Being diagnosed with a food allergy can be scary, especially when it comes to shopping for food. Many clients who come to me with new allergy diagnoses are overwhelmed by this: everything that once seemed easy, on auto-pilot, can suddenly have a horror-movie-like feel on that first post-diagnosis trip to the grocery store. Will I be able to eat anything? Food allergens seem to be lurking everywhere, in the least expected places.
The first thing I tell these clients is Don’t panic! You can do this. We’re lucky to be living in a time today when most major allergens on packaged food are clearly labeled. There are a few exceptions – but these are relatively easy to learn, and I’ll walk you through the basics of what to look out for in my next few posts.
That said, the second thing I tell my clients with food allergies is Always carry your EpiPen with you! That means in your purse or on your person somewhere – not out in the car or back at your house (for guys, I recommend an exercise fanny pack that fits around the waist and under your shirt so nobody has to see it). Even if you’ve never had an anaphylactic reaction before, if your doctor has prescribed an EpiPen, keep your prescription current and always on hand. EpiPens contain epinephrine that counters the immediate effects of a severe allergic reaction, and can buy you precious minutes to get help. Almost all reported cases of deaths from food allergies in the United States involve the absence of an EpiPen. Think of your EpiPen as a kind of insurance policy or superhero sidekick: for the most part it won’t do anything but sit there along for the ride, but every once in a great while it just might save the day.
One basic rule as you start your journey into shopping with food allergies is to keep it clean and simple: begin by looking for products with five ingredients or less. Once you get comfortable with reading labels, you can build out from there, but don’t make things any harder on yourself than they need to be at first. There are plenty of great products out there with short, simple ingredient lists, so you won’t have to feel deprived. And once you get the hang of it, you may even find as many of my clients do that your allergy diagnosis can lead to a greater awareness of the health impact of every single food you put in your mouth, and contribute to better overall wellness. (Though believe me, I’ve been there and I know this silver lining doesn’t make it any easier, particularly in the beginning!)