Tag Archives: Sara S.

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

 

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.

Hidden Allergens in Beauty Products

To the average person who does not have allergies, many believe that reading labels does not go beyond those on foods. Many people are surprised to find that when I shop for new make-up or beauty products, I will spend excessive amounts of time in the shopping aisle, struggling to read the fine print of lengthy ingredient labels.

When shopping for new beauty products, it is really important to know exactly what you need to avoid and that you take the time to read labels. The labels on beauty products are often very long and I am always tempted to skim through them. However, too often I find an ingredient I am allergic to.

set of  decorative cosmetic powder, concealer, eye shadow brush, blush, foundation

Personally, I try to stick to the same products that I know are safe, but being a twenty-year-old girl, I often want to try new brands of products. I have tree nut allergies, as well as an allergy to formaldehyde that results in dermatitis. Before finding out I had this allergy, I thought formaldehyde was simply used in laboratories for preservation, but little did I know formaldehyde-releasing chemicals could be found in many low-budget beauty products! To complicate things further, after being diagnosed with this allergy, my dermatologist provided me with a list of 6 chemical names that are actually formaldehyde, since you will never find formaldehyde listed in an ingredients list.

Formaldehyde is not the only allergen that has multiple names. Even with tree nut allergies, there are many different types of nuts and oils that can cause a reaction. Your best bet is to do some research about your allergens so you have a better idea of what ingredients to watch for. Make sure you check the label every time you buy a product, even if you always buy the same brand, because ingredients can change without warning. It is much easier to read the label than to deal with the consequences of a reaction.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because a product claims that it is hypoallergenic, does not necessarily mean it will be safe for you. The meaning behind a hypoallergenic product is that it has a low chance of causing a reaction. Be sure to check labels regardless!

– Sara S.

A Girl’s Night Out

iStock_000063167753_SmallWhen you’re getting ready to go out for a night on the town with your girls, I don’t know about you, but my food allergies are the last thing that I want to think about. Regardless, they are always on my mind in order to keep myself safe. As long as you keep yourself in control you can still have fun with your friends and stay safe, even if you consume alcohol.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do is ensure that your friends who you will be with know about your food allergies. From spending enough time with me, the majority of my friends are well versed on what my food allergies are and what to do in the event that I have an allergic reaction. At some point, I have given them all the lesson on what would happen if I did have a reaction and how to use my EpiPen®.

The ongoing joke with my friends is my constant struggle to find a small purse that is big enough to hold my EpiPen®. When going out, I like to find an over the shoulder bag that is small enough that it will not get in my way, but large enough to hold my EpiPen®. Over the shoulder bags are also great because their size makes them harder to lose.

If you choose to drink alcohol on your night out, I feel that the most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe when you have food allergies is to keep yourself in control. It is easy to let peer pressure influence you to have a little too much to drink. When your judgement is impaired, the decisions you make regarding food may not be as well thought-out as they should be. For that reason, I always try to have a good meal before I go out so that I am not too hungry later if I find myself in a tricky food situation.

Another big thing to consider is the drinks that you consume. The content of allergens in some types of alcohol are much more obvious than others. Personally, I have peanut and tree nut allergies. I am well aware that liqueurs like Amaretto and Frangelico are tree nut-based. Unfortunately, some alcohols are not as obvious. I recently learned to my surprise that some brands of gin contain almonds! For that reason, it is a good idea to really look into the ingredients of liqueurs before going out. This can be challenging since many do not have an ingredients list on the bottles. Calling the company is the best way to accurately know if a product will be safe for you. To keep my life easy, I like to stick to a few drinks that I know will be safe. That way I do not need to question what will be safe and what is being mixed together.

With these things in mind I think it is very manageable to have a night out with your girls, regardless of your food allergies. Being prepared is the best way to stay safe, but always remember to have fun!

-Sara S.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: At a Restaurant

Some people find it daunting eating out at restaurants when living with a food allergy. Having had food allergies for as long as I can remember, I have become quite comfortable talking to servers and explaining my situation to them. As a child, my parents took the responsibility of conveying the message of my food allergies. However, once I became older it became important for me to be able to do this myself and to know when a restaurant is safe to eat at, as I would eventually be on my own without my parents at my side all of the time.

When I am deciding what to order at a restaurant, I tend to pick two items. That way if there is an issue with my top choice, the server can look into the second item before coming back. I have the same routine way of telling the servers about my food allergies every time I eat out, which keeps things simple.

I start off by saying that I have a few food allergies to let the kitchen know about and I tell the server my list of food allergies. I have a number of food allergies so I say them slowly so that they can be written down. I always confirm the list with the server. Then I tell them what I am interested in having and ask that they check with the kitchen that it will be safe. If I notice on the menu that there is something that contains one of my allergens that would most likely be cooked on the same grill or food preparation station, I ask about having my food cooked in a separate area. I emphasize that my food allergies are severe and that cross-contamination could cause a severe reaction. There have been situations in which I felt that the server did not understand the severity of my allergies and therefore asked to speak to a manager who was better able to handle the situation.

