This is not a post that I was really excited about sharing, but it just kept writing itself. I would write lessons here and there, but have delayed publishing for months. It's not fun being a poster girl for any type of medical issue, and I really don't want to be spokesperson for food restrictions, but this journey has chosen me.
Lets first establish what food restrictions are, they are not food sensitivities.
A food sensitivity is frustrating and inconvenient when you eat that food because you have mild adverse reaction, such as a stomach ache or a headache that lasts maybe an hour or two. Too much dairy gives you somewhat uncomfortable gas? You have a food sensitivity, not a restriction.
Food restrictions are real and consequences of eating restricted foods are serious and long lasting.
Some of the many legitimate reasons people have food restrictions:
- Thyroid and other Autoimmune diseases
- Celiac Diseases
- Crohn's disease
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic migraines
- Chronic gastrointestinal pain
- Many, many more. All valid.
It's tough, and it's been a long process, but I've learned several lessons. My hope is if you've been diagnosed with a food allergy or food restrictions, or someone you love has, that these lessons will help you also.
1. Acknowledge the Grief Process
Be prepared for a grieving process, and allow yourself to feel the emotions of grief, to move on in a healthy way. No one warned me about this, and it was essential to surviving this process in an emotionally healthy way.
Feeling and naming grief is part of a healthy process, and brings us healing when we are brave enough to face it.
Having food restrictions isn't just about not being able to eat a certain food, you lose a lot of experiences with other people. You lose an emotional outlet, because let's face it, a lot of us are emotional eaters.
We actually suffered a terrible family loss a few months after I began this food allergy journey. People brought so much food, and I couldn't eat any of it. I couldn't numb my emotions with food, and at times I felt jealous of my loved ones who could.
Just as in any healing process, allow yourself to feel the loss that accompanies food allergies. There are many things you lose. I lost not being able to eat at restaurants with my family. I lost being able to accept the kindness of others who brought food. I lost the ability to eat food I didn't make.
Denying these emotional toll of food restrictions will keep you from dealing with those feelings in a healthy way.
2. Focus on what you CAN eat
Just like any grief process, focusing on what you still have is part of the healing process.
There will fun new foods you get to discover. Before my food allergies, I had never eaten guacamole, because green food looked weird. After being restricted from cheese, I wanted something creamy for my tacos, and I discovered the absolute beauty of guac.
When I couldn't find a suitable ranch dip for my veggies, I tried hummus for the first time, and the creaminess was delicious and so much healthier for me. I now eat more middle eastern food, which I never ate before.
There are SO MANY foods in this world, restrictions can open your eyes to ones you hadn't considered before.
3. Finding Alternatives help fill the gap
There is an alternative for almost any food.
Finding alternatives sometimes does mean more cooking from scratch. I think our overhaul health has improved, and my budget is much healthier because I can't buy processed food.
I have also learned to bake during this time because it is impossible to find food I can eat in bakeries, which my waistline doesn't thank me for, but my kids and husband LOVE how much baking I do now.
Sometimes finding all the alternatives you can eat means more shopping around. I used to 100% shop at Aldi, but now I get my granola bars and brownies from Kroger, my dairy free cream cheese from Meijer, and my Egg Free Mayo from Fresh Thyme or Whole Foods.
It sounds like a little extra work, but we are living in the golden age of food alternatives.
Find a friend with your allergy and ask them where they get their alternatives.
4. Always be prepared
Every purse and bag that I own has a granola bar or a snack in it at all times. Once I use that snack I replace it as soon as I get home.
When I'm going somewhere over mealtimes I pack a lunch.
When I attend a potluck, I always make an entree and a dessert so that I know I'll get both.
This avoids me getting hangry (hangry=hungry+angry) and disappointed when I go somewhere and there isn't food available for me. Sometimes you're pleasantly surprised, but it's better to be over prepared than to have nothing to eat.
5. Sometimes people will be awkward.
Again, I really do not want to be the food allergy poster girl. It can be very embarrassing. It is not a club that I wanted to join. I don't want to be the person that everyone tiptoes around and apologizes for because they're eating foods I cannot eat.
I've had to walk an interesting line of REALLY not wanting to not have to tell every person I meet about my food allergies, but also being honest about why I have to bring my own food everywhere, or why I can't go to a restaurant.
My sons are very empathetic and concerned for me, and for a while anywhere we went they would tell people about all the foods that I could not eat. I had to tell them that it's embarrassing for them to point out every food on the table that I can't eat.
A person with food allergies does not need you to point out to them the food that they cannot eat, they already know. If you know someone with food allergies, let them be in charge of their food. You think you're being helpful, but pointing out and asking about all the things that can not eat at a meal is quite embarrassing.
I was in a situation where everyone got free ice cream for helping a mutual friend move. I tried to discreetly just say no thank you, and they asked multiple times and teased me saying that I was on a diet. I then had to divulge that I couldn't eat dairy. It was embarrassing for both of us.
Hosts are going to feel bad when they make food that you can not eat. I'm part of a weekly small group at our church where we have a potluck each time we meet, and I can't eat 99% of the food brought by other people. At first that was a really emotionally hard for me, but I can also tell that it was all very hard for all the people who wanted to love on me by sharing food together. Again, this is part of the grieving process.
6. Sometimes people will be great.
My allergies are not straightforward, I wish that it was something as simple as avoiding gluten or dairy, but I'm allergic to half a dozen foods that are in a lot of everyday common foods, like potatoes and yeast.
I have a few friends who have walked on this hard journey with me who have made it easier. They go to the restaurants they know that I can eat at. They text me recipes they are making, and keep ALL the cans and boxes so that I can read the ingredients before I eat anything, because that's my life. I NEVER expect anyone to do this, EVER, but it is a pleasant surprise when it happens.
7. Sometimes people will be ignorant.
Some people will treat you as if you're on a diet, that you somehow are choosing your own restrictions.
This mentality seems to stem from the fad of those who very loudly, and sometimes obnoxiously, abstain from food sensitivities as if it was a critical food restriction. Sadly this approach has unintentionally taught the public that there is some type of choice in food restrictions.
I have had more than half a dozen people respond to my reluctant admission of food allergies with:
"I would rather die than not being eat __insert food here__!"
In case you didn't know already, this is an inappropriate response. If I told someone I lost my foot, no one would dream of saying to my face that they'd rather kill themselves than live without a foot.
My life is very full, and food restrictions are not a fate worse than death. These comments are completely based out of ignorance. There will be times when you can gently educate, and there will be times you need to ignore the ignorant.
6. You are so much stronger than you think.
I have struggled with self control in regards to food my whole life. My emotional eating was a deep stronghold, and even experiencing disordered eating of bulimia in High School.
Though food restrictions I found I had self control I never thought possible. It wasn't easy, but I'm able to not only say no, but not feel completely empty when I have to say no.
I credit this with allowing myself to really work through the grief process. I literally wept over losing macaroni and cheese from life, and have for the most part moved on (grief is still grief and sometimes it still hurts).
If you had told me 2 years ago I could take my kids into Krispy Kreme and get them a donut, and be at peace not getting one for myself, I would never have believed you. But there is amazing growth and self-control that can come out of this process if you allow it.
7. It will eventually be worth it
It will be worth it. You can eventually get to a point where you will not feel sad all the time about not eating the food that everybody else is eating, because you just feel so much better.
You'll get to the point where that food is just not worth it. It's not worth the pain, it's not worth of discomfort, it's just not worth it. There's so many more important wonderful things in life other than food.
I hope this has been helpful. Please share with my about your journey with food restrictions.