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Tips for Living with Invisible Disabilities: Food Allergies Edition

We often focus on the medical aspect of food allergies for children and adults, but seldom do we reflect upon the toll it takes on those who navigate life with food allergies and their caregivers. Food allergies fall under the umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and for good reason. When someone has a food allergy that means that they may be susceptible to severe and life threatening reactions because their body reacts differently to a food that is considered otherwise safe. Add in to that well-meaning individuals who don’t understand some of the complexities and others who are just thoughtless or unkind, and living with food allergies can be tough! Below I’ve included my top tips to thriving with food allergies:

  1. Try to find the positive. This one is tough, because I will admit that so much of our society centers around food. It is foundational for many social activities. Although food allergies can make life challenging, I do credit it for making me more aware of what is in food and in some ways this has contributed to healthful eating choices in ways that go beyond just avoiding my allergen (s). Also, it created a sort of compassion in me that can only come from walking in these shoes.
  2. Focus on what you can eat, at least just as much as what you can’t. While a big part of managing food allergies is maintaining an almost hyperawareness of what goes on your plate, at one point I started appreciating the things I could have and the things I am able to enjoy. This is a case of glass half full, but it does remind me that I am able to eat a lot more things than I can’t.
  3. Be confident in advocating for yourself. At this stage in my life, I have very little qualms about what others may think of me doing what I need to be safe and feel comfortable. But… that was not always the case. So, if me now had a talk with me back then, I would tell myself not to worry so much about what others think when I ask questions at restaurants or have to turn down a treat. Breathing is important! Much more important than what others think. Those who know and care about me understand and accept this as part of who I am (and what I need to do!)
  4. Make sure that you are getting what you need in your diet just as much as keeping out the things you can’t have. This has been a very steep learning curve for me. Depending on the allergy, it may be necessary to take out whole entire food groups (such as dairy). Other food allergies such as wheat or eggs may make it harder to get other nutrients or protein (the later). Add in multiple food allergies and it gets really complicated. Learn what things you can put in to your diet to replace the vitamins and minerals that usually are obtained from your allergen. I ended up consulting a nutritionist at the local regional hospital who gave me tips and recipes for helping me with protein, calcium, and iron. Check with your insurance to see what they cover and what the requirements for this are (sometimes a referral and diagnosis code is required).
  5. Look for online support, but take it with a grain of salt. Emotional support is super important and it can be helpful to keep in touch with others who are experiencing the same as you. There is such a spectrum of allergy related conditions, though, so it is important to make sure that suggestions shared are right for you or your child. Always clear advice with your allergist and discuss a emergency plan in case of reaction.
  6. Find other ways to connect with people outside of food! Take a hike together or if food must be part, have a picnic where everyone BYO. Get creative here and have fun looking for ways outside of food to socialize.

When we teach and parent we touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!