Living with one or more food allergies is not easy. The only way to effectively prevent reactions is by avoiding foods that contain allergens that you are allergic to altogether. But this can be challenging because Americans tend to eat many different foods made with numerous ingredients.
During Food Allergy Awareness Month, learn more about food allergies and how to keep yourself or your loved ones with allergies safe. Whether you are newly diagnosed, if your child has been diagnosed, even those who have been managing food allergies for years, we are here to help you manage life with an allergy.
First things first, you must understand your food allergy to stay safe. Do you know what an allergy means? How to identify reactions? Or how to treat those reactions as a child to being an adult? It's crucial as your children get older to re-educate them on food allergies because soon enough, they will be independent and have to manage their food allergy on their own. Don't EVER be afraid to ask questions before eating. Whether you are at a restaurant or a friend's house, if you are unsure, don't assume that something looks safe, ASK!
Coping with a Food Allergy
Living with a food allergy often results in lots of planning, attention, and awareness, to some people, even sacrifice. Of course, you'll need to know how to read ingredients and food labels correctly. But also, you'll have to adjust to your condition. Most of the time, you'll have to make some significant changes in your life to accommodate your new normal. Though some strategies can help ease the way.
If you feel a sense of loss after being diagnosed with a food allergy, that's normal, especially if you or your child have to give up some of your personal favorites. If you experience sadness after diagnosis, that's normal too. Food allergies sometimes result in missing out on everyday activities. Maybe your family decides to stop for ice cream after a game or go out for pizza on a Friday night; you have to make sure it is safe to go. Maybe every time you are around food, you begin feeling anxious, stressed, and worried if the food in your child's mouth is safe to eat. Our lives revolve around food: birthday parties, weddings, conferences, retirement parties, family reunions, and more. Having an allergy during these celebrations can feel frustrating and challenging. If you ever feel overwhelmed, do whatever you need to do to simplify other aspects of your life and find supportive friends and family members to talk through things with. Know, there is such a thing as an unhealthy level of worry. Just try your best to prevent exposure, but also don't focus on all the worst-case scenarios. If your child has any food allergies, pay attention to how you communicate about the allergies. Be sure to speak in a normal tone of voice and an age-appropriate fashion.
If you're lucky, some allergies won't restrict your diet too severely. If you or your child are diagnosed with a shellfish allergy and eat almost no seafood, you might be able to adjust to a new dietary routine easily. On the other hand, some food allergies require a complete revamp of your eating habits, especially if you are allergic to milk, eggs, common grains, and nuts.
Once diagnosed, your immediate reaction might be to avoid all social situations where food is served. It's important to do your best to push through these situations by:
- Educate others: Always explain your food allergies to the people around you and be clear about why you can't eat certain foods, as well as what will happen if you do.
- Offer help: After explaining your restrictions to a waiter/waitress or dinner host, ask what you can do to help so that they do not feel burdened or worried about your dietary needs.
- Prepare: If you can't guarantee that the food will be safe for you, consider bringing your own food to eat, rather than missing out on another event.
- Change it up: If you and your friends tend to go to the same restaurant all the time to get together, consider trying something new. Maybe suggest a new place that doesn't revolve around food like bowling, going to a park, or attending a concert.
Managing Food Allergies
There are different things you can do to help make living with food allergies more manageable.
- Restaurants: Going out to eat after a diagnosis can sometimes feel scary, so start slow. Be sure to stick to restaurants whose chefs or owners, you know personally, are friendly and willing to work with you.
- Kitchen: While it's safer to eat at home, there are some things you can keep in mind, like removing any items you can no longer eat from your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. By removing these items, you will eliminate temptations and reduce any chance of exposure. Also, be sure to clean all utensils and tools, set up a separate food prep area to avoid cross-contamination, and replace any scratched items like cutting boards that hide bits of allergenic foods.
- Cooking at Home: You may not have to give up your favorite dishes entirely as an adult, but you will need to learn how to make substitutions to make your recipes safely. For example, for dairy allergies, try using dairy-free milk alternatives. Or, those with wheat allergies can try using wheat-free flours instead.
- Bathroom: You may not think of double-checking your bathroom but making sure your cosmetics and toiletries are free of allergens is important. Sometimes these products can end up on your hands or mouth. It may not be obvious, but shampoo, conditioner, lip balms, sunscreen, lotion, and cosmetics can all contain food allergens like tree nut ingredients.
Learning as much as you can about food allergies can go a long way in helping you feel confident and comfortable with living with food allergies. After a food allergy diagnosis, try to read as much as possible on the subject and your particular allergy and ask your primary care provider any questions you may have. If your child is the one with the allergy, look for different opportunities to teach them tips on how to manage food allergies as they grow up. For instance, if your child loves to go grocery shopping with you, show them how to read all the labels to determine if the food is safe to consume.
Symptoms of food allergies can vary from one person to the next; that's why diagnosing food allergies can be as complicated as the medical condition itself. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, food allergic reactions can affect the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and/or cardiovascular system, and people may develop food allergies at different ages. If you think you or your child has a food allergy, see your primary care provider, pediatrician, or schedule a visit with an allergist. They will be able to identify which food(s) is causing the problem and help you develop a treatment plan.
It's crucial for CCP not only to treat people when they're sick but also to keep our community healthy. The Patient Education and Wellness Program of Community Care Physicians brings together four key elements to help you achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle: weight management, medical nutrition therapy, diabetes education, and LiFE® group classes. Our Medical Nutrition Therapy program offers nutrition-based treatment provided to help manage certain medical conditions like food allergies. Our care team will determine which nutrition therapies are appropriate and help develop an individualized plan for you. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (518) 713-5247.