public to read. We do this testing at our practice, but mostly just recommend trying the elimination diet first to save on cost. The testing is great; we just have a lot of patients who come in with multiple complaints who need various other tests. It is amazing and inspiring to see people recover from symptoms they have been dealing with for many years - just by eliminating foods that their bodies have been dysfunctionally compensating for...little did they know! Great job with the article - would love to see more like this!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterToni Forsyth

Hi Cindi! Great information, great article! I might finally be reaching a point where I am willing to try going gluten-free. I'm so tired of being tired. I've made some changes, but haven't taken the BIG leap of going 100% gluten-free. Glad to see your wealth of knowledge is getting shared with the masses. ~Andrea

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Hi Andrea: Great to hear from you & if you need any assistance, I would be happy to help you. Let me know how you do taking gluten out of your diet 100%! :) You will never know until you try. I encourage you to commit at least 1 month to fully see the benefits, and if you really evaluate 1 month...that's minor in relationship to how long we have been around. :)

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

This is a load of crap. People don't differentiate between sensitivities and allergies. Because of this stupid fashion forward allergic to everything diet my step-mom, who has been trying to lose weight for years with similar diets, thinks she's allergic to everything. She barely eats enough food to stay alive as it is. Now she's trying this diet and it looks like she's starving herself even more. You people are ridiculous to advise this diet in the first place let alone without any background information about the person's health habits. This is a very disappointing move by LifeTime.

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

@Michelle: I'm sorry to hear your step-mom has struggled with her weight. However, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Many people have food sensitivities and other, though in a smaller percentage, have food allergies. As Cindi's article suggests, people can help identify them by a blood test or an elimination diet. For me, I chose to eliminate gluten based on my doctor's advice and within a few days the pain in my hips I'd experienced for three years prior was gone. I had been to other doctors, had MRIs to look for arthritis, tried NSAIDs and all kinds of other stuff. None of the other doctors I saw knew what it was. I'm glad I was told to drop the gluten. I've only eaten it a couple times since then, and the next day the pain was back in my hips. For me, it showed up as joint pain. In others, it results in other issues. There are quite a few articles on the site that discuss the topic, so it might be worth reading more. It's often not the cause of weight gain, but we're finding issues with soy, gluten and dairy to be more and more common.

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

Michelle, your "load of crap" saved my daughter's life. Her sensitivity to MSG ended up with an allergy to cold that caused her to enter anaphylactic shock. Her throat closed up due to playing outside in the cold on Christmas day last hear. My daughter can't really eat anything packaged and must eat a completely hypo-allergenic diet in order to keep her overall immune response quiet. However, we are NEVER at a loss for food to eat. I've been reading about this concept for three years, and never have I ever read anything about limiting your calories. If your step-mother has made the decision to limit her calories it is not because of the concept of an elimination diet. An elimination diet only recommends removing synthetic or commonly allergic foods and slowly introducing them back until you find what you are sensitive or allergic to. I wish your step-mother lots of luck in her weight loss journey, but know that working to find sensitivities or allergies is not what's starving her. She's doing that all on her own.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

There is most definately a difference between food allergies (immediate reaction) and food sensitivities (delayed subtle reaction, so difficult to identify without testing). Both stimulate the immune system to attack the food protein entering the bloodstream as if it's a foreign body, which is very inflammatory in nature - this alone can disrupt metabolism overall functioning, health, and weight. Over time, we actually start destroying our own healthy cells, which can lead to autoimmunity - the 3rd most common health problem in the US with 70% of women holding the autoimmune conditions (compared to men at 30%). When speaking about gluten itself, only 1% of the population is allergic (celiac sprue), however close to 50% Americans are sensitive to it which impacts our overall health. The elimination diet & rotation diet both focus on taking out common allergens with many substitutes available today, so no need to "restrict" calories or intake. By following these nutritional plans/rotations, it allows our immune system to calm down, inflammation decreases, and our body heals itself. It doesn't mean one even needs to follow it forever if they can heal their gut & decrease the exposures to certain foods that cause inflammation in their body. Everyone is different. I am certainly hoping for you and your Mom to have health and happiness in life.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

Hey, I was so glad to see Joyce's post! I have rice issues, too! I have esophageal (spelling?) spasms every single time I have minute rice and occasionally when I have "regular" rice. Every health care professional I have mentioned my rice issues to dismiss it, saying that rice is one of the least allergenic foods out there. Well, guess what? It affects me ... and Joyce! I am lucky to not have many food allergies/sensitivities but the 2 points I would make is, just because conventional wisdom says you "shouldn't" have a problem with something doesn't mean you don't; and listen to your body - it will tell you what works/doesn't work if you listen to it.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSaraJ

Sara - thank you for posting. You are absolutely right! You know your body best & some of our most healthy foods come along with sensitivities. My first sensitivities were to chicken, broccoli, and carrots. Who would have known? Hope you are doing much better off of rice.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart

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