Food Allergy Counseling: Confronting Versus Avoiding Your Food Allergy Fears

Recently, I went to a business lunch with two women who work in the food allergy sphere and I was feeling nervous. Not about meeting with them; they were lovely and we had an excellent bonding conversation and lunch. No, I felt nervous about eating. Even though I picked the restaurant, called ahead, the restaurant has my food allergy needs on file and they double-checked with me when I arrived. 

Still. I felt anxious. 

Sometimes, I can do all of my dining out steps and everything can be fine and still I feel nervous.   Sometimes, I can do all of my best anxiety management strategies to calm myself down and still I feel nervous. 

So what to do then? 

The natural tendency would be to avoid the situation that is causing discomfort i.e. cancel the lunch. But that wouldn’t make me feel less anxious, it would simply keep me home, alone and anxious. I’ve done that many times; many years of my life were spent avoiding the scary thing.

But here and now, I did the opposite: I confronted the anxiety head on and shared it, out loud.

When K. arrived at our lunch, sat down and settled in, I said:

Me: “Just a heads up, I’m feeling a little anxious about dining out today. I spoke with the staff and they’re all ready for me and I’ll order but I may not eat if I don’t feel comfortable and just eat afterwards.” 

K1: “OK. I understand. Do what you need to do. Is everything okay?”

Me: “Totally. Sometimes I just feel extra nervous about dining out with food allergies and today is one of those days.” 

That was the extent of the conversation. And then we all moved on to other topics and a lovely lunch. (And yes, I dined and it was safe and yum.)

How did I go from being someone who avoids to someone who confronts

There’s no easy answer, and it will be different for everyone, but for me it came down to making a very conscious decision to try another strategy. And then trying it. 

It’s not enough just to think about doing something different: you must *do* something different e.g. have a plan and enact a series of actions to back up those thoughts especially if you want a different outcome.

I wanted to meet these women for lunch and I was nervous about eating. So I did everything I needed to do to ensure my safety as much as possible and I created an emotional out-clause while still going to the lunch. That emotional out-clause (telling my lunchmates how I was feeling) created a valve: it decreased some of the anxious feelings and allowed me to sit at the table.


What has allowed you to sit at the table with your anxiety about food allergy risk?


Anonymous said…
I don't have a food allergy, but my daughter does. I've watched the same sort of anxiety and watched her opt out of a safe meal if she feels her environment is compromised. She just gets a "feeling". At a much less mature level (she's only 6)but was fascinated to hear that pre-meal premonition and how you dealt with anxiety to fellow diners on an adult level. Really helpful to read how you made it a non-issue with a few comments. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Unknown said…
Absolutely LOVE your positive approach. Both of my kids have food allergies. I will go in advance and talk with the staff. If I don't feel as though they understand our situation, I immediately ask for a manager. I will take them to smoothie places others with dairy or nut allergies won't go to, but that's because I will check out the layout well in advance. Any hesitations? We don't go. I want them to know they can eat out... they have to do the work on the front end first.
Jasmine said…
Such a great way to look at it! So positive! My husband, our 3 children and myself all have allergies. 3 of us have anaphylaxis and dining out is something I always get in a panic about. We avoid eating at other people homes, instead always suggest people come to our house. I love your outlook and am really going to try and realign the way I think about dining out and find some safe places for my little family to enjoy a night out.

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