From Food Allergies Suck to Food Allergies Rock!

Annoyed woman plugging ears with fingers doesn't want to listenI’ve found that there can be a lot of negativity revolving around food allergies. “Oh, you can’t eat peanut butter? Your life must suck!” “What?! You have to carry that thing around all the time? That’s brutal.” “Well if you can’t eat this, what can you eat?”

While the negativity can be quite overwhelming at times, I don’t really understand why it happens in the first place. What difference does it make to someone else’s life if I can’t eat something with peanuts or tree nuts in it? My life does not suck because I can’t eat Nutella or peanut butter. In fact, I think my life is better because I can’t eat those things. On the one hand, I remind everyone that because of my risk for anaphylaxis with peanuts and tree nuts, I avoid plenty of baked goods and sweets that my otherwise very sweet tooth would indulge in daily! This keeps me much healthier and in better shape. I’ve also tried peanut butter when I underwent an oral allergy test and full disclosure, I did not like the taste AT ALL.

Secondly, because of my food allergies I have learned so much about food, restaurant hospitality, travelling, airlines, baking, cooking, and especially about myself, that I would have never learned otherwise. My food allergy has opened more doors of opportunity than I could have possibly imagined when my 9-year-old self was told he was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Teamwork meeting concept
For the most part, I am a very positive person. I pride myself on seeing the good in most situations. It’s not always easy to be positive when people around you always seem to pick out the negative aspects of life with a food allergy. My suggestion is to consider the fact that these people may simply not know anything about food allergies and their comments are simply ignorance. Take the opportunity to spread awareness and teach them about the positive aspects of food allergies. I think there’s something to be said about maintaining a positive outlook on food allergies. Positivity is contagious! Maybe your return comments will help them see why their comments were unjustified and why life with a food allergy really isn’t so bad after all.

– Dylan B.

The Anxiety of Never Having an Allergic Reaction

As someone who has been immersed in the food allergy world for most my life, I’ve read and heard a lot about anxiety with food allergies. However, most of the attention has always been on anxiety after experiencing an allergic reaction. As an example, my brother has had three major reactions to peanuts or tree nuts where he had to use his epinephrine auto-injector. After each of these reactions, he was very hesitant to eat out or try any new foods for fear that they might trigger another reaction. One of my best friends grew into his food allergies after the age of 20 and has since experienced at least 11 severe allergic reactions, some of which required the use of multiple epinephrine auto-injectors and very close calls in getting to the hospital. Needless to say, his anxiety when eating in a social setting is quite high!

My own anxiety about my food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts feels quite different. I’m technically at-risk for anaphylaxis. I’ve been tested every other year for as long as I can remember and the result is always the same. The peanut bump always swells up like a balloon. That being said, I’ve been extremely fortunate and never experienced an allergic reaction. I know the signs and symptoms only through what I’ve read, heard, or seen. I’ve never physically or mentally experienced what a reaction actually feels like but I still get anxious at times.

man with stressed face expression brain melting into linesI’ll give you an example. Around the holiday season, people like to share baked goods with me at the physiotherapy clinic I work for. I know baked goods are potentially risky for someone with a peanut/tree nut allergy so I always triple check ingredients and ask about the risk for cross-contamination. Only when I feel 100% confident that the treat is allergen-safe, will I take a bite. Well on one particular instance, a patient brought in brownies. I asked about each and every ingredient, was taken through the steps required to make them, and was assured they were “nut-free” because she had a nephew who had the same allergy. From the protocol I made for myself, the brownies passed every test. So I took a bite. It was delicious! I thought about how I could easily eat the entire batch and not think twice about it.

Then, I heard the patient chatting with another patient about Belgian chocolate that she bought from a bulk food store. Bulk food? Belgian chocolate? One red flag went up. She continued to talk about how that chocolate was so good that she put it in the brownies. Another red flag went up. As she turned to me, she asked if I could taste that chocolate. All I could think about was the risk of cross-contamination from the bulk food store. As a rule, I never eat “may contain peanuts or tree nuts” products because any risk is too much risk for me. So in the moment, I simply nodded my reply, set down the rest of my brownie and left the clinic to go on my lunch. As I drove, I checked my signs and symptoms a hundred times thinking that I was likely to react. I was shaking and had put myself into an anxious fit! An hour passed, then two, then three, and I realized I must have been lucky this time.

