Nicole Ciuppa, RDN
Food Allergy: Luck Of The Draw
It is easy to slip into a period of feeling down and a bit sorry for yourself thinking "Why did I have to be the one diagnosed with food allergies? It's not fair that I have to worry about anaphylaxis and cross contact all the time. I am exhausted right now and the last thing I want to do is read an ingredient label...other people don't need to check their ingredient labels before making breakfast"; at least, for me, it is. During this time, it is also all too effortless to focus your attention on the negative social media messages on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and news feeds. We hear stories of allergic reactions to what were thought to be safe foods, mental health related food allergy issues, food fears, anaphylaxis fatalities, and more unfortunate truths of this invisible disease.
Have you ever felt that angering unanswered curiosity towards food allergies? Me too, which leads me to the title of this article. Food allergies are the luck of the draw. I cannot control the fact that I was born with multiple anaphylactic food allergies nor can I control how my body identifies certain food proteins as harmful. I cannot tell my immune system "Hey, IgE cells, the alpha S1-casein protein in cow's milk is actually okay so you do not need to release chemicals causing an allergic reaction, thanks". There are many active scientific research studies striving to find an answer for why certain people are born with food allergies while some are unaffected, however, all of those studies do not erase the fact that there are people, including myself, who were born with food allergies that are living with them, today.
Even if being born with multiple anaphylactic food allergies is the luck of the draw, there are things you can control. How you react to the diagnosis you have received is everything in terms of living a happy life. Making an effort to find the blessings in your life regardless if you have food allergies or not is something that should be aspired towards. I have periodical realizations about the amount of challenges people with food allergies, including myself, have to deal with every day. I say periodical because I actively live the food allergy life. The world of label reading, epinephrine carrying, restaurant pre-calling, and food anxiety is all I know. It is not often that we take the time to observe our lives from an outside perspective so when I do...realizations set in. People with food allergies are incredibly resilient, strong, bad*ss human beings. YOU are an incredibly resilient, strong, bad*ss human being and you better believe it because it is the truth!
While life with food allergies is not ideal, stressful, overwhelming, and a constant challenge that I would not wish on anyone, I aim to find the positive aspects.
I found that I have become more mentally mature from a young age as I was taught as a toddler not to touch or eat foods that would "make me sick".
I have an independence in buying and preparing safe meals - wherever I am, I have to make it work!
I gained incredible communication skills through years of contacting food manufacturers about their food allergy quality assurance procedures, speaking with restaurant chefs to ensure a safe meal, and educating new friends/coworkers on ways to help keep me safe.
I developed a great attention to detail being observant of my surroundings - whether it be a spill on a table I am about to sit at or noting which utensils are used to prepare my foods versus food with my allergens in them.
Confidence in saying "NO". I too often see people going places and doing things with people they do not want to be with, taking on too much at work, or even being pressured into reckless activities they want nothing to do with. Food allergies has taught me to say no to anything that would harm my health or cause an allergic reaction. Staying safe is way more important than feeling cool.
My goal is to inspire you to find the positive ways that food allergies has impacted your life and to make the extra effort to focus on the blessings and often unnoticed goodness that presents itself to you. So let's talk about it...how has food allergies positively impacted your life?