Reflection:"Lucky" to Have Food Allergies...
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
As someone with food allergies, I have heard a lot of interesting takes on my situation. Some of these comments, I know people mean well, but it just don’t come out right. Others, I can tell they are meant to be mean. Ultimately, though, a lot of comments I hear just show how uneducated the public can be about food allergies.
One of those comments that has somehow been impossible for me to forget was from a girl in middle school. I was vaguely friends with her. She was outwardly friendly and nice to everyone, but always sort of struck me as one who acted like I should be grateful for her attention. One day, I was at her house with a few other girls. I don’t recall the reason why, but somehow my food allergies became the topic of interest. She told me, “You’re honestly so lucky you have food allergies. You’ll never get fat because you can eat anything. Unlike me. I’m SO fat.”
I remember, even now, just being so completely shocked by that statement. Nobody in the world had ever said anything like that to me before. And there was just something that felt SO wrong about what she had said to me. I didn’t quite know what to say, and I’m not even sure what I said.
I just remember the words she said to me that day. As I made my way through high school they were echoed by other girls later on. It almost felt like an insult in so many ways. When I started my blog I knew I wanted to discuss this topic, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. After some self evaluation, I realized just why it bothered me so much and what I would recommend to the young girls and boys who may one day be faced with this situation.
So, let’s break it down. I think the overbearingly obvious thing to me now is that this girl - lets call her Lisa (don’t worry I changed the name) - was obviously insecure about her weight. Lisa really didn’t need to be, but weight is a difficult topic, even for grown adults. It’s a fragile topic, and middle school is where lots of young children first become self conscious over topics such as weight and attractiveness.
That was the first time I became aware of how I looked and what it could mean to the people around me. So I don’t blame Lisa for being insecure. Everyone has their moments, especially in middle school. What was wrong about her statement was for her to minimize my food allergies and to immediately discredit my eating habits without really knowing them.
I have never been overweight in my life. I will admit I am a small person and always have been. I am 5’1 and weight 103lbs. At my heaviest I have weighed 107lbs. I think part of this is because my love for fruits and veggies. I was the kid growing up that wanted broccoli and Brussels sprouts for dinner. I ate watermelon and snap peas for snacks. Even now I live off of microwaveable veggie packs from Walmart.
I don’t eat this way because I can’t eat anything with sugar. I can eat Oreo cookies, graham crackers, Hershey’s kisses, and plenty of homemade treats. Eating enough of any of those can make one gain weight, and they actually did at one point. So saying that I’m thin and eat healthy simply because of my allergy is discrediting my healthy habits. I have moments of sugar cravings just like anybody else, and have had periods of time I had to cut back. That’s just life.
I stay slim because I eat well, because I choose to, not because of my allergies. There has been one major point in my life where I was noticeably underweight. This was because of the anxiety I felt for my allergies, not my allergies themselves. Not everyone with food allergies will have this type of anxiety. It’s a pattern that I struggle with after going through a rough patch with my food allergies.
When I was 13, I discovered I was allergic to tree nuts. Before that I only knew about my peanut allergy and had no idea I could develop more allergies. So after finding out about my allergies by way of anaphylaxis for the first time, I was terrified to eat. I was scared there were other allergies I didn’t know about, and I didn’t want to experience anaphylaxis ever again.
I knew I had to eat, and I was constantly starving, but my anxiety kept me away. As random as it seems I only would eat white rice and canned cranberry when I was forced to eat. It was the most scary and confusing time. And it all happened to me a year before I heard the comment that I was lucky to have an allergy that kept me thin.
During that time my doctor told me I needed to consume up to 5,000 calories a day because she was worried about my health. Homemade cheesecake and fudge are largely responsible for getting my weight back up. The mistrust I experienced for food and my own body was hell. I had to fight every instinct my anxious mind shot at me in order to eat, but I did it with therapy and support from my family.
So to be there a year later and to hear Lisa say I was lucky to experience that felt like every kind of awful. I don’t believe she was being mean, but her huge misunderstanding of my situation was incredibly insulting and hurtful to me. Those of us with food allergies know how hard it can be and how much we wish we were allergy free. No one should wish for food allergies.
For the parents of young children with food allergies, your children will likely hear some very uneducated comments about their allergies. We can’t control the people around us no matter how much we would like. The best thing I would recommend is to speak openly with your child about things people say or do. Help your child understand their own feelings better so that they can learn how to manage somewhat insulting situations.
If you have an allergy yourself, try to find someone caring and loving to discuss what goes on. No matter if someone means to hurt or not, it’s good to understand the feelings that can come from it. Growing up, my parents have always had me discuss feelings and I’ve been through lots of therapy as well. It’s good to understand the emotional aspects of ourselves. In middle school especially, kids can be swayed by the mentality of the group.
Everyone who manages or helps manage food allergies goes through a lot and deserves credit for it. As for dealing with the overall misunderstanding surrounding food allergies, I’m tackling that the best way I know how. I started this page to try to create a better understanding of food allergies, and I encouraged others to do so as well (so long as one feels safe doing so). There’s a lot of misrepresentation in the world surrounding food allergies right now, but I hope one day it might not be that way anymore.