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Choosing your food allergy terms wisely

Choosing your food allergy terms wisely

The power of the food allergy terms we use

Have you ever stopped to consider the food allergy terms you use?

So many of the terms are full of fear, negativity, or have a ‘left out’ connotation. It’s no mystery why living with food allergies can take a large emotional toll on those managing them, especially if the language being used channels some serious Debbie Downer moments – every – single – day!

Let’s take a look at some popular terms that we could do better with. 

Deathly/Deadly Allergy or Life-threatening Allergy 

Why do you have to add in deathly? What are you trying to communicate and is it the right thing? 

Yes, you want to be taken seriously, but when you constantly use ‘deathly’ to communicate your allergy, it is very likely you will soon start to add unnecessary fear into your allergy management. 

What could you say instead? I have food allergies, or I have food allergies that may result in anaphylaxis, I have anaphylactic food allergies or if you want to get really crazy, I have IgE mediated food allergies. When we use the medical term, it also communicates the seriousness that ‘deathly’ is trying to communicate without the fear-factor. Instead of relying on dramatization, use the power of information. 

Allergy Sufferer

Ask yourself what are you really suffering from? Is suffering the right word to use when you contextualize your food allergies? 

So what does sufferer really mean?

  • a person who is affected by an illness or ailment: a long-term sufferer from depression |sufferers of motor neurone disease | migraine sufferers. 
  • a person who experiences or is subjected to something bad or unpleasant: the experience of sufferers of torture | sufferers of poverty.

Yes, you are ‘affected by’ food allergies, but are you suffering every day if you are not suffering from a reaction? When you use the term suffer to talk about food allergies it may be interpreted by others that you’re placing a negative or unpleasant frame on how you live your daily life. I believe that life with food allergies is not suffering. Yes, you have to avoid certain foods, but food allergies are manageable and how you experience your life with them depends on your perspective.

I  don’t think of my food allergies as something I “suffer” from or anything with a negative connotation. Sure, food allergies can be stressful, scary, and anxiety-producing at times, however the majority of the time they are actually a real strength. 

– Allie Bahn, @miss_allergic_reactor

Why not frame your life with food allergies through the lens of being grateful for the foods you can eat and by how far inclusivity for those managing food allergies has come. Trust me I grew up in the 1990s, it has come a long way.

It can be easy to get caught up by the negatives, but finding those positives will make life so much more enjoyable. 

See Also
504 plan for food allergies

Swap/ Substitute/ Replacement/ Alternative

Have you considered what you are communicating when using one of the following words? 

So what do these words mean?

  • Swap – substitute (one thing) for another
  • Substitute – use or add in place of 
  • Replacement – the action or process of replacing someone or something
  • Alternative – available as another possibility or choice

Each has a different meaning and not all of them are bad. Here is where context comes into play. What if the food you are attempting to make is something that would never truly exist without your allergen? What if it is just a simple ingredient change and you wouldn’t even know the difference? 

Cooking for food allergies oftentimes is loaded with feelings of missing out, but finding the power to own your dishes starts with the language you use to talk about food allergies and cooking. 

Some options that can also be considered are allergy-friendly, free-from, insert your name-safe, or safe option.

Choosing your food allergy terms wisely

Not only will the language you use help those around you navigate what it means to have food allergies, but it will also impact your food-allergy-mindset. Negative words, fearful worlds, powerless words will make you in turn feel those things. You can take the power back by the words you use. 


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