Food Allergies… Rock?

Last month, I wasn’t feeling very good about this whole food allergy situation. So when this contest came up in my Twitter feed, I wondered if I could honestly answer the question: “Tell us why food allergies rock.”

Good timing, though, because it forced me to think about the good that has come out of my son’s diagnosis.

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Since then, I’ve realized that there are more positives than one single tweet would allow for.

So, in response to a post I wrote on how raising a child with food allergies impacts mental health, I decided to focus on the brighter side of things. Kind of like that Kyle Dine CD, I want to take a moment to talk about the silver lining of food allergies, to offer readers a bit of hope (when they’re feeling hopeless) and direct them to avenues of support (if and when they need it).

Here are the top 5 recent events that have made me feel a little more hopeful and lot more supported. If you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, I highly recommend forcing yourself to write a similar list. It’s an instant pick-me-up, and it makes you realize things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

1. I met the lovely Samara Carroll, who counsels food-allergic children and their parents.

Samara has lived with food allergies since she was a little girl, so she completely understands what our little ones are going through. And she’s the type of person whose friendly personality shines through the moment you meet her. I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that most children feel very comfortable opening up to her about their food allergy journey.

She also works with parents whose anxiety is through the roof since their children were diagnosed and—take note!—she does couples counselling as well. (Because we all know the strain this sort of thing can put on a relationship.)

Now you can meet Samara too! Join us at Jill and the Beanstalk this August for a talk she’ll be hosting on how not to raise a child with food phobias. (Details TBD.)

2. I got my own personal allergy-friendly tour of a supermarket.

If you’ve ever been in contact with food