An Open Letter to Allergy Teens From a Grownup Allergy Kid

An Open Letter to Allergy Teens From a Grownup Allergy Kid

Dear Allergy Teens,

You have compelled me to write this letter after seeing an instagram post the other day. It stated:

“At 16 I hate my food allergy more than ever. It sucks!!”

My first reaction is to ask how can you hate what you can’t change? That doesn’t make sense.

I know it can suck, I’ve been there. I’ve been labelled the allergy girl my whole life. I’ve had an allergic reaction. I’ve been terrified to eat. I’ve felt left out at parties and school trips when I can’t join in with everyone else, eat the same as everyone else, be the same as everyone else. You can sit there only drinking water feeling completely sorry for yourself. At these points I’ve thought why me?!

When it’s that time of year when school, college and university are starting again. The reality of starting coursework, exams, having to actually sort your life and meeting new people hits you. The last thing you want is to be singled out, to be labelled ‘different’…

Mark Twain put it perfectly: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” It’s true we all worry sometimes about what other people think, and it’s true, people judge you, but they do it based on many more things than an allergy…(and those people who you worry are judging you, aren’t you just as guilty of judging them..?)

Having an allergy is a challenge but you can use it to make yourself a better, more confident, and a cooler all round human being. Not many people get the opportunities you do by having an allergy.

Not many people get the opportunities you do by having an allergy. Click To Tweet

At this point you must be thinking, “what on earth is this lady on about?! opportunity?!” Yes thats right, allergies are an opportunity. You have an opportunity to be a better version of yourself.

Let me break it down for each of you guys and girls:

 

Guys, do you want to be cool and sought after by the girls? I’m pretty sure your answer is going to be a yes. What do you think girls want? They want a confident guy who knows his own mind and is willing to stand up for what he believes in. Not someone who is insecure and lets everyone walk all over him. Well, your allergy seems like a pretty good challenge to develop your confidence because if you don’t you will probably end up hospital. So, don’t let your allergies hold you back, don’t let the anxiety over your allergies control you, you control it. Own your allergy, do what’s necessary and don’t apologise for it.

food allergy dragon tamer guy

Girls, you never have to feel embarrassed about having an allergy. People will say what they like and some of it isn’t always nice, but you always control how you feel about it. It is your life, your mind and your body. You have a responsibility to look after yourself and that means your allergy too. However that doesn’t mean your allergy should control you. You are in control and strong enough to advocate for yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. Just remember your life is more important than other people’s feelings and if someone can’t respect your allergy needs they are not worth having in your life, full stop.

food allergy dragon tamer girl bow arrow danger

So allergy teens, it comes down to this: life is more than your allergies. Allergies are only a biological fact of your body. They don’t define who you are. I mean everyone is allergic to rat poison but you never hear anyone complain about how their life would be better if they could only eat some without consequences. You have an allergy, but that’s just a fact. Facts do not equal feelings because you control how those facts get processed.

If you start complaining or feeling sorry for yourself, that is your decision. But have think, does it actually solve anything? No. It’s fine to have a 5 minute time out, get up set and feel it all, but then you need to decide how you are going to solve your problem. How you feel and how you handle your allergy, how you teach people to think about allergies is completely up to you. If you handle it with calmness and confidence, everyone else will follow suit. After all, when a ship is sinking everyone looks to the calm and controlled person for direction.

To end:

The bad news (that you already know): You’ve got a life threatening allergy, looming over you like an angry dragon.

The good news: The best people in life are those who’ve grown stronger from overcoming personal disaster. Your allergy is a wild dragon that must be tamed, and who doesn’t like a dragon tamer?

You are probably going to have this allergy for life, so you best get over it, get on with it and own it!

Sincerely,

Nina, grown up allergy kid (anaphylaxis: peanuts and tree nuts)

P.S. Fellow dragon tamers, if you have any comments, queries, rants, raves, questions, likes or dislikes feel free to leave me a note in the comments section or send me an email.