Overall, I feel that due to the rising prevalence of allergies, it has become much easier to convey the message of explaining my food allergies. Many chain restaurants often have allergy menus now, which outline the common allergensiStock_000068035835_XXXLarge.jpg that can be found in their dishes. This allows you to make a more informed decision about what to eat. The greatest difficulties I have faced have been with language
barriers. Within Canada, I generally do not have many issues, but in those cases, talking to a manager has always made things much easier and more clear. I do not let my allergies stop me from being able to go to restaurants with friends and family. I recognize situations where I might be limited, but know that if I cannot eat at a certain place, there will always be somewhere else I can go to get food.

-Sara S.

 

A Guide to A Safe Halloween: An Adult with Allergies

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Halloween is just around the corner (literally today actually) and that means a weekend of costumes, candy, and fun! Regardless of who you become for Halloween, you need to keep your allergies in mind to stay safe. Here are a few tips to have a safe and happy Halloween!

  1. Candy: In the last few years it has become much more manageable to find Halloween candy that is safe when you have allergies. Specifically when it comes to peanuts and nuts, many candy companies market their products with peanut/ nut-free symbols. There are still however many brands of treats that either contain nuts or may contain traces. Therefore its is very important to check the label every time. If a product does not have a label on the individual items, your safest option is to avoid it (just say no).
  1. Halloween Parties: Parties with friends can be a great way to spend your Halloween night. Talking to the host before the party can make your night easier by ensuring the environment will be safe for you. Bringing your own food can also make you feel more comfortable and take some worry away so you can have a relaxing night.
  1. Bars: If you’re making a trip to a bar for Halloween, keep in mind those ‘common sense’ rules of drinking. Knowing your limit is extra important when you have food allergies. When you loose control you can make decisions that you normally would not regarding consuming foods or beverages that may not be safe. When your at a bar, you have to be careful when ordering mixed drinks considering that various places will use different mixes (some of which may contain your allergens).

Regardless of where you go, always remember to bring your auto-injector with you. Halloween can be a blast as long as you remember to take care of yourself and your allergies. Happy Halloween!

Sara S.

Cruises And Allergies Take Two: Another Personal Account!

sunset

Traveling with allergies can be a daunting thought. There are many variables that are further out of your control when you are not in your own environment. However, if you plan appropriately, you can still have a great and rewarding vacation.

I have had food allergies since I was one year old and have still had the opportunity to travel internationally. I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean due to the language barrier, although, recently traveling on a cruise ship opened this door. Cruise ships can allow you to travel to a multitude of places with food allergies if you take the necessary precautions.

Here are some things that I have learned about traveling on cruise ships that have made for an easier vacation.

Before you go:

Call the cruise line. It is important to call the cruise line that you plan to travel with. Like airlines, their policies will vary. Ask about the medical facilities on board the ship. I was surprised to learn about the capacity of care the cruise ship that I recently traveled on was capable of. My ship had a doctor and three nurses on board. They essentially had a mini emergency room, which I was told was capable of intubation and administering the medications necessary in the case of an anaphylactic reaction.

Also, ask about the dining facilities. Most cruise ships will have a buffet in addition to a formal dining room where your allergies can best be accommodated. Booking your cruise over the phone can allow for a note to be made on your file identifying your food allergies.

Pack Safe Snacks.  Although there is an abundance of food onboard, bringing safe snacks can be helpful. Between meal times, the main dining room may be closed, leaving you with the buffet as your only option. For times like these, having snacks from home can make your life easier.

Onboard the Ship:

 Arranging Meals. When you first get onboard, it is a good idea to make reservations for your meal at the main dining room. There are multiple options for how you choose to schedule your meals in the main dining rooms. An option allowing you to sit at the same table each night with the same staff will allow for consistency and an easier dining experience. When you first go for supper, you can request to speak to the head waiter, who is typically best able to handle your meals. My waiter would have me pick my meals the night before so that the kitchen could take extra time for preparation. I found the dining staff to be very helpful and cautious about my allergies. The staff all spoke fluent English so there was no language barrier.

Buffet Meals. As I mentioned before, at certain times of the day, the main dining facilities may be closed leaving the buffet as your only option. The staff members at the buffet were very accommodating with my allergies. Getting food directly from the buffet is not safe due to the risk for cross-contamination. When I talked to the staff at the buffet, they were able to prepare a fresh meal for me.

Eating on Shore. I was not comfortable to eat off of the boat. I felt that they were able to manage my needs best on board. Depending upon where you are traveling, there can be major language barriers inhibiting your ability to inform the restaurant about your allergies. I always ensured that I had enough to eat to last me until I would be back to the boat. Bringing snacks from home is one way to know what you are consuming when off the boat.

Cruising can be a great way to travel for both an action packed or relaxing vacation. Explore your options to find a vacation that you will feel comfortable with.

Sara  S.