Over the last 6 months I was unsure where I have been taking the blog and podcast. It got to the point where I was falling out of love with it.
The purpose and driving force behind Eat Allergy Safe has always been that allergies aren’t about missing out, they are about doing things differently. Since starting the blog in 2015 and the podcast in 2016, I have found there are SO many inspirational allergy bloggers and people out there.
Unfortunately, these inspirational people can often get drowned out by a few negative vocal voices and newspaper stories. (I have definitely felt pressure from these negative voices and haven’t always known how to respond…) The fear mongering encourages others to believe they are victims and that the world owes them something because they have a food allergy. I believe this is wrong and destructive and does not allow each person to find their innate strengths.
Food allergy deaths have become popular topics for newspaper articles. Although the frequency of allergies being in the news is great for awareness, they serve also to fuel fear, anxiety and stress about living with allergies everyday. They have forced people to pay attention out of fear. This serves an initial purpose, but I believe only in the short term. If allergy education and awareness is to be a long term plan, we can’t go at it from fear because that just builds resentment. Not to mention, being an allergy sufferer I don’t want to depress myself by reading about a death that could have so easily have been me. For my own mental well being, I want to take action.
Through learning about my allergy I know I feel more in control of my life and ability to manage on a day to day basis. The more knowledge I have acquire I find I can understand more than just my own views, and that gives me perspective on the actions of others and helps me manage my emotional response to negative news articles or opinions.
Things Are Changing…
This said, things are changing on the blog and podcast. As some of you may have noticed if you follow me on social media, I’ve been posting very sporadically. This is going to continue and I have made the decision to log out of many of the accounts. I have an auto-poster app that I will use to share blog posts, but I will no longer be active on the accounts. This is for my own well being and also because I have come to dislike some of the bad human traits that social media encourages in general. (I’ve found over the last year that negative and angry posts get the most interaction and are promoted the most by social platforms – that is not what I want to promote at Eat Allergy Safe and it is not what Eat Allergy Safe is about.)
Instead I encourage you to comment on a blog post or, even better, send me an email through the contact form! I want to encourage actual communication rather than the fleeting comments or ‘likes’ on social media that we often make and forget so quickly.
Proactive, not Reactive: Information & Education
Content in 2019 is going to be focused on information and education about all aspects of living with food allergies so that we can make informed decisions.
If you are an allergy parent, your time will come when allergies won’t be a big part of your life. That is good and the natural order of things, but your allergy child will always have allergies. Allergies won’t go away, and the best protection you can give them is to arm your child with knowledge and confidence so they can own their allergy.
I will look for your input over 2019. What information do you wish you could find? What practical information do you want? What are you curious about? The science and psychology of allergies? or food manufacturing?
I want the content to be proactive rather than reactive, so that living with allergies is proactive rather than reactive.
What do you think?
Leave a comment below or send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.
It’s not very often I get to talk to allergy Mum’s who are coming to the end of their journey. This week I am excited to introduce you to Sarah Chapman blogger and founder of The Allergy Matters Conference (inaugural year October 19th, 2018!!).
Sarah walks me through her journey raising 2 allergy kids, one who has had their allergies since a baby and her daughter who developed allergies as a teenager. She has managed allergies including nuts, dairy, soya and Oral Allergy Syndrome.
We talk about the road of discovery, diagnosis, raising the kids, eating out, being teenagers and now how they are managing their allergies on their own.
Sarah talks about her experiences in hindsight, how to manage the anxiety, the difference between children being diagnosed in the 1990s and children being diagnosed now.
We then go on to talk about the Allergy Matters Conference that Sarah is organising taking place in Runcorn, UK on October 19th 2018. There are a number of speakers including healthcare professionals and allergy organisations who will be there and we get a sneak peak at who will be there!
To book your ticket to the Allergy Matters Conference, click here.
Top 3 Tips For New Allergy Parents
- Know your rights – NICE guidelines
- If things are getting worse, call your allergist and push to get your appointment brought forward
- Understand what food allergies, anaphylaxis, and environmental allergies are and the different types of reactions are
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Ask Your Questions
If you have a question about your own allergy journey or from the episode, leave a comment below or if you would like some 1-on-1 help you might be interesting in having some coaching. If so, please send me an email for more information.
