Adopting a Fantastically Free Mindset

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If you follow my newsletter, you may know that October is “Positive Attitude” Month.  I think this is the perfect time to remember that you can live a safe, happy, and healthy life with food allergies! While living with food allergies does present some unique challenges, food allergies need not stop you from doing anything that you desire to do or keep you from living the life you want to live.

Research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our circumstances, 50% is due to our genetic disposition, but 40% of our happiness is due to our mindset and the activities in which we wish to engage. Truly living a safe, healthy, and happy life hinges on adopting a positive attitude or what I call a “Fantastically Free Mindset!”

The Fantastically Free mindset is all about empowerment. Living Fantastically Free involves focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Food allergies should not negatively impact your overall quality of life. When you adopt a Fantastically Free mindset you are able to minimize the negative impact food allergies may create.

Here are 7 principles for adopting a Fantastically Free mindset:

1) Focus on what you can eat, not on what you cannot eat.Even people with multiple food allergies can enjoy a wide variety of foods. View your child’s food allergies as your permission to explore and experiment with trying foods that you may not have tried otherwise.

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Tips for a Safe Hotel Stay with Food Allergies, Celiac, or Dietary Restrictions

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Traveling with food allergies, celiac disease, or other health-related dietary restrictions requires a bit of extra planning to make sure your accommodations and overall stay are both safe and enjoyable.

When you are thinking about booking a hotel, you want to consider how close it is to other places you might need such as a grocery store or emergency room. I always recommend staying at places that have kitchens or kitchenettes so that you can prepare your own safe meals. This is not always possible, but you can almost always request that a refrigerator and microwave be sent to your room. This way you do not have to eat out for every meal.

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Non-Food Ideas for Rewards at School

I am a strong proponent of rewarding children for good behavior, working hard, reaching their goals, etc. I am, however, a little concerned by the frequency in which we reward children with food.Reward Stickers
From a food allergy perspective, using food as a reward often alienates children who may not be able to consume it. I cannot tell you how many times schools reward children with pizza and ice-cream parties. What kind of message is this sending to all of our children? It certainly isn’t one of inclusion. Children with food allergies might think that they are not worthy of receiving a reward; after all, the school didn’t take the time to make sure everyone could enjoy the reward.

Secondly, this teaches all of our children that food (particularly junk food and sweets) is a reward. This link between reward and food is concerning because it can and does lead to emotional eating, which is not healthy.

So how do you reward children in way that ensures everyone can participate? Why not consider non-food rewards?

Here are some non-food ideas for rewards at school:

1) “Caught Being Good” coupon book.

A few years ago, my daughter’s teacher had the brilliant idea (without prompting from me) to reward each child with “classroom bucks” through out the year whenever they did something good in class. By the end of the year they had earned a full “Caught Being Good” coupon book which contained activities they liked to do, such as bring in a toy from home, read their favorite book, etc. They had a lot of fun and it truly taught the value of working towards and goal and seeing your effort pay off.

2) Let the kids vote on what they want.

Some of my daugthers’ teachers have allowed the children to decide what they want as a reward.  They have decided to have special days like “Stuffed Animal Day” and “Crazy Sock Day.” For “Stuffed Animal Day,” they were able to bring in their favorite stuffed animal. For “Crazy Sock Day,” they get to wear wacky or mismatched socks and no shoes during story time. They have also worked towards earning “Pajama Day” and other fun celebrations. 

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Tips to Get Your Husband Up to Speed on Food Allergies

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Many times mothers of children with food allergies are frustrated with their husbands because they don’t feel like their husband is on the same page when it comes to managing their child’s food allergies.

They often complain that their husband doesn’t seem to understand the serious nature of managing food allergies. Dads have been known to do things like buy foods at the grocery store without reading the label, order pizza at a restaurant without informing the staff of their kids’ allergies, or they may even forget what some of their kids’ allergies are.

It’s easy to see how this might be frustrating. Instead of blowing a gasket and losing your temper with your husband, try to look for ways to remedy the problem. Perhaps your husband is weak at auditory processing (or maybe he’s a selective listener) and would prefer to have things written down.

Whatever the case may be, it is very important that the two of you approach managing food allergies as a team. If you and your husband are not on the same page, it can feel like you are managing your child’s food allergies alone and that is a very heavy weight to carry by yourself.

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Allergy-Friendly Play Dates

Play dates can be very stressful for parents of children with food allergies.  However, just like adults (maybe even more so), young children need social interaction with their peers. Often this takes place in the form of play dates.

The toddler and preschooler age group presents a unique challenge in that they often do not fully understand the gravity of having a life-threatening food allergy and they love to explore using all of their senses. It isn’t uncommon for children in this age bracket to put objects in their mouth as soon as they have them in their hands. Generally speaking, the younger the child is, the more controlled the environment needs to be.  With that in mind, you might consider keeping play dates completely free from your child’s allergens. While I am not a huge proponent of “blanket” food bans in general, I think you always have to look at each individual situation and circumstance when creating a safe environment for children with food allergies.

