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1. Just believe us. Don’t make us explain every detail to prove to you that it is true. Don’t ask to see lab work to prove it’s true. Don’t try to trick us into eating things we are allergic to in order to prove that we are not allergic. Don’t shove the item we are allergic to toward us and ask us to eat it or take us to a restaurant and intentionally buy us food we cannot eat. Don’t tell us that it is healthy so we can’t be allergic to it. Don’t tell us that if we just had enough faith or positive thoughts we could eat whatever we want.
2. Listen to us when we explain how sensitive we are. Sometimes, the food sensitivity only bothers us in certain forms, like cooked is okay but raw is not. For someone else, even the very smell of the item or if it’s just being cooked in the same room could result in a serious reaction. Listen to what we say and don’t ignore it. If you want to be helpful, don’t for instance, have a peanut butter sandwich next to someone who you know is super sensitive to peanuts. Don’t boil noodles in the same room with someone who has a severe wheat allergy. If you act like a jerk, we probably won’t want to be around you. Don’t make us avoid you because you can’t be considerate.
3. Don’t insist on making our food if you don’t have the same allergies. It is very sweet when people try to make our food, but did you know that there are tons of hidden words and hidden ingredients in foods that you don’t even know about? Even if a package says gluten free, for instance, doesn’t mean that it is completely gluten free? It is very complicated. Even we make mistakes and learn the hard way. If you do make something, write down the brand name and name of everything you used (even spices and baking soda –everything that you add even the seemingly benign) and give us the list so we can verify that we can have it. If you are not willing to go the extra mile, you should not be making our food. The only exception to this is if we have said, “I am not that sensitive, so I don’t mind if you make me something.” This goes back to number 2 about listening to us.
4. Be honest about what is in the food you are serving if we eat at your house. If we trust you enough to eat at your house, be honest with us. Don’t assume that things that seem allergen free are actually allergen free. For instance, did you know that most pre-shredded and pre-cut cheeses come powered with either gluten or corn to keep it from sticking together? I bet you didn’t. Imagine how many other products you use that have ingredients you never think about. Believe me, we think about it. Don’t say, “I am sure it will be fine.” Because how can you be sure. So when we ask, “What kind of cheese was this? Did you cut it yourself?” don’t act like we are over-reactive hypochondriacs. There is a reason we are asking, so just be honest. And, don’t act like we are crazy.
5. Never ever say it “It should be _____ free.” For many of us, if we walk into a restaurant that claims to be allergy friendly and someone says “That should be gluten free,” we walk out. It is too high of a risk. Never assume. There is an excess of wheat products in our world, and it is added to so much food that you would be amazed at the list. Derivatives of corn, wheat, and dairy are added to thousands of items that you would never ever think of. We cannot afford to assume that what we are given is allergen free, and if you want to help us, neither can you. This is especially true if we could end up in the hospital if we consume an allergen.
6. Don’t be offended if we refuse to eat what you have bought or made. We have to protect ourselves. Sometimes it is simpler to just say “no thanks.” But, that is hard for us to do if you are getting a bee in your bonnet over it. Don’t make it about you. See more about this in number 8.
7. Don’t assume that you can figure out how to eat with someone else’s allergies when it takes us years of practice and lots of discernment and practice to figure it out. This is kind of the same as number 3, but, this needed a point of its own. Learning to eat with food allergies or even food sensitivities is incredibly complicated if you haven’t figured that out from this list. If you make assumptions about what we can eat, you’re probably going to make us sick.
8. Don’t be offended if we bring our own food. The solution to not getting sick from eating at your house is to bring our own food. The problem with that is people get offended. Please, don’t get offended! It is already hard enough to eat –a daily ongoing struggle to make sure we are not making ourselves sick by what we put in our bodies. It is even more stressful if you get bent out of shape if we do not eat the thing you are serving which we are not sure we can safely eat. Imagine being in that position? Often times we risk it for the sake of the relationship and end up regretting it. Be a good friend and don’t put us in that position to begin with. Do you really want to be responsible for an allergic attack that sends us to the ER?
9. Don’t insist on eating at a restaurant where we are unsure we can eat, because we may capitulate, trying to be nice and later end up in the hospital. It may seem like we are being sticklers about where we will eat out, but would you eat out at a place where you had gotten sick before? Or a place that didn’t know about your serious food issues? Don’t accuse of us being inflexible or controlling –we are just trying to stay out of the ER.
10. Don’t endlessly tease us about our diet. At first, it might be funny, but we aren’t happy about having to eat this way. It is not our choice. We are not doing this for fun. If we could we would eat normally so your constant reminder that we cannot eat normally could be very bothersome. It depends on the person, of course, but most people do not like being teased about things that are already upsetting and frustrating. This is hard, very hard. What we need is your support and understanding. Every day we live with the reality that we have to watch people eat things we cannot have but wish we could, and it is challenging. Don’t make it harder.
11. Don’t say that you’d rather die than live without the food we can’t have. “If I couldn’t have ice cream I would kill myself.” Imagine telling someone that you’d rather die than have diabetes or a heart condition. It’s beyond tasteless. It’s mean. Basically, you’re telling us that our lives are not worth living if we cannot eat certain foods. I don’t think you really mean to say that, and if you do, then you need help. You probably have food addiction problems because that is not a healthy way to view food. Food is fuel for our bodies, and some of it tastes pretty good, but if you will only choose to eat what tastes good and would choose to die without the good taste, that’s just wrong and very unhealthy.
There you have it: my 11 recommendations for helping your friends or family with food allergies. It boils down to this: listen and don’t judge or assume.
I also recommend that anyone who has gluten sensitivities or friends and family with gluten sensitivities watch What’s with Wheat which is discussed in this post.