Tuesday, April 11, 2017

7 Things People with Food Allergies and Intolerances Want You to Know

 I was five and my sister was two. We were in the car eating snacks. I had a bag of trail mix and I was feeding my sister Cheerios. At some point my sister started coughing and rubbing her face and eyes. From her mirror, my mom could see hives on her face, and knowing my family's history with allergies, quickly pulled into our doctor's office that happened to be nearby. 

 I don't remember that day, but I remember the days after. 

We discovered my sister had an anaphylactic peanut allergy, meaning she could die if she ate peanuts. She was also at the time severely allergic to eggs and dairy. I remember not being able to put my sister in the church nursery because they refused to change the snack they provided. I remember the time she accidentally drank from my cup of milk instead of her cup of rice milk, and we all watched her. I remember people teasing my sister and telling her she should eat peanuts to see what would happen. I remember how sad she was for several years when as a teenager she couldn't go to camp with her friends just because they would insist on eating peanut butter and not making meals safe for her.

 Growing up, my mom has also been lactose intolerant for a long time. In recent years, she has had to limit almost all fat and sugar from her diet for reasons no one understands.

 Almost my whole life I have watched my mom and my sister, and some friends struggle through their food allergies, and this is what they wish you knew:

1. They aren't making it up.

  Many people brush off those who claim they can't eat certain foods, saying they're lying. This is common sense, but if someone says they have a food allergy or intolerance, believe them. If they carry EpiPens, doctors have confirmed the allergy.
  Yes, we have all heard of that random person making up an intolerance to food so they can feel special or important. I recently heard of a woman who made up her child's life threatening allergy. Sadly it happens. But those people are exceptions. What happened to people being assumed innocent until they are proven guilty? Please just assume these people are telling the truth, unless you want to find that out the hard way.

 2. Some people do not understand the meaning of a life threatening allergy, and that makes life difficult for the ones that live with the allergy.

 My sister and parents have been the brunt of rude comments from people who think we are taking my sister's allergy too seriously. We have heard many things from, "You can't live in fear", to "Her allergy can't be that serious." 

 Well, it is that serious. If my sister eats peanuts (including peanut butter or peanut oil) she could die. Though doctors are unsure, it is possible she could also react to the smell of peanuts in the air. 

  And we do not live afraid. We serve a great God who created my sister and gave her this allergy. We trust Him to keep her alive or take her away as He sees fit, as we do with each of our own lives every day.    
 So we do not live in fear; we live with our brains turned on. If a package of cookies says, "May contain traces of peanuts" she does not eat them. That is common sense, not fear. That is looking both ways before crossing the busy intersection.

 But people often still do not seem to grasp the concept that if my sister eats peanuts she could DIE. 

3. They often feel left out because of their food allergy.

  How would you feel if you went to a birthday party as a child and you couldn't eat the cake? My sister did that many times. How would you feel if at a bridal shower you couldn't eat anything but the veggies? My mom and my sister still do that.

 They often can't eat. Can't taste. Can't do what everyone else is doing. They just watch others eat the good food. Or they eat their own snack they brought, sometimes getting awkward stares. You don't realize how important it is to be included at meal time or dessert until you are not. Often, the hard part for them isn't not being able to eat certain foods, but not being able to eat along with everyone else.

4. One of the greatest kindnesses you can do is let a food allergy person read a label. 

  Some food allergies and intolerances are harder to deal with than others, but by just reading labels, they can know if they can eat something or not. So save the packaging and offer to let people read the labels. 

5. Don't be offended if they won't just take your word for it that your food is safe.

  People who have Celiac will get very sick if they eat gluten. People with anaphylactic food allergies could die. They are not going to take a chance and eat the food unless they trust you and your knowledge of their food issues. It is nothing personal. 

6. Just try.

   Food allergies can be tricky. There are things no one thinks about like cross contamination (using the same utensils for different foods, possible contaminating all of the food where before only one food was unsafe). It can be scary to assume the responsibility of cooking for someone with food allergies or intolerances. What if you are wrong? What if you don't fully understand?

 Mostly, people with food issues just want you to try. Listen to their struggles with food. Ask them to teach you how to read labels. Ask them to show you what they do, what they can and can't eat. Learn how to properly use an EpiPen. Cook with them. Ultimately, just love them, especially in trying to understand where they are coming from and making things they can eat. 

7. The greatest kindness you can give someone with a food allergy, intolerance, or dietary issues and preferences is the gift of food they know is safe for them to eat and is also delicious. 

   I once sat next to two college girls at a wedding who had Celiac. There was a special cake for those with a gluten intolerance, and they were so excited they could eat cake with everyone else. It was the same excitement I have seen on my mom and sister's faces when there is food they can eat at an event where they often have to  avoid the snack table. 

 Consider this a challenge: How can you bless someone with a food allergy or a food intolerance today? 


  1. As someone who has to be careful of what I eat, I would like to thank you for posting this. Although my food sensitivity is different than what your sister is living with, I understand the constant vigilance necessary to maintain health.

    1. Well, hello there! :)
      You are welcome. I hope people see how difficult it can be for people even on small levels, as well as the ministry opportunity for the church in this area.