Anxiety and Your Allergies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.

Portrait of young man suffering for depression

I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.

Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.

– Arianne K.

My Favourite Restaurant: T-Bar NYC

I love to travel to New York – whether it be for business or pleasure, there is a magical and electric element about the city that you cannot experience anywhere else in the world. In the past year, I’ve had to travel to the city, specifically for business. One of the difficulties with travelling to the Big Apple, is the fact that most hotels do not have kitchens. In fact, most native New Yorkers eat-out very frequently. This poses some issues to those of us in the severe food allergy community, where eating-out can be a potentially dangerous experience. Having lived with the risk for an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts for the past decade, I found myself in this position on one of my most recent trips to the city.

While in Manhattan, I researched “nut-free restaurants in New York” on Google, and stumbled across a restaurant called T-Bar: an upscale, modern restaurant on the Upper-East side. I was very eager to try this new place out, given that nut-free restaurants in Toronto are a definite rarity.

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order

When I arrived, I was greeted by a team of very friendly staff who assured me that my meal would be completely nut-free. I was ecstatic! So much so, that I ordered the left-side of the menu; everything from fried-artichokes, to fresh breadsticks, to an entire pizza. In short, the food along with the overall ambiance of the place was amazing. The restaurant is quintessentially New York – elegant, classy, modern and buzzing with activity.

Further, my experience at T-Bar was the best I’ve ever had in any restaurant in a very long time. The restaurant has now become a staple during my trips to New York – if you visit the city, definitely give this restaurant a try!

If you’re looking for more options, a college student has created a blog finding allergy-friendly places in New York City. Check it out at

– Saverio M.

My Backpacking Experience

This spring my best friend and I graduated university, and decided to celebrate by buying oversized backpacks and booking plane tickets to Europe for a month long adventure. It was a whirlwind! We visited 12 towns throughout 6 countries in just 28 days, but it was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Most of my family was very supportive of my plans to take off and explore, but I did see some hesitation from my dad. Being two young girls travelling on our own, I do get where he was coming from, but it turns out that he was most concerned about my food allergies. Being in such unfamiliar places, with language barriers, made him nervous.

This wasn’t my first trip to Europe, so I was fairly confident in being able to keep myself safe, but there were still a lot of unknowns. I am glad I didn’t let this hold me back! I had an amazing trip and felt safe when I was eating abroad with my food allergies. If you’re planning on backpacking abroad I have a few words of advice on how to keep yourself safe.

Preparing to Take Off
More than any other flight I had been on, I was very selective of the airline I chose for my transatlantic flight. Being a very long flight, I made sure I was going to be comfortable with the food allergy policies of the airline. It is great to see that there are many Canadian airlines that no longer serve peanuts or tree nuts on-board, and are accommodating by creating buffer zones and making cabin announcements about food allergies. I made sure to call ahead and confirm the policies so that I would be comfortable.
Airplane seat and window inside an aircraft

Before leaving I had food allergy cards made by a friend who was able to translate that I have life-threatening food allergies. These really ended up coming in handy in a few situations. I found that free online translation websites were typically not accurate so having a friend who speaks French and Italian was very helpful. There are a few sites online that have pre-made allergy cards that you can order, which is very useful. I would highly recommend doing this.

It is also a good idea to stock up on any medications you might need before you go. This may seem excessive, but I brought five EpiPens® with me. I kept two in my friend’s bag in case my bag was lost, two in my purse, and a spare in my luggage. I would not want to have to deal with replacing lost EpiPens® while abroad, so I over prepared.

For our month long journey, hostels were our places to stay because they are economical and a great way to meet other travellers. Also, to my surprise staying in hostels was quite helpful allergy-wise. The majority of hostels have a full-shared kitchen. With this, we were able to cook a lot of our meals and that way I had control over what I was eating. Being a shared kitchen, I did have to be careful about what was going on around me. I always washed dishes before I used them, since dishes were often not cleaned well and I did not know what they were used for before they were put away. Eating-in was also helpful in keeping to our budget and being able to have healthy meals more often.
Renting apartments or condos can also be a great economical option in Europe. This generally provides you with a kitchen allowing you to cook your own meals.

