Category Archives: Communication

Overcoming my Shyness about my Food Allergies

Growing up I was generally a very shy kid no matter what it came to. This became challenging when I developed my food allergies. When I was really young, my parents would do all the talking for me in regards to telling people about my allergies. I was always afraid to tell friends, teachers, and waiters about my food allergies, sometimes because people would have weird reactions, but mainly because I was just simply shy. This was something that I really had to overcome as I grew up since I could not always rely on my parents for help.

The abstract image of leaving of the person from problems in the modern world.

My parents slowly encouraged me to speak up for myself and as I got older, I overcame my shyness. Not only did this encouragement benefit me in terms of my food allergies, but having allergies also taught me to be more confident and to stand up for what I need in many other aspects of my life.

Another thing that I have learned, mainly in childhood, that has carried with me is that you cannot rely on others to protect you. When I was young with food allergies, wherever I went I was like a bubble child. All of my teachers, family, and friends’ parents knew about my allergies and were in a sense, paranoid about them. As I got older, that bubble quickly burst and I was on my own to look after myself. I had to be the one to say that I was uncomfortable with something. Again, this was challenging for me because of my shyness, but I was gradually able to overcome these challenges.

Because of my allergies, I have gained many life lessons that have applied to many aspects of my life beyond my health condition. As I continue to grow, I gain more confidence in myself and push beyond my shy tendencies.

– Sara S.

Portrait of cheerful young woman standing outside with her hands raised towards sky

 

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When they just don’t seem to get it! – Dealing with Ignorance About Food Allergies

Having spent my entire life with life-threatening food allergies, I have had a wide variety of experiences and encounters with people regarding my allergies. Sometimes you get people who are very understanding and knowledgeable about the topic – often they have a family member or a friend who also has allergies. However, time and time again you will come across individuals who are simply ignorant to what a food allergy is, which can lead to unpleasant encounters and difficult social situations.

Portrait of a Confused Business Man Shrugging his Shoulders

Here are my top 5 tips to dealing with those who just don’t get it when it comes to food allergies!

  1. Try to see it from their point of view

It is very easy to get frustrated with people who don’t seem to understand your food allergies. In a time where food allergies are becoming increasingly prevalent it can be confusing to meet someone who doesn’t get it when you say you have life-threatening food allergies. Whenever this happens to me, I try to understand what their point of view is. Maybe they have never met someone with an allergy. They could be from another country where food allergies are very uncommon. It can help your understanding and feelings towards the situation if you can see their perspective.

  1. Don’t get upset about it

When it comes to my allergies, I can get quite defensive when people make ignorant comments. Having dealt with this many times growing up and going through school, sometimes I personally find that getting upset over it just isn’t worth ruining my day.

  1. Use it as a teaching opportunity

I always try to turn a negative situation into a positive one. When somebody makes an ignorant comment about my allergies, I try to educate them about what my allergies are and how serious they can be. Often times people simply are uninformed about the situation and if you take the time to explain it to them this can really help to change their perspective and attitude about allergies.

Beautiful mixed race woman expressing freedom on a summer evening outdoors with her arms outstretched

  1. Advocate for yourself

Often times the easiest way out of dealing with someone who is ignorant about food allergies is to just back away and not say anything. If you shy away from the situation it can only make things worse for you in the future and for others with allergies who may encounter the individual. Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself and let people know that your allergies are something to be taken seriously.

  1. Be open to tell your stories

When people are uninformed about food allergies it is usually because they have never known somebody with them or don’t really get what they are. If you are willing to share stories about how you live with allergies, this can often be a really eye opening experience for others and help them gain some understanding. Usually when you start to tell people about your allergies they will have lots of questions like “Have you ever had an allergic reaction? Have you used your auto injector before? What are you allergic to?” By sharing your experiences with them you can share so much information and help them become less ignorant.

– Lindsay S.

Five Food Allergy Myths I Learned at the Food Allergy Canada Community Conference

Speaker at Business Conference with Public Presentations. Audience at the conference hall. Entrepreneurship club. Rear view. Horisontal composition. Background blur.

