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Conditioned Food Sensitivity Explained


Author: Wendy Busse, MSc, RD 
Updated: October 2020

Conditioned food sensitivity is the physical manifestation of a limbic system overreaction to food.

My expertise in this area has developed through my food sensitivity clients’ keen observations over the last twenty-five years. Clients often observed a mind-body connection. For example, their symptoms got worse with excess internet research or analyzing food and their symptoms.  Also, we noticed that food restrictions often lead to further sensitivity. I created the term – conditioned food sensitivity – to describe this connection.

How Do Conditioned Food Sensitivities Develop?

The Food Avoidance & Sensitivity Trap is a model that I developed to show how conditioned food sensitivity develops. A limbic system overreaction to food is the cornerstone of the trap. The limbic system is a brain region that produces behavioural and emotional responses, especially when we sense danger.

Physically-Driven vs. Conditioned Food Sensitivity

In contrast, physically-driven food hypersensitivities are not affected by the limbic system and include conditions such as:

  • celiac disease
  • immediate food allergy (e.g. peanut anaphylaxis)
  • eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease
  • 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. Many people with physically-driven hypersensitivities get sucked into the Food Avoidance & Sensitivity Trap and suffer more than they need to.

Physically-driven and conditioned reactions are often indistinguishable.

The Nocebo Effect

Conditioned food sensitivity is an example of the nocebo effect. Most people are familiar with (and have experienced!) the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is the opposite (i.e. feeling worse, because you expect to).  For many years, doctors thought the placebo and nocebo effects were superficial (i.e. people only reported feeling better or worse). However, more recent research has shown that expectation changes brain and body functions.  

Do Conditioned Reactions Play a Role in Your Food Sensitivities?

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