Editor’s Disclaimer: Food allergies are a potentially dangerous medical condition and you should make sure to talk to a doctor if you think you’re suffering from them. This article is not intended as medical advice and please don’t treat it as such.
Food allergies and sensitivities are becoming increasingly common. Chances are you know someone who has a food allergy or maybe several.
I’m one of “those people.” I can’t eat a variety of foods including nuts, gluten, bananas, lactose, caffeine, eggs, and artificial sweeteners. It’s not the end of the world. But it does affect the way I see the world and how the world sees me.
Over the years, I’ve encountered a wide variety of reactions from my family, friends, and acquaintances. Some have been very understanding, some suspicious, and some just awkwardly avoid me altogether when it comes to food.
Maybe you have a friend with allergies and feel guilty talking about food with them, offering them food, making lunch plans, or just generally aren’t sure what having a food allergy means. Have no fear! Here is my list of do’s and don’ts for dealing with your allergy-affected friends.
1. Apologize for accidentally offering us food we can’t eat. It’s really okay! You don’t need to worry about changing your eating habits around us – we don’t want you to. Please, eat!
2. Argue with us about bringing our own food when we come over. Sometimes it’s just easier, and we don’t mind. We’d rather not be a burden. And it’s a relief to know for sure that we won’t get sick.
3. Roll your eyes thinking it’s all in our heads or we’re making it up. And for the love of all that is holy, DON’T try to trick us into eating something we’re allergic to. (Yes, it’s happened to me.)
4. Panic if and when we start having a reaction. Stay calm. We will tell you how bad it is and what you need to do. And don’t ask if you can be the one to give the EpiPen. (If you’re that excited about stabbing me, the answer is probably going to be “no”)
5. Be offended if we have to go home early because we’re sick, or if we’re oddly crabby at times. It’s probably due to not feeling well.
6. Pressure us to explain our symptoms to you. Some are easy to explain, like anxiety attacks, anaphylactic shock, upset stomach, headaches, or exhaustion. Some of them, however, are gross, embarrassing, or otherwise hard to explain.
7. Be upset if we don’t share our food with you. It’s often expensive, limited, and you wouldn’t like it anyway. We don’t need people to judge our food based on “the real thing.” Of course it doesn’t taste as good, but if you hadn’t had real pizza in three years, you’d probably like it, too! ☺
8. Be surprised when we break our own rules once in a blue moon to eat things like cheesecake or pumpkin pie. Sometimes it is so worth it.
9. Forget that it’s very hard for us to eat at certain restaurants (for instance, both Italian and Asian foods have a lot of gluten). So when we’re trying to pick a place for lunch, know I may not be able to order anything if you pick one of those restaurants.
10. Feel sorry for us. There is more to life than food! Food allergies may make some things (like traveling) a bit more complicated, but we don’t let them stop us. I have too many other blessings to waste time mourning my sugar-free banana-nut bread.
1. Feel free to ask us over and over what we are allergic to. I can barely remember all of it; I certainly don’t expect you to remember!
2. Treat us like normal people and don’t try to be the “food police.” We will monitor what we eat, trust me. We are the ones who will bear the consequences.
3. Offer to make a special, allergen-free meal or dessert for us. It means the world that you would be willing to go out of your way for us!
4. Realize that a food that is free of one allergen may still not be safe. Just because the box says “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s nut-free.
5. Speak up if you think we are about to eat something that might contain an allergen and don’t know it. Better safe than sorry.
6. Be patient when we constantly have to ask “does this have ___ in it?” Every time we have to ask, or have to say no to something you offer, we feel like jerks. We don’t mean to be self-absorbed or obnoxious. It’s hard to balance protecting ourselves with not wanting to hurt your feelings.
7. Let us use your refrigerator. I don’t like being high maintenance, but most of my gluten-free food goes bad quickly (gluten is sometimes used as a preservative), so it needs to be kept cold.
8. Show interest in our research. Our allergies are part of who we are, and when you ask questions, you’re showing interest in us. I’m still learning how to shop and eat, and I would love to share my knowledge with you.
9. Know that just because we are allergic doesn’t mean we didn’t like or don’t miss those foods. But saying “no” does get easier, and it does not trigger a life crisis every single time.
10. Be grateful for the foods you can eat. Don’t take them for granted!
Don’t let your friend’s food allergies get in the way of spending time with them. The most important thing you can do is listen and learn. Get creative to find ways to break bread together (or maybe break out some gluten-free corn chips and salsa instead).