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Every day I am checking ingredients labels. With a nut allergy it’s just part of my food habits. I don’t think about it that much any more, because as I said it’s one of my habits to double and triple check.
But how do you figure out which warning label is ok and what’s not? I get asked this question a lot and recently I’ve been finding some funny product labelling. So I decided it was time I wrote up how I think about this stuff.
Disclaimer: This post is what I do and how I decide. You must continue to use your discretion and common sense when you check ingredients labels! If in doubt don’t eat the food. If you have further query call the company and ask for their product allergen specification sheet. You are responsible for your food choices because you are responsible for you allergy safety.
How do I actually decide which foods I’m willing to eat?
To be honest it comes down to a few things: what the warning label says, the company and my mood. I’m talk about these is reverse order and show you how I come to a decision.
Although this might sound strange, how I feel really does shape how I decide on whether to eat a food or not. I mean we all have that but mine, having a severe food allergy, could have further reaching consequences. So I acknowledge and make sure I know when my mood is having more of an influence on my decision.
Let’s talk about when I’m in a good, energetic mood when my work is going well and I’m at the shops looking for a snack. At this time I’m less likely to eat something with a warning. This is because I can think past the hunger, the food isn’t going to make me feel anything different or more than what I’m already feeling. So I am more willing to feel like I am “giving something up,” and that’s exactly it. When I’m happy I feel like I’m not missing out on anything.
Now what about if I’m sad, stressed and or tired. I can tell you straight away I’m a comfort eater. Any or a combination of the afore mentioned emotions, I feel like I want sugar and carbs usually in the form of biscuits. Unfortunately for me if I want gluten and nut free biscuits there are only a few brands I can have which don’t have nut warnings (Schar being the most widely accessible at the supermarkets). When I am in a mood I am far more willing to risk a warning for that satisfaction of sugar. It is not rational. It is emotionally fuelled. But knowing this and accepting it as my choice, is important for owning my allergy. For taking responsibility of my allergy and accepting the risk.
Although I know my mood dictates some of how I choose a warning label, it is not the whole story. Although I may be fuelled emotionally, I still always look at the packets, the ingredients and make a calculation of the risk. Although the driving force behind some decisions may be emotional, I want the risk to be calculated.
How I make a quick risk assessment of product packets for allergens
The company is one factor when I decide what to eat. It comes down to how well do these companies understand and follow the rules for food production?
To the best of my understanding large food companies have stricter rules within their factories for food production. As such I am more likely to trust big company on what they say their factory processes are on the packet than a small packet.
On the other hand, small businesses are exactly that, small. This isn’t to say that all are bad. I just find with some small business, perhaps they are bakeries or home businesses, that unless they have experience dealing with allergies I don’t always trust them. This is because they are making lots of different things in one place. If there are nuts or peanuts in the kitchen, how do I know for sure that they haven’t been contaminated. How do I know that machinery has been cleaned properly. Do they have the same structures in place as a big factory? Being a small business may mean no protocols and procedures or they think they understand the seriousness of allergies but in their newness to the food business their naivety could make them think they understand when they don’t.
Some small businesses are great on the other hand. Being small means that you can often talk to the people who make the product because you are buying directly from them at a market. When it comes to this, it comes down to your allergy sense and you have to make your own decision of whether to trust them or not.
There’s no hard and fast rule about this, you have to trust your gut in many of these situations.
Searching the Ingredients List For Allergens
Every product in Europe is required by law to list their ingredients. There is a specific way in which they are supposed to be listed and according to the current regulations, allergens are required to be highlighted in bold.
Every food I want to consume from, I check. This includes the ingredients of drinks as well by the way (and to justify this I recently found a peanut butter drink while on holiday in the Caribbean and it was at the supermarket…). If I see one of my allergens listed on the label, this is an obvious no. I am not going to eat something that could make me sick or potentially kill me, that would be stupid.
If the ingredients list does not contain my allergens I next scower the packet for allergen warnings and any free from claims.
