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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Fashion diets health warning
Burger and chips
Allergic to this lot?
Women who follow "fashionable" diets may be putting their health at risk, warn doctors.

Food elimination diets, advocated by pop stars such as Geri Halliwell, involve cutting out certain types of food because they believe they are either "intolerant" or allergic to them.

More than 40% of women have eliminated specific foods from their diet for these reasons over the last five years.

However, a survey of 205 GPs found that most believed women were putting themselves at risk as a result.

They said food elimination could lead to nutrient deficiency, osteoporosis and immune problems.

More than a third of the GPs said that bad advice given by unregistered nutritionists was to blame.

The survey was carried out by Medix UK Plc on behalf of the Grain Information Service, an industry-funded organisation.

Rising trend

Four in 10 GPs noticed a rise in women "diagnosing" their own food intolerances and allergies among female patients in the last year.

One in five thought this practice was dangerous.

GP Dr Sarah Brewer said: "There is no doubt that some people feel eating certain foods improves certain symptoms, but women need to be educated about the risks involved with faddy diets.

"If they feel the need to eliminate foods from their diets for more than a week or so, it is important to seek advice from a qualified dietician or nutritionist.

"Unregistered nutritionists are often ill-informed and patients should be cautious of any advice they offer."

Have you diagnosed your own food intolerances? Why do you think women self-diagnose rather than see their doctor? Why do you think our bodies might be becoming less tolerant of food groups over time?

Your reaction

We should watch the quality of what we eat in general

Nan, UK
Whilst there are genuine intolerances, affecting people with IBS and other conditions, and the widespread use of additives and synthetic or GM foods must have an effect on our diet that was not felt years ago, I feel that nowadays it is fashionable to declare that one has an allergy or intolerance to some food or other. In the US it is lactose; here, it is wheat. Were we intolerant to these things before the possibility was brought to our attention? Maybe we should watch the quality of what we eat in general, rather than being concerned about faddy intolerances.
Nan, UK

I have diagnosed my own food intolerances and have chosen to drastically reduce any form of sugar (not just cane sugar, but fructose and lactose and maltose, etc.) for two reasons. The first is that it helps me to lose or maintain weight loss. The second is that my emotions are more balanced without the intake of sugar. It acts like a drug - creating obvious mood swings which I prefer to avoid.
Kathleen, USA

I used to think these things were very silly, and all psychosomatic. However, I "self-diagnosed" a wheat intolerance. After suffering multiple allergies for most of my life, using shots, pills, and avoidance techniques, I found relief by avoiding wheat. After five years without wheat (and that is no easy task), I am no longer "drug dependent" on antihistamines.

It's a case of get on and deal with it yourself

Louise Grindley, England
As a sufferer of IBS, I have had to restructure my own diet. Specialists seem extremely free in labelling stomach/intestine/colon complaints as irritable bowel syndrome and therefore appear unable to cure the symptoms which can vary extremely. When you go through so much discomfort one's own logic tells you to eliminate the foods you feel are aggravating it. I have cut out pasta, white bread, and soya and this has eased the pain. It is not a cure, but due to the lack of understanding the consultants have shown me, it's a case of get on and deal with it yourself. This is not a case of vanity, but a case of quality of life.
Louise Grindley, England

Women self diagnose because they have lots of information already and feel it's a waste of a day to wait long periods of time in boring offices. Bodies are becoming less tolerant because women don't have a boyfriend or husband who loves cooking with real natural ingredients.
Ann Jolly, USA, currently in Spain

Doctors are only interested in antidepressants and HRT

B Spence, UK
Doctors are only interested in prescribing antidepressants and HRT if you are a female in your forties. I have suffered for six years of extreme exhaustion, continuous swollen glands and infections, weight gain and have struggled to get out of bed some days. Three months ago I eliminated wheat and cut down on dairy products and within a week my swollen glands had gone down. I have been more energised, even to the point of getting another job. So doctors need to look at their own practices before criticising their patients who feel desperate and get no help from them.
B Spence, UK

Carried out on behalf of the Grain Information Service? The results are nothing to do with self-interest then, as wheat is one of the most commonly excluded foods? I agree that food allergies are 'fashionable' and people should seek professional advice before going on an exclusion diet, but surveys like this have no credibility due to the organisations on whose behalf they're carried out.
Jo Christie, Ireland

I know better than any doctor

Liz, UK
This is not about dieting, this is about doctors feeling threatened by other healthcare professionals such as nutritionists. Let's be honest, if you went to your GP to discuss food intolerances, I bet about 95% of people would be shown the door in less than five minutes; GPs in my experience are really not that interested in this type of thing. As for diagnosing your own allergies, personally I know better than any doctor what upsets my stomach or gives me a headache or hives!
Liz, UK

I went to a naturopath to have food allergies diagnosed as my GP told me that my being overweight was down to what I eat and the amount of exercise I do and that she didn't believe in naturopaths. Since eliminating certain foods from my diet, I have lost more weight in two months than I did in three years and feel so much better in myself... so work that out. GPs are intolerant of anything new, but are unwilling to try and get to the bottom of why someone is not losing weight even though they eat a healthy diet and do a reasonable amount of exercise.
Karen, UK

GPs gave up on me

Heather Bayley, Britain
I have tried elimination diets after GPs gave up on me when I did not respond to prescribed medicines. If GPs wish feel this is dangerous then they should commit to helping people to discover why they are unwell rather than just trying to ease the symptoms.
Heather Bayley, Britain

Five years ago I got what seemed to be a pretty boring attack of the trots. I tried eliminating cereals and milk was the next to go. This worked! I found on an internet search that the problem is often the sugar in milk - lactose. More experiments, and success there too. I now eat cheese and yogurt, but am cautious about cheese sauce and custard. My excellent GP said we could do tests but if I'd found a formula then I could just stick to it. This has nothing at all to do with weight loss. I've always been fond of milk, and although I'm about 5 kg overweight it doesn't bother me and I'm not planning to diet for weight loss.
Deborah, South Africa

When you look at farming methods and the additives that go into food, it's no surprise that some people become ill. If organic food was more readily available (not just fruit and vegetables but meat too!) and the same price as "normal" food, I would switch quite happily. I think most people would.
Liz Norwood, England

Minor things makes sense to self-diagnose

Ingrid, US
Self-diagnosis isn't always the answer but when I have symptoms that only appear after an activity, food etc, I will check the internet, try recommended remedies and if that doesn't work then I'll go see the doctor. I don't know about various food groups, but I do know that dairy products can become problematic as you get older as the body naturally stops producing enough of a necessary enzyme to prevent discomfort. Minor things makes sense to self-diagnose, major things, take a trip to my GP.
Ingrid, US

I know a lot of women who self-diagnose their food allergies. The reason is simple - it is more convenient to have a fashionable allergy to something than it is to eat less, drink less and exercise more.
Sarah Tobin, UK

We do not have a culture of seeing nutritionists and dieticians like certain parts of Europe, so many women self-diagnose and get it wrong as there are many schools of thought, and no definitive voices. There is only now a growing culture of food for health in this country.
Raki, UK

There is an assumption in this survey that GPs are authorities on nutrition. GPs have very limited training in nutrition and several conversations I have had (as a vegetarian) show that they do not have as much knowledge as an interested non-expert. In effect, a GP has little more knowledge than an unregistered nutritionist.
Wayne Harris, UK

See also:

05 Nov 01 | Health
19 Mar 02 | Health
19 Mar 02 | Breakfast
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