What I Wish I Knew…
Simple. Basic. Creative. Make Your Own. Deconstruct. Acceptance. Grace.
We’ve come a long way on our food allergy journey. If you’ve been living with food allergies for any amount of time, you know that it is a journey – sometimes a journey for life. Like most of life’s journeys, the food allergy journey can throw some bumps in the road. Some of these bumps can be in the form of severe allergic reaction, unexplained symptoms, and even outgrowing allergies.
There is one bump that can be, simply put, very frustrating. When it seems that there is no end in sight, more and more foods (or even just one) get added to your allergy list. How does one react to an ever-growing list of forbidden foods? Well, it depends…..
I have not been silent about my distrust of the popular large panel allergy tests. The panels where you send away a sample of your blood to a company and they come back with a gazzilion foods to which you are allergic. If this is the case, I urge you to confirm these results through the traditional methods of food allergy testing – that is, through skin test and food challenge. You can read more on the various testing methods in a previous post.
Let’s assume that all of your food allergies have been confirmed and it seems as if there is no end in sight. Perhaps you have had a list of allergies to which is being added new foods. You can’t simply ignore the list, but you must avoid the contents of it. But what do you eat?
Tips for Living with a Growing List of Food Allergies
- Go simple! The foods that are least likely to be allergens are basic fruits, vegetables, meats, and starches. That is not to say that you can’t be allergic to them, but 3 of those 4 food groups are quite large. Find the foods that you can eat out of those groups. Concentrate on what you can have and not what you can’t have!
- With your basic foods, add simple flavor with oils, herbs, and spices.
- Make your own! There is no getting past the list of processed/packaged foods that you can no longer have with a long list of food allergies. Look at it as a blessing because most prepackaged food is not good for you anyway. Start making your own salad dressings, marinades, condiments, desserts, and so on.
- Think you can’t cook a simple meal because you have so many allergies? Wrong! You can! You just have to get creative and try to think of the science of cooking. Think about what flavors go together…what ingredients act similarly. For example, lemon is a great substitute for vinegar, if you avoid yeast or corn. Case in point: I was doing some cooking-for-hire for a friend a number of months ago who just found out she had about 50 foods to which she was allergic. (She did a large panel allergy test that caused so many issues and she wasn’t even allergic to any of the foods that came back positive. She no longer avoids the foods and is doing great!) The reason I cooked for her was because she became paralyzed by her long list. I could see why too! I even found it hard to cook for her, but knew I was in a better position to figure it out than her. I started doing a lot of research. She was so pleased and excited over every meal.
- What I learned from the above experience is that with many dishes, you have to deconstruct the ingredients. I wanted to make an Italian dressing for her, but she couldn’t have vinegar, pepper, or garlic (I’m sure there were other ingredients that I can no longer remember). I had to figure out a suitable substitute for each ingredient in a traditional Italian dressing recipe. I then put each ingredient together and hoped for an acceptable final product. And you know what? It worked! It turned out to be a fantastic dressing. Yay! See my Italian Lemon Chicken recipe that resulted from this deconstruction.
- You have to accept the fact that you are going to have total flops in the kitchen. Try your best to salvage it, but don’t be afraid to throw it out. You’re learning this process, one ingredient and dish at a time.
- Accept the fact that food just is not going to be the same any longer. In America, we have an unhealthy addiction to food. All social events have food. All non-social events have food. We think up reasons to have food. We think we’re starving if it’s 2pm and we still haven’t had lunch. When food allergies surface in someone’s life, particularly adults, they go through a detox or weaning of sorts from foods. Our bodies are addicted to food. There is even research that shows a particular physiological and psychological addiction to the food to which we are allergic (more to come on this topic at a later time). Adults can go through a time of depression when removing foods (those addicted allergy foods) from their diet. My husband experienced this for several months when removing allergy foods from his diet.
- Give yourself grace! Take it slow, take it easy, take it one basic dish at a time.
For those of you who have experienced a growing list of food allergies, how have you come to terms with this bump in the road?
As we continue on the Life with Food Allergies series, next we will tackle the very tough issue of dealing with the fear/guilt of hurting your child. This is a subject that I have had particular trouble overcoming.