The Benefits of Food Allergies
"BENEFITS?!?! What benefits do food allergies have?"
Anyone with food allergies knows that they come with hundreds of crazy problems, like constantly having to read labels, always being on high alert, always having to worry about going out to eat, and, well, being life-threatening. And most of the time, that's all we talk about. So I wanted to talk about some of the good parts of food allergies. There's not a lot, but I think it's important to focus on the positive side of things, because having food allergies can be really discouraging and overwhelming sometimes.
Connection One of the biggest things food allergies has given me is an opportunity to connect with hundreds of other people like me. Organizations like FARE and TAG have helped me expand my horizons so much! TAG and this blog especially have given me a chance to help so many other teens like me who suffer from food allergies. I'm so grateful that I'm able to educate the people around me about the severity of food allergies. I've done several projects through school about food allergies and I'm even working to earn my Girl Scout Gold Award with a project about food allergy awareness! I've gotten to work with amazing people that I might not have met if I didn't have a food allergy.
Compassion & Empathy People with food allergies know that they can be a huge pain and really awful sometimes, whether it be the inability to eat something that your friends are eating, or having a bad reaction and feeling horribly sick. However, this teaches us to be empathetic to others in pain, especially others with food allergies. We know it's terrible and we want to help others (and ourselves), so we work towards educating people who don't understand allergies and we donate to and help companies like FARE to research cures and treatments. Through our own experiences we can help others, especially those who are new to the food allergy community, learn how to adjust and make their lives easier. (Apps like AllergyEats are great examples of this--food allergic people can rate restaurants based on how well they handle allergies, and this helps other people find places to eat. This is really helpful on vacations! I used AllergyEats when I went to Tennessee with my family and the best restaurants we went to, I found on the app!)
A Level Head Anyone who has ever had an allergic reaction knows it's scary and stressful, and it can lead to anxiety for a while after. It's awful in the moment, but it teaches us the importance of staying calm under pressure. Panicking can only make a situation worse, and sometimes anxiety can even cause a false reaction. (I've had those a few times, I felt like something bad was going to happen, but I stayed calm, the feeling faded after a few minutes, and I was fine.) This also helps us if any of our friends were to have a reaction. When I had a reaction in 2019, my mom was really calm and level-headed (at least externally), and that helped me not to panic. If she had been visibly worried I would have been much more panicky and that would have made things worse. Again, it's our own experiences that allow us to help other people. One of my best friends had a reaction a few weeks ago and I knew that even though I was really worried, I had to be calm for her so that she didn't get overwhelmed. This goes for any emergencies, not just food allergies. It's important to stay calm and not panic.
Responsibility Another big thing that having food allergies has taught me is the importance of responsibility. I have to carry an epinephrine injector (I have an Auvi-Q, which is a slightly different type of injector than the EpiPen) and Benadryl with me at all times. (A lot of people with food allergies just bring theirs when they know they're going to be eating, but I'm more comfortable bringing it everywhere, just in case.) I also have asthma, as do a lot of people with allergies, and I carry a rescue inhaler with me as well. The responsibility of making sure I always have my meds with me has been helpful in other parts of my life as well, such as remembering school assignments and projects.
Communication Skills People with food allergies have to constantly check labels and be assertive when communicating with restaurant staff. Going out to eat can often entail calling or emailing the restaurant ahead of time to assure that they can accommodate. This has helped me develop good communication skills because I know the right questions to ask to help myself feel safe. Another side of communication is communication with your family, friends, and partners. I've learned that it's important to tell my family when and why I feel uncomfortable at restaurants, so we can decide on a plan of action, whether it be talking to management staff or finding a new restaurant. This is important with friends and partners, too, especially to older teens, because we start to go more places without our parents. I haven't had personal experience with dating yet, but the importance of communicating holds true there as well. And food allergies are not the only topic where communication is important. Expressing your feelings is always the key to healthy relationships (not just romantic relationships!).
Observation If there's anything that having a food allergy has taught me, it's that I have to be on constant alert. That may seem like a bad thing, but it means you notice more than others might. You know to look for small details, which can be useful in a lot of situations, not just menu and label reading. For example, I found seaglass at the beach while on vacation because it looked different from the shells around it! A small benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.
Food allergies can be tough, but they have helped me learn some really important things over the years. I hope this post can help you find some positives too!
Hope everyone has a good end of summer and start to the schoolyear! :)