Life with Food Allergies: Isolation and Loneliness

The argument could be made that loneliness can be felt indirectly — that is, as parents of children with food allergies.  We feel the pain of our children when they are excluded from special food at school, a family gathering, or a birthday party.  As parents, we often decline certain social events, even as minor as dinner at a restaurant, for the protection of our food allergy child.  My focus isn’t on myself today, though.  Furthermore, adult food allergies or other food-related illnesses can be very isolating as well.  I’m not focusing on that either because as adults, I hope we are better able to cope with that loneliness.

What I Wish I Knew…

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Isolation is inevitable.  Do your best to avoid it with awareness, practical alternatives, and your love.  Do not allow your child to become familiar with constant loneliness as a result of their food allergies.

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Today’s lesson for life with food allergies is focused on the isolation, and thus loneliness, that many children experience as a result of their food allergies.  There are different kinds of isolation that I want to cover that vary from severe bully-like isolation to the more common form of simply being left out.

Bullied Food Allergy Child

  • I am thankful that my son has not experienced bullying from his food allergies, so I don’t have any first (or second) hand experience with it. If you do, please chime in!
  • If your child is being bullied, the situation must be addressed immediately!
  • Remove your child until some resolution/understanding is reached.
  • Bullying is not acceptable.  Your child has absolutely no control over their food allergies.

Being Left Out of Events

  • Try your best to always make your child feel included even if it is an inconvenience to you.
  • Attend birthday party or other school or social events if you do not feel 100% sure of their safety.  I can’t tell you how many parties I have attended with my son to assure his safety.  He has not been bothered by my presence…yet, but he is only 7.  There have even been situations where he has asked me to stay because he was uncertain of his safety.
  • Always provide an alternative, safe food option for your child.  This point stands true for the birthday party, the play date, or the impromptu dinner at a restaurant.  It is not fun or fair for your child to look on longingly while others enjoy food that he or she cannot enjoy.
  • Try your best to make the alternative food similar to what others are having and something that he/she finds special.  For example, I try to keep a batch of cupcakes in the freezer for my son to take to birthday parties.  It’s easy to pull one out, heat up in the microwave and cover with icing and sprinkles before he heads out to enjoy the party.  Sure, it’s not the exact same, but they still feel included.  Save this special treat just for these times so that it is considered “special”.
  • Remember that food is not the focus of children’s birthday parties and many other special events.  It’s the running around with friends and enjoying the time together.  I encourage you to do your best to take the focus off food as much as is possible.
  • Explain your child’s food needs to other parents so that they understand the danger.  They will have a better understanding of your hovering presence 🙂
  • Bring the other children along to understand the danger as well.  My son’s 1st grade teacher was amazing at this.  All the kids in his class were my son’s little protector.  I’d say it was probably the cleanest and safest classroom for any child in the entire school.  There was never a single complaint from the teacher, parents, and certainly not the children.
  • Offer to supply the food for the entire event, if possible.  This can be a great option for school parties.  For the last two years when my son has been in school, I have provided snacks for more classroom parties than any other parent.  It was only a minor inconvenience, but it was very welcomed!  It made the teacher, other parents, students, my son, and myself all feel comfortable and safe.

When Your Child is Isolated

You can take all the above precautions and still there will be times when your child feels isolated because of food allergies.  When this happens, come along side your child as best as possible.

  • Assure them that just because they can’t take part in the food, there are other things about the event that they can enjoy.  Try your best to point out those other things.
  • Promise your child something special when you leave, whether it is a special treat or activity together.
  • Although some may disagree with me, your child must also face the reality that things aren’t always fair.  Isolated children know this all too well.  Comfort them with your love and attention during these hard times.

Do you have a story to share about isolation or any other advice to offer when dealing with food allergy-related isolation and loneliness?

The next step in our series on Life with Food Allergies is whether the pain of allergy testing and shots is worth it.

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8 Responses to Life with Food Allergies: Isolation and Loneliness

  1. You are so right–isolation is inevitable. I am almost 20, and I still feel left out of many social events because of my food restrictions. It is stressful for me to find food I can eat at restaurants, so I am hesitant to go out to a last-minute restaurant meal with friends. I usually eat before or after parties/gatherings, because it is so difficult to find food I can eat there. It certainly feels a bit awkward having to avoid all the food everybody is taking about and enjoying.

    I think the best advice is to do things with friends that does not include food–bike riding, skating, going to a pottery painting place (my favorite!). Also, I am realizing how important it is not to care what other people think–I used to be worried I was offending someone by not eating the food they prepared. Now, I give a short explanation of my allergies, if needed, and don’t worry about what other people think.

    • Cook says:

      Lauren,

      You are so very right! I have made these same recommendations in other posts before and I’m glad you’ve reiterated them here.

      1) You may want to eat before or after the food-related social event.
      2) Do social activities that do not include food.
      3) Share your food allergies with others in a kind manner and not worry about any ill feelings they have. It can be a matter of life and death.
      4) I also might add that if you want to enjoy an impromptu restaurant outing with friends, perhaps just enjoy a drink and eat later. Or, if possible, have something very small like a bowl of fruit.

      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts here. It helps to get the perspective of a young adult that has lived with food allergies for so many years.

      Michelle

  2. what a great post. i agree, including others in the knowledge of your child’s food allergies builds a “defense team” 🙂

    • Cook says:

      Thanks for your continuous support, Caralyn! Great term: “defense team” as it pertains to allergies. I might have to use that sometime 🙂

  3. Kristen says:

    It’s funny….now we feel like we are the isolated ones food-wise, because most everyone around us is on a special diet of some kind. We’d like to have some people over for dinner but I’m nervous to ask because I’m not sure what to make! (Maybe you should move out here, wink, wink, and feel a little less isolated ….:)

    • Cook says:

      Don’t let people’s diets hinder you from having people over. Make it a potluck or ask them what they can have. There are so many options for hospitality and food should not stand in the way. At least, that’s my motto 🙂

  4. I posted GAPS homemade coconut milk yogurt!
    great for all those dairy free allergy people 🙂

    http://www.mygutsy.com/2012/08/03/coconut-milk-yogurt-gapsdairy-free/

  5. Hali says:

    Some days it’s so hard, some days we get by. But most times we are avoiding people in a way to keep our food allergic kid safe. It’s tough.

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