It may have been an over reaction on my part but I still think I had reason to feel anxious. The unknown, especially when it comes to food, can be quite nerve-wracking. I also think that maybe my own anxiety stems from the fact that I’ve had to administer an epinephrine auto-injector on both my brother and my best friend. Maybe it stems from the fact that I have seen the fear in my friend’s face when he was experiencing his most severe allergic reaction. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to slow my breathing, calm my thoughts, and focus on what is actually happening, not what I think could happen. This strategy has helped me conquer food-related anxiety multiple times and I consider myself very lucky to be 17 years without an allergic reaction (knock on wood!!)

– Dylan B.

My 2016: New Places, New People, and New Perspectives on Allergies

Well, it certainly has been a year. 2016 was a year of discovery and new opportunity.

I started 2016 living in Kingston, the city in which I chose to go to school and thankfully received a job in my chosen career. Unfortunately, it was not in the same city where my partner, family, and cat lived, which already had me in a slump, but then I discovered I had a new allergen to raw seeds. Not what I was expecting in my late 20’s and living away from basically everyone I trusted. So my rut had grown bigger.

Girl sitting on floor and wrote in a notebook

I spent my days doing marketing and analysis and my evenings co-running and sitting in on Food Allergy Canada’s mentorship program, Allergy Pals, and researching a newly diagnosed allergy to seeds. I have been involved with the Allergy Pals Program since it’s inception so it is definitely something that is near and dear to my heart. Especially since I grew up with the risk for anaphylaxis and always felt like I was the only one, it gave me an opportunity to help young kids know that there are other people just like them. Allergy Pals is a mentorship program ran by older mentors and junior mentors who have food allergies and are dedicated to helping younger mentees better understand and learn how to deal with different situations regarding food allergies and intolerances. Anything from personal experience to the teachable material provided, this program is most importantly a tool where all participants can share and lean on each other for support. It’s a program I’ve poured my soul into and fully support with my time, suggestions, and efforts. It’s also been a great resource for me as an adult, to learn and talk with other mentors about various food allergies and how to deal with them. After discovering my new allergy and living alone in a different city, it became a great resource for me.

I loved being involved with Allergy Pals in any capacity, whether it had been leading sessions or listening to them. So when I was given the opportunity to become the new Program Coordinator for Allergy Pals, I was ecstatic! It was something new and exciting and something I was passionate about. It was a program I respect and care so much about. I of course accepted and started moving forward to make the program the best possible product I could. It was just the thing I needed to get out of my new allergy/ far away city rut.

My goal and dream for the program is to connect with anyone who wants to learn more about tough situations, feelings, and anything else that may be included in having a food allergy. I’d also love to curate other people’s ideas and feelings to make the best possible program. Being the program coordinator allows me to give back to a program that means so much to not only me, but every other mentor and mentee involved.

It certainly was a year of change, moving, and happiness. I feel like 2016 gave me an opportunity to explore and understand my food allergies through new eyes, whether it be the mentees in Allergy Pals or the new people I surround myself with at home. After obtaining this new position and feeling more comfortable with my new found allergy, I knew it was time to make the move back home and end 2016 in my home town.

I can’t wait until 2017 to watch Allergy Pals grow and explore new opportunities. I also can’t wait to uncover new and interesting things about my food allergies and myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about Allergy Pals check out the link below:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/programs-services/allergy-pals-mentorship/

– Arianne K.

New Years Allergy Scare and Lessons Learned

My friends and I always try to do something to celebrate the New Year. I feel like it’s just such a fun night to enjoy out with your friends/family. Two years ago, my friends and I planned to go to Niagara Falls for New Year’s. We were so prepared; we booked everything way in advance, purchased our tickets for our New Year’s party, and figured out who was driving. The group I was going with was a very responsible group and they had all known me since elementary school, so they were very familiar with my food allergies. We were all so psyched to go to Niagara!

I’m a pretty frugal person when it comes to money, especially since I was still a student in University, so I assumed that my friends and I were going to eat at fast food restaurants for the majority of the time in Niagara. I actually love fast food restaurants as they are literally EVERYWHERE and I’m very familiar with what I can and can’t eat. On New Year’s eve though, my friends stopped by this lavish Italian restaurant just outside of our hotel. They made reservations for that evening, without even bothering to call me and ask me to come over and check the menu. When they arrived back at our room and told me our plans, I didn’t think much of it. I was more angry at the fact that I would be spending 30+ dollars on a dinner that I really didn’t care to eat. I would’ve much preferred something quick. I didn’t bother to go downstairs and check the place out because I just thought I’d investigate it when we went down there for dinner.


At dinner, the place was very accommodating of my food allergies. I spoke to the manager and he assured me that they were going to do everything they could to prevent any sort of cross-contamination from occurring. To avoid any miscommunication between myself and the staff, I ordered a very simple dish. However, around 3 hours later, I broke out in MASSIVE hives all over my body in the middle of our New Years party. My best friend and I went back to the room while everyone else stayed at the party.

