I’m so glad to have you here with me for part two of our series on food fear with food allergies, and repairing your relationship with food! If you missed part one, you can catch up here! It’s all about identifying your food allergy fears and coming to terms with the important role that they serve in your life to help keep you safe.
Now that we’ve established how fear and food must learn to healthily co-exist in those who have food allergies (read: anaphylactic allergies), it’s time to dig a little deeper into how we can prevent this necessary fear from damaging our relationship with food. Fear leads to food rules; some of which are related to our allergens while others are influenced by messages we receive from the multitude of health/wellness/beauty influencers who are ready and willing to capitalize on our insecurities and sell us all sorts of quick fixes. The question is whether we are honestly and truly able to distinguish between the two.
To help make a clearer distinction between the food rules you have which are necessary to keep you safe and those which you may have picked up along the way as a result of misinformed media messages, it’s important to provide yourself with some objective data about your food allergies. Remember, your fear is legitimate, justified, and serves an important purpose, but you need to keep it contained. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Get a good allergist on your team!
An allergist who you find approachable and knowledgeable about your concerns is a must. Seeking out an allergist who considers the practicality of their recommendations will also be key in helping you fight off any unnecessary food fears. If you don’t have one, find one! If you have one who you don’t love, I suggest doing a little shopping. Being an advocate for your own health requires a little extra elbow grease, but it really can make a huge difference in getting the quality of care you are looking for. Once you’ve got an allergist, make an appointment and go in with a plan of what specific questions you need to get cleared up.
2. Get clear on your test results.
If you were tested and diagnosed at a really young age, you’re likely going off your parent’s report of what the allergy test results were. Keep in mind your parents likely had plenty of their own fears and anxiety about keeping you safe from your allergens, so it’s very possible they did some over-generalizing of your allergens for you before you were even aware. If it’s been a while, it’s worth getting re-tested so you can have some clear, objective information about what you are truly allergic to.
3. Find a registered dietitian (RD) to help you expand your diet as much as possible given your true food allergy restrictions.
Dietitians are food and nutrition experts and some even specialize in food allergies! A dietitian can be a valuable resource to have on your team especially if you have multiple confirmed food allergies, as they can help you figure out alternative ways of safely meeting your nutrition needs. A dietitian can also be a great ally in helping you explore how misinformed media messages may be influencing your relationship with food.
Challenge Food Rules with Intuitive Eating
When it comes to letting go of unnecessary food rules, I really believe in the power of an intuitive approach to eating.
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to achieving a true balance between health and happiness. At its core, it is about eating in response to your individual hunger and fullness cues by respecting your body’s signals about when, what, and how much to eat. Intuitive Eating is about developing a healthy relationship between food, mind, and body. It’s about asking yourself what you really need and respecting your body enough to realize that it deserves for its needs to be met.
There are 10 principles of Intuitive Eating that help guide the approach, but the following three in particular apply well to the issue of food rules, food fear, and food allergies.
Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
When we are dealing with a lot of (uncomfortable) emotions, we need ways to cope. Strategies that help give us a sense of power over those emotions can help us feel more in control. Having some diversity in your coping strategy toolbox is also important – not every stress in life will be effectively relieved with the same coping mechanism. When we lack a diversity of healthy coping mechanisms to help us manage, we run the risk of relying on food rules and restrictions to help us cope. Next time you experience some challenging emotions, sit with them and really evaluate the way you are feeling. Instead of simply recognizing discomfort, try to put a more specific name to the way you are feeling. This process will help you figure out the most appropriate coping mechanism to treat your discomfort with.
Respect Your Body
Part of respecting your body when you have food allergies means respecting you have a scary, life-threatening health condition. It can be helpful to recognize that some fear is justified, even though fear of food makes you feel different than those around you. Respecting your body also means not letting this fear get the better of you. When it comes to food allergy fear and anxiety, remember that as much as your well-meaning friends and family may try to empathize with you about your food allergies, they can’t fully understand. This can make you feel isolated which further exacerbates your fear and anxiety. Seeking support from others who really get what you’re going through is key! Knowing you are not alone makes a huge difference in how you are able to cope. The amazing community that Kortney has built is a great place to start, and I’m so grateful for her continued authenticity and vulnerability in sharing her stories and providing a safe space for all us allergy peeps to connect!
Honour Your Health
One of the best ways you can honour your health when dealing with food allergies is to include the greatest variety of foods you can safely tolerate to ensure adequate nutritional intake and foster a positive relationship with food. Unnecessarily limiting your food intake without medical justification is not honouring your health. Variety is most certainly one of the keys to a healthy, nourishing diet. This is because eating a wide variety of foods will increase the likelihood that you will be meeting all your macronutrient and micronutrient needs.
If you feel that the variety in your diet is lacking, it might be time to check your food rules. The first step would be to tease out which ones are related to your food allergies. Step two would be to check with your allergist (or get re-tested) to confirm your true food allergens. Step three would be to evaluate if any of your food restrictions are coming from diet culture and assess if your relationship with food is suffering as a result of these rules.
If you’re interested in learning more about the other 7 principles of Intuitive Eating, you might find my free guide helpful: “Ten Things You Need to Know About Intuitive Eating”
→ Gain some objective insight about your food rules by getting a good allergist on your team, getting clear on your allergy test results, and seeking out a dietitian who can help make sure you are safely meeting your nutritional requirements.
→ Adopting an intuitive eating approach can help you achieve a balance between health and happiness, become more in tune with your food cravings, hunger and fullness cues, and above all else, develop a healthy relationship between food, mind, and body.
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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.