Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with a food allergy after a gnarly reaction to milk or egg, or you care for someone who’s living with an allergy, you’re probably feeling a range of emotions: anger, sadness, or even overwhelm or anxiety.
It’s totally normal to experience these feelings - and to feel you’re not in complete control of your life.
Eating used to be easy.
Now, it’s complicated.
You’re constant watching out for your (or a loved one’s) allergen, since the only way to avoid another reaction is to avoid the food 100% of the time.
We’ve got eight ways for you to start regaining control - and kicking that food allergy’s butt.
1. Give yourself permission to work through your emotions.
You might cry. You might vent a lot more to your friends or significant other. You might need to hit the gym to get in an extra kickboxing class to stamp out some frustration.
Bottom line: Give yourself the space and grace to feel what you feel.
Try this: Make a list of stress-busting activities that appeal to you - meditating, a yoga session, a nature walk, painting or reading - and work them into your daily activities.
2. Start logging a food diary.
Whether you use a notebook or a smartphone app, track what you eat, any symptoms that you experience and how long after eating your symptoms appear. This way, if you experience anything new, you can easily share your information with your doctor.
Try this: Check out food-tracking apps like Nutrients or Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal to start logging what you’re noshing on throughout the day. A bonus: These apps also assist with weight management.
3. Learn to read processed food labels.
Peruse our blog entry, “How to Read Food Labels When You Have an Allergy” to get tips on deciphering food labels and to learn what U.S. regulations require manufacturers to disclose on packaging. Knowledge really is your power in this case.
Try this: Take a look at the Food Intolerances app - it contains allergen information about hundreds of foods that you’ll literally have at your fingertips.
4. Ask about allergens when ingredients aren’t listed.
Let’s say your birthday is next week, and you’re about to call the bakery to order your cake. As soon as you get on the phone, mention your food allergy to make sure it’s not baked into your cake, and also that there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
Try this: Build relationships with bakeries, delis and other local businesses to get familiar with what non-labeled food is safe for you to munch on - it’ll definitely save you time.
5. When you eat out, always mention your allergen.
There are 15 million Americans with food allergies, so servers are used to answering questions and accommodating requests.
Try this: Tell your server about your food allergy even if you’ve eaten at the joint before, since different chefs may use different ingredients in the same dish.
6. Talk to your doctor about a written emergency management plan.
When you’re first diagnosed, it’s normal to feel vulnerable. Your doctor’s a pro at spelling out how to handle your particular allergy and more serious reactions to it. Ask them for their help.
Try this: Share the plan with your family, close friends and human resources department so they know how to help if you have a severe reaction.
7. Tote your emergency meds.
If your doctor prescribes you an injectable epinephrine pen, never leave home without it. Your medical provider can also show you how to use it. Check the expiration date periodically to make sure your meds are always up to date.
Try this: Carry two injectable pens in case one malfunctions.
8. Tap into online groups and forums for support.
Once you join a group of people dealing with the same allergy as you, you’ll feel less alone almost immediately. They’ll have words of wisdom and some hacks for dealing with some of the problems allergy newbies face.
Try this: Do a Google search for online support groups and forums where you can ask questions about food allergies in general or your particular food allergy to score more information and meet others dealing with the same allergen.
When you have a food allergy, taking action will go a long way toward your outlook on eating, and give you back the control you crave.