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Build Your Food Allergy Support Network

Build Your Food Allergy Support NetworkOne of the things I learned from working in medical social work is that it takes a team to manage serious health conditions. It’s no different with food allergies. A food allergy diagnosis is life-changing. It may be very overwhelming to navigate in the beginning. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to feel anxiety, grief, depression, or even isolation when they are faced with food allergies. In addition, there is so much to learn and do to stay safe. And to top it off, many people who don’t deal with food allergies everyday do not understand what it takes to manage them successfully. This diagnosis is a lot to take on by yourself, which is why it is so important to surround yourself with a team of support.

The first step in building your support network is to assemble a team of supportive professionals. Ideally, you want to have a board-certified allergist and immunologist on your team. Look for an allergist who is familiar with food allergies, not just seasonal or environmental allergies. You will also want to have a primary care physician that is knowledgeable about food allergies and supports the treatment that you and your allergist create. If you or your child also deals with other allergic issues such as eczema, you may need to add a dermatologist to your team, as well. You may also need a referral to a gastroenterologist if you have a condition such as eosinophilic esophagitis or celiac disease.

Other professionals you might want to have on your team may include: school nurses, teachers, and other staff members that might be caring for your child, as well as dietitians and nutritionists (especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies). You may also consider seeking out other professionals to help you improve your overall quality of life and well-being, such as social workers, allergy coaches, psychologists, counselors, religious leaders, etc.

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Tips for Allergy-Friendly Social Events with Family and Friends

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With Labor Day coming up and the holiday season quickly approaching in the fall, why not start thinking about creating allergy-friendly social events with your family and friends now?

Social events with family and friends can be extremely stressful if everyone is not on the same page. It is not uncommon for family members and friends to continue to serve foods that present a danger to your child after they have been diagnosed with a food allergy. In most cases, they don’t do it to be mean or to exclude your child. Although sometimes strangers or acquaintances genuinely do not care if any particular child is excluded (which is sad but true), most people are willing to create a safe environment for their friends and family.

As with most situations, communication is crucial. Once your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, it makes sense to sit down with your friends and family to discuss any upcoming holidays or “get-togethers.” Let friends and family know ahead of time what precautions need to be taken in order to keep your child safe. Together, you can decide who will be hosting which events, where they will be held, what types of foods will be served, and what the expectations are for everyone involved. While you may not agree on every detail right away, this will give you a good start. The most important thing is to ensure your child’s physical and emotional well-being with a little forethought and planning.

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Tips for Reducing Environmental Allergens at Home

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It is not uncommon for those with food allergies to also have environmental allergies and/or asthma, as well. In order to create a more allergy-friendly environment, you want to reduce the amount of environmental allergens and asthma triggers in your home.

Here are some tips for reducing environmental allergens and triggers:

  • Declutter and organize your space. It is hard to clean around significant amounts of clutter. Clutter easily becomes a magnet for common allergens like dust, mold, pollen, animal fur, dander, and food crumbs and residue.
  • Remove, replace, and/or clean bedding, pillows, carpets, rugs, curtains, stuffed animals and other fabric items on a regular basis, as they are known to house a lot of common allergens.
  • Keep windows closed and use the air conditioning to reduce the number of airborne allergens and pollen from outside during peak pollen seasons. Open windows to improve ventilation in your home pollen counts are not high.

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Back to School with Food Allergies Checklist

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It’s back-to-school time again! If your kiddo has food allergies, you know that getting ready for the new school year involves more than just shopping for school supplies and new clothes. There are lots of moving parts when it comes to ensuring your child has a safe, happy, and inclusive school year.

To keep myself on track and to make sure that nothing slip through the cracks, I like to make a list of things I need to do to prepare for the upcoming school year. 

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5 Tips for Getting Along with the Nastiest of Neighbors, Ragweed

I originally posted this article October 1, 2013 at FantasticallyFree.com, but I thought I would pull it out of the archives and share it again because ragweed season is right around the corner. According to the American College of of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, ragweed “wreaks havoc” causing seasonal allergy symptoms in millions of Americans from late summer through fall and peaks in mid-September.

In our household, we have multiple food allergies and environmental allergies. When I lived in Kentucky, my allergies seemed to be worse in the spring with all of the tree pollen visibly covering Fantasticallyfreeragweedevery horizontal surface outside. Living in the midwest, I have gotten acquainted with one of the nastiest neighbors you can have.

You see, our yard backs up to a nature preserve–which is awesome. However, when our house was being built, the builders cleared a little too much brush and, being the opportunistic weed that it is, ragweed moved in very quickly. You can see it in the center of the photo to the right.
Ragweed is extremely hard to get rid of because it is a rather tenacious and invasive weed, and in our particular circumstance, it lies on a protected nature preserve. This wouldn’t be so bad if our whole family wasn’t allergic to it.

Ragweed is responsible for widespread and severe allergies across the U.S from the late summer/early fall until frost. Each plant produces about a billion highly-allergenic pollen spores that can be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles. It is commonly considered to be the most heinous pollen allergens there is. Needless to say, it is very difficult to avoid.

So what do you do to minimize exposure to ragweed?

Here are my top 5 tips for “getting along” with the nastiest of neighbors, ragweed:

1) Stay away from it. I know that sounds silly and obvious, but if you have a severe ragweed allergy you might want to consider staying indoors during the day, at least. I have small children, so we do spend a lot of time outside, but we don’t play in the backyard very much when the ragweed is in full-bloom. Check the weather and stay inside as much as possible when ragweed pollen is high and the air quality is going to be poor, especially if you have asthma in addition to allergies.

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