 

Thankfully, nothing further happened, but the hives were definitely a downer on the evening. I’m not sure if they were from something I ate from the restaurant, but I had a feeling it was. Everything else I ate/drank that evening, I was very familiar with. That was the last time I will ever let my friends choose a restaurant before discussing it with me. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten there if I didn’t feel comfortable. Two years later, I’m no longer friends with any of the people I went to New Years with (besides the one girl I went back to the room with). I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid of speaking your mind and telling your friends what makes you comfortable/uncomfortable because IT’S YOUR HEALTH. 

 

Happy New Year,

 

– Giulia

Having a Happy and Safe Holiday with Food Allergies

The holidays are upon us once again! With the holiday season there are inevitably lots of gatherings, parties and celebrations. Whether it is family get togethers or work parties, food certainly plays a big role this season and is a time to be on high alert for those of us with allergies! Here are my top 5 tips to having a happy and safe holiday season with allergies.Full Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Remind your family members about your allergies

The holidays tend to be the time of year where family members who you may not have seen for a while will be getting together to celebrate. For those more distant relatives it can be hard for them to remember that you have an allergy – especially if you are allergic to more than one thing. Instead of being frustrated and dealing with an awkward situation where you can’t eat items at your family gathering, don’t be shy to gently remind your family about your allergies. It may feel slightly uncomfortable but people often feel bad when they realize they have brought something you are allergic to so it’s better to let them know in advance!

  1. Watch out for those baked goods

As common allergens are frequently found in baked goods, it is important to be extra careful around these items. The holiday season usually means lots and lots of baked goods – cookies, Christmas pudding, pies – you name it, somebody is baking it! I have found that people often bring things into work or there are trays of baked goods at parties. It is always important to ask about ingredients and watch for cross contamination. You will generally be safest if you avoid the baked goods unless you can guarantee that they are safe!

  1. Prepare in advance for work parties

There are usually lots of fun parties to attend during this time of year. If you have an invite to a work party do your research! Look into where it is being held and if there is food being served. As it can be hard to find out all the details you are doing yourself a favour if you prepare ahead of time by eating before you go. Some parties may just have appetizers and drinks so you could be starving anyways if you haven’t had a good dinner before attending!

  1. Make your own treats

With the limitations most people with allergies have when it comes to baked treats and goodies it can be quite disheartening having no fun holiday baked goods to eat. Get creative in the kitchen and make things yourselves! You can even have some friends over and have a holiday baking party. That way your kitchen is stocked for the season and you can even bring your own treats with you to gatherings and parties so you can ensure your sweet tooth is satisfied and you don’t miss out!

Christmas lights on dark blue background. Decorative garland

  1. Don’t get stressed by the little stuff

With so many get togethers over the holidays, this can sometimes be an added stress for those with food allergies. Don’t let it get to you if you miss out on some desserts or can’t eat everything at your work party. Remember this is a time of year to celebrate and enjoy those you are with – not what ends up in your belly! I always try to put a positive spin on my restrictions by saying that I won’t put on as many pounds this time of year or be the one on New Year’s Day hitting the gym. Of course, I somehow always manage to find a few allergy-safe treats before the holidays are over!

Hope these tips help you all have a very happy holiday season!

– Lindsay S.

Airbnb-ing Across Europe Food Allergy Style

Airbnb has become an increasingly popular way for people to find accommodations when travelling and also a way for people to make money by letting others stay in their home. Depending on where and when you are travelling, Airbnb can be a very cost-effective solution rather than staying at a traditional hotel. When travelling through Europe, I opted to rent an Airbnb in two cities I was staying in: Paris, France and Bern, Switzerland. These places had hotel rates that were extremely high and also had a very high cost of living. Therefore, I thought it would be economical to stay at someone’s home.

Closeup Of Old Signboard Bed & Breakfast Hanging On Fence

When renting through Airbnb there is a wide variety of accommodation types you can choose from. I will go through the two options I have experience with and explain how this all worked out with my food allergies.

  1. Renting a room in a home

When in Bern, my travelling partner and I rented a room from a very nice girl who lived in an apartment with three other people. We were permitted to use common areas such as the bathroom, laundry, kitchen, etc. Due to my risk for anaphylaxis, we did not opt to use the kitchen as I could not be guaranteed what food had been prepared there. This was a personal choice I made as I did not want to go through the hassle of meticulously washing countertops, dishes, and utensils. However, this is still an option for people willing to put in the work. Staying in someone else’s home with others still living there obviously presents with some limitations. It is important to fully understand what type of rental you are signing up for when making your booking. Often private rooms in a home or apartment are cheaper than having the whole place to yourself. With this in mind, you do have the risk of cross-contamination or coming into contact with your allergen in a shared kitchen, so be cautious.