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Backpacking With Food Allergies: Travel Hacks

Backpacking With Food Allergies: Travel Hacks

You don’t always have the luxury of the internet or knowing the local language when you’re backpacking, but even though you have food allergies, this shouldn’t stop you from staying safe. Over the years I’ve developed some travel hacks that kept me safe and prepared when I was out of WIFI or had limited food options.

When you are off on adventure you don’t know what you are going to encounter. You’re going to throw yourself into experiencing a country and it’s culture. But a problem is, sometimes you don’t share a common language or a situation arises you are unprepared for. It happens, don’t worry, but what do you do?

When life throws a curve ball, you have to remember you have a bat you just need to figure out what to make it from. My backpacking has taken me across Western and Eastern Europe and South India and I always made sure I felt prepared, but while I was on my travels sometimes situations came up that I hadn’t expected. These included deciding to travel to a place not on the original itinerary, I found that my allergy lingo skills weren’t enough or I had limited cooking facilities.

The key to enjoying your travelling is to face challenges head on and find the travel hack way of doing things. So here are some of mine and the stories that go with them:

Learn allergen names at the supermarket.

I started doing this while I was travelling around Europe. I realised that I didn’t know all the different names for the different types of nuts but at that point there wasn’t Europe data roaming, or at least as a poor student I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant prices. I didn’t have a dictionary to hand either, so while I was in the supermarket I went to the aisle with all the packets of nuts and I started writing down all the names. I have to thank my Mum for this because she made sure I could recognise all the different nuts I was allergic to in their various forms by taking me to the nut aisle on our family food shops and if she was eating nuts around me, she’d make sure I’d know what they were.

Boil eggs in a kettle.

While I was backpacking in India, my friends and I spent our first few weeks teaching in a school for underprivileged children. We were staying on site at the school but there were no cooking facilities. There were a few restaurants around and market stands around but it wasn’t that accessible and on Sundays many weren’t open. So along with buying raw fruit and vegetables that wouldn’t go off overnight in the heat we would also buy eggs and boil them in the kettle that came with the apartment.

Have a (portable) cooker if you’re in rural area.

Now living on eggs and fruit and vegetables wasn’t sustainable long term for my friends and I while we were in South India, so we asked the school to get a gas cooker so we could cook. With some persuasion and our monetary contribution the school bought a small outdoor gas cooker and provided some pots, pans, utensils and crockery for us to use. The lesson is, sometimes you just have to ask for the stuff you need to live rather than suffering in silence.

If you’re having trouble asking about allergens, ask general questions first then specific ones after.

Depending the country you’re visiting you may need to change the way you ask for information. This may be down to language barrier or they try to tell you what you they think you want to hear rather than telling you the plain facts. In both these cases I find the best way is to ask really general questions so that you can then deduce information and then confirm with a specific followup question.

I made use of this tactic in India, partly because people would want to tell me what they thought I wanted, because sometimes they just didn’t understand what a nut allergy was, and saving face is important in Indian culture.

So when I asked general questions in search of general information, they would be like this:

“What’s this [pointing at food/menu item] made of?”

“What oil do you use?”

“How do you make this dish?”

I’ve found general questions aren’t perceived to need a certain answer and therefore people answer more truthfully because there isn’t a wrong answer.

Then I would follow up with more specific questions related to my allergy and at this point I may or may not introduce the fact I have a nut allergy. These specific questions would include examples like:

“Do you use peanut oil?”

“Do you put cashews in this dish?”

“Do you sprinkle with ground peanuts?”

I get a variety of responses ranging from confident they know what they’re saying to just saying it because they think so. Then the next stage is to say…

“I ask because I am deathly allergic to nuts. So I cannot have peanuts, almonds, cashew, pistachios, hazelnuts, all of them. I have to go to hospital if I have any, even the smallest amount.”

Next, the waiter will usually go talk to the manager or say that they will go check with the kitchen just to be sure. When I order food I also ask that my allergy be written on with my order so that chef knows to be extra careful.