Eating Out
My trip began by travelling through the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. English is well spoken in these areas so it was nice to start our trip without the language barrier. Before our departure, many people had told me that food allergies are far less common in Europe compared to North America, and that it would be challenging to explain the concept to servers. To my surprise, when we went to order at our first restaurant in London, after mentioning I had allergies, the server returned with a full food allergy guide outlining the presence of allergens in all of their meals. I was amazed to find that this was only the start of finding food allergy menus at every single restaurant I went to in these countries. Many restaurants would even have a coded system at the end of their main menu so I would not even have to ask for a special menu. I was thrilled by how easy this made dining out for me and this lessened my worries. I still took the time to explain my food allergies to servers and ensured that they would relay the message to the kitchen.

Once I arrived in Paris, eating out became a little more challenging. First of all, I faced a language barrier since my French vocabulary is very minimal. At most restaurants servers would speak English but I still used my allergy cards to ensure that we were on the same page. Allergy menus were also far less common here, but the servers were generally able to suggest what my safest options were. The only time I really had difficulties was a night we ate at a true, authentic, off-the-beaten-path French restaurant. Luckily, one of the friends we had made along the way, who was out for dinner with us, was very fluent in French and able to help communicate for me.

finger on a menu

The most shocking experience I had related to my food allergies throughout the trip happened when we arrived in Venice and picked a cute little Italian restaurant to eat at on one of the many canals. I was so excited to have my first true Italian pizza, until I looked at the menu, which did have a coded system, indicating that every single dish contained peanuts. I later learned that it is common in Venice for some restaurants to use peanut oils or peanut-based flours in their pizza and pasta. I had never heard of this before and was worried at that point that I would not be able to find any food that I could eat. Luckily during my time in Italy, there was only one other restaurant I found that did this and all others were safe, but this is something to definitely be on the look out for in your travels.

Overall, I had a great experience backpacking throughout Europe this past spring. Do not let your food allergies hold you back from exploring the world. Do your research, be prepared, and have fun!

– Sara S.

Kiwis (not the fruit), Hobbits and Rugby – Travelling to New Zealand with a Food Allergy

Kia Ora (hello in the language of the native Maori people of New Zealand)!

Milford Sound in New Zealand

I recently had the pleasure of travelling to the amazingly beautiful country of New Zealand where I spent 3 weeks driving all around the North and South Island discovering this exotic land.

After 24 hours of travel to get to New Zealand I was not only exhausted but was also starving! I started out my discovery of what the local cuisine was and began navigating my allergies while travelling. Overall, the food in New Zealand is very similar to food in Canada and North America as a whole. I wasn’t sure if they would have any bizarre delicacies or not have food I normally eat at home but I found eating with my allergies to be very easy while there!

Having a common language was probably what made travelling the easiest as I had no issues communicating my allergies with servers or chefs while eating out. Allergies are quite prevalent in New Zealand, so most people are aware of what it means to be allergic to a food.

Oysters on stone plate with ice and lemon

Seafood and shellfish are fairly common items I found on menus when eating out so if you are allergic to any of these items, you will need to be careful. However, there are lots of other options such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork etc. that can help you to avoid eating any fish. For those allergic to kiwis make sure you say kiwi fruit as the term Kiwi is often used to describe a person from New Zealand. I made this mistake a few times when referring to the fruit and was always chuckled at by a local (I’m sure it happens all the time).

One thing I would be careful of is ensuring you always have a good store of auto-injectors on you. There is often a fair distance between towns and cities throughout New Zealand. We spent most of our days driving anywhere from 4-6 hours with most of that spent on the side of a mountain or in rural farm land. Often there is not cell phone service and you can be quite far away from a hospital or a doctor. So it is important that before you leave, you stock up on auto-injectors so that you have enough to last you in case you have a reaction while travelling between places.

Overall I found New Zealand a very easy country to navigate with my allergies. They have some chains of restaurants and fast food places that we have here in Canada so you can almost always find something safe to eat!

– Lindsay S.

Travelling to the Land Down Under with Food Allergies

Kangaroos crossing.

G’Day Mate! Travelling to Australia is an amazing vacation and a beautiful place to visit. I took my first trip to Australia recently and had an amazing time seeing kangaroos, koala bears, beaches, and the outback. Of course for any trip I take, being extra vigilant about my food allergies was something I made sure was a priority.

