Sorry, I have a nocebo intolerance


This evening we’re going out for a family dinner, so I decided to bring along a few contributions to the meal to make my gluten-dairy-nightshade-free status a bit easier on the generous hostess.

I embarked on a frenzy of cooking, including gluten-free almond, coconut and choc chip cookies (one batch is a bit burned but they still taste good so I’ll probably keep those ones), a tuna-and-cashew pate, and some gluten-free crackers to have with it.

Oh yes, I’m nutty now! Hooray for almond meal. Coconut and plantain flour are all very well for sweet food but in my opinion they’re rubbish with savoury.

While I cooked, I marvelled at the sheer amount of coconut oil, almond meal, sugar-free, egg-free etc. recipes that are out there.

They are wonderful to have when cooking for others with genuine food allergies and other known medical food intolerances, but I honestly felt like a bit of a twit, making all this stuff to bring to my family who have seen me grow up on good English food like porridge, scrambled eggs, rhubarb-and-custards, and roast spuds.

I feel a bit abashed to have joined the ranks of the ‘oh I’m gluten-free’ without, to be blunt, any specific reason to blame poor old grains for anythiing.

So far the only things I’ve experienced trouble with are coconut products in overly-large amounts, and apparently some vegetable gums used for thickening some products. And even then the worst I’ve had is a case of the trots … sorry, TMI, but hardly an allergic reaction.

I think it will be useful to find out more about which specific foods give me the tr … er, cause a leaky gut, and I do appreciate the autoimmune link – but when somebody yesterday said to me, without apparent irony, ‘All processed foods are evil’, I did start to wonder how much of things like AIP rely on the ‘nocebo effect.

The nocebo effect happens when enough people tell us that gluten/sugar/potatoes/saturated fat/’evil food du jour‘ are bad for us, that we start to believe it to the extent that these foods actually, genuinely make us sick.

Perhaps we were quite ready to go through our entire lives scoffing Jatz crackers without a moment’s worry, until the alleged evilness * of the product changed our minds forever, and now we’re doomed to painstakingly made all our own crackers with almond meal for the rest of our lives. **



Do you know, Gwyneth Paltrow is allergic to anything with gluten/eggs/grains/dairy/carbohydrates/non-organic/non-local/salt … perhaps I am too?

What I wonder is, did I have a bad reaction after having coconut milk with added thickener because I was told that additives are evil? Even though I never noticed any such reaction before?

Or are additives, in fact, ethically-deficient sociopaths, in league with Hitler and out to kill us all?

Which do you find it easier to believe?

I have to confess to not … entiiiirely … trusting the whole AIP thing. I mean, implicitly. I’m doing it, because I couldn’t see the harm in trying the elimination thing, to give me a firmer idea of what might be impacting on my beloved gut flora.

So what I hope to get out of it is a good sense of which foods to go easy on in future. and at least I’ve learned more about my own food philosophy, especially in terms of how much meat I can handle eating, in the long term. ***

What I don’t want to end up with is a precious sense of being such a special snowflake that I can’t touch anything non-Gwynethy or it will upset my pristine state of perfection.

After all, I have heard with my own ears people claim to be ‘able to taste all additives‘ which make them feel so ill, and to be ‘very, very sensitive to food toxins’, and their naturopath has prescribed a toxin and chemical-free diet; then I have seen them eat four strawberry Freddo Frogs in a row not ten minutes afterwards. ****



It was the fruit salad. The oranges were non-organic.

It’s not entirely our fault. Since the last world war, we’ve gotten used to our governments telling us what to eat. All the time.

The science of nutrition is relatively new. It got a huge boost during the first and second world wars, as efforts were made to ensure a healthy population, creating good soldiers and citizens, and relieving pressure on crucial public resources.



Plus whatever else you fancy. Sugar, cockroaches, lightbulbs, whatever.

The pressure really hasn’t let up much since, and in spite of great advances in food and nutrition science, we still have a lot to learn. As evidenced by the ever-changing nature of which foods are ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’.

(Remember when butter was a baddie? And we all had to eat margarine? And now my spell-checker doesn’t even recognise the word ‘margarine’. Weird.)

I bet when we all thought butter was evil, there were plenty of people who’d been eating it their whole lives, who suddenly developed huge intolerances to it, and felt genuinely horrible any time they ate it.

And I’m not saying they were putting it on, and I’m not saying they were just being silly either. The power of Nocebo is a great and terrible thing.

My plan at this stage is to finish AIP before Christmas (because, roast potatoes, plum pudding, I rest my case) and say a firm, fond farewell to any lingering attempts to turn me into a Paleo type. It’s just not me.

Then I plan to take a slightly different tack, and (bearing in mind any real lessons I’ve learned about my gut’s capacity to tolerate stuff without, you know, genuinely exploding), try my Land Girl diet for a while.

Let’s do the experiment. Let’s see what is real and what is not, as best we can …

Oh, by the way, this post was written on and off over the course of about four hours, with me lying on the bed with my knees elevated and the laptop on my tummy. I don’t think it’s ideal, but it worked this time.


* Because gluten crackers are known to kick kittens and frighten babies.

** Not that I’d mind, because as it turns out they’re really really yummy.

*** Not that much.

**** This was an actual thing that actually happened. *****

***** For the record, I do not think Freddo Frogs are evil. Not even the strawberry ones.


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