Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Upside of Food Allergies

It's so easy to focus on the difficult parts of having food allergies or having a family member with food allergies.  I hear it all the time.  "How difficult!"  "How do you manage?"  "Poor kid."   "What can he eat?"  "I don't know how you do it!"

I welcome this kind and any conversation about food allergies.  The people asking and saying these kinds of things are those who don't know much about it.  And I'm more than happy to educate.

I find myself minimizing it a bit.  I usually respond something like this, "Yes, it was hard at first, but now it's no big deal.  We have learned to manage it quite well.  I just provide all their food.  And with good planning, we don't have many problems." In fact, it has been years since we have had a reaction.

I sometimes go on to list some of the benefits of having food allergies, but sometimes I just stop there.  I don't want to be too preachy about food, since most people will eat what they want no matter what I say.

But truly, my kids with food allergies are the healthiest eaters I know.  And our family as a whole is much more healthy as well.  We never eat fast food, we rarely dine out (and when we do, we pack meals for Bubs and GirlyGirl), and we eat very little processed food.  I'm not sure what kind of food we would eat if we didn't have to deal with this, but I'm sure I would not be as educated about processed foods in America as I am now.  We would probably run through McDonald's on the way to soccer practice, order pizza on the nights I'm feeling too lazy to cook, and dine out 1-2 times a week.  That's pretty much how my husband and I were before kids.  

My oldest two, Bubs and GirlyGirl, have life-threatening food allergies.

When you know better, you do better.  And I have my kids to thanks for that.  It has been life changing in so many ways.  Mostly for the better.

Sure, food allergies are inconvenient and stressful (food allergy parents have one of the highest levels of stress and worry), but there are so many good things to come out of this.

As I already mentioned, our family eats quite healthy.  Since I prepare all of our food, I know what's in our food.  I read every label and use mostly whole foods.  I do lots of baking from scratch.  Again, I know each ingredient, what it's been processed with, and how much sugar each item has.

We make our own all-natural snow cones

I have become a better and more creative cook.  I don't really consider myself creative in general, but I have a way of modifying and adapting things to meet our needs.  Through lots of reading and research, I have learned good food substitutes (such as egg substitutes), brands that I trust (such as Enjoy Life and Namaste just to name two), and ways to make "normal" food for my kids.  

Along the lines of being more healthy, I can also regulate what goes in my kids' mouths.  Food allergies is the perfect excuse to refuse that sugary post-game treat.  (Warning: upcoming soapbox)  Why do kids needs to load up on junk food following a healthy sporting activity?  These kids are performing healthy, exercise-based activities, just to have it undone by Cheetos or Little Debbie snacks.  Honestly, I think the only time a piece of fruit has been offered as the post-game snack was when I was the one providing it.  And guess what!  The kids ate it and didn't even complain.  It's the parents that want to the kids to have a junky treat, and the kids learn this behavior.  "It's just one piece," I often hear.  Well, one piece turns into another and another, and before you know it, we have a childhood obesity problem on our hands.  I have actually heard that our kids' generation is the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents (no reference here, just something I remember hearing).  It all leads back to food.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I allow my kids to have treats. I just try to regulate what and how much junk food they get.  I keep cupcakes and cookies in the freezer (made from scratch or safe, trusted mixes) for birthday parties and other fun gatherings.  I like treats to actually be treats, not a daily, expected occurrence. (End soapbox)

We pack ahead for special treats and occasions

As a result of my kids having food allergies and me being a "helicopter mom," I get to attend every class party.  I get to know the kids in each class as well as some parents.  I get to know the school nurse, teachers, and other trusted adults by having lengthy and multiple conversations about food.  I get to go on many class field trips with the excuse of food allergies.  Of course, I'm looking out for my child and being present to answer any questions, but being so involved at school is a bonus.

I get to know my kids' friends' parents and coaches a bit better since I have to have the EpiPen talk with them when I drop off at practice, for a playdate, or ask for a carpool ride.  I let them know that it doesn't have to be scary and I trust they will handle any situation well.  I let them know they can call me at any time with any question.  I understand how hard and scary it must be for other parents.  It is important for me to be social and likeable and not demanding and snotty.  These parents have the power to prevent a tragedy.  They may save my child's life.  All it takes is education.    

And last but not least, I have made so many friends that I would not have otherwise encountered through the food allergy community.  There's an automatic connection when you meet another food allergy parent.  An instant bond.  I have connected with several people locally as well as online and through blogging.  I even had the chance to attended the first annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Vegas last year.  What an amazing experience!  These people not only understand what you go through on a regular basis, they share your hopes and fears.  They share joy when a child passes an oral food challenge, and tears when tragedy strikes.  They can be the greatest resource for products and recipes.  They are a true support group.

While I wish we didn't have to live with food allergies (or my kids having to deal with them for a lifetime), I am grateful for the ways it has improved our lives.  I can't say if I would change things to be different.  I guess I wouldn't mind if they outgrew their food allergies now that we have learned our lessons, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason.  Even if we can't see the reason right now.  I know that's cliche, but it's true.  It all works out in the end.

For another great post, read this one from Making it Milk-Free.

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