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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Fashion diets health warning
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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