My friends will often ask me questions checking I have my medication, confirm they stab me in the leg if I have a reaction and ask when I would know, in front of the waiter. This is especially helpful if the waiter or person is one of those who is not taking me seriously, it just provides a bit extra support and weight to what I am saying. (It also shows you who your real friends are!)

 

Want to read more about my backpacking tips? I wrote a quick guide to backpacking over on AllergyTravels.com with what you need to prepare and how I stayed safe traveling around Europe.

 

My next post for Allergy Awareness Week 2018 is especially for allergy teens. Having allergies as a teen can suck but I say it could be the best thing that ever happened to you! Find out everything in tomorrows post and to make sure you don’t miss it, get it straight to your inbox by signing up to my newsletter (on the sidebar to the right).

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Liked this post, have a read of my other Allergy Awareness Week 2018 posts:

#1 – What Allergies are NOT

#2 – How to Build Confidence in Your Allergy Kid

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How To Build Confidence in Your Food Allergy Kids

How To Build Confidence in Your Food Allergy Kids

How do you build confidence in your kids with food allergies? Are there ways you can be intentional about building confidence and self-sufficiency? This is a question allergy parents ask me a lot, and the answer is “yes,” you can definitely be intentional in your parenting to raise confident allergy kids who can advocate and manage their allergy when you are not around.

 

You want your child to have the best in life, and when they have a food allergy that means they will have to learn to manage it confidently. But how? When I am working with allergy parents in coaching sessions this is a question that comes up a lot (listen to a coaching session here). They don’t want their child’s allergy to impact their live negatively but obviously can’t keep their child in a bubble their entire life. The answer I say is down to how you prepare them early in their life and primarily with how they think and approach their allergy management. Below I am talking about 4 of the most important things you can do to build confidence in your food allergy kid so when they grown up they are equipped to manage their allergy safely and not let it negatively impact their life.

1

Teach your child to own their food allergy and never feel sorry that they have one. Allergies are a fact of our lives and for those with anaphylaxis it is unlikely that they will ever grow out of it. When I was young my parents took this approach with me, the aim was that teach me to own my allergy in all areas of my life so that I was safe when my parents were not around. The fact that my parents never felt bad for me but took a practical approach to my allergy management meant that I didn’t grow up feeling sorry for myself. I was taught to see the problem and then work out a solution to the problem. It was, and still is in my life because I still have my allergy, to not think I’m missing out but to figure out how I can do things differently.

2

Don’t hide your child’s food allergy or how severe it is. Honesty is usually the best policy and I am sure when it comes to allergies that this is the way. My Mum calls it her Sleeping Beauty Theory: when the king finds out that sleeping beauty would die if his daughter pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, he made sure all the spinning wheels were removed from the kingdom. So Sleeping Beauty  had never seen a spinning wheel before when the evil fairy turned up at the castle with. If Sleeping Beauty had known what a spinning wheel was and she would have known how important it was to avoid it and so not pricked her finger. It’s not about scaring your child, it’s about making them aware of what will make them sick so that they will take ownership and responsibility for their well being.

3

Make your child practice advocating for themselves. We all know to be good at something we have to practice and it is exactly the same when it comes to building confidence. So when you are looking to build confidence in your food allergy kid to advocate and manage their allergy you need to encourage them to ask the questions, help you read labels and tell people about their allergy. From my own experience of growing up with food allergies, my parents would remind me before we went to restaurant and ask whether I wanted to tell the waiter about my nut allergy (they had usually called ahead and checked before we got there, but I didn’t know at the time). Then when it came time they would guide and prompt me through the process. Each time I told a waiter the easier it got and the older I got the more confident I felt. The same came to telling my school friends, they all knew about my allergy and it never bothered any of them one bit. Every part of living my parents got my brother and I involved in so that we would learn, from the simplest thing of going food shopping and checking labels all the way to telling parents and teachers about my allergy.

