SURVIVIAL GUIDE FOR THE FOOD ALLERGY AFFLICTED:
By Stacie Rose
I have taken to carrying tea bags in my purse and shaking down servers in restaurants, but I do it with kindness and respect for their jobs. I also do it to save my own skin.
I have super severe food allergies like many people these days.
My list of lethals seems daunting to many (soy, dairy, egg, corn, gluten, agave, anise, raw celery, apples, strawberries and onions). I treasure my quality of life so I have gotten serious when it comes to survival and so can you.
1. Be Careful
Drink the water, but beware of the olive oil, maple syrup, tea and nearly everything you put in your mouth. Read labels. Read between the lines. I am not trying to insight fear. Okay maybe I am, it might save a life.
When you have food allergies that can cause radical reactions and ultimately ANAPHYLAXIS you must have perspective. It's not a life sentence. It’s not Cancer, Thank God! But it's also not a thing to take lightly. You, and you alone have to be your biggest advocate, unless you are a child. In this case, parents, guardians, and teachers need to step up their game, for real! You can learn to navigate food allergies and truly enjoy living an abundant life, but it takes a little work, awareness, perseverance, some serious self-advocating, and strategies. Always act mindfully and make your safety, and the safety of loved ones a priority!
2. Dine Out
Restaurant workers are not always well versed about the ingredients chefs are using and some are more sympathetic than others to the severity of this matter. Use your intuition when you are speaking with people. If you think they don’t get it, they probably don’t! Whether you have Celiac disease, food allergies, or any life altering condition, you need to speak up and be incredibly specific with regard to your needs.
Some things I have noticed while traveling recently are troubling. Most restaurants are cutting corners by using fractioned olive oil. It's happening everywhere. It's a greasy epidemic. The labels on the backs of these oils (sometimes in very small print) say things like 50% olive oil, 50% vegetable oil, which you can be certain contains SOY). I have gone so far lately as to ask for servers, or managers to please check the oil. Some have been kind enough to snap photos for me or bring the bottle tableside.
Always ask if the restaurant has an allergy menu. Many do these days. From Chipotle to California Pizza Kitchen, the upscale and family chains alike are getting with the program. Tell people right from the get go (this means the minute you sit down) what the allergies are. This gives the server time to speak with the chef. If the server seems dazed, ask for the manager, and if necessary, the chef. Let people know that your allergies or restrictions are extremely severe and that you carry and EPIPEN. It’s a buzzword for "Please take this Seriously” If you have ever been to the ER with Anaphylaxis it's dreadfully frightening. It's happened to me more times than I would like to recall. Horrifying beyond words to people around you, it shakes you to your core and you want to avoid a life-threatening situation like this at all cost.
Chefs are often happy to have a challenge and will sometimes cook you up something simple and divine. Your dining pals might even be envious. When food arrives, confirm with the server that all food is free of the ingredients that can cause you harm. If there is an issue, send it back immediately.
A great tactic is to quickly survey the menu and make some suggestions. Such as..."I see you have a crusted Salmon dish with a side of something that would kill me, I also notice that one of your dishes has creamy spinach. "Now watch where I'm going here. The restaurant clearly has Salmon and spinach. So you can kindly ask if the chef can grill with Salmon without any of your allergens and steam or sauté' the Spinach in a bit of oil and garlic. It's likely they will oblige, and then you avoid spinning the server around in circles trying to concoct something crazy.
3. Be Prepared
It's a good idea to get cards printed that can be handed to chefs and servers. This way there is no miscommunication or misunderstanding about what food culprits you or you children are dealing with. You can simply hand the card to the chef, it’s not quite as glam as a card that says interior designer, or celebrity florist, but it could be your calling card to a safe, nourishing meal and night out with loved ones.
It's best to call a hotel or restaurant ahead. Worth the time.
Worth the action. Some restaurants will tell you flat out, we cannot accommodate. Now you know.
4. Travel well
I was recently at Hershey Park with my husband and 6-year-old son. I checked with the concierges at Hotel Hershey to see what dining options they recommended at the Amusement park. I also went to the help desk at the park where I was given a map in which they were kind enough to circle the hot spots with allergy friendly options. To my chagrin, it was a total bust. There were gluten free and dairy free options (which they called milk free), but everything and I mean everything had either soy or eggs and almost all items are pre-made. I can have fresh fruit and veggies, which is mostly what I ate. I even stopped at a juice bar there, for a smoothie and was told all the smoothies had some kind of milk product. What??I asked if I could just buy a banana! Bingo! Sustenance.
Be creative. Ask for that banana. Ask to see a food label. Ask for assistance. Ask away. It's much better than asking someone to call an ambulance.
