Food allergies are on the rise. A 2013 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, announced that food allergies in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011. People are also developing food intolerance in adulthood, often because of digestive issues which develop slowly over a lifetime.
There are a lot of theories as to why food allergies are increasing. Some believe there is a link between the highly processed foods Western countries consume. This belief is founded on a higher intake of foods with lower nutritional value, and even synthetic food products which our bodies see as foreign, causing inflammation and a host of other issues depending on the individual biology, immune system, and environment of the person.
Processed foods also typically contain some of the top offenders such as milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, and wheat. A person’s body may never develop the immunological and mechanical barriers to fight off allergens, or a low level of tolerance can be worn down over time when the immune system is constantly overburdened.
The only way to deal with food allergies is to strictly avoid trouble foods, which can be a complicated and difficult endeavor both strategically, logistically and emotionally. If you know someone who suffers from food allergies, or if you are an allergy sufferer yourself, here are some things the allergic would like you to know.
1. We don’t wish you had food allergies too
It can be tough being “the allergic one.” As annoying as it can be for us to have to tiptoe around ingredients and play 20 questions with the waiter, we really don’t wish the same on you. So don’t feel self-conscious for your love for gluten-filled pizza, or ice cream brimming with lactose. Eat what you like. We’re not looking down on you, or resenting (too much) your ability to digest whatever your fully functioning stomach desires. We’ll be fine.
2. We don’t want to cause a scene
There are times when we wish we could just spin the Yelp globe and blindly pick a restaurant based on its ratings and originality rather than its allergy-friendly options. But as it is, it’s hard to drop in just anywhere. So many restaurants come with pre-made ingredients laced with allergens, or even freshly prepared menu items include seemingly innocuous ingredients that could send our bodies into a fit. We’re not trying to be dramatic, we don’t like having to be picky, so please bear with us in the extra-long search for somewhere to grab a bite.
3. We wish we could partake like a normal person
A lot like the desire to be low key when our allergies make us stand out as “weird”, we wish we could be normal and take part in what everyone else is doing. When we pass along the peppermint bark at the company gift exchange without securing a piece for ourselves, or pass on your open box of cronuts, still crystallizing with sugar coating, we don’t mean to disrupt tradition or look down our noses at anyone who does partake. Please don’t take our abstinence as a reflection on you.
4. An allergy or sensitivity is different from “being good”
We’re not avoiding certain foods to “be good” or because we’re “health nuts.” It’s not a matter of naughty or nice, it’s a matter of healthy or sick, or in some cases life or death. It’s not like being on a diet and allowing yourself just one tiny sliver of a triple fudge cake. If we indulge, we get sick. The repercussions are a far cry from putting on a few holiday pounds.
5. We could use some help preparing foods
Since most allergic reactions come from eating in restaurants, where controlling or even knowing what’s in certain foods can be nearly impossible, that means eating at home a lot. Obviously cooking at home takes a lot more preparation, planning, shopping and chopping. Just keeping up on the dishes or helping with the meal prep can really go a long way in making life easier.
6. Food Allergies Can Be Alienating
You might not even realize just how closely linked food, social norms, and festivities can be. For the most part social events and even simple workplace interactions revolve around food. When you want to catch up with someone, you might ask if they want to grab dinner or coffee sometime. Business meetings are often held over the lunch hour. Family gatherings and parties generally revolve around the snack table.
When we have to be picky or even pass up the offerings altogether, it’s uncomfortable. We’re aware and we wish we didn’t have to. Please don’t make it weirder by commenting on how “sensitive” or “healthy” we are.
Food allergies can be frustrating, but with a little creativity and support they can be managed and life can be just as fun, sweet, and varied as it should be.