Now before I go on I must say I am seeing an increasing number of companies claiming “free from [insert allergen] and then putting a may contain warning on the back of the pack too. I even saw it on an entrant to the Free From Food Awards when I was judging in January 2018. It infuriates me because it is so misleading, and untrue. However, as there are no formal agreements on what constitutes free from, it is currently up to a companies judgement and common sense, which is sometimes lacking. So be careful and always check the packet.
So now what if there is an allergy warning?
How Do I Understand Allergen Warning Labels?
Well for me, it depends on what the warning says. I will not go near one that specifically mentions peanuts. This was an unconscious decision at first but I’ve realised I do this because I had a severe reaction to peanuts (read my reaction story here) and ever since I have been incredibly careful. A warning label of any kind specifically saying “may contain….,” “made on a line using…,” “made in a factory handling…,” or anything else with ‘peanuts’ I stay well clear. It stresses me out too much and because I know I react within 5 minutes I just don’t want to take that risk.
When it comes to tree nuts on the other hand I am not so strict. I have a feeling it is because I’ve never had a reaction to tree nuts before, and my tests when I was a kid told my parents that peanuts and Brazil nuts were my most sensitive allergies. The rest of the tree nuts I couldn’t have but weren’t as bad.
So here is where the other factors come into play; how I’m feeling, the company and what the warning says.
As I may have mentioned, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for what is a good warning and what’s a bad warning. They are all food allergen warning labels and must be given their due amount of caution at all times.
That said here is how I interpret what allergen warning labels might mean.
“Made in a factory using…”
This warning could mean a number of things. One thing is for sure is this product was made in a factory that uses any of the allergens they list. Where and how it is handled is unknown. It could be made is a separate part of the factory floor with a partition. It could be made in a totally separate part of the factory with a door as the only connector between the allergen free side and the contaminated side. Or, it could be made right next to or on the same line as the allergen containing product.
“Made on a line handling…”
What you have to know about this is “how does the equipment get cleaned and how thoroughly?” As we all know using the same equipment is risky business when it comes to cross contamination. The smallest amount could cause a really severe reaction. For this reason I usually stay clear of these warnings. They are there for a reason and I’d much rather not take that risk.
A general “may contain…”
These “may contain…” warnings I am never sure whether a company actually means it or whether they’re putting it on to cover the their legal butts. Most times I’ve been in contact with a company the may contain is something along the lines of “there are no nuts in the recipe but we can’t guarantee its nut free.” Usually meaning they can’t be bothered to check their supply line, don’t know or just want to put a warning just in case.
So how do you know whether you can eat it or not?
As I mentioned before, I won’t go near a may contain peanuts. The memory of my reaction will always be far too vivid. When it comes to a general may contain nuts, it depends on the company and the other products they make in their range. If the company makes other products which contain nuts I will be more wary because I assume they are made in the same factory that could mean greater risk of cross contamination. I also avoid “made on the same line as…” warning because I can’t trust someone would clean down the equipment as well as I would.
Also a quick side note before I wrap this up. When it comes to factory or wrapped fresh food, I usually go for the factory packed. This is because I personally trust the protocols put in place by large companies over something wrapped but some random person working in a bakery or on a deli counter. Especially when my allergens are present in that small space.
For every food consumption decision, I try to make sure my logical brain rather than emotions (or hungry stomach) make the final decision. In the end it all comes down to what are you comfortable with. I wish I could tell you there is a hard and fast rule, but there isn’t.
It’s an allergen filled world and there is no getting away from it. When it comes to deciding which allergen warnings are ok for you, I view it as a calculated risk. I personally choose as much as possible based on the way the warning is worded, what I know about the company, and what other products they make. These logical factors coupled with how I’m feeling usually are the way I come to a decision. But it all comes down to “am I willing to risk it?” And only you can make that decision for you own allergy.
Do you eat foods with warnings? If so, how do you decide which ones to go for? Leave a comment below and share your views.
So, Allergy Awareness Week UK is over, and Allergy Awareness Month USA is here! During Allergy Awareness Week I got some messages asking about how to travel with allergies and live with allergies, this has spurred me on to develop the Allergy Coaching and make some e-books and resources. So to make sure these resources cover everything and that they are useful to you I have created a short 10 questions survey. Please can you fill it in with as much details as possible and pass it on to any other allergy mums or allergy sufferers you know?
