Are Your Allergies Making You Fat?

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It seems that more and more people are finding out they’re allergic to certain foods every day. We typically associate these allergies with severe reactions and stuffy noses, but could a food allergy be causing us to gain weight too? We went to our experts to find out.

“Allergies in themselves will not cause you to get fat or gain weight, but oftentimes it’s what you do to treat the allergy that can be associated with weight gain,” says New York City allergist Clifford Bassett, MD. Many allergy medications have been associated with increased appetite and dehydration that can increase your calorie intake and cause weight gain. Additionally, consuming foods that you have an allergy or intolerance to is has been linked with bloating and water retention that makes you feel like you’ve put on a couple of pounds.

But there’s a difference between food allergy and food intolerance. An allergy is an immune response where your body is overreacting to some allergen and intolerance is usually an enzyme deficiency that prevents you from digesting certain foods. “A food intolerance is more likely the cause for weight gain or the inability to lose stubborn fat in some individuals,” says Tempe, AZ, weight loss expert Robb Bird.

There are two tests you can do to find out what you’re allergic to. The most common is the ALCAT, or antigen leukocyte antibody test, that works by testing a variety of foods on your blood to see which produces and inflammatory response. The other option is the LEAP-MRT, or lifestyle eating and performance, test that tests your blood for reactions twice against 180 different foods. "Getting tested for food allergies can be done and can prove very useful in finding out what you may be eating that you don’t even realize is inflaming you or setting off an allergic response,” says nutritionist and health coach Brandon Mentore. 

People have seen weight loss by cutting out foods that these tests revealed they have an allergy or intolerance to. “There have been studies where 80 percent of the test group lowered their body fat and 78 percent achieved improvement in body composition after being tested and removing allergens from their diet,” says Bird.

On the other hand, Dr. Bassett says that cutting foods in general can lead to weight loss, not necessarily because you’re cutting out foods you have an intolerance or allergy to. “It’s very hard to make any generalizations because there could be many other factors at work,” says Dr. Bassett. “When you cut foods out, you’re going to lose weight. Whatever you take in, you have to burn off otherwise you’ll gain weight.”

So in this case, the jury is still out. While no one can say for certain that allergies cause weight gain, it can still be beneficial to test your blood for allergies. “Allergies can be associated with poor quality of life and can make us feel less productive and sleepy,” says Dr. Bassett. Your best bet is to work with a specialist to help come up with a plan that will improve your overall qualify of life. And if a couple of pounds disappear too, we're sure you won't mind.