Since they do speak English in Australia, handling my allergies was a lot easier than it has been when travelling to places where there is a language barrier. As you quickly learn though, Australians have lots of different terms and words that we don’t use in Canada. For example, green peppers are called “capsicum” and cantaloupe is called “rock melon.” To make sure people understand you when you are asking about your allergies, do a quick search online to make sure that they don’t use a different word to describe the food you are allergic to!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Australian food” as I didn’t know if their cuisine was substantially different from North American cuisine. Overall, they do eat a lot of similar foods that we eat here. They have some unique local dishes like kangaroo, emu, and camel (but don’t worry there are lots of other meat options for you to choose from!) Aussies also love their beet root and will often put it on burgers and in salads. Being completely surrounded by water, the coastal cities often have lots of fish on the menu as well, some of which are not found back here in Canada. So if you have a fish allergy, make sure you are careful about what you eat. They also have lots of fish and chip shops but it is important you ask about what oil they are frying the fish in as I did come across some places that used peanut oil.

Fruit and Vegetable Markets

Overall the concept of food allergies is quite well understood in Australia so if you tell your server about your allergy they should be able to easily understand and accommodate your dietary restrictions. I did find that food in the country tends to be a little more expensive than back in Canada – although tax is included in the price and they do not tip servers there. Therefore, I ended up buying a lot of food at grocery stores which have a wide variety to choose from at more affordable prices. I also found lots of peanut and nut-free snacks available so it made shopping a bit easier. Allergens are often labelled on any food product making label reading a quicker process!

I found Australia to be a really allergy-friendly place to travel as things are well labelled, no language barriers exist, and food allergies are quite prevalent in the country. If you are ever willing to make the long trek to the land down under, I would highly recommend it and would have few worries about travelling with your allergies!

– Lindsay S.

Intolerance vs. Anaphylaxis: A Clarification

Having multiple severe food allergies has helped me grow a tougher skin to rude questions, dangerous misconceptions, and all around odd questions. My usual response to “What will happen if you eat a cashew or peanut?” is: “it won’t be good for my life, and I have things to do this week, so please keep it away.”

Some questions or myths make me chuckle a little before I answer or clear up some facts, but the one that makes me laugh and frown at the same time is the misconception of intolerances vs. anaphylaxis.

I was once at a cottage with friends, and in preparation for food and drinks I explained in great detail my food allergies and the dangers of cross-contamination. When we arrived and prepared lunch, one of the people there informed us they couldn’t have dairy at all. Diligently, we prepped food to ensure everyone eating would be safe and comfortable, and avoided cross-contamination at all costs. Fast forward to the next day, and iced coffee. I watched the same person put half a carton of 15% creamer into their drinks.  When I tried to warn them, they informed me they could have “cheat days” and, if I wanted to, I could as well.  The only thing I could do was laugh.

horizontal photograph of a cup of coffee with creamer being poured into it

It was funny at the time, but the more I thought about it, the misconceptions about intolerances and food allergies need to be cleared up. I certainly cannot have cheat days at all, and didn’t appreciate that kind of thinking, but instead of getting upset, I got educated. I did my best to inform myself, and anyone who was interested in the differences between intolerance and an allergy.

A food allergy can cause the immune system to react and, in turn, that affects numerous parts in the body. It has multiple symptoms and can range in severity from case to case. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.

Telling me I could have a cheat day, is like telling Luke Skywalker he could go to the dark side for a bit. It just doesn’t work that way. So in order to clear up some misconceptions and to avoid future awkward situations here is some helpful information to help understand food intolerances a little better.

Some common food intolerances can include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
  • Celiac disease.Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at-risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Sensitivity to food additives.For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods, and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.


If you have a reaction after eating certain foods, it’s important to see your doctor to determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. Both may mean you have to cut certain foods from your diet, but it can open up new doors to creative and delicious recipes, as well as problem solving and substitutes in the kitchen, helping create beautiful meals that are safe.

Man with stomach pain holding a glass of milk. Dairy Intolerant person. Lactose intolerance, health care concept.

