One of the “highlights” of life with food allergies and intolerances is hearing what other people think of your diet, and listening to their advice about what you should eat.
Most of the time, the comments are well-meaning, just a little uninformed. So here’s a quick summary which covers most of the comments us food allergy folk field on a daily basis:
“Just a little bit won’t hurt you”
Yup, just a little bit can hurt some people. This includes contamination from other food sources e.g. your gluten-free food touching gluten-containing food.
I’m really sensitive to gluten, so can’t eat chips that are cooked in the same oil as other foods because the crumbs in the oil vat contain enough gluten to make me sick. It’s not a pretty sight, believe me.
Some people with severe food allergies can go into anaphylactic shock from just having contact with a food allergen. Anaphylaxis is extremely dangerous and can result in death.
Contamination is a big deal, and one of the reasons why you’ll find many of us really worried when we’re invited round to someone’s house for dinner. Please don’t be offended if we want to bring our own food, or ask a million questions about how something was cooked. It’s not that we don’t trust you, it’s just that we have to be careful.
Gasp! “Oh I’d just die if I couldn’t eat ….”
Yeah … check out all of us food allergy folk, still alive and not eating whatever it is you think you couldn’t live without. This is a comment we hear on at least a weekly basis, and can makes us food allergy people feel like we’re freaks.
If you find out you have a food allergy, intolerance or coeliac disease, you do learn to cope without eating your old favourite noms. It’s not always fun, but you do adapt. Sometimes it’s hard though, especially when everyone else is eating up a storm and you’re stuck with rice crackers.
I was recently at leaving drinks for a workmate at a restaurant where I couldn’t even have any of the drinkies on offer, so I sat drinking a glass of water while everyone else was eating spicy chicken and drinking beer. That was less than ideal, but I still coped, and my workmates didn’t mind letting me sniff their food (I love sniffing food, I’m weird like that).
“It doesn’t matter if you can’t eat, it’ll still be fun”
It’s great to be included, so please keep inviting us to your fun times. But sometimes it’s not fun watching everyone else eat when you can’t eat anything on offer. Especially when you’re hungry. So please don’t take offense if we sometimes opt to give a food-related occasion a miss. If we do come along though, it’s great if you can just accept us not eating and not point it out to everyone.
A long time ago, I attended a formal occasion where I couldn’t eat the food on offer. It was fine though, because I’d eaten before arriving and was happy just sitting, drinking tea and chatting. Well it was fine until someone noticed, queried why I wasn’t eating, passed the message on to the head person who stood up and announced to everyone that I was “really okay, but have food allergies” (cue everyone turning to stare). #blush
“Oh, I get a tummy ache when I eat <insert food here>, but I just eat it anyway.”
Believe me, if your tummy ache was as bad as the pain suffered by some of us, you wouldn’t eat it anyway.
Every person’s symptoms are different, and only you can be the judge of whether it’s worth the side-effects to continue doing what you’re doing.
For people with coeliac disease, there is only the smallest amount of gluten that is okay to eat. The limit to not cause damage is 20 parts per million (miniscule). And if you eat gluten just once a month, studies have shown that your mortality rate is six times that of a coeliac who adheres to a gluten-free diet. Those are some pretty severe side effects.
“Can you eat meat?”
Most people with food allergies can eat meat (depending on the nature of their allergy). Meats are generally only a problem if they contain things other than meat e.g. gravies, marinades, stuffing. Sausages for example, often contain gluten.
“In my day there was no such thing as food allergies”
There have always been food allergies. And coeliac disease isn’t new either, its symptoms were first described in the second century by Artaeus of Cappaocia.
Historically, without diagnosis, many people would have continued to suffer or even died depending on the severity of the allergy. Many coeliacs report a history of bowel cancer-related deaths in their ancestry – a sign of undiagnosed coeliac disease.
There ARE more food allergies and increased cases of reported coeliac disease in modern times. There is much debate about why, but one of the reasons is NOT because we’re all wusses who want extra attention (which is often hinted at when people make ‘not in my day’ type comments about food allergies).
“But you used to be able to eat _____”
This is one of the most frustrating things about food allergies. Sometimes the food has been playing havoc with your body for years but you just didn’t know what the cause was. And for some people, the food allergy just seemed to appear one day, out of the blue.
A friend of mine with a dairy allergy used to be fine with dairy until he started working in a dairy factory where he was exposed to dairy powder in the air on a daily basis. One day eczema appeared and would not disappear despite numerous trips to the doctor for steroid cream. Eventually after seeing an allergy specialist he was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Leaving the workplace and switching to a dairy-free diet got rid of the eczema.
“I wish I had a food allergy sometimes so I could lose weight”
Having a food allergy/intolerance or coeliac disease and adhering to a restrictive diet will NOT make you lose weight. There are heaps of foods that are allergy safe but still unhealthy. Biscuits, cakes, pies … yup, all of these things can be made allergy-free, and if it’s processed food you’re after, the allergy-free food is often higher in sugar than the non-allergy safe alternative.
If you’re not sure about your allergy-buddy’s needs, it’s okay to ask. Honestly, we don’t mind questions, and the more people know, the safer eating is for all of us.
Thank you so much to all the supporters out there who continue to include us in your social eats, and help make eating safe and enjoyable.
Christina Stewart is passionate blogger, photographer and cafe haunter, who has spent a lifetime dealing with multiple food allergies and intolerances. Her website gluteygirl.com is packed with education, advocacy, tasty recipes and inspiration for foodies and fellow sufferers. Packed with information on all things gluten-free, dairy-free and low FODMAPs, there are also plenty of interviews, cafe reviews, recipes and mischief. www.gluteygirl.com