Sunday, January 4, 2015

Coping with the Social & Emotional Effects of Food Allergies/Intolerances

Coping with the Social & Emotional Effects of Food Allergies/Intolerances.

Sounds like the title to a college essay.

But Seriously.

I just had a friend who posted on facebook that her daughter was diagnosed with a fructose malabsorption disorder (What was that now??)  I googled it because I had never heard of it and from what I read her daughter's body is not able to breakdown fructose.  Because of that, she will have to avoid foods that have a high fructose level, including naturally occurring sugars, as in some fruits and vegetables.  It's not surprising that my friend is feeling overwhelmed with all this new information she is receiving about her daughter's condition and the new dietary restrictions she now has to work with.  The comments on her facebook post were all encouraging.  I told her about my boy's allergies and being able to relate to feeling overwhelmed.

Fortunately, that part gets easier.  Once you know what to avoid and relearn how to cook, it almost becomes second nature.  I was talking to my husband about this friend of mine and the journey their famiy has ahead of them and I realized that the new diet is only half the battle.  The bigger battle, I think, is the social and emotional effects of having food allergies/intolerances.  I like to pretend they are not there, but they are.  I would guess that that part gets easier too the older you get, but I wouldn't know.  We aren't there yet.  My boy is only 7.  But it is hard!  It is hard as a kid being different and being left out.  It's hard when so-and-so's mom brings birthday cupcakes for the class and you get to eat the tootsie rolls mom sent instead.  It's hard when all the boys are eating pizza and you aren't.  When the teacher passes out candy and you aren't sure if it is safe and have to refuse.  When your friends are eating PB&J's at school and you are by yourself at the "peanut free table".  

Just this pass weekend we were at a restaurant as a family.  Going out to eat is rare for us, and "protocol" is that I pack something safe for my boy.  Sometimes he gets to order a drink.  (You'd think going out to eat would be anticlimatic since he is not actually eating the food from the restaurant, but he loves it.  It must be the change of scenery, being able to color pictures at the table and getting a balloon to take home, I don't know).  But before I could intervene, he went ahead and ordered a hot chocolate.  I got the pit in my stomach.  When they brought it out I talked to the waitress to see how it was made etc.  She couldn't tell me anything about the manufacturer of the hot cocoa mix they use and ultimately we had to abide by the "when in doubt, go without" rule.  My boy broke down in tears.  He's never done that before!  I just felt so bad.  I know everyone else did too.  It's times like that when food allergies just suck.

What do you do though?  It is what it is and I try hard to "make it up" to my boy so he isn't missing out.  I'm almost always prepared with "safe" alternatives when we go to birthday parties, potlucks, and other social functions, but it's not the same.  It never will be.  I'm doing what I can.  I also find comfort in the fact that food allergies and intolerances are so common now that my boy isn't in this totally alone.  I find too that most people are quite accomodating.  Teachers will ask me what he can have and will buy those treats for the whole class. Same thing  with parents for birthday parties.  That is helpful.

As  I thought  about  it, here is my advice:

I think it is important to have your food allergic kid on board with you.  Research their allergies together, talk about what they can't and what they CAN have.  Rehearse social situations beforehand so they know what to do and what to expect ( I STILL do that with my boy.  "Remember, don't eat anything unti I check it."  "The food at the party isnt going to be safe but I'm packing you _________.")  Talk about what would happen if they did ingest foods they need to avoid.  I have to use that sometimes. "If you eat that you will have an allergic reaction. (Do you want that?)" Try to provide alternatives so they aren't missing out entirely.  (Better to have the tootsie rolls instead of nothing at all, right?) Point out other people in their lives who have restricted diets too. ("Cousin Z is allergic to peanuts just like you and our neighbor E can't have milk and wheat. Mommy's friend has diabetes and has to watch what she eats too")  It helps knowing you are not alone.

It's also helpful to have your spouse and extended family on board too.  Hopefully after being informed they will be understanding and accommodating. 

Though there are times when it's hard, overall, it DOES get easier!  Yes, food is a big part of our culture and traditions,but it's just food.

What advice would you give to  someone who is new to food allergies//intolerances?

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