5 Ways to Empower Tweens and Teens to Manage Food Allergies

The tween and teen years are a time generally marked by greater independence and responsibility in each adolescent’s life. By the time your child has reached middle school, he or she should be accustomed to carrying their own epinephrine. They should know how to read labels independently, be able to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction, and know how to administer their epinephrine.

While your child is becoming more independent and increasingly more responsible for managing their own food allergy, this time, just like many of the other stages of development, comes with its own set of challenges.

Severe and even fatal allergic reactions are more common among adolescents and young adults. Pressure to fit in and a sense of invincibility that teenagers commonly exhibit contribute to risk-taking behaviors in regards to managing their food allergies. It is not uncommon for adolescents and young adults to not always carry their epinephrine. They may even intentionally eat food that may not be safe.

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4 Ways to Limit Your Exposure to Environmental Toxicants and Pollutants

When looking at possible irritants that might play a role in contributing to the rise of food allergy, and modern chronic illness in general, we cannot overlook the role of environmental toxicants and pollutants. As you may know, cigarette smoke is associated with increased risk of asthma and a number of chronic illnesses. Inhaled pollutants, such as car exhaust, are also associated with asthma. Exposure to diesel exhaust in pregnancy has been shown to affect fetal gene expression, as does cigarette smoke. This shows that environmental pollutants can modify development through epigenetic changes. (1)

There are thousands of other pollutants that we don’t know much about. In the 2006 EPA Inventory Update Review Program, chemical manufacturers reported producing or importing 6,200 chemicals weighingin at 27 trillion pounds in 2005 and that’s not even including fuels, pesticides, medications, or food additives. (2)  Industrialization has led to many new environmental chemicals that did not exist in traditional societies. Common sources of pollution and toxicants are skin care ingredients, pesticides, food additives, preservatives, heavy metals, air pollution, etc. These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) contaminate our air, food, and water. Some common toxicants include polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and phthalates.99 These pollutants accumulate in our body fat over time and can increase with each generation. Many POPs have been detected in breast milk. In regards to chemical management the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following statement:

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How to Make Nutrition a Top Priority with Food Allergies

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the term used to refer to the pattern of foods that most people eat in the United States and other westernized countries. This diet is high in processed, pre-packaged foods that are often loaded with sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, emulsifiers and other additives, chemicals, pesticides, etc. It is also relatively low in fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and lacks a diversity of nutrients, while being high in unhealthy types of fat, meats, and refined carbohydrates. The SAD is associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and almost every other modern chronic illness.

One of the silver linings of food allergies is that it forces us to read ingredients and see what is actually in our food. This can really be eye-opening. We consume a lot of food in this country that is detrimental to our health. Most people choose convenience and taste over health and nutrition. We are now paying the price with higher rates of chronic disease and whole generations of children who are dealing with a multitude of chronic conditions. One day we are going to look back on the foods that we are eating today the same way that we look at cigarettes and we are going to wonder how anyone ever thought it was a good idea.

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3 Ways to Keep the Spark Alive in Your Marriage When Allergies Are Leaving You Feeling Burnt Out

 

Keeping the spark alive in a marriage is a challenge in itself; doing so with children is an even bigger challenge. When you add in special needs or a chronic illness like food allergies, it may seem nearly impossible to pull yourself out of the realm of overwhelm into the romantic world.

If you are like most moms I know who have children with food allergies, you are an extremely busy woman. Not only are you busy with everyday life, but you are probably a bit preoccupied with managing your child’s life-threatening condition. With cooking everything from scratch, making sure your child has her meds, becoming a private investigator just to track down foods your child can safely consume, managing co-occurring conditions, etc, it doesn’t always give you a lot of free time or mental space to relax, unwind, and snuggle up with your significant other.

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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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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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