Last week I published my Open Letter to Allergy Teenagers and it received an overwhelming amount of attention. It was part of a series of articles talking about different aspects of living with food allergies for Allergy Awareness Week 2018.
The post had a mixture of some positive, some negative and some comments which hurt me personally and made me question whether I’d gone too far. Especially as the most vehement comments came from people I had interviewed on the podcast, who had supported and shared my other posts and had never mentioned that they had a problem with what I said.
When the comments were coming in thick and fast I felt a bit like this…
Now that I’m over the personal nature of some of the comments (and I went through a whole gamut of emotions: shock, sadness and [lots of] anger), and feel of a more rational mind I wanted to respond to some of the valid points. Although many were accusatory and attacked my character, they raised an important issue surrounding how we help food allergy kids and teenagers feel empowered.
The Open Letter was inspired by an instagram post I saw last year and later compounded with conversations I had with kids & teenagers at the Allergy and Free From Show in Liverpool 2017.
Now first up, I admit the facebook post I wrote was inflammatory and as pointed out by a fellow allergy blogger, perhaps had a negative slant whereas the the article had a positive message, in her opinion.
I’ve got a bone to pick with allergy teenagers…
Read all about it in my open letter for…
Posted by Eat Allergy Safe – gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan on Thursday, 26 April 2018
Although there were in total about 28 comments on the post, these two get at the heart of the issue:
Commenter 1: “A 16 year old was expressing how she felt about her allergies at the time […] to actually judge her for her comments or any other comment you could be referencing now I feel is rather harsh […] Please assess this was the maturity it deserves. Don’t put people off sharing their thoughts on Allergy. Not everyone has the confidence to talk about it!”
These first comments I must admit took me by surprise. I hadn’t written it from a place to judgement or to berate, how could I judge those who feel now what I had felt before.
It is true when you are a teenager, your world feels like it is falling apart all the time. I remember how each conflict or challenge was life and death, the dramas were so real. Life is chaotic for teens!
As commenter 1 rightly says, “not everyone has the confidence to talk about their allergy” and how they feel about it. I certainly didn’t when I was a kid or a teenager!
Commenter 2: “We, the adults need to help them navigate their worries about fitting in […]and it is we who can show them that their allergies definitely do not define them. Less judgement for our vulnerable age group and more support in getting them where they need to be”
Commenter 2 is absolutely right, we as grown up allergy kids and allergy parents do need to lead by example and show kids and teenagers that allergies don’t have to define them if they choose not.
We do need to guide them and help them process the challenges of feeling like we belong, and what teenager truly knows where they belong? There are so many hormones and things (friendships, body, school etc) changing all the time!
Most teenagers are worried about “fitting in” and while most people will try and give advice for how they can fit in, I am suggesting rather than trying to “fit in” to someone else’s mould, make your own.
I question the idea of following the herd. Why we would we let our allergy teens settle for trying to “fit in.” Why wouldn’t we challenge, encourage and support teenagers to forge their own path in life?
And sometimes, when we are going against the flow, when we forge our own path, we have to bare our teeth or draw our sword. Just like dragon tamers. To bare our teeth is not about trying to start a fight, but to show those who might stand in our way, whether verbally or physically, that we mean business. That we mean what we say and are willing to stand up for ourselves.
My approach is different not wrong. I wrote the open letter in a way that, I hope, would encourage action. You might even apply this philosophy to not just how we live with allergies but life in general…
Unfortunately, these commenters blocked me on instagram in the end, which is sad because it ends the conversation. Without conversation we cannot move forward nor find ways to help our allergy kids and teens who don’t have the confidence to speak out when they need help.
There isn’t a one size fits all way to raise food allergy kids. Nor live with food allergies. We all live different lives, learning and adapting in our own way. My way might not be your way and vice versa. As such, discussions on these ideas are vital for us to help our allergy community and the many more children and adults who are developing allergies.
How do you help your allergy teens and kids? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.
Disclaimer: I annoyed my boyfriend for a week about this before I finally sorted out how to respond to the personal attacks vs idealogical attacks. I have done my best to separate them and present as rational a response as possible and leave out those feelings that could divulge this post into a slinging match.
To read my posts from Allergy Awareness Week UK, including my open letter, click on the links below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.