Dealing with New Food Allergies


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The Great Migraine Summer of 2002 was filled with out-of-control headaches. With two boys, aged one and three, I could hardly function. That summer included a 21-day migraine and numerous trips to the ER. During one of those visits, just after getting an injection, I felt the world going black. A heavy weight grew in my chest, and breathing became difficult. My husband ran for the nurse when my blood pressure and heart rate plummeted. I later told him I thought I was dying.

I’d unsuccessfully kept food diaries in search of a trigger food. When I asked my physician about a food allergy test, he didn’t feel it was necessary.

During another severe and multi-day episode, I went to my doctor for an injection in hopes of avoiding another ER visit. When the medicine hit my system, my blood pressure and heart rate again tanked. An ambulance was called, Benadryl was administered, and I was put on oxygen. In the hospital, my EKG was irregular. The cardiologist determined I have a deadly allergy to all triptans, which are the primary class of rescue medications for migraines.

The Allergy Diagnosis

Following that encounter, my physician agreed to run a food allergy blood panel. This ice cream loving, cheeseburger fanatic was told I have a dairy and beef allergy. At age 31, the diagnosis was a surprise, but I was also relieved to find migraine triggers to eliminate.

Not Coping So Well

We laugh about it now, but that night, my husband attempted to ease the lifestyle change by taking me to buy a dairy-free cookbook and then out to dinner. In case you weren’t aware, the menu at Chili’s is very cheese and beef concentrated. I finally decided to order chicken fajita nachos, with beans, chicken, and guacamole, but no cheese.

The innocent waiter asked: “Are you SURE you don’t want cheese? I mean, who eats nachos without cheese?” 

“I’m sure,” I said.

“REALLY? That just seems strange? They’d be better with cheese. You sure you don’t want cheese?” he asked.

Bless his heart, as I replied sharply, “OH, I WANT the cheese, but I cannot have the cheese.”

Tips for learning to deal with a new food allergy diagnosisThe Allergy Learning Curve

The learning curve to a newly diagnosed allergy may feel steep, but I promise it gets easier and more intuitive with time. It requires retraining your thinking and figuring out tricks along the way.

Eat at home — Eating at home is the key to getting started with accommodating a new food allergy diagnosis. This allows complete control of all ingredients and helps you avoid those dishes where an allergen may not be obvious.

Research substitutes — With food allergies on the rise, substitutes and proper labeling are more available than ever. To move past the heartache of what is now off-limits, open the world of possibilities by researching available options. A trip to a local health food store revealed a gold mine of soy cream cheese, soy sour cream, coconut milk yogurt and ice cream, and dairy-free cream of mushroom soup. Giving up beef was far easier than dairy.

Research new recipes — All the praise hands for those facing new food allergy diagnosis in this modern era of a little thing called Pinterest on the interwebs. Talk about possibilities! Yesterday, I spent some time looking up gluten- and dairy-free recipes for an upcoming weekend with a friend, and the options are indeed endless. Finding new favorites may take some time, but once you begin to add them into your rotation, life feels easier.

Prepare to eat out — With online menus available, review options ahead of time to help navigate eating out. Consider what types of food or restaurants cater to specific food allergies. PF Changs, for instance, has a gluten-free menu, which is perfect for family dinners with my cousins who have Celiac disease. Asian food is also a good genre for dairy allergies. In addition to accommodating restaurants, have some go-to meals that are easy to choose in restaurants, such as grilled chicken and vegetables.

Carry a Snack — Keeping protein bars in my purse was my trick during a trip to London. When my options out were limited or uncertain, I had something to tide me over. Carrying a snack and eating before an event with an uncertain menu are the best ways to avoid starving with no safe options.

Listen, mamas, don’t be intimated by the steep curve of learning a new food allergy. The process is worth the improvement in health and well-being, and it truly does get easier.

Join the Fort Worth Food Allergy Moms Neighbor Group to build community with other moms dealing with food allergies in their families.

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Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.


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