Conditioned Food Hypersensitivity Explained

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Author: Wendy Busse, MSc, RD (Registered Dietitian)
Updated: May 2020

Through my work over the last twenty-five years, clients often noticed a mind-body connection.  For example, internet research and constantly analyzing food made them feel worse. Also, restrictions often lead to further sensitivity. I created the term – conditioned food hypersensitivity – to put a name to this disorder.

Conditioned food hypersensitivity results from the limbic system’s overreaction to food. The limbic system is a region in the brain that produces behavioural and emotional responses, especially when we sense danger.

How Do Conditioned Food Hypersensitivities Develop?

Conditioned food hypersensitivity likely develops from our negative experiences with food. The brain associates food with symptoms, and the limbic system sees food as dangerous.  A limbic system reaction (fight-or-flight response) may lead to symptoms when we eat or even think about certain foods.

For a more detailed explanation, please see my next blog post – The Food Avoidance & Sensitivity Trap.

Physically-Driven Food Hypersensitivity

Physically-driven food hypersensitivity is not affected by the limbic system. Examples include celiac disease, immediate food allergy (i.e. peanut anaphylaxis), eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease and lactose intolerance. The underlying cause of these conditions is a problem with the physical body, not the mind-body connection. However, a limbic system overreaction can worsen physically-driven symptoms. Most people with these hypersensitivities get sucked into the Food Avoidance & Sensitivity Trap and suffer more than they need to.

Conditioned and Physically-Driven Food Sensitivities Overlap

Food hypersensitivity can be:

    • conditioned reactions, only
    • physically-driven reactions, only
    • combination of conditioned and physically-driven reactions

The graph below shows five examples of how physically-driven and conditioned food hypersensitivity can add to symptoms. The examples could be different people or the same person on different occasions. I have shown them in different colours, but in real life, they simultaneously contribute to symptoms.

Do Conditioned Reactions Play a Role in Your Food Sensitivities?

If you answer “yes” to most of the questions below, conditioned reactions may play a role in your food sensitivity. 

Do you

  • Overthink food and symptoms?
  • Feel terrified about eating certain foods (without a medical diagnosis)?
  • Experience symptoms when you are near or see a picture of your triggers?
  • Participate in online support groups that discuss food sensitivities or that have rigid views on nutrition?
  • Avoid getting together with friends because of your dietary restrictions?
  • Read articles or watch videos about the dangers of common foods?
  • Assume that most of your symptoms are food-related?
  • Search for a single answer to explain your food sensitivities or symptoms?
  • Restrict your diet based on lists, such as low histamine, low salicylate, low oxalate?
  • Restrict your diet based on food sensitivity testing?
  • Work with health care professionals that suggest or reinforce extreme dietary restrictions?

Fortunately, you can minimize your conditioned food sensitivities by calming your limbic system’s overreaction to food. The FAST Freedom Program provides simple, practical advice to break free.