Tamara Hubbard: A Therapist's Take on Self Esteem & Dating with Food Allergies
One late afternoon as my mom drove me home from school, I told her regretfully, "I’m never going to find anybody who wants to date me." My eight grade self, donned in her middle school uniform and braces continued, "Who would want to deal with my allergies?"
It felt as though everything that existed then would exist forever. All the dynamics in my life seemed so permanent. Many of the students at school around me were beginning to date, and I hoped with all my heart that I would find somebody too. I wanted the romance and extravagant displays of affection I saw the other girls get. But unlike my peers at the time, I had food allergies, and I knew that this would impact my dating life to some degree. It already impacted my day to day social interactions.
My mom told me, “I really believe that there’s somebody out there for everyone. There will be people, I promise.”
I didn’t believe her back then, of course. But she was absolutely right. What felt like such a hopeless endeavor initially, actually turned out to be far more possible than I thought.
This past Valentine’s Day, I asked people on Instagram, “What food allergy dating advice would be most helpful for you?” And I found the most common response was a variation of, “I’m scared no one will date me because I have food allergies. What should I do?” Even a few parents shared they have a teen with allergies who felt this way.
Seeing this, it took me back to that conversation with my mom in the car. And all the similar ones we had that followed for a few years afterward. I was saddened to see that those lonely feelings were not just my own, and it got me wondering why we all felt this way. For all I know, maybe I would still feel this way had I not found my person yet. So I decided to speak to an expert who could really help me understand why we might feel this way and tips for moving forward.
That’s where Tamara Hubbard, LCPC, comes in. As written on her website, Hubbard is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) trained in marriage and family therapy. She covers many aspects of family systems and relationships as well as women’s health. Hubbard also specializes in food allergies and allergic diseases.
Amongst her many accomplishments, Hubbard is the founder and CEO of the Food Allergy Counselor website. This website features the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, which allows those with food allergies to find a counselor with an understanding of food allergies near them. You can also find her podcast, Exploring Food Allergy Families, and her therapeutic worksheets on the Food Allergy Counselor website.
I asked Hubbard for her perspective on these dating concerns to better understand what was going on. Read on to see what she had to say.
Why might young teens or adults with food allergies feel like they won’t find a romantic partner due to their allergies?
Being a teen or young adult can feel hard! You’re figuring out who you are, what matters to you, and what you want in a partner. Add managing food allergies to these stages of life, and it can complicate this normal developmental process.
It’s not uncommon at any age, but especially in the teen and young adult years, to lack self-confidence. When you’re already not feeling confident, adding anything that makes you feel different or more complex can lead you to believe that no one will want to date you because of this. However, that’s just a thought, and thoughts don’t actually have the ability to predict anything - they’re not fortune tellers!
Additionally, it’s easy to become overly-focused on what you feel is “wrong” with yourself - in this instance, having food allergies. Instead, try to view having food allergies as just one of the many pieces of who you are. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It just is. But there are also many other parts of you, and focusing on all of them as a whole can help decrease the belief that you won’t find a romantic partner because of your diagnosis.
Say someone expressed to you that they don’t think they will ever find someone to love them, just because they have food allergies. What would you say to them?
As a clinical therapist, I would first validate their emotions and let them know that I hear them and recognize how hard that must feel. Then I would ask them why they felt they’d never find someone to love them just because they have food allergies.
After listening to them share their thoughts, I’d help them develop strategies to find more workable thoughts. This could be done by challenging those thoughts (with more empowering and accurate ones), learning how to “talk back” to their mind when it shares these messages, and developing the ability to not let their mind boss them around and only focus on negativity.
What are your top tips for someone with food allergies who wants to date, but feels they can’t? How can parents help with this in the case of young teens? What might young adults do for themselves if they feel this way? Would therapy be helpful?
Here are some strategies that might feel helpful in this situation:
It can feel helpful to write down where you currently are and where you want to be. For
instance, maybe right now you feel like you can’t date because of your food allergies, but
you want to be able to.
Then, depending on the specific reasons they feel they can’t date, I’d encourage people
to make a list of those reasons because this will help them figure out solutions to move
towards their goal.
Next, for each reason that’s holding them back from dating, write down possible
solutions to consider trying.
Finally, remind yourself that others managing food allergies and allergic conditions have been able to date and find long-term partners, and so can you!
So an example of this might look like:
1. Where you are and where you want to be: “I’m not dating now, but I would like
to be able to or willing to date.”
2. Reasons you feel you can’t date: “I feel I can’t date because no one will be
willing to avoid my allergens”; “I feel I can’t date because I’m too afraid to eat
out at a restaurant”
3. Possible solutions: “I could try asking someone if they’d be willing to avoid my
Allergens for a few hours before our date rather than just assuming they
wouldn’t”; “I could look at the menu ahead of time, call the manager, and practice
ordering before going to a restaurant”
The I.D.E.A.L Method for problem-solving is a useful strategy to help explore solutions to move forward when it feels hard to do so. Check out this Food Allergy Counselor blog post on this method. Parents can help their teens develop more willingness to date by talking through these things with them, and encouraging them to focus on solutions rather than over-avoidance of experiences due to fear.Therapy can be useful to explore thoughts and feelings relating to dating, and develop tools to help move towards the dating goal.
Here is an Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast episode about navigating social lives and dating with food allergies (episode 19). Additionally, here are some other Food Allergy Counselor articles that might feel helpful even though they’re not specifically related to dating:
What is your advice on handling rejection due to food allergies? (like if someone says they don’t want to date you just because you have food allergies).
The unfortunate part about dating is that you’re opening yourself up for rejection. People can choose not to want to date you for so many reasons - even people who don’t have food allergies have to handle rejection from others!
Of course it will hurt if someone says they don’t want to date you just because you have food allergies. It’s only natural to feel sad, angry and hurt when faced with rejection. But after processing those feelings, I recommend “flipping the script” to help move past the rejection.
What does “flipping the script” mean? It means taking a different perspective!
For instance, if you find your mind overgeneralizing, or telling you that no one will ever want to date you after someone told you they wouldn’t date you because of your food allergies, then look at these thought ways….
Would YOU want to date someone who didn’t want to take the time to learn more about you than just that you manage food allergies?
Would YOU want to be with someone who wasn’t willing to learn more about food allergies so it didn’t feel hard to date someone managing them?
No matter whether someone decides not to date you because of your food allergies or for other reasons, don’t forget that you have choices here, too! While they may be the ones to say “No”, you’re the one who can say “I probably don’t want to date them anyhow!”
A special thank you to Tamara Hubbard for taking the time to help me talk about dating with food allergies! To find her online or see her resources, checkout: