9 Tips for Weight Loss When You Have a Food Allergy

Strategies for weight loss with food allergies. Martin Barraud/OJO Images/Getty Images

Losing weight is one of the hardest things to do, and it’s not any easier for someone with a food allergy.

Despite claims in the popular press that food allergies make you fat, there is no scientific evidence that supports this to date. In fact, the relationship may be the other way around—studies suggest that obesity may place individuals at a higher risk of developing a food allergy.

According to a 2009 study among children and adolescents in the US with obesity, 59% of them had an allergy—to food or other allergens such as cat, dog or ragweed.

The authors concluded that obesity, more than being overweight, may increase inflammation throughout the body, perhaps making overweight or obese children and teens more susceptible to the development of food allergy. While this correlation is demonstrated in this study, the nature of the study prevents a direct causal relationship. In other words, it’s a stretch to say that food allergies make people overweight or obese.

How People With Food Allergies Can Lose Weight

Nevertheless, if you are trying to take off some extra pounds like many Americans, there are a number of things you can do, some of which I have outlined here:

Know your calorie requirements. To be successful at weight loss, you have to have an idea of what your body needs, calorie-wise, on a daily basis. This is an individualized number based on your current body weight, height, age, gender, and activity level. Don’t guess your number!

This will get you started with a calorie budget for weight loss.

Be aware of food calories. You have to know how much you are eating, and many people who are successful at weight loss do this by counting calories, food groups (like fruit, vegetable, grain, dairy or protein) or at least having an idea of foods that tip the scale in the direction of too many calories.

There are many phone apps that give you insight into food calories, as well as restaurant listings of calories on the menu, and of course, reading the nutrition facts panel on food products.

Eat regular meals. Skipping meals and dieting are associated with weight gain, though many believe these strategies are the shortcut to weight loss. Some will argue that eating breakfast is not important to weight loss, but many observational studies support eating breakfast as a strategy for regulating the appetite and possibly eating less later in the day.

Eat a healthy afternoon snack. Undoubtedly, growing kids need a snack not only to meet their calorie needs for growth but also to compliment that wide range of nutrients they need to get the job of growing done. Adults do well with snacks too, especially during the afternoon when the stretch of time until dinner can seem endless. The key to snacking is making sure the options are healthy, like nuts, fruit or crispy veggies with a protein-packed dip like hummus, rather than a vending machine candy bar or bag of chips. Try milk-free snacks and high protein egg-free snacks.

Limit treats to 1 or 2 per day. While those candy bars, cookies at the office, and occasional celebratory birthday cakes may seem unavoidable, the trick is to avoid them most of the time.

You don’t have to steer clear all of the time, especially if you’re an exerciser, but you do need to have a plan for when, why and how much of them you will eat. Perhaps you will only have dessert when it’s meaningful, such as your best buddy’s birthday or celebration, or only indulge on Fridays and stick with a policy of “petite” amounts only—a very thin slice of cake, or one small cookie or brownie. In general, adults can afford to eat about 200 calories per day from all indulgent foods such as sweets, sweetened beverages (soda, coffee drinks, etc) and fried foods (chips, French fries). That’s not a lot, so you should be choosy!

Watch out for calorie-laden beverages. As mentioned above, the calories you drink can really add up. Research shows that people don’t register the calories they drink, meaning they don’t typically account for them as a contributor to their total calorie intake, and they don’t scale back on food calories to compensate for them. Some beverages have meaningful calories, like milk, soymilk, and 100% juice, as they house other nutrients like vitamin D and calcium. Other drinks, like soda, are full of calories in the form of sugar, but contain few, if any, nutrients. Pay close attention to how many of these drinks you consume regularly. If you have a caramel latte every morning on the way to work, or a cola with lunch, you’ll be drinking some significant calories and also tallying up one of your sweet treats for the day.

Keep track of your daily eating. Log it—in pen or on an app. Studies show the effort at being accountable for your eating will make you much more aware of your habits and may keep you in line with your target weight loss calories.

Move your body, every day. One of the best things you can do for your health and your weight is to move your body everyday—purposefully. I mean, walk the extra mile, sweat a little bit, and find ways to work exercise into your everyday schedule. It's a healthy habit that can help you lose weight, but also prevent you from regaining the weight you lost. If you don’t exercise, it will be harder to lose weight, and your calorie budget (what you are able to eat) will be lower than if you exercise. Exercise gives you a bigger calorie allowance each day and can help you create a calorie deficit at the end of the day, which helps the numbers on the scale go down. Additionally, your muscles, including your heart, will get a workout, which only helps you be stronger, fitter, and healthier.

Go to bed. We now understand that missing out on sleep can wreak havoc on appetite hormones, potentially causing more hunger and more eating throughout the day. For adults, the ideal amount of sleep is at least 6 hours each night (less than that is associated with weight gain), and ideally 7 to 8 hours; for kids and teens, 8-9 hours at least.