When we discovered McCall had food allergies, we found out about seventy-five at one time. It was the most overwhelming day of my life. I’m pretty sure we all skipped dinner that night! Because of McCall’s severity, I never understood or knew what it felt like to have a child struggling with one, several, or multiple food allergies. I don’t want to pretend to understand what that world is like–so I’ve enlisted some help from my good friend Marissa, a fellow allergy mom who works hard for her son Brooks to have as normal of a life as possible!!
I have food allergies…now what?
by Marissa Dodgen
Food allergies are hard to deal with. So many of our rituals, holidays, get-togethers, & emotions are tied up in food. So what happens when all of a sudden those parts of your life are drastically altered, as they are when you or someone you love has food allergies?
Simply put…you freak out! I know I did when my 13 month old was diagnosed with wheat, milk, peanut, soy, & egg allergies. All my intentions of being a SAHM who made fresh baked bread went out the window. I was in survival mode: “What do I need to do to keep my son alive?”
It’s perfectly normal to feel scared, overwhelmed, in shock, & to burst into tears spontaneously. I did. One food allergy is a lot to handle, several is even harder.
So let’s go through this step by tedious step.
The first thing you need to do is to list the specific allergies & begin researching. If you take a few hours & get to know the specifics of that allergy & how it affects the body & how the affected body deals with it, it makes the whole process easier to understand. I believe education & knowledge are key in all situations, but this one especially. I know I certainly felt less overwhelmed when I figured out the specifics of what the body is reacting to.
The most frequently diagnosed food allergies are called the top 8: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish. Corn is another major allergen that just missed the top 8. I actually found Food Allergies for Dummies to be incredibly helpful in pinpointing the specifics of the allergen(s). FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) at foodallergy.org is a very helpful resource in learning about food allergies.
The next step is to figure out the severity of the allergy. You need to know what symptoms the body has when you come into contact with that allergy. Every person reacts differently, as does every person’s body.
Can you ingest it & only have mild symptoms like a runny nose, or will you go into anaphylactic shock? [sidebar: I am not telling you to eat all these foods & see what happens. Just think back to the reactions you can remember & jot down the symptoms you experienced].
Do you need substitutions for that food or will you have to avoid it all together? For example, if you have a milk & soy allergy, most cheese substitutes will not work for you because they are mainly comprised of soy. So unfortunately, you will just have to say bye bye to cheese or find a nut based cheese substitute (yes they are out there, but you will probably have to learn to make it yourself).
Next, you HAVE to learn how to read food labels. This is easily the most important step you must take. Luckily, the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires food manufacturers to label potential allergens. This makes reading labels a lot easier, but you still have to use your judgement because for some reason not all boxes, containers, or tubs have a label on them.
Now you need to remove all the potential allergenic food out of your home. Trust me, it is easier to start with bare cupboards, because it can be hard to throw away what was (before) perfectly good food, but I promise this will save you a lot of heart ache in the long run.
Okay…so now you’ve pinpointed your allergens, figured out how to read food labels, & gotten all the culprits out of your kitchen. This is what I call the clean slate.
Now restock your pantry. In most cases fruits, vegetables, & meats are acceptable, but if they are anything other than their natural state, you need to know. Processed anything is often laden with stabilizers & preservatives that come in the form of wheat, soy, & milk. So check, just to be safe.
Next, reserve a few hours to go through your grocery store & read labels & pack your cupboards. Natural/Organic/Health sections are usually stocked with products that are allergy safe (but again you MUST read the ingredient label to know for sure). I have found Van’s Natural Foods, Ian’s Natural Foods, Namaste Foods, & my absolute favorite, Enjoy Life Foods, to be very reliable & safe food sources & readily available at most large grocery retailers. If you can’t find them in your town, try Amazon. Always remember, though, that products can be “allergen” friendly, but still be unhealthy. Again, make sure you are checking food labels to make sure you aren’t loading up on a bunch of “allergen friendly junk food.” Even though it doesn’t discuss allergens, Lisa Leake’s video (of 100 Days of Real Food) is still a great resource to see how to read labels & cut processed foods!
As you learn to do life with an allergy, continue to research. I wanted to learn about food & production so I read books, articles, blogs, watched documentaries & lectures. To be successful & thrive, you have to dive deeper & learn alternative ways to cook from the cooking on the food networks.
Here’s a list of a few of my favorite sources of help & inspiration:
(as you watch them you will think “what does this have to do with food allergies?” but I encourage you to watch because it gives you good insight into why conventional food sources can be so damaging to someone with food allergies.)
While many of the above resources are not specifically about food allergies, they provide fantastic information about food & health & alternative way of eating.
My last bit of advice…find support. Reach out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Find Facebook pages for food allergy blogs & post on their boards. People who have food allergies or loved ones with food allergies are usually pretty willing to help & support because they know what it is like to be where you are.
The reality of food allergies is that they are tough. A life with food allergies is a life lived in caution, but it will be a great life. So don’t worry, you will be fine. I promise!