Bed & Breakfast  accommodation in England

  1. Renting an entire home

For our time in Paris we were able to rent a one-bedroom apartment which we had to ourselves as the owner was not there. This was a really great luxury to have as we were able to save a lot of money on meals by buying food at a local grocery store. We had breakfast in the apartment every day and also prepared lunches to take with us. I ran into no difficulties with my food allergies while staying in the apartment. The kitchen was very clean when we arrived and if I was concerned I would just carefully wash things like knives that may have previously been used for peanut butter. Our host was even nice enough to leave us a bottle of wine to enjoy. Being able to make two out of three meals in a day also helped me to ensure that what I was eating was safe for me. I purchased allergen-safe foods from the grocery store and did not have to worry about miscommunication or cross-contamination at restaurants.

My experiences with Airbnb and my food allergies have been great so far. I have had no problems staying safe while staying in someone else’s home! If you are very concerned about your allergies, you are able to message the person you are renting from on the website to discuss any issues or accommodations that can be made!

Happy travelling!

– Lindsay S.

Top 10 Tips for Going to University/College with Food Allergies

Going away to school is a really exciting time for any student but for those at-risk for anaphylaxis, it can come along with a unique set of challenges. Since some college and university programs start in January, here are some tips to make the transition to this new part of your life as easy and as safe as possible!

Late night study, student desk in low light.

  1. Talk to food services

With the wide variety of dietary restrictions that students at university/college have, most food services have policies in place and are very accommodating to student needs. Go chat with the staff at food services at your school to discuss things such as ingredient lists, if they serve your allergen, cross-contamination risks, and how they can help you eat safely!

  1. Learn about your options for residence

For those that will be living on campus, like many students do in first year, you can get in touch with those who organize residence living. Often students with food allergies are able to get a single room more easily or even a room with a kitchen so they can cook their own meals!

  1. Tell your roommate in advance

If you chose to not live in a single room it is important to give your roommate(s) a heads up about your food allergies! You are usually given their contact information the summer before heading to school, so send them a quick email when introducing yourself to let them know about your allergies. You can discuss how you prefer to manage your allergies and come up with some friendly ground rules along with other general living guidelines for your time together.

  1. Tell your new friends

You will be making a ton of new friends when you get to university/college and none of them will know about your food allergies unless you tell them! It is easiest to just tell them right off the bat so that you don’t get stuck in any tricky situations and you can feel safe knowing you have people nearby who are aware of your situation.

  1. Talk to your residence advisor

Most schools will have a residence advisor who is an upper year student that lives on your floor and ensures everyone is safe and following residence rules. Usually during your orientation week, they will have a floor meeting for everyone to meet each other. It is a good idea to talk to your advisor prior to this meeting so they are aware of your allergies and so they can let everyone else know that someone on the floor has an allergy. This can save you some of the trouble of letting everyone know yourself! If you don’t want to be singled out as “the kid with allergies” you can even ask them not to identify you.

Shiny bright red miniature fridge

  1. Get your own snacks and a mini fridge

This is an essential for most students in residence but even more so for those with food allergies. Investing in a mini fridge is a great option to ensure that you have some safe foods as a go-to at all times! Go to the grocery store with some friends and get yourself breakfast foods, snacks, etc.

  1. Bring lots of auto-injectors

If you are going away to school somewhere that isn’t so close to your hometown it is likely that your family doctor, allergist, and pharmacy will all be inaccessible at times. Make sure that you have a good stock of auto-injectors (check the expiry date) with you so you can keep one in your backpack, one in your room, etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Having a food allergy may feel like it limits where you can go to eat, doing extra curricular activities, and making new friends but it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! Going away to school is the best time to get involved, try new activities, and meet new people. There is always a way to accommodate for your allergies in whatever you are doing to make sure you are living safely.

  1. Find others with allergies

When I went away to school there just so happened to be two other girls on my floor who had food allergies. Getting to know them made it a lot easier to live with my allergies at school as we could go get food together, talk about what places were safe to eat, and share tips with each other.

  1. Become truly independent

For most people going away to school is the first time they will be living on their own and away from parents. This will test your ability to be truly independent in managing your allergies as you won’t have your friends or family from home to be there for support. Take this time to learn how to live safely with your allergies all on your own!

– Lindsay S.

By Food Allergy Canada