I’ve had stomach problems for as long as I can remember. I even remember being shamed about it in law school. (“Ugh, you always get a stomach ache. Why do you have to be so difficult when we’re going out to eat?”) Yeah, that stuck with me.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I got older that I realized something wasn’t right. I started with seeing an allergist, who dismissed my stomach problems as no big deal but immediately began singing a different tune when test results came back. Turns out I’m allergic to soy, wheat, and almonds. Fortunately, I’m not anaphylactic, but I’m allergic enough that cutting these things out has made a difference, and when I do eat them I notice it for sure. Since then, I’ve taken steps further and have started seeing a functional medicine PCP to take a deep dive into what’s going on and find some solutions.
Here are a few things I’ve learned as an adult with food allergies.
You have to speak up
We spend a lot of time advocating for our children and their needs, but it turns out we have to advocate for ourselves! I’ve had to learn to not feel uncomfortable letting people know there’s a lot I can’t eat. I’m lucky to have a rich social life, but this also means I lack a lot of control over the things I get to eat. So if I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner, I make my voice heard so our hosts will offer something that’s safe for me and my food allergies. Or if we’re planning a night out, I speak up so we choose a restaurant with options that won’t make me sick. I’ve had to ask to speak to chefs and managers to make sure there is something safe for me to eat. I’ve also sometimes had to stick with fairly plain foods so I can avoid sauces that will make me sick. And it’s OK.
You may have to say no
Sometimes I decline invitations when I know there won’t be anything safe to eat. Or I need to be comfortable turning down food that is being offered to me knowing I may offend someone. Or sometimes, I have to do what I can to make it work. This may mean eating before or after an event, bringing my own food, or enjoying some extra water and being a little hungry. With food allergies, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You have to do your research
It’s rare that I’ll step into a restaurant without examining the menu online beforehand. Many menus do note what options are safe, which is definitely a big time saver. But in addition to that, I have to carefully read labels when purchasing food and plan ahead as much as possible so I know I’m purchasing things that won’t cause a problem. I also need to be careful about what I’m grabbing out of the fridge, because I’m the only one in my family with food allergies. (Here are two can’t miss resources for allergy-safe eating in the Boston area: Boston Restaurants for Allergy Families :: Where You Can Eat and Be Safe and Holidays and Food Allergies :: Boston’s 6 Best Allergen-Friendly Bakeries.)
Don’t let yourself be shamed
I can’t help that I have food allergies and my stomach doesn’t jive with everything I want to eat. But to make someone feel bad for something that they can’t control? Nope. That’s not OK.