As an individual who has been living with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts since I was two, I have heard many misconceptions about food allergies over the years. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the Food Allergy Canada Community Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Throughout the day I listened to speakers share their experiences about living with food allergies, as well as fascinating information from doctors in food allergy research. A presentation by Dr. Sandy Kapur, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University, stood out to me as he spoke about common food allergy misconceptions and research that “de-bunks” these myths. Here are five food allergy myths that I learned from Dr. Kapur:

  1. “Hives and food allergy always go together”

This isn’t always the case. In fact, about 15-20% of anaphylactic cases do not have any symptoms on the skin. I also learned that if someone has hives and they persist for over 6 weeks, this symptom is likely not caused by food. In children, viral infections are one of the most common cases of hives, and there are numerous physical causes for hives as well.

http://www.foodallergy.org/file/anaphylaxis-webinar-slides.pdf

http://www.eaaci.org/attachments/853_Expert_Opinion_Zuberbier.pdf

  1. “All children with egg or milk allergy should avoid the food strictly”

Interestingly, 80% of children with an egg or milk allergy can tolerate the baked form. These children also have a higher chance of out growing their allergy. It is suggested that regular ingestion of baked egg or milk can help overcome the allergy.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4727327/

  1. “Reactions to peanut are often caused by inhaled exposure”

Food proteins cause allergic reactions. The odour of peanut butter does not contain proteins. Inhalation of peanut particles can cause symptoms, but anaphylaxis is unlikely. When an individual with peanut allergy feels ill from smell, it is due to aversion. Rashes are caused by skin contact, not from inhalation of particles.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12847496

  1. “Patients with food allergy have a high risk of reacting to insect stings”

If you have a food allergy it is likely that you also have one or more of asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis. Having a food allergy does not increase the risk of reacting to insect stings since venom, along with drug allergies, are different and not related to food allergies.

http://www.allergysa.org/Content/Journals/March2004/abc%20of%20allergology.pdf

Hornet on a hand sting in the skin

 

  1. “I feel like my child is a ‘ticking time bomb’ and will have a fatal anaphylactic reaction anytime”

Death from a food allergy is not common. When it does occur, it’s a tragedy and in most cases it is preventable by immediate use of epinephrine and calling for an ambulance. Lastly, food allergy related anxiety is common in parents, children, and individuals with allergies. Fear is understandable; we just need to find the right balance.

https://www.foodallergy.org/anaphylaxis

If you believed one or more of these myths, don’t worry – so did I! It’s important that we are always seeking to learn more about food allergies and have the knowledge to spread information of awareness to those around us.

– Michelle D.

Halloween as an Adult with Food Allergies

Jack O' Lantern on leaves in the woods

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, eat candy, and go out. I feel like it’s the one time of the year where you can let you inner child out and just simply “be” whatever you want. I feel like with allergies, though, Halloween can bring a whole storm of worries and concerns. When I was growing up and I went trick-or-treating, it would take forever to look through every single piece of candy in my bag and audit whether or not the candy was safe for me to eat. At the end of the night, I would have two piles; one pile of candy I could eat, and one pile of candy I couldn’t eat and would give to my neighbour. As an adult though, Halloween is so different. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year to go out. Don’t think that just because you’re not trick-or-treating anymore that you can let your guard down. Follow these tips to ensure a healthy happy Halloween this year:

  • Always carry your EpiPen® on you – just in case anything happens, you want to be prepared.
  • Only consume beverages and food where you know the ingredients – If you don’t know what’s in the green juice your friends are passing around, don’t drink it. Last Halloween, I went to a bar and ordered a vodka tonic. When I received the drink, it was blue. I told the bartender that he had given me the wrong order, but then he informed me that he had “spiced” up my drink by adding a blue liquor and gin to the vodka to make it more special. I’m allergic to gin. If I had decided to not ask questions and to just drink the beverage that was given to me, I would’ve put myself in a very scary situation.
  • Don’t drink too much! I always make sure that I never drink myself to the point of intoxication. When I see my friends after nights that we’ve gone out and tell me that they literally don’t remember the night, it scares me. What if that happened to me and I just happened to ingest an allergen not thinking about the consequences? It’s just not a situation you want to put yourself in.

Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and you can stay safe and still have fun with allergies. Now, I’m off to go figure out my Halloween costume this year and make my plans!

Happy Halloween,

– Giulia C.

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 https://nutfreenewyork.com/

– 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.

Accommodations
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.

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.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538

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.