Tag Archives: Communication

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.

Advertisements

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.

Travelling to Spain with Food Allergies

Hola! Como estas? Spain is a beautiful country to visit filled with lots of culture, history and delicious food! If you prepare in advance and are aware of the common cuisine, your trip to Spain should be enjoyable despite your food allergies.

Depending on where in Spain you are going, locals will know variable levels of English. In major cities like Barcelona and Madrid, many people who work at restaurants are able to speak fairly good English. However, if you are getting into smaller more coastal towns you may find that it is harder for people to understand you. It is a good idea when travelling anywhere with a foreign language to get allergy statement cards. There are a variety of websites where you can order cards that translate common sayings such as “Does this food contain ‘your allergen?’” This can make the language barrier a lot easier for you to work with. It is also important to look up the Spanish words for your allergen so that you are able to read packages if you are buying your own food. Here are some examples: Peanut = Mani, Shellfish = Mariscos, Milk = Leche.

Woman touristSpanish cuisine includes a wide variety of dishes from paella to tapas. Seafood and shellfish are very common in Spain, especially when visiting coastal towns. There are definitely options that do not contain these, but if you have an allergy to these foods you should be very aware of what you are eating. If fish is being cooked or fried in the same oil or in the same area as other foods, you should clarify the risks of cross-contamination with the restaurant staff. Tapas are very common fare in Spain, with some restaurants being dedicated to only serving this type of food. Tapas are kind of like appetizers and there are many options to choose from. When eating tapas just be careful to check exactly what the ingredients are, as you typically just pick them out buffet-style and do not have a menu describing what is in each dish.

Overall travelling to Spain is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend it! There are amazing sights to see and delicious foods to try. There is no reason why you can’t go there and eat safely with your food allergies – you just need to be actively ensuring you are safe!

– Lindsay S.

 

Adios amigos!

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.

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:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/allergy-safety/travelling/

Allergy Translation Cards

– Shivangi S.

Three Tips on Dealing with Food Allergy Anxiety

“You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”

– Wayne Dyer

Anxiety is normal – everyone experiences it to some level. When you have food allergies, you may experience more anxiety that the average person. But the key is learning to manage that anxiety.

Having life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat, barley, and buckwheat, anxiety has been a feeling I have gotten accustomed to over the years. However, I have also learned how to manage this anxiety by using the following three tips:

  1. Be prepared.

BE PREPARED, message on business note paper, computer and coffee on table

– If you are going to a restaurant or a friend/family member’s house, tell them about your food allergies beforehand.
– Make sure you always have your auto-injector just in case you need to use it.
– If you can bring your own food to make it easier – do so. For instance, when I go on vacation, I often take dry brown rice pasta and rice flour bread to put my mind at ease, as well as make the kitchen staff’s job simpler.

  1. Communicate and don’t “feel bad.”

– Stress the importance of avoiding these allergens in the meal, even at the restaurant or friend/family member’s house.
– Use words and allergy cards, if possible. Using both ensures that all of your food allergies are communicated accurately and completely.
– I used to “feel bad” about communicating my allergies when eating out/at others’ homes. Sometimes I still do – BUT, it is important to remember that it is better to be safe. Both you and the other party will greatly appreciate that.

3. Relax.

– Breathe in and out slowly through your nose – this may sound simple, but my dentist taught me this one, and I’ve used it whenever I feel anxiety. It always helps.
– Distract yourself from the anxiety. If you are with others, talk with them, or watch the television if there is one nearby. Telling those you are with about your anxiety can also help, as they will try to help you manage it.
– Think rationally – if you are prepared and communicate, you should be fine.
– BE POSITIVE!

Although you cannot control everything, controlling as much of the situation both internally and externally as possible, will help you manage anxiety. The feeling of anxiety when eating out does not fully go away for me, which I’ve heard is quite normal. However, by managing my anxiety, I can effectively decrease my anxiety to a level where it no longer negatively affects me.

– Shivangi S.