#257 The Skinny on Allergies

Tell a friend

I've exercised with women so thin
that buzzards followed them to their cars.

Erma Bombeck

9 Questions About Food Allergies

By Steve Edwards

ShrimpHaving an allergic reaction to a food is a potentially dangerous situation that will most likely happen to many of us. Let's look at the very basics of the issue so that you can evaluate how to protect yourself and your family.

  1. What is a food allergy? A food allergy is an immunologic reaction to a food protein that can cause a range of symptoms from itching to anaphylaxis. While it can't be said they are common, they do affect many people. An estimated 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children are affected by food allergies. These numbers have been rising in recent years. There is no proven cure for food allergies, though children tend to outgrow them. Adults do not. The most common way they're treated is avoidance.

  2. Itchy EyesWhat are the symptoms? Most people have minor symptoms, such as itching around the mouth, nose, eyes, and throat. However, there is a large variance of symptoms that can cause confusion when diagnosing an allergy. Hives, swelling, wheezing, congestion, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, eczema, and even anaphylaxis (which can cause death) are all attributed to allergic reactions to foods. Extreme reactions are very rare but possible enough that the situation should be treated seriously, especially with children.

  3. What isn't a food allergy? We often confuse food allergies with food intolerance. An estimated 25 percent of us claim to have some sort of food allergy that isn't actually an allergic reaction, but intolerance to a type of food that causes similar symptoms. These reactions are usually not dangerous but can be real and unpleasant.

  4. DairyWhat are the most common food allergies? Ninety percent of the diagnosed food allergies in the U.S. come from the "big 8": dairy, soy, shellfish, eggs, wheat, peanuts, seafood, and tree nuts. Allergies seem to increase with exposure to certain foods, so this statistic varies in other cultures (for example, rice allergies are more common in Asia).

  5. Are food allergies more dangerous to your kids? Far more kids suffer from food allergies than adults. The good news is that most kids will grow out of them. However, these need to be treated seriously and you should see you doctor if any allergic reactions appear.

    In infants, colic is a danger from reactions to milk or soy formula. If your child shows any signs of abnormality, such as crying at night or the inability to sleep well, have them checked out.

  6. DoctorDo I need to see a doctor? If you suspect that you have a food allergy, it's recommended that you see your doctor. Medical tests can identify allergies. They may not identify food intolerance, but since that has fewer severe symptoms, you can rule out most of the danger.

    Anaphylaxis makes breathing difficult and can be fatal. In these cases, an epinephrine shot may be prescribed. In severe allergic cases, you will be prescribed a home self-injection kit.

  7. Can I be allergic to sugar? Sugar allergies are often suspected but are not possible. If you have a bad reaction to sugar, it's food intolerance. Allergies only happen with proteins, not carbohydrates and fats. Sugar has no protein.

    You may, however, be allergic to sugar substitutes. Many reactions have been attributed to all sugar substitutes, but especially with regard to aspartame.

  8. What about food additives? Allergic reactions are somewhat common to sulfites, food coloring, MSG, and other food additives. While far less common than reactions to natural foods, they are also harder to identify. Reading food labels can help you avoid these foods, which don't have an important place in your diet in any case.

  9. How about GMOs? So far, the science regarding genetically modified organisms has been more anecdotal than proven, but many people consider the recent rise in allergic reactions the fault of our beloved "Frankenfoods." It does merit some concern. Soy is one of our most-tampered-with crops and soy allergies have probably risen more than any other. It's definitely an issue to keep an eye on.

    Since the U.S. currently doesn't require that our labels inform us when we're eating genetically engineered foods, such as they do in most developed countries, your best defense is to write and get this changed. Currently, the FDA states it has "no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding." If you, like much of the rest of the world, have an issue with this statement, you may want to fire off a quick email to your local elected official.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Can You Be Thin and Fat?

By Steve Edwards and Denis Faye

In ShapeTwo stories about body fat have hit the wires recently and both deserve a deeper look than the headlines may indicate. The first is about a condition referred to as "skinny fat," which means that though your body mass index (BMI) may be normal, you're really out of shape. The second is about a book called Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting, which basically lays the blame of obesity on your family history. So read on and we'll save you some time by getting to the skinny on being skinny.

