The Bright Side of Food Allergies
One of my childhood friends has a little boy who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. We talk about food a lot when we get together. Her life consists of counting carbs, chasing numbers and contemplating every morsel of food that goes into her child's mouth. It's exhausting. But, in one of our last conversations, we got off on a tangent about... the bright side. Yep, there is one.
For those of us who are dealing with medical conditions involving food - food allergies and intolerances, diabetes, EoE, celiac disease, just to name a few - life is full of pre-planning before leaving the house, navigating potentially awkward situations, and managing our fear of the unknown. But, you know what? Having to look at food in a different way is not such a bad thing.
Our food allergies have made my kids healthier. I have four kids. I can promise you right now that if it wasn't for our food allergies, I would be cooking out of a box often. But, we don't do boxes. How do I make sure that we are safe? I make things from scratch (which I've learned actually doesn't take that much longer than cooking out of a box). I also read labels, which brings to my attention ingredients that I can't pronounce... and, consequently don't end up feeding my kids. We eat at home - a lot - which puts us at a table looking each other in the face several times a week. If I'm being honest, I'm not sure I'd be doing a fraction of these things if it wasn't for our food allergies.
Our food allergies have made my kids resilient. I'll never forget the time I forgot to bring Cade's safe cupcake to a birthday party. He was only five years-old, and it was his best friend's party. When I realized my mistake, I pushed back my desire to crawl into a hole in the ground and offered him the only thing I could think of - a lolipop out of my purse. There Cade sat, perfectly happy with his "special treat," while all of the kids around devoured their cake. What five year-old does that? A five year-old with food allergies does that. My kids have learned that there always has to be room for flexibility and improvisation. They are problem-solvers. They've discovered that what feels like the end of the world may not actually not the end of the world. Food allergies have made them stronger. Period.
Our food allergies have made my kids more empathetic. This is a biggie. Some of us are born with an extra dose of empathy, while most of us have to hone this skill. But, there's nothing that could possibly develop an empathetic heart in my children more than their food allergies. I tell my kids all of the time that everyone has something that challenges them in life. Sometimes, it's obvious to those on the outside, and sometimes it's something deep inside a person that no one else can see. Yes, Cade and Luke may feel alienated sometimes, and there are moments when they will feel anxious about a situation that they are in... but, this makes them more cognizant of others around them who may be feeling the same way because of their special needs, disabilities or maybe just because they are having a bad day. It also gives our family perspective. We have to do a lot of juggling to manage our food allergies, but that's nothing compared to what many families have to deal with each day. When we open our eyes with empathy and notice the world around us, it actually makes us more grateful for what we do have.
And, here's the kicker: this hasn't just impacted my boys, but it has made my two kids without food allergies, my husband and me better. Our family is healthier as a whole, we are more flexible and resilient, and each of us have been blessed with an extra dose of empathy and gratitude. We are closer as a family because we're in this together. Are food allergies tough to live with? YES. But, you know what I've learned through it all? My family is tougher.