Navigating Food Restrictions: Understanding Food Allergies

Before diving into this series, I’ll explain why you should care what makes people change their eating preferences. For that matter, why would anyone need to know about food restrictions or food allergies if they don’t have them?

You might be ready to make some changes yourself, or maybe you have a friend who is always talking about her cappuccino swirl cashew ice cream because of a dairy allergy.

Sidebar, you don’t need to have a dairy allergy to appreciate the heavenly nectar of the gods that is SO DeliciousĀ® Cashew Ice Cream. Don’t let the price tag scare you away. Thank me later.

Bottom line, I know you care for and love your friends and family, even the ones with those “annoying” food sensitivities. And with that love comes a need for patience and willingness to empathize.

For various reasons, I’m met with a lot of hostility when telling people I have food restrictions. It’s an unfortunate truth, but these reactions probably stem from misplaced feelings of imposition, instead of empathy. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that someone is being too picky, trying to be difficult, or following the latest “fad diet” intended to ruin your lunch date, but a little understanding can go a long way. Whatever the reasons are behind the changes, they are not easy, especially when friends and family react negatively.

Start With Why

The first step to walking in that person’s shoes is just understanding the “why” behind these changes. While this is by no means an all inclusive list, these are all instances where diet changes are beneficial and sometimes medically required:

  • Food sensitivities/allergies/intolerances (the obvious)
  • Depression
  • Athletics
  • Intestinal issues (IBS, Crohn’s, etc.)
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Anemia
  • Pregnancy/post pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Adrenal malfunction (AFS, Addison’s, etc.)
  • Eczema/acne
  • Celiac Disease
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Cancer
  • Thyroid conditions (hyper/hypothyroidism, etc.)
  • Dental problems
  • Medications
  • Stomach acid imbalance
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heart disease
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia/sleep problems
  • Menopause
  • Liver disease
  • Bipolar Disorder

I could continue listing reasons until the nondairy cows come home, but one thing is certain: no matter what the reason, it can be a frustrating and overwhelming to make these changes. A lot of the time, it’s not just the threat of gaining weight, but there are serious health consequences that follow poor dietary choices.

Even so, there are times that I just want to quit and give up; go ahead and eat whatever I want so I don’t have to explain it to people, bother my waiter with allergy-related questions, or prepare my own food when I’m feeling lazy. Unfortunately, the effects of eating the way I’m not supposed to are so severe (migraines, stomach flu-like symptoms, severe acne, extreme bloating, and weight gain to name a few), it would just be a ripple effect of negative repercussions.

For most people, these changes aren’t exclusively about the latest Hollywood diet fad or get-skinny-quick schemes, so before you nail down that hypothesis, ask away, my good amigo. You’ll be surprised to learn the real reasons behind those unique food choices.

Assumptions are like armpits. Everybody’s got ’em and they usually stink.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away here, it’s that assumptions about dietary changes are at the least very uninformed, and at best quite hurtful.

So what does all this mean for you? (And please don’t answer, “find friends without food allergies” because the food karma gods have a tendency to smite you down by taking away your ability to eat your favorite things.) This can mean simply listening to the problems your mom has been going through during an elimination diet so she doesn’t feel like she’s facing it alone; eating at a restaurant that caters to a Paleo diet so your best friend isn’t forced to eat iceberg lettuce with oil and vinegar at a Southern diner; or reading articles like this one that give you a brand new perspective on why your brother is suddenly forced to avoid sugar, even though you guys always love going out for ice cream.

How To Get Gluten-free Brownie Points

Oh, and one last piece of advice before I set you free… you will have an insta-friend for life if you learn how to make food that caters to a person with restrictions. It doesn’t even have to taste good. The fact that you went out of your comfort zone to prepare it? SOLD. Something we didn’t have to make? You just won Best Friend of the Year Award.

Wishing you an enlightened day.
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