4

Make sure your food allergy kid knows they can say “no” to food they are unsure of and that you will support them in their decision no matter what. This is one of the most important factors of building your child’s confidence and it is only when I was an adult reflecting on my experiences that I realised how much of an affect it had on my confidence. I remember my Dad saying many times growing up, especially when I was little, that “if you don’t think somethings safe, if you’re not happy about any food, you don’t eat it. EVEN if an adult is telling you its ok. You can say “no.” Don’t worry about getting in trouble because you won’t. We will deal with it.” I was a good child as well, one of those who always followed the rules, listened to adults and teachers, so defying an adult with the possibility to get in trouble was not a nice thought for me. But because I knew that I had my parents absolute support, that they trusted my decision even if they weren’t there empowered me as a little person to advocate for myself, and if that meant disagreeing with an adult, well then so be it. I could be or pretend to be confident in myself because I knew my parents trusted and believed in me.

I continue with my Allergy Awareness Week series tomorrow talking all about how to travel with allergies when you get thrown into the unexpected.

To stay tuned, sign up to my email list to get the blog post sent straight to your inbox. (see side bar on the right)

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If you have any questions on this post and would like to know more, book in a complimentary 15 minute consultation with me and get a tasted of allergy coaching. I am here to help and want you to empower you food allergy kid to be able to travel, have their dream career and explore this wonderful world! Send me an email today.

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5 Things Food Allergies Are Not

5 Things Food Allergies Are Not

When you have a food allergy, there are misconceptions. But they are exactly that misconceptions. Here are 5 myths that I’m going to set the record straight about.

 

1

Food allergies cannot be cured with probiotics.

An allergic reaction is an autoimmune response in the body to a protein. Allergic reactions can range from mild too extreme. The extreme form of allergic reactions is called anaphylaxis which in the worst case can result in death. The research for the link between the gut and allergies is still very new. Food allergies cannot be cured by simply taking probiotics or those good bacteria yogurts you can get at the supermarket. Always talk to your doctor or a medical professional about allergy treatments.

2

Food allergies are not a fad or phase.

They are a bodily reaction to a protein that your immune system sees as a foreign invader, it is an autoimmune response. Allergies are not in your head, they’re not something you’re dreaming up. Food allergies are serious and need management so that you can stay allergy safe.

3

Food allergies do not make you weak.

The beauty about allergies about you know what makes you sick. This means is really easy to avoid those foods that make you sick. You are healthy just long as you avoid those allergens.  It does not affect your ability to have friends. It’s your choice how you think about your allergy and what it means in your life.

4

Your food allergy does not rule your life.

Just because you or your child have an allergy does not mean you will miss out. You are the one in charge of your allergy, you are the one who can take ownership and you are the one who doesn’t need to let it define you.

5

Having a food allergy does not mean the world has to cater to you.

There are lots of people with allergies some with multiple severe allergies. Restaurants hotels and catering companies do you not have the responsibility to ensure that you have safe food to eat. These are privately owned businesses meaning they can do what they like. This will sound harsh but it’s true. Your allergy is your responsibility. Don’t give up the control over your life.

So what next…?

Sometimes when you don’t know where to start, it’s good to rule out what things are not. When you’re first diagnosed with a food allergy it can feel like the end of the world. The simple task of going food shopping is now a maze of the potentially deadly. Just starting out is frustrating but it wont stay that way.. Living with allergies is a constant process of education and like anything the more we practice the better we get.

Living with allergies is a constant process of education and like anything, the more we practice the better we get. Click To Tweet

Tomorrow’s blog post is number 2 in my Allergy Awareness Week series, I share the 4 most important things you can do to build confidence in your food allergy kids, a question that comes up regularly in coaching sessions.

Make sure you sign up to the newsletter to receive it straight to your inbox. (see side bar on the right)

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6 Quick Things You Can Do To Deal With Allergy Anxiety

Start conquering your food allergy anxiety with these 6 quick steps:

  1. write out what your anxious about
  2. google the stuff you don’t know
  3. buy health/travel insurance & an allergy translation card (be sure to call and confirm your allergy is covered)
  4. always have your medication
  5. tell someone about your allergy
  6. keep practicing!

