Food Allergies and Eating Disorders

Did you know that food allergies can lead to an eating disorder? Food allergies happen when a person’s body, or immune system, overreacts to eating a specific food. Symptoms depend on the person and the severity of the allergy. These may include itchy skin and hives, vomiting, swollen lips/face/eyes, and difficulty breathing.

Stress and fear surrounding food is common among people with food allergies. In fact, this Eating Disorder Hope article reports children with a peanut allergy have more stress around food and restrict their diet more than people with insulin-dependent diabetes. Anxiety and restricting one’s diet both play a role in developing eating disorders. For example, individuals with the eating disorder ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) can have anxious feelings and/or fear of getting sick when eating certain foods. Those with ARFID can become picky eaters and limit the number of foods they are willing to eat. ARFID may be a concern when the diet is restricted beyond allergens.

Removing allergens from the diet is important to prevent an allergic reaction, unless otherwise directed by a medical professional. It is also important to speak with a medical professional if you think you have an allergy but have not yet been diagnosed. A varied diet provides a range of nutrients. For example, milk products have a lot of calcium and protein in them. Removing milk from your diet without a diagnosis may place yourself at nutritional risk. Removing gluten from your diet could limit your consumption of fiber, B vitamins, and iron. A varied diet containing all food groups will provide all of the nutrients to support an active and healthy life.

Do you have allergies or think you have a food allergy? Check out these steps to make sure you are not placing yourself a nutritional risk:

  1. Confirm your allergy. Suspected allergies can contribute to a restrictive diet and food fears. Speak with an allergist to discuss food allergy testing to determine if removing foods/food groups is right for you.
  2. Stress can impact the entire family. Allergies can place stress on the whole family. Be aware of this and ensure that family members are not needlessly removing foods from their diets. Ilana Dubrovsky’s research found that parents of a child with a cow’s milk allergy don’t get enough calcium in their own diets.  
  3. Speak with a professional. Speak with a dietitian and/or therapist about any stress and/or food fears you are facing. Taking the first step to having the conversation is one step toward healing and recovery.

Check out my post on the gut-brain axis to learn how else restricting food can impact your body and your mood.