Having one or the other doesn’t mean you’re better or worse. As a community of food allergies and intolerances, we have to work together to create safe spaces where we all feel comfortable. We should also be working together to help educate and inform each other, so we can bring that knowledge with us wherever we go. No matter what, we have to do our best to accommodate, and help each other because we’re all in this together.

Have you ever gotten a weird or quirky food allergy question or comment? How did you handle it? Let me know below.

– Arianne K.


Food Allergy Travel: The key is to plan ahead.

For about 14 years of my life, the word “travel” had a very limited meaning for me. I mean, how could someone at-risk for anaphylaxis from eating peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat/barley, and buckwheat safely travel, especially to countries where you can’t even explain your allergies in the same language?

Well, when you really think about it, there are actually quite a few ways.

The key is to plan ahead.

Then, there’s also the natural anxiety that comes along with travelling with severe food allergies. I can say that this fear has not gone away for myself. However, I can confidently say that you can manage this anxiety by planning ahead.

For me, planning ahead started in 2005, when I discovered the world of cruising. I was quite skeptical at first when my parents brought up the idea of boarding a cruise ship for 7 days – I mean, what if something happened and I was stranded on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? But, before I knew it, I was boarding the 140,000 ton MS Navigator of the Seas. From this trip, I learned a couple of things –

Communicate. If you’re travelling on a cruise ship or any other type of organized trip, inform the company, or organizer, of your food allergy weeks in advance, as well as while travelling. They will need the extra time to prepare, just like those of us with allergies need time to plan.

In the context of cruising, my parents called the cruise line ahead of time and provided them with information on my food allergies. Some cruise lines even have a “special needs form,” which must be filled out prior to sailing. Additionally, immediately after boarding the ship, we spoke to the Maitre’D, and discussed lunch and dinner with our wait staff the night before. This gave them enough time to ensure that they had the allergen-safe ingredients to make food that was safe for me, and had informed the appropriate crew members about the allergies. This also allowed them to have lunch and dinner ready for me, without having to wait for them to make it from scratch every day – which helped me enjoy more of my vacation!

Plan ahead. Bring dry foods that are easy to put in your carry-on luggage (in case of the off-chance that your checked luggage gets lost). For instance, foods I commonly bring in my carry-on luggage include dry pasta, bread, muffins, etc. This does two things: 1. Helps me feel comfortable and safe with the food I’m eating, and 2. Gives me a back-up for days where finding allergen-safe food is difficult, or for any unforeseen delays or changes in my planned itinerary. In cases where you’re not sure where lunch or dinner will be – plan ahead and bring food with you for those meals.

Again, in the context of cruise lunches and dinners, I provide the gluten-free dry pasta or bread to the kitchen staff on the ship, who can then add an allergen-safe sauce or toppings for me. The muffins, and other foods like Rice Krispie squares, are a couple of ideas for snacking throughout the day. For days at port, I either use my thermos from home to bring food with me, or bring an allergen-safe sandwich.

After 2005, we began cruising 1-2 times a year, and what I once thought was impossible, suddenly came within reach – I got the chance to visit Europe in 2012, and then again in 2014, both times on a cruise ship. It was then that I began using “allergy cards,” which I had in English, as well as in Italian (thanks to my good friend’s mom, who speaks fluent Italian). I even used pictures of my allergens on the back of the Italian cards to be extra safe. These “allergy cards” helped to reduce the risk of miscommunication, and gave me extra comfort that the wait staff were noting my food allergies correctly. The wait staff also appreciate it, as they can give the kitchen the card for their reference.

In 2009, my dad and I also began taking baseball road trips. If you know anything about me, it is that I am the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan that you will ever meet. My dad and I have a bucket list of 162 baseball related things that we want to do, which includes visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. We are at 11 now, but hope to be at 14 by August 2016. This obviously entails travel as well – usually via car and on land. I apply the same tips and techniques from cruising on my baseball road trips – I plan ahead. The one difference is that we generally stay in hotels with kitchens which gives me the flexibility to make my own meals.

Ultimately, by planning ahead, you set yourself up for safe travels. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks – but planning ahead helps mitigate those risks significantly!

Helpful links:

Allergy Translation Cards

– Shivangi S.

By Food Allergy Canada