Category Archives: Allergies and Attitude

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

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Allergies and Brunch

breakfast picture

Sunday brunch has become a quintessential tradition for many families across Canada. Aside from providing a means of reconnecting with family and friends, brunch is usually a meal arranged at external venues and restaurants. Living with allergies usually limits the options you have when it comes to eating-out. One of the biggest problems with buffets, or meals that are prepared by someone other than yourself or your immediate family, is the risk of cross-contamination that arises when multiple different dishes are prepared at once. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  1. What to eat?

If you decide to eat-out, always do your homework. ALWAYS!  What I mean by that is be aware of where you are eating and how your food is being prepared. If the brunch is at an external venue or restaurant, call the venue a day or two in advance to see if the restaurant has an allergy policy in place. That way you will know whether or not the establishment is allergen friendly and what specific foods you should stay away from. If brunch is being served at a relative’s house, follow the same procedure – make sure you always ask and remind your relatives (if they already don’t know) about how severe your allergy is and about the risks of cross-contamination. Being at a relative’s house can actually work in your favour. You can ask to see the ingredients used and how the food was prepared. You have more control over the situation. In any event, opt to eat foods that are “simple” (no creams or fancy sauces). Typically, the simpler the food is the less ingredients you have to worry about. This can reduce the chances for cross-contamination.

  1. Seeking alternatives

What happens if you are sitting at your table but you just don’t feel comfortable eating any of the food prepared? This can be a tricky and uncomfortable situation (especially if you are at a relative’s house). They may think that you don’t trust them. The way to get around this is through compromise. If you are at a restaurant, and there is an omelette that you want, but you can’t have because there are too many ingredients to keep track of, ask the chef to prepare another omelette with less ingredients or just get a hard-boiled egg (this is the safest option). Make sure that the chef is aware of any cross-contamination issues. They should have a good idea about which ingredients are safe and which are not. Ultimately, it is up to you. Go with your gut intuition. If you don’t feel safe, do NOT feel forced to eat something. If you are at a family member’s house, and you just don’t feel safe eating the food prepared, politely pull whoever is cooking the food aside and explain how you feel. Explain that your allergy is a very serious matter and is potentially lethal. In most cases, your family should understand and accommodate you by preparing something that is completely safe. These cases can be sensitive. But your health and safety trumps everything else. You have the right to feel safe!

Overall, these are some simple tips you can follow.  Following these tips should eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty you may feel during your next brunch outing.

Saverio M.

So You Didn’t Make a Plan: Allergies and Contingency

Girl and binoculars

It’s easy to make a plan in your head or write it down. You can map out every detail and think of different possibilities that could happen or arise. Putting those plans into action is a completely different story. A few years ago, my friends and I planned a road trip to Darien Lake, New York, where we went to Six Flags.  As kids, we had traveled there with our parents on numerous occasions; but this was the first year we were going alone. Given my food allergies, I knew that I had to plan ahead for safe options to eat. We were going for three days and I assumed a cooler with some cold snacks would be good enough. But boy was I was wrong. I didn’t anticipate how hungry I would be or what I would crave. I didn’t plan ahead for every meal I could want or be hungry for. I felt lost and without food. We were not close to a grocery store and I began to wonder what I would do. My friends I travelled with, being amazing and understanding about my food allergies, realized something was wrong. We decided to try our luck with the few of the restaurants available at the campground we were staying at. I hadn’t planned on eating out, so I did not call ahead or find out if any of them were safe. The first place we looked at was unable to guarantee a safe meal but, luckily, the second restaurant we went to could confirm they were an allergy-safe kitchen.

After eating, I satisfied my hunger; but I was still upset. I knew I was smarter than this. I always had a plan when I went out (but not this time). I realize now why I was so unorganized on this trip. It was a last minute we decision to go, a few days before to be exact, so I had no time to call ahead to the restaurants to make sure they would be safe. I also had conscience to share my cooler with one other person. So I didn’t have the room I would have liked to put more food in. Lastly, I had traveled there without cooking amenities; so my food options were limited.

I know now, whether it’s two days or 200 days in advance of travel, you should always have a some sort of plan in advance. Reliable snacks and foods are always a smart idea but, as we get older, we need more sustenance and most likely a hot meal. With mobile phones, it makes it easier to contact restaurants or look for grocery stores around you. Making sure you know your surroundings and having a plan are not only important to your safety but also when it comes to enjoying your trip.

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. Knowing what food you like, where you’re going, and what to bring is a lot easier than trying to find safe foods and places to eat. So remember, be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

Arianne K.

Close Calls and Life Lessons Living with Allergies

Cake Temptation

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget what is important. It’s also easy to become lulled into a false sense of security. Having food allergies, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and the food you’re going to eat. Being vocal and confident when telling those around you about your food allergy is a skill that we’re all constantly crafting. A while back, I was at a restaurant I frequent at least once a week. Sometimes familiarity can betray us. I know the staff and owner and regard them as close friends; and they are very aware of my food allergy. But, since they are aware, it is easy to forget to tell them or inform them each and every time I eat there. One night, we settled in for a few drinks and some food. The chefs at the restaurant had recently decided to start experimenting in the kitchen. I thought nothing of it since they were aware of my food allergies and I trusted that it would be safe. As I picked up my fork, ready to dig into my meal, the chef came out of the kitchen and said STOP! I immediately put my fork down as he explained that the food they were making in kitchen was perch (a new but serious allergy of mine). The chef said he was pretty sure that it had come into contact since it was in the same part of kitchen.

After they took my meal away, and promised to prepare a safe meal, I thought about the situation. I had failed to mention my allergy that day and it almost ended badly. After that close call, I realized that comfort can be deceiving. Just because I am familiar with a place doesn’t mean everyone is. I need to be more vocal with my allergies so everyone is informed just in case. I’m fortunate to have people looking out for me in the kitchen; but I need to look out for myself more than anyone.

It’s great to be comfortable. Your food allergies should never hinder you from experiencing things like anyone else. But it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and be vocal about your food allergies. You will feel more confident and comfortable in the long-run.

Arianne K.

 

 

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.