Monday, September 15, 2008

Welcome Wellsphere community!

I'm thrilled to have been asked to be part of the new Allergies community for Wellsphere! Food allergies have been on the upswing for the past few years, especially in children, and there are a lot of frantic people looking for help to find SOMETHING to eat!

If you're new to my blog, here is my story on how I discovered my long list of food allergies, and how managing them changed my life for the better. To get you started, here are a few of the Food Allergy Queen basic tips for managing your (or your family's) food allergies.

1. Let go of the old, and try new things. You'll have to face the music eventually, there are some things you simply won't be able to replace in your new allergy-free diet. Eggs can be substituted in baking, but can't be replaced if you like them fried sunny-side up. If you're avoiding gluten, there are some good gluten-free breads out there, but they may not have that same robust taste or texture as you're used to. Rather than focus on what you can't have, focus on what you CAN have and embrace's a critical attitude change. And when you start feeling better, this will become easier. This is obviously tougher for kids, who can't understand why they can't have the same cookies as everyone else. But if you make them their own special-best-favorite cookies that happen to be allergy-friendly and bring those along it will help them make that transition easier.

2. Be creative Who says you have to have a sandwich with bread? Reverse out a hamburger and instead wrap it in lettuce with the cheese and tomato and other goodies on the inside (In N Out does it in California, it's called "protein-style"). Make a pastrami sandwich with potato pancakes instead of rye (I had this at a deli once, yummy). Instead of cereal for breakfast, make yourself some gluten-free apple muffins and keep them in the freezer to toast up in the morning with some cream cheese if you can have it.

3. Ethnic food is your friend Be smart about your choices eating out. If you can't have wheat or dairy, don't go to an Italian restaurant and be miserable. Instead eat Thai (glass or silver noodles), Indian (lots of non-dairy choices) or Middle Eastern (falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush) dishes that are not based on these ingredients.

4. Culivate a relationship with a local restaurant If you're reluctant to eat out, try to find a locally-owned, smaller restaurant where you can get better service than a chain restaurant. Tell the server/manager/owner your allergies, and help them understand about cross-contamination (the food allergy cards from the Triumph Dining folks and links on my site are helpful here) so that they can learn what you can have/not have. Then frequent their restaurant often. They'll learn your restrictions, maybe even design some new recipes for you and you can feel comfortable that they're looking out for your food safety.

5. Learn to cook. I'm not asking you to be the next Julia Child. But if you want to be absolutely sure about what you're eating, then you'll need to learn to make at least a few basics for yourself and your loved ones. If you've never cooked before, I always recommend How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It's great because it very clearly explains each step and why you do it. Also, cooking gives you a better understanding of how food is constructed, so that you can be better informed to make substitutes, and to ask others who may be preparing food for you. I rely heavily on Gluten-Free Kitchen by Robyn Ryberg, Chez Panisse Vegetables and a few favorite ethnic cookbooks as well.

6. Help other people to understand your allergies. Food allergies are a complicated thing. Many people think it's a psychological problem, some people think you're just trying to get attention (strange but true) and others think you're just on some trendy diet. Calmly explain to them that allergies are a genuine health risk, and that they don't have to understand them, but just respect them and let you do what you need to do. Don't get angry, try to be patient, persistent and informative. Especially for your supporters who genuinely want to learn how to feed you! And if someone isn't willing to work with your needs (even family members), go elsewhere.

7. Be prepared. When you're about to go out somewhere new, eat a little something safe before you go out, or bring a safe snack in your bag or jacket. (I always do this when I'm going to someone's house for dinner, just in case not everything is friendly and I don't want to end up hungry.) Stock up on your favorite safe items so that you are less likely to be stuck somewhere with nothing to eat. Be sure to carry an Epipen. Wear a medical bracelet (a link to Lauren's Hope is on my site)with your food allergies listed on it in case of an emergency where you're unable to communicate. Also, some medical emergency products (like penicillin) could cause anaphylaxis (for example, I'm allergic to alcohol, and some liquid medications are alcohol-based).

8. Share what you've learned Your loved ones want to understand. Others want to learn because they too have loved ones with food allergies who are frustrated as well. We all need to share what we know to help make it easier for others like us, help food manufacturers understand our needs to develop products for us, and empower ourselves to manage our food allergies and overall health in a positive way. We can do it!

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