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Five Things You Go Through When You Live With Food Allergies

I have a confession: I’m allergic to more things than many people think are humanly possible.

I’m allergic to peanuts, nuts, and dairy. Then comes a long list of “I’m not sure if they will kill me but they will definitely make me really sick” allergies: sesame seeds, lobster, crab, shrimp, oysters, kiwi, and sometimes eggs.

Nut allergies are a common accomodation for people, and foods such as crab or kiwi are pretty easy to spot and avoid. But the most challenging allergy for me is dairy; anyone who is lactose intolerant, vegan, or full-out allergic to dairy, like me, knows how hard it is to avoid dairy products. Like gluten or soy, dairy sneaks into unexpected places: for example, some types of potato chips actually contain lactose (e.g. Lays ketchup chips).  

My life has definitely been different because of my food allergies. Five unique moments occur that I think many other people with food allergies can relate to.


1. When someone offers you food you can’t eat and things get awkward



The common scenario starts pretty innocently: a person I’m talking to or sitting next to starts unwrapping a chocolate bar and offers me some. My immediate answer should just be, “no, thank you!” but for some reason, I always end up looking at the wrapper or bag, hesitating for just a moment. Usually the hesitation stems from the fact that I’m always willing to share a snack, but my obnoxious allergies keep getting in the way. Then, I blurt out, “No! I’m allergic, actually. Thanks though!”

Then comes the panic. The person offering me food might start feeling pretty bad about possibly causing my death. It’s no fault of theirs and I always try to laugh it off and reassure them, but sometimes the feeling of guilt lingers on as they wonder whether they should put the snack away or continue eating it in front of me.

Personally, the worst is when family members or loved ones forget about my allergies when offering food. The shame in their eyes is palpable.


2. When someone says “You’ve never tasted (insert allergen here)!? You poor thing!”



If the first situation is a slightly annoying awkward moment that happens often, this situation is a little more irritating. When some people find out I’m allergic to something, either through getting stuck in the first situation or through conversation, they tend to turn to platitudes such as: “Oh my God, that means you’ve never had ice cream?”

I get to eat other great things, quit pointing out how amazing the things I can’t eat are. I get it, sometimes it’s hard to know what to say in situations you don’t regularly encounter. I’ve probably said the same thing about BBQ ribs to a vegetarian person.


3. When you’re hungry and stranded with no snacks and no safe restaurants around



Okay, out of all the situations outlined here, this has got to be the worst one. As a person who easily gets hangry (i.e. hungry and angry), being stranded with no snacks on me and no safe place to eat is torture. Even if there are some restaurants or cafés around, many people with allergies or eating restrictions know you don’t just waltz in anywhere and ask for a random thing off the menu. Going out to eat for me takes research and preparation: I look at the menu ahead of time, call and ask if they accommodate allergies, and have a snack before so I don’t impulsively order and eat without properly checking with the restaurant staff. Being hungry and stranded can be a seemingly hopeless situation until I find an apple in the bottom of my bag.   


4. When someone cooks for you at their house and things get stressful



I always feel bad when someone invites me over for supper because I know cooking for me can feel like probing around in a dark room. I try to be as supportive as I can, offering to bring a dish or to help cook, but nothing I do can totally appease some of the host’s stress. Cooking for someone with severe allergies or eating restrictions for the first time can be extremely difficult. Cooking is, for many people, a mechanical, habitual act: adding a tablespoon of butter here and maybe a sprinkle of cheese there is second nature for some. Suddenly, the host must check the ingredients of every element in their recipes, then clean surfaces and utensils that have previously handled nuts and dairy. For some, every move they make in the kitchen is accompanied with a sense of doubt: “What if the nuts I ate on the couch last week contaminated everything?” Rest assured, hosts, most of you do an amazing, much too thorough job. People with allergies and dietary restrictions usually appreciate the extra steps hosts make to accommodate their guests.


5. When people don’t understand how serious allergies are and you have to explain



Although most of my loved ones and friends understand the severity of my allergies, sometimes I meet people who just don’t get it. Some people think I’m a really picky eater and that I don’t like cheese or peanut butter. Some people think I don’t eat dairy or nuts because they think I’m following a health fad. The truth is, I will eat literally anything I’m not allergic to.

Misunderstanding allergies is comprehensible if you’ve never encountered them before, but trying to downplay allergies can be dangerous. I explain what allergies are and how detrimental they can be, and sometimes I even have to recount my last allergic reaction, just so they can imagine the kind of crisis I go through when I accidentally eat specific foods.

I’m thankful for the people who want to avoid those types of allergic reactions as much as I do, and who go to great lengths to accommodate me and make me feel comfortable.     


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