Coping With Your Loss
Each time I meet someone newly diagnosed with food allergies, I like to pause and hit the compassion button. When you’re into this world for a good solid year, it’s easier to cope with your situation. In our case, it’s been 15 years of finding safe food, but it’s definitely had some very low points. I empathize because they’re new to all of this, and they’ve just gotten some pretty bad news.
I think bad news can be categorized in so many ways. Often times we associate loss with death. While this is the most common way to think about loss, those of us with food allergies experience quite a loss as well when we are first diagnosed. It’s the loss of your childhood favorites, the loss of date night at your favorite restaurant, the loss of your favorite breakfast, lunch , or dinner; and the list goes on. Depending on the diagnosis, it can be a small loss, or a huge one. It also depends on what food means to you. If you’re a professional body builder with an insane amount of discipline and rigidity with food, it may not even phase you. It becomes a new part of your macro equation. However, for someone that has food as their love language, or a love for cooking and baking, it can seem like the end of the world.
Interestingly, those with eating disorders (including over eating) and those newly diagnosed with food allergies share something in common: fear and anxiety when it come to food. Not just that, but all of these people have to face this problem head on, several times a day, every day, for the rest f their life. If that thought doesn’t make you pause and hit the compassion button, I don’t know what will.
As I talk with someone that’s struggling, they know that if there’s anyone in the world that knows what it’s like, it’s me, and I think they take comfort in that. I try to give hope where I know there is none. I know how hard it can be to know there’s nothing to eat.
So how do you cope with it all? I try to encourage the newly diagnosed to start by acknowledging the loss, and grieving that loss if they feel the need to to. I remind them that this is a big deal, and that their feelings are valid. However, I also try to empower them.
Here are some tips with coping with a food allergy diagnosis. I want to note, although this applies to everyone that’s newly diagnosed, it applies more to some than others. It really depends on the diagnosis, personality type, and existing support structure. I hope you’re able to gain some insight from this.
1. Don’t ignore your feelings. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re angry, be angry. We have to face our feelings so that we don’t try to hide from them, or eat our way out of them. Cry, scream, hit your pillow. Do whatever you need to do to release those emotions.
2. Don’t live in the emotions mentioned above for too long. I think we should all face our feelings, but for a time. Don’t get so caught up in them that you never move on to the next step, which is a much happier one.
3. Make a list. Create a spreadsheet of everything you can, and can’t have. Divide it up into categories: Fruit, Vegetables, Dairy, Protein, Grains, Herbs, Other. Print out ten copies of your list, and put them all over the place. Have one in your kitchen, two in your car, one at work, one at your desk at home, etc. Keep the list handy so you can always quickly refer to it. Also keep a copy on your phone and computers.
4. Find something sweet to eat, ASAP. We’re all human, and most humans crave sugar and fat. If you don’t know where to start, and you’re not allergic to dates, start there. Purchase organic medjool dates and eat a few. The sweetness will help you feel like you “got to have something” that’s really nice.
5. Meal plan. This is the most important coping tool in my opinion. If you don’t know what you’re going to eat, and you know you have food allergies, it compounds the problem from a mental stand point. Plan out your meals four days at a time.
6. Start simple. When you’re newly diagnosed, don’t try to reinvent a five course meal. Instead, start with simple things you know you’re not allergic to. This is for two reasons. First, it will give you a positive feeling of accomplishment knowing that you were able to feed yourself something easy and tasty. Second, you may find that you’re not able to tolerate certain foods, even if you’re not officially allergic. It could be from cross contamination, or your body may have other underlying factors. By starting simple, it will be very easy for you to know what you’ve eaten that didn’t work out for you.
7. Keep a food journal. You will always hear this from me. It’s critical. In fact, it’s probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself if you have a food allergy. The journal should include meals, sleep, symptoms, and the restroom. Everything should be time stamped. This will make it a million times easier to pinpoint additional problems, should you have any.
8. Find a support group. There are certain allergies that I feel are “easy” such as shellfish, or mango. There aren’t a ton of foods that contain that product, and if that’s the allergy you’re diagnosed with, then your journey should be on the easier side. However, if you have the diagnosis of corn, then all bets are off. You’re going to struggle, and you will start to resent food itself. You must join a group online of people that know what you’re going through. They’ll be able to help you find safe food, and learn how to find food in the future. They can also share tips and recipes. It’s important to your survival that you get into a good group.
I want to add, there’s a reason I don’t say reach out to friends and family. If you have people in your life with food allergies, you absolutely should reach out to them. However, if you don’t, a support group will be in your better long term interest. When friends and family haven’t gone through the food allergy life, it will be hard for them to really understand what you’re experiencing, and the emotions you will work through. They may even inadvertently offer you food you’re allergic to.
9. Experiment. After the first few weeks is when I think most people start to realize it’s time to get busy cooking, or get busy being miserable. This is when you should start to experiment with meals. You can also start to explore the world of substitutions, depending on what the allergy is.
10. BREATHE. And take several naps. You’ll thank yourself later for it.