5. Shop like your life depends on it
Since food allergies can actually mean life or death, it’s good to have some guidelines. Check. Double Check. Then check again. Read labels carefully. The food industry is highly unregulated. Remember that PURE maple syrup does not necessarily mean it's only maple syrup, or that “Pancake” syrup has any “Maple” affiliation. I store bought Organic Maple Syrup by a company called WHOLESOME. The label said Organic Pancake Syrup and had a picture of pancakes and was also strategically placed next to PURE “Maple” syrup. The label touted No High Fructose Corn Syrup, No Preservatives, Gluten-Free. It was sealed with the Non-GMO project verification. The USDA organic label. Sounds like a responsible, delectable breakfast topper. I got it home, was about to pour, and glanced at the label. And holy cow...there was no MAPLE syrup at all, but was Organic Invert Cane Syrup, Natural flavor and Caramel Color! No maple nothing! How's that for false advertising folks? Tea bags can contain soy lecithin and corn. Check your bags, your boxes, your facts, and your supplements. Call manufacturers. Do the homework and pass it on.
6. Carry a survival kit
I never travel anywhere without these items.
-Claritin Redi tabs (They go under your tongue and work fast)
Being “too cool”, in denial or embarrassed will not get you out of a bad situation or save your life or the life of your child. If a reaction occurs, act on it pronto. Benadryl can only help. If you are not feeling better ASAP, call your doctor and ask about taking a second dose. If you are having any life threatening symptoms, such as throat swelling, throat closing or trouble breathing it’s time to grab the EPIPEN and call 911.There is no shame whatsoever in getting help when you desperately need it. You’re body will do all the talking and if it’s telling you something is terribly wrong, get help right away!
7. Keep your kids safe.
If you have a child with severe food allergies, talk to your pediatrician about types of reactions and specific remedies. Make sure you are on the same page. You don’t want to overmedicate your child, and you do wanna know how to act fast in the case of an emergency. Make certain you carry a children’s EPIpen that the school has them on hand and that everyone who teaches, cares for or attends your child is fully aware of the severity of the situation. You can also purchase stickers for your children’s lunchables. Mabel’s Labels does a good job with these. The more information people have, the safer your children will be.
8. Don’t follow the pack.
Remember that you are always better safe than sorry. I have graciously sat with a table full of people and sipped tea and enjoyed good conversation, forfeiting the food, if concessions cannot be made. You will not starve if you miss a meal but you could get very ill if you eat something contaminated with an allergen. Skip the cake, skip the calories. Keep your figure. Stay alive!
Trust your body and teach your children to do the same.
If something does not feel right, it might very well be wrong. If you feel a reaction coming on, it could be a reaction to something you ate. New food allergies can crop up at any time. Surprise! And worse than this, they do not always show up in skin testing or blood work. Your body will be the best judge of what’s happening.
If you cannot get confirmation of a specific allergen through traditional testing, do your own detective work. Try keeping a food diary. It’s amazing what you can uncover when you are keeping track of things. Another item to look into is OAS, which stands for Oral Allergy Syndrome, yet another can of worms. It's a bit complicated but the short of it is that some foods are cross-reactive with seasonal allergies. It’s mostly raw fruits, veggies, nuts and herbs. This is a good list to have on hand; it can be very helpful to sorting things out and staying safe.
Don't be afraid to BYO! Bring your own cracker. Bring almond milk for your coffee or oat milk for your latte. Bring your own sun butter, or sandwich, honey or hot sauce. Carry food and carry on. I pack my own gluten free pancakes for park dates with my son. Sometimes I carry crudité, Gomacro bars. Get yourself a stylish little cooler bag. Take that stuff to work, in the car, in the train, to concerts, to the beach. The only thing worse than plummeting sugar levels is that shot of Epinephrine, accompanied by 10 hours of body flushing in the ER.
Living with limitations need not be a disaster. Get creative, get educated, get assertive, get a health coach to help you, or become one. I did! Always remember that nothing is more important than your life or the lives of your children. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate, BYO and enjoy a nourished life by treating your body with great love and respect.
Stacie Rose is a Singer/Songwriter, Mother, Producer, Lover, Blogger, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Holistic Lifestyle Influencer and Free Spirit. She’s super passionate about making music, writing, and helping others create sustainable wellness. Having navigated some very tough terrain she became a certified health coach to help others reclaim their health. Stacie has dealt with severe food allergies, intolerances and acid reflux. She found that all of these conditions can be vastly improved by making diet and lifestyle modifications. She gave IBS the boot by eliminating certain foods and works daily to create balance and cultivate a beautiful, active, nourished life for herself and her family. Her philosophy is that transformation takes positivity, possibility and persistence. Life is a wild ride, so taking good care of the body and mind is where it’s at! xo Stacie