The more we practice managing our allergies, the more we figure out what we can do to own our food allergies, the more control we’re going to have over our allergy anxiety.

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Allergy Friendly Finds at The Allergy & Free From Show London 2017

Not only was I exhibiting at the Allergy & Free From Show 2017, I also love seeing what it is new in the world of free from food and the Allergy Show is the perfect place to do this.

I’m really excited by some of these companies products! Not only were they delicious but many are started by people who get it. So with out further ado, here is the round up of my favourite products from the show!

The Saucy Affair Raw Sauce Co

The Saucy Affair Raw Sauce Co puts the sass back into the evening. Whether you’re a busy mum, the nonplussed cook, or wanting to serve up a saucy dinner date, you want to know about this company and their saucy sauces. 

Run by a lady in a long black evening gown and a masquerade mask, as soon as you approached this stand, you got the feeling there was something special here.

As a foodie, I love to try new flavours. I get irrationally excited about bright colours and exotic smells. I tried every single flavour multiple times (there were 6) and I didn’t get bored.

I personally don’t like using pre-made sauces, most of the time they’re fine hot but rubbish cold or if you eat too much they leave a funny taste in your mouth. Not the case with these sauces. They tasted fresh! I had to admit, I was surprised. What surprised me even more was the ingredients list, fresh fruit and vegetables were used! Barely a tomato in sight AND extra virgin olive oil was on the list!

I could go on, and I will, but I’m saving my full review for a post of its own. Watch this space for a full post and my throw it together dinners featuring these sauces!

Forced To Be Fussy

I love the name of this company: Forced to be Fussy. I think it sums up what it’s like to have food allergies, intolerances and dietary restrictions. Forced to be Fussy is run by Jenna, a lady with multiple intolerances such as gluten, barley, various nuts, crustaceans and more. She has started a company making allergy friendly baked treats. Gemma was kind enough to ply me with a slice of lemon loaf, a huge chunk of sticky chocolate brownie and a slice of rocky road. For me this was exciting because being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, and intolerant to gluten and dairy, even at an allergy show there was not much I could eat. But I could eat these!!

Here’s what I and my chief taste tester (a.k.a the boyfriend) thought of these treats:

Chocolate Brownie: My favourite treat out of the three. I devoured this as I was waiting for a train and had barely eaten all day Sunday during the show. It definitely hit the spot. More of a sticky cake brownie and I liked it! There was a fudgy chocolate topping and I was happy to taste that it wasn’t too sweet. I wouldn’t object to an even richer chocolate flavour but that’s my chocoholic preference.

Rocky Road: Great textures! I loved the crunch of the biscuity things, the squidgy marsh mallow and glace cherry textures, they worked really well together. For me I’d prefer a less sweet version, perhaps using a darker chocolate made with xylitol  to counteract the sweetness of the marshmallows and glace cherries. Ideal for kids or adults with a sweet tooth.

Lemon Cake: This was tested by my chief taste tester the Monday after the show. It had sat in my bag for almost a day. Sorry Jenna, not presenting your work at its best. However initial thoughts were it felt like it might be stale, but… it didn’t taste like it! Still had a good cake texture. Had a lovely light lemony flavour. It tasted more lemon than it smelt. Chief taste tester gave his approval!

Leggero

Leggero was suggested to me by Vicki Montague (The Free From Fairy) on Sunday of the show while I was trying to find something to eat. She said they had a great allergy friendly focaccia bread, and oh boy did they?!

They had some samples out of the roasted mediterranean vegetable focaccia and I was sold on that first bite! Vicki said it would be good but I wasn’t expecting it to be that good.

The vegetables were sweet and fresh, the bread itself was spongy and moist, delicious! It was also free from gluten, wheat, nuts, peanuts, eggs and dairy and other allergens too! To show my appreciation I voted with my money and bought one of their huge slices immediately, and at £3 I thought it incredibly reasonable.

