The adventures of Allergy Girl: Some struggles with food allergies (and how to deal)

Unless you have food allergies, or have a friend or family member who has ‘em, chances are it’s not really something that has crossed your mind. I mean, I have food allergies and sometimes I don’t even think about them… Like, hello, why would I concentrate on what I can’t eat when I’m stuffing my face with things I can?

Still, though, with almost 20 years of experience dealing with 'em, they're kinda second nature to me now. My super serious food sensitivities mean that I’ve had to say no to sushi dates (ugh, sesame and my body don’t mix) and have missed out on a million Nutella and banana sandwiches (I hear they’re ah-mazing, but I’m sadly unable to eat either). Yeah, it can be a bummer, but I’m finally putting my annoying allergies to good use. Whether you just realized you can’t nosh on shellfish or if you’ve been hauling around an EpiPen your whole life, here are the five biggest things you’ve gotta remember when dealing with your major food Don’ts, plus how to help out friends who might have some major food no-no's.

Oh, and PS, this is all based on my experience. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your food sensitivities. She will be able to help you come up with the best plan for you.

1. Other people won't understand.

And it sucks.

My nut allergy is so severe, whenever I fly, I always tell the person working the gate at the airport to alert the flight attendants. This way, I am able to board the plane early to clean my area and they’ll usually substitute out snacks with nuts for items such as pretzels and chips (if you have an allergy that is a contact allergy, this is something I highly recommend doing if you didn’t know you could do it already!).

One time, when I was on a plane, a guy complained that he had to eat pretzels on his one hour flight instead of peanuts, exclaiming "Really, what can a nut even do?!"

He happened to be sitting right in front of me and as I wriggled in my seat uncomfortably, my mother politely explained, “Hi, my daughter is the one with the nut allergy, and nuts slowly will shut down her nervous system, lower her blood pressure and asphyxiate her."

It was embarrassing, but it made a point. He told me he had no idea and found it hard to believe a piece of food could do something like that.

Yeah, I can literally jump out of a plane or swim with sharks and be safer than I am around one measly, tiny little peanut or a Reese’s Cup. Biology is weird, I get it, but at least you don't have to live with it.

2. Restrictions at restaurants are frustrating, to say the least.

Ok, vegans and vegetarians, I give you guys credit because it's hard to restrict your diet, especially willingly. I mean, giving up chicken nuggets? Those suckers brought an end to my own two-year vegetarian attempt. However, sometimes people don't get to choose to restrict their food and it just happens naturally. So, where are our cool menu options in restaurants?!

Food allergens are everywhere, lurking and waiting to attack. If you go somewhere to eat, always ask the waiter to check with the chef before ordering your meal. Emphasize how bad your food allergies are to your server. Often times, even if the meal you order doesn’t contain the allergen, it is prepared on the same surface or cooked in the same broiler as things you’re allergic to. If you let them know, you can avoid cross contamination. Say hello to pan grilled chicken and some fresh veggies.

3. It’s not your fault.

Seriously, whether you were born with it or it happened overtime, it’s not like you chose to have this.

I used to have this serious guilt complex. If someone was near by eating nuts and then walked on over to sit next to me and chat, I’d hold my breath hoping that they wouldn’t shake my hand or, you know, accidentally brush against me, because I really, really didn’t feel like being whisked off to the emergency room today.

As I got older and my allergies got more severe, I realized that most people don’t mind if you ask them to not eat nuts around you.

I’m not saying that you should ask everyone to change their dietary habits; I’m just saying that occasionally people don’t mind making adjustments. I sat alone at lunch in 11th grade to avoid my friends’ PB&J’s. But once they learned why, they just stopped bringing their nutty sandwiches to school. I just had to let them know.

Who knew?

4. Expect the unexpected.

The strange thing about my allergic reactions to foods is that they all start in different ways. Some people always break out in hives, others get upset stomachs... In my case, you literally never know.

Once, during lunch, my tongue swelled up, something which had never happened before. My friends thought it was my weird attempt to be funny when I started talking like Elmer Fudd. I was even laughing, I just sounded so hilarious trying to say words with S's.

Ignoring the problem (because nothing else seemed wrong), I went on to English class, took a vocab test and then realized my throat started to itch. When I asked for a pass to the nurse, my teacher laughed along with me at how ridiculous I sounded. I got to the nurse and about two minutes later, BAM! Throat was closing up and I couldn’t breathe.

Point is, allergic reactions can go from 0-60 really, quickly and sometimes you’re not always sure how they’re going to start showing their colors. If something weird is happening to your body, or your friend’s, for that matter, don’t take it as a joke (no matter how funny or wacky it may seem).

Also, fellow allergy girls, try to ease situations before they even begin. Let people know about your allergies, so they can be prepared. When I arrive somewhere that involves food and people I don’t know very well, the whole food allergy thing is worked in to conversation within the first couple of sentences.

It might as well be slapped across my forehead: “Hi, I’m Kate, I have food allergies.”

And although I don’t necessarily like being “the allergy girl”, if it saves my life, well, there are worse things I could be called.

5. Better safe than sorry.

When I was younger, I left my prescribed EpiPen at home. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Like, what were the chances I would actually need it?

It was big and bulky, and whenever I always had to find myself assuring people they'd be OK after I explained that it was actually a giant needle and not some hunk of plastic and metal.

At 16, though, before walking out the door to head to my first real high school party, I decided to shove an Epi-Pen in my purse last minute. I don’t know why, I mean, I barely ever thought about an Epi-Pen, let alone had to use one, but something just told me to.

That ‘something’ that told me to saved my life. I had my first major allergy attack that night. If I had waited for an Epi-Pen any longer than I did, I easily could’ve died. Super scary.

And so began my relationship with a giant needle that sends your body in to so much overdrive it’s like your bloodstream is replaced with double-shot espressos.

If you have allergies and need to carry an EpiPen, let people around you know—and always bring it with you. If you know people with allergies, be clear on the instructions on what to do. A matter of seconds could literally save a life.

There’s also a way cooler looking EpiPen to carry around now. Looking for something portable and smaller? Auvi-q’s are the way to go. Plus, if you need to use one, they even tell the person administrating it how to use it in case you can’t.

Remember: Try not to play victim!

Yeah, food allergies suck, but things could be worse. And although you may feel like you’re missing out, don’t dive in to those brownies your friend brought in for her birthday unless you’re 101% there’s nothing that could cause you harm (aka don’t believe the “I think it should be fine”).

Checking and double-checking never hurts, and although that girl in your class may swear you’ll never experience happiness because you can’t have Nutella, I promise you’ll survive.


by Kate Radin | 2/1/2016