The inside scoop on inside fat

It turns out that those "lucky" people you know who eat junk food all day and still keep their figures may not be as lucky as you think. A study from London's Imperial College shows that they may appear skinny to the naked eye, but in truth, they're fat on the inside, which could lead to a rash of health problems.

Since 1994, Dr. Jimmy Bell and his team at the college have done MRIs on nearly 800 people, creating "fat maps" that show where they store fat. As it turns out, people who don't maintain their weight with a combination of exercise and diet keep huge fat deposits around their internal organs.

The exact consequences of this inner blubber aren't clear yet, but it doesn't look good. We all have some of it, which tends to increase with age in order to "protect" our organs. But scientists theorize that excessive inner fat can confuse the body's communication systems, leading to heart disease, insulin resistance, or type 2 diabetes.

What is clear is that fat, active people have a much lower mortality rate than the skinny and sedentary. This means that, as far as your health is concerned, a fitness test is a much better indicator than a scale or what size dress you fit into. As Bell explained to the Associated Press, "the whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined."

I blame my parents!

ParentsAnd while we're talking about redefining the concept of fat, could it be your parents' fault that you're obese? That seems to be the theory of a new book by Gina Kolata titled Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting. The book references a handful of studies that show that those who are genetically predetermined to be obese have greater rates of obesity than those who aren't, and that diet and exercise can't change that fact. It cites some good science and interesting studies—especially those involving separated twins—to make its case. The book also cites some studies where those who had lost a lot of weight all seemed to gain it back. It's compelling reading, for sure, even for people like us who know full well from firsthand experience that a piece of the puzzle was being omitted. But before we could say "Hey, wait a minute... ," an interesting thing happened. The New York Times ran an excerpt from the book a few weeks back and opened up a forum for Kolata herself to field questions on the article. The results of this forum may make you want to think twice about purchasing Kolata's book or, at least, to read it with a skeptical eye and an open mind.

GeneticsIn the book, Kolata's premise is that genetics play a larger role in determining body shape and mass than diet and exercise possibly can. And while she provides scientific examples, she really hasn't covered the entire process in a thorough manner. In the forum, she began refuting feedback with science, but as the onslaught of responses became more technical and from varying points of view, her responses reverted to her own anecdotal evidence. For instance, she used the fact that her son only lost three pounds when he trained for a marathon as a reason exercise can't make someone thin. Faced with many individuals who had succeeded in greatly altering their body masses or inherited fitness states, her tone ranged from first sounding incredulous to just plain being shocked at the results people had gotten. Finally, under a mounting wave of pressure from contradictory opinions, she stopped answering altogether.

Success StoryThis is hardly shocking news to the folks at Beachbody. If it were true, we wouldn't be in business. Kolata states that "very few people lose substantial amounts of weight and keep it off for good," but we have thousands of examples that have proven her wrong. In fact, if we were to scour the Message Boards, we'd be hard pressed to find any scenario—injury, sickness, genetic obesity—that our clients have not conquered. While it's true that you can't change your body type, your natural athletic ability, or the genes you were born with, we have yet to find people who can't be made fitter and healthier and who can't change the way they look, with the proper prescription of diet and exercise. Our answer is to let 'em manufacture excuse science all they want, but until our Success Story pool stops growing, nothing is going to "prove" our methods don't work.

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Test Your Saturated Fat IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. FriesLarge McDonald's French Fries. This was the best of the worst—6 grams of saturated fat, but still 30 grams of fat total, and 570 calories.

  2. Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Even worse—17 grams of saturated fat, 34 grams of fat total, and 580 calories.

  3. FettucineMarie Callender's Fettucine Alfredo and Garlic Bread (frozen). Terrible—20 grams of saturated fat, 51 grams of fat total, and 870 calories.

  4. 6 Domino's Buffalo Wings (no dipping sauce). These little "appetizers" pack in 21 grams of saturated fat (more than the entire Alfredo dinner), 84 grams of fat total, and 1,260 calories. Add another 22 grams of fat (4 saturated) and 210 calories if you have the blue cheese dipping sauce.

  5. Cold Stone'sCold Stone Creamery French Vanilla Ice Cream "Love It" size (10 oz.). Just the plain ice cream, before you mix in candy, has 27 grams of saturated fat, 38 grams of fat total, and 670 calories.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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