It was only after I bought a slice I found out they were a restaurant! A gluten free Italian one at that too. I had a quick chat to one of the guys working the stand and he gave me their business card, which came in a really pretty oyster card holder. It was while I was on the train that I realised what a perfect idea this was. I had been meaning to buy a new holder for my oyster card (which used to be held together with sellotape, but had split ages ago). The Leggero business card is still in the holder with my oyster card to remind me to go have a meal there next time I’m in London!

Free From Fairy

I think this lady is actually a fairy. She has created a flour blend that I seriously think is the best on the market. So far it is better all round flour than all the big brands I’ve tried. Vicki Montague, a.k.a The Free From Fairy, has developed a gluten free, rice free wholegrain flour blend that you can use for anything and everything. Cakes, biscuits, breads, and pastry! For anyone who has struggled with gluten free baking (and also needs egg, dairy and nut free bakes too) then you need to get your hands on this flour! She sells directly from her website and until the end of July has a give away of a FREE supply of flour for 6 months! Click here to enter! (I mean it, click here now!) 

Functional Foods Co.

Functional Foods Company is run by Alessandra Bester who is out to combine allergy safe and superfoods. She is an inspirational lady who has developed this delicious treats through helping her autistic son eat again. At the show she sampling her delicious citrus truffles. They were absolutely delicious. She gave me a little box to share with my Mum containing all the new treats. I have to say they were bursting with flavour! From citrus to rose flavours, it was summer and spring in a box! I am not usually a fan of rose flavour either but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Alessandra is also an incredibly motivated and warm person, I can’t wait to see how her company develops over the next year!

Plamil So Free

Plamil Foods So Free Chocolate is the new branding of Plamil chocolate. I have been a fan of Plamil for the last 7 years when I discovered that they made chocolate in a nut free factory. Their past chocolate bars were ok, but often had a powdery texture. I still enjoyed them and bought them but I have to say, they have really up-ed their game with the new So Free bars! They have fixed the texture problem, the chocolate is now incredibly smooth and a pleasure to experience the melting on your tongue, the flavours are brighter and it is just like eating one of the big brand chocolate bars like Lindt. I also love their new branding. It is adding a sexiness to allergy friendly chocolate that I haven’t seen in the allergy niche before. Well done Plamil!!

Newburn Bakehouse

Newburn Bakehouse, the free from arm of Warburtons, have been really innovating when it comes to their free from product selection. I was given a packet of their gluten free crumpets to try. When I was eating wheat and gluten, I wasn’t big fan of crumpets. I always thought they tasted a bit weird. The only way I would eat them was if they were very toasted. As such my expectations for free from crumpets were kind of low. On the Saturday of the show I was so hungry that I just needed a quick snack, the only thing I had available were these crumpets, so I thought, I’ll just eat one of these for now. I was quite surprised I liked them. I like them better than wheat flour crumpets! Pleasant spongey texture, mild flavour, reminded me of a think kind of pancake texture. I enjoyed them so much I had them toasted with me breakfast the next morning.

Genius

I am impressed by Genius. I like their bread and think it is some of the consistently better textured bread that has been on the supermarket shelves over the last few years. I interviewed Genius founder Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne on the podcast a few months. Hearing the story of Genius makes you realise that even though it’s one of the bigger companies it still has a similar story. For Lucinda her sons are her inspiration. When she found out her youngest was extremely intolerant to gluten, she got in the kitchen and started experimenting.

I didn’t get to try as much as I wanted of their new products, but what impressed me is that Lucinda’s staff understood cross contamination risks. They knew about the allergens on their stand, unlike some others I had visited. I was offered some of their blueberry muffin to try. So as a good allergy kid, I asked about whether they had nuts in or not and if they had been cut in the same place as the nut containing biscuits being sampled. I was very pleased that immediately I was told, no. The biscuits were cut up at the front in their own special area and the muffins where chopped in the back kitchen with separate knives and boards. No hesitation, and this made me feel a lot better, both about the company and about trying the product. The blueberry muffin was also very yummy, light texture and not too sweet.

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