Coping with a Food Allergy Diagnosis

Nine Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

Adults face unique challenges when diagnosed with food allergies or intolerances.

There's often a deep sense of loss when lifelong favorite foods or restaurants are off-limits. It can be more difficult for adults to accept poor substitutes for allergens, since newly diagnosed adults remember what foods "should" taste like.

Prepared allergy-safe foods at groceries and supermarkets tend to be geared more towards kids — cookies, snack bars, and the like. Whether you're dealing with an allergy or an intolerance, read on to learn nine steps to make the early weeks of life with your restricted diet more bearable.

Confirm the Diagnosis

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If you have unmistakable food allergy symptoms after eating certain foods, you may be tempted to simply abstain from the food and avoid the time, expense, and hassle of allergy testing. This can be a mistake, though.

What you think is a fish allergy, for example, may be an reaction to a common parasite. You may react after eating french fries, but actually be allergic to wheat cooked in the same oil as those fries. Or symptoms you attribute to what you believe is a dairy allergy may be the more easily treatable lactose intolerance. That's why it's so important to be tested.

Need an allergist? Ask your regular physician for a recommendation, or try searching UCompare HealthCare for certified allergists in your area.

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Purge Your Kitchen

As soon as you can, clear every item you can't eat from your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It's also a good idea to thoroughly clean your cooking utensils, oven, stovetop, and cookware. Why? Keeping unsafe items out of your home will remove temptation and reduce opportunities for cross-contamination.

Be sure, also, to check cosmetics and toiletries for potentially allergenic items, especially if they could end up on your hands or mouth. Living with roommates or family members who eat things you can't? Do everything you can to arrange separate food storage and preparation areas, and to keep at least some pans and utensils separate for your food.

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Get Specialized Help If You Need It

Some allergies don't restrict your diet too severely. If you eat almost no seafood and are diagnosed with a shellfish allergy, for example, you may be able to adjust to dietary and lifestyle changes relatively easily.

Other food allergies, though, require nearly complete overhauls of your daily eating habits, especially allergies to common grains, nuts, and (for non-vegans) dairy and eggs.

In addition to your allergist, a nutritionist or dietitian with expertise in food allergy issues can be invaluable in helping you adjust to your new diet. She can help ensure that your diet is nutritionally sound and suggest safe foods you may not have considered.

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Find a Supportive Community

Food allergies are a proven source of stress, and the early adjustment period can be difficult, especially if your diet has to change drastically. Support groups, whether online or in-person, are one way to discuss the challenges of living with food allergies with others who are in the same situation.

Your allergist or a local hospital may know of local support groups or be able to recommend online food allergy communities.

Buy Safe Food Alternatives

If you're used to eating prepared foods as a major part of your diet, you may find it worth your while to find allergy-safe versions of some of your favorites.

For dairy allergies, you may want to try some dairy-free milk alternatives. Those with celiac disease or wheat allergies will find wheat-free flours valuable in the kitchen.

Allergy-friendly food options vary widely by city, so check local supermarkets, health-food stores, and specialty markets to see what's available. The Internet is also a valuable resource for buying allergy-safe food, especially for those with nut and peanut allergies or celiac disease.

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Learn to Eat Out Safely

Eating at restaurants soon after an allergy diagnosis can feel daunting, so start slow. Stick to one or two restaurants whose chefs or owners are approachable and willing to work with you, and then expand your horizons.

Many chain restaurants include information for common food allergens along with MSG, sulfites, and gluten on their websites. Most importantly, if you aren't entirely comfortable that your waiter or chef is taking your concerns seriously, leave (or just order a drink instead of food).

Be especially sure to bring any emergency medication prescribed by your doctor whenever you're away from home. Make a mental note to check if you change purses or jackets for a night out.

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Adapt Your Recipes

You won't necessarily have to give up your favorite recipes when you're diagnosed with an allergy as an adult, but you will need to learn to make substitutions to take advantage of cookbooks and recipes that aren't specifically written for those with food allergies. First focus on learning substitutions for the most common ingredients you have to avoid in the kitchen.

If you feel more comfortable, however, you can take advantage of recipes written to avoid allergens entirely. While developing the ability to make substitutions is a good skill to learn early on, it can be useful to build a stockpile of reliable allergy-friendly recipes, especially if friends want to cook for you (and if you feel comfortable having them do so).

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Manage Your Stress

It's perfectly normal to feel stressful as you transition into this new lifestyle (yes, it is a lifestyle!). Studies of people living with food allergies consistently show that they have high levels of stress.

If you do find yourself overwhelmed, do whatever you can to simplify other aspects of your life for a while and find sympathetic friends to talk to. Beginning a stress management program can greatly enhance your overall mental health, too, and it need not be expensive.

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Balance Allergies And Your Work Life

The circumstances of your job and your health dictate how much other people at your workplace need to know about your allergies.

You may not feel you want to disclose much at work (and I don't blame you). But if you've been prescribed epinephrine, strongly consider keeping an emergency kit at work and teaching at least one reliable coworker how and when to use your medication. You may also want to keep a stash of safe food at work and a list of allergy-friendly restaurants near your office.

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