Growing up with a food allergy not only limits what someone is able to eat, but it also causes more stress and anxiety on an individual. From the moment of diagnosis, there are immediate changes that need to be taken, both to one’s diet, and to his or her lifestyle. These adjustments can provoke instant uncertainty, confusion, and the overwhelming feeling of the long road ahead of living with a food allergy. The important thing to remember is that the anxiety that one may feel about this journey is felt by kids and adults all over the world.
There are three main worries about having a food allergy: 1) eating out with friends and attending gatherings without knowing what meal options will be available, 2) telling people about an allergy but not wanting to burden them, and 3) the fear of actually being exposed to the allergy.
Eating outside the comfort of your home can be scary. At restaurants, you do not have your own pantry and refrigerator at your disposal. You do not see the chefs preparing the food to ensure that there is no cross contamination. Similarly, going to a friend’s house means risking the possibility that there may not be any food that you can eat. Traveling, or going on trips means being in a foreign place without knowing the area and the food that it has to offer. There are a few things that you can do in these instances. When going out to eat, an important and easy thing you can do to relieve some anxiety is to read the menus before going to a restaurant and making sure that the restaurant is a good fit. If not, let the other people in your party know and find a better place to dine. Do not be afraid to speak up about your allergy – people who care about you will want you to be able to have something to eat and something that you will enjoy while eating! Another worthwhile thing to do is letting the actual people preparing your meal (such as the waitress or chef) know the severity of your allergy. If someone knows just how serious the allergy is, that individual will be even more careful when cooking your allergy-friendly meal.
Making people aware of your allergy is much easier said than done. It is not always fun to draw attention to yourself and make it more complicated for others to cook for you. However, it is crucial to remember that you are NOT a burden. Food allergies are common and there is an extremely broad range of them. Chefs, restaurant managers, family members, and friends are surrounded by people with food allergies and can even benefit themselves by being educated about your own allergy. People who truly care about you want to keep you safe. It is crucial to make sure that you are completely comfortable eating the plate in front of you before taking a bite to protect your body, as well as to calm your own nerves and stress so that you can enjoy the food. Your health comes first and you should never sacrifice that for fear of creating more work for others.
The actual anxiety of what might happen if you are contaminated by your allergy is extremely normal. The questions of how and where you might react are quite scary and are unfortunately questions that will never completely disappear. Doubts like these may always be in the back of your mind, but by taking the steps that have been listed above, you are taking every possible measure to ensure that you are not exposed to your allergy. On top of this, surround yourself with people who care about you and come prepared by bringing epi-pens, medicines, etc. to relieve even that smallest concern that you might be contaminated. Nothing is ever completely guaranteed, but it is important to know that you can have an allergy while still being able to enjoy food and the company of friends and family.
Finally, talking about the anxiety and stress of living with a food allergy is also another great way to relieve the stress factor of this part of your life. By communicating with others who understand the struggles of having an allergy make us all feel more connected and less alone. This in turn, can decrease anxiety, especially if we know that we have people to turn to in times of need.
While food allergies are a major lifestyle change, they do not define your life. Changes may be made to your diet, but it is crucial to remember that you can still enjoy everything that life has to offer and that you are never alone.