When it comes to the holiday season, there are multiple causes for anxiety when you live with food allergies. When things start feeling extra chaotic and uncomfortable, it’s common to look for ways to regain a sense of safety and control. You might even turn to food to get this sense of control back by becoming rigid with restricting your intake and creating a set of rules around food which can lead to further stress, obsession, food fear, and a problematic relationship with food.
What Causes Food Allergy Anxiety & Obsession Around the Holidays
- Missing out on healthy foods
Sometimes the allergy-safe options are not as fresh or healthful as the regular menu. You’re left feeling upset about the meal you had to settle for to stay safe.
- Missing out on satisfying foods
If the allergy-safe options are lacking quality and taste compared to what everyone else is eating, this can leave you with a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Instead of enjoying the evening once you’ve finished your meal, you’re left daydreaming about all the satisfying foods you missed out on.
- Worrying about others
The list can be long when it comes to all the worrying that keeps us stuck in our own heads. It can include but is not limited to;
- holding up the table’s orders while you explain your allergens to the waitstaff.
- others’ perceptions of you as being ‘high maintenance’.
- appearing anxious when everyone else is having a good time.
- offending someone when you decline to try the allergy-safe dish they made just for you that is now (unknown to them) contaminated by the serving utensil from the neighboring allergen-laden dish on the buffet table.
How to Enjoy the Holidays Without Stressing & Obsessing Over Food
- Contact the host ahead of time to inquire about the menu and inform them of your allergies. If you feel nervous about approaching them for fear of the inconvenience this may cause, consider how effectively communicating your needs and asking for accommodations has the potential to help everyone feel more comfortable. This also helps limit awkwardness you might encounter from the host finding out the day-of that one of their guests won’t have anything safe to eat.
- Eat ahead of time and do your best to fill in the gaps with more healthful or satisfying options. If that means having dessert before you head over for dinner because you know there won’t be a safe option available, go for it!
- Help your body feel comfortable and safe by keeping blood sugar levels stable. Be sure not to skip meals leading up to a holiday event to save up for indulgences.
Tips for a stress-free buffet or potluck style gatherings
- Ask to bring a dish. Contact the host ahead of time to go over the menu. If something healthy and safe is lacking, offer to bring that as your contribution to the gathering. Likewise, if something satisfying and safe isn’t on the menu, plan to provide that as an option.
- Serve yourself first and reduce stress. When you get the ‘dig in’ directive, take this as an opportunity to serve yourself early before serving utensils get mixed around and cross-contamination occurs.
- Separate the safe food and put your mind at ease. Ask the host if they can separate the allergy-safe food from the rest of the spread to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- Asking for all food to be labelled with common allergens is also helpful.
Practice Radical Acceptance to reduce Food Allergy Anxiety during the holidays
No matter what materializes over the holidays, practicing radical acceptance can help reduce stress, anxiety and keep you in a neutral (or maybe even positive) space when it comes to food.
Practicing radical acceptance means identifying that there are things you do and do not have control over. Even with the best of plans, like eating a well balanced and satisfying meal ahead of time, contacting the host, and communicating your needs, sometimes there really isn’t much you can do about what and how foods are served.
Focus on the things you can control like your response to stressful holiday food situations.
Focus on the things you can control like your response to stressful holiday food situations. In turn, be aware of how your response affects your thoughts and feelings. You have two choices which include propelling down a negative thought spiral of disappointment, shame, embarrassment and anxiety or being present and mindful, checking the facts and avoiding judgements of yourself and others.
As hard as it can seem, try not to let your allergies stop you from enjoying the holidays. While this can be a time of stress and anxiety , do your best to find joy in your favourite festive foods. Place your need to feel safe and comfortable first in whatever way feels most possible so that you can keep a healthy relationship with food at the forefront.
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Alida is a Registered Dietitian and food allergy girl who is passionate about helping you master healthy living. She loves simplifying nutrition science into realistic strategies. She works with clients to find Food Freedom.