4 Tips for Coping with a Food Allergy Diagnosis
FOOD—it’s all around us. For so many of us it’s what connects us. If I want to meet up with a friend—it’s usually at a restaurant. Family gatherings—there is almost always food involved. Going to do errands—there are food establishments everywhere. Imagine living in this world, where all of these every day activities we take for granted, are major triggers for others. For those with food allergies it can be. It’s a constant reminder of the dangers that linger all around.
As a parent of a food allergy kid, it’s an ongoing struggle to find the balance between a healthy level of anxiety and not allowing the world to become a scary or uninviting place for my son. For children living with an allergy diagnosis it is especially hard. They face the social stigma at school of being different and not being able to participate in the same activities as other kids. If a special treat is brought in to school, it’s the children with food allergies left to sit out, away from the potential threat that food might impose.
Reading labels and asking what is in everything has become second nature to my son at 3 years old. Advocating for himself and telling others what foods are safe and unsafe for him. Make me proud as his mother. The heartbreak I feel every time I have to tell him no or have to take something away from him that he can’t have never gets easier. I myself grew up with food allergies, so I really do feel the disappointment I see in his eyes.
1. Food allergies have an emotional and somewhat traumatic impact. As an EMDR clinician I often talk about big T and little t traumas and the cumulative impact it has on us over our life. For families impacted by allergies, they are often living with both big T and little T traumas daily. The impact of this must not be overlooked. An example of Big T would be needing to give your child an EPI pen injection and rush them to the hospital because their airway is closing off. Small t, being the concern every time you eat out at a restaurant that the food may be cross contaminated. It is critical that we not overlook this impact and deal with the trauma associated with this. It is possible to navigate trauma, without it having a lasting impact on us. It’s about how we help ourselves and our kids to process these things as they arise. Something as simple as providing space to talk about their emotions and providing a hug can be huge in helping someone to release trauma. It’s like falling off a bike and wanting a hug and a band-aid. Then being encouraged to try again, so we don’t go into freeze or flee mode.
2. There’s a social impact. Let’s face it kids can be mean, especially when someone is different. Helping our children to mitigate the social impact of having food allergies is also essential. Making sure that they have something similar to their friends can be helpful ie pizza at a birthday party, send them with a homemade pizza or buy a pizza that is allergy friendly. Teaching them how to speak up for themselves in a way that doesn’t ostracize them from their peers.
3. Plan ahead. Calling a food establishment before you arrive can save a lot of time, frustration, and disappointment. Having some snacks packed in your car or bag. Packing special treats or food to take with you to a social function are just a few quick tips.
4. Remember that having food allergies is not all bad. In a study by Warren et al. Food allergy kids were found to have “Greater responsibility, empathy, and improved diet, which was significantly associated with reduced odds of risky class membership.” We can help our children have a positive outlook and healthy perspective. For my son feeling like he has a “special treat or snack” helps him to feel important and empowered.
If you would like more information or help managing a food allergy, please reach out and ask for help. There are so many useful Facebook groups, food blogs, cookbooks and professionals available.
“ Food Allergy-Related Risk-Taking and Management Behaviors Among Adolescents and Young Adults.” WARREN ET AL , J ALLERGY CLIN IMMUNOL PRACT MARCH/APRIL 2017