Last year we were inspired by adults who only know life with food allergies. They shared their struggles, advice they would give to their younger selves and their inspiration. 2020 will explore the lives of teens who manage food allergies with the series Allergy Teens Talk.
Not only is this series about teens with food allergies, but it is also being curated and edited by a teenage allergy girl! I’m excited to present intern Sophie! I have no idea what it is like to be a teen nowadays, so Sophie will be guiding us.
She will be bringing you interviews with allergy teens during the second week of every month. You may also see some guest posts and recipes from Sophie sprinkled in throughout the year.
So enough from me, let me hand over Sophie!
My name is Sophie, and I’m a sophomore in high school from northern New Jersey. I love to bake, and I also like babysitting and spending time with young children. I hope to positively impact the lives of others and work hard to pursue my goals.
Allergy Teens Talk: Sophie
Name: Sophie Malik
Allergies and when you were diagnosed: I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (except almonds), sesame, lentils, green peas, chickpeas, and shellfish. I first discovered I had a tree nut allergy after having an anaphylactic reaction to pistachio when I was two years old. My last allergen was discovered when I was six years old after I had an anaphylactic reaction to a piece of bread containing sesame seeds. My other allergens were diagnosed sometime in between.
Age/grade: 15 years old, 10th grade
Teens with food allergies talk!
Q: What is the main struggle you faced growing up or being a teen with food allergies?
Sophie: My parents did a great job of trying to give me the most “normal” childhood as possible despite my food allergies, so I haven’t struggled much.
That being said, the biggest struggle I have faced is probably managing the social aspect of having food allergies at a young age. I have always been shy, and I often felt embarrassed when bringing a safe cupcake to birthday parties or sitting at the nut-free lunch table by myself in first grade.
I felt very self-conscious about my food allergies, and I was sometimes afraid to tell people about them or take extra precautions in certain situations. Sometimes I used not to eat or say I wasn’t hungry when I didn’t feel comfortable asking if something would be safe for me to eat.
Q: How does having food allergies affect your social life (dating, parties, etc.)?
Sophie: Having food allergies has not stopped me from going out to eat with friends; I have to take a little more care when I do it.
Before I go out to eat, I usually like to call the restaurant ahead of time and make sure they can safely accommodate customers with food allergies. Sometimes I even lookup the menus online and decide what I will try to order, and I try to find a backup choice in case my order is unable to be prepared safely. For big events and parties, I usually talk to the host or caterer in advance. There are times when I will eat before going instead of eating at the event or party to be on the safe side.
Q: How do you advocate for yourself when it comes to your food allergies?
Sophie: I have a chef’s card that lists all of my allergies on it, and I give it to servers when I go out to eat. One side is in English, and the other side is in Spanish, so hopefully, everyone working at a restaurant can understand it. In the past, many waiters/waitresses have been happy or excited to see my card because it makes their job easier, and it makes us both feel better about clear communication.
If I ever go out to eat, and I feel like the restaurant is not safely accommodating my allergies, I won’t eat at that restaurant – better safe than sorry!
Q: What advice would you give to other teens with food allergies?
Sophie: Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. I’m a quiet person, so I understand how difficult it can be at times to communicate your allergies to others. Remember that you are not a burden, and your safety should always come before worrying about what other people might think of you. I’m still working on understanding and implementing this idea myself, but it is so important.
Q: How do your friends treat you when it comes to your food allergies?
Sophie: My friends are super understanding and cautious when it comes to my food allergies. They are supportive when I have to carry an extra bag to hold my EpiPen, or when I have to speak to a chef and make sure a meal is safe for me to eat. If I can’t eat something safely, they usually won’t eat it either (even though I’d be okay if they did).
One of my best friends loves to bake like me, and we bake together a lot. She helps me search for recipes that work with my allergies. I think having such understanding friends has made life with food allergies a lot less stressful because I still have someone that I know will support me or have my back, even if sometimes I feel like I am a burden.
One thing that was helpful (and still is super helpful today) is having someone who truly understands what you are going through. My younger sister, who is like a best friend to me, has all of the same food allergies that I do (which is a crazy coincidence!). She and I rely on support from each other a lot, because we have had many of the same experiences and know how it feels to have all of the allergies that we have.
Since I am the older sister, I feel like I am obligated to set a good example and help/guide her through life with food allergies, so it makes me take our situation very seriously and more confidently.
Q: How have you become more responsible in handling your food allergies, and have you experienced a shift of responsibility from your parents to you?
Sophie: Until a couple of years ago, my parents had communicated with servers at restaurants about my allergies and carried my EpiPen for me. Now that I am starting to become more independent and go out on my own a lot more, I advocate for myself when I go out to eat, and I always carry my own EpiPen.
It was difficult and scary to adjust to the shift of responsibility because I knew there would be severe and possibly life-threatening consequences if I didn’t communicate my allergies properly or forgot to bring my EpiPen. Now, it has become second nature for me to grab my EpiPen on the way out and make sure I have a chef’s card handy when I go out to eat.
Q: How do you handle your food allergies at school / in college?
Sophie: This year at school is my first year carrying around my EpiPen with me at school in my backpack instead of keeping it in the nurse’s office. It is crucial for me to have it at all times because if something were to happen, I would be responsible for administering the EpiPen myself, not the nurse.
I always pack my lunch and never buy lunch from the cafeteria, but I probably wouldn’t even if I didn’t have food allergies (the food isn’t that great at my school, haha). Also, most of the classrooms at my school are nut-free, so I don’t have to worry about my nut allergy too much while I’m at school.
Q: What advice would you give to the parents of young children with food allergies?
Sophie: Don’t be scared! I can’t imagine how nervous my parents felt when they found out that both of their kids had seven life-threatening food allergies. But if you are careful and responsible, living with food allergies and caring for children with allergies is not difficult. There are ways to cook and eat almost anything if you are creative, and the avoidance gets more comfortable and becomes natural with practice. There are many more challenging issues that people deal without there!
Q: What positive things have come out of having food allergies (have you benefited from them in any way)?
Sophie: Having food allergies has certainly helped me in lots of ways. I have met many amazing people through various conferences and programs related to food allergies that I have been a part of. I have also learned how to advocate for myself, which is a vital skill for anyone to have in life.
Having food allergies has helped me become more responsible and having food allergies has given me lots of great opportunities, too. I had the chance to meet with my local congressman to share my personal story and ask for his support on a the FASTER Act bill that would improve the lives of people with food allergies. I also went to a local preschool in town and read the kids a few books related to food allergies to raise awareness. I was surprised at how many of them knew what food allergies were, or knew someone who had food allergies.
Maybe the most important thing I have learned from having food allergies is to be more understanding and aware of other people’s challenges because everyone is struggling with something.
Favourite restaurant: Trattoria (a local pizza place) – they have really cool types of pizza, like baked ziti pizza!
Favourite food: Any pasta dish, but my absolute favourite is ravioli.
Favourite allergy-friendly product or brand: Vermont Nut Free Chocolates – I love their truffles and marshmallow pops!
Which social media platform is best? Snapchat, it’s fun to message people and use the cool filters.
Dream job: a teacher, maybe high school math!
What do you do after school on an average day? – do homework and bake if I have time – I love to make cookies, cupcakes, and macarons
Texting or talking? Talking, it is better to be face-to-face with someone!
Describe yourself in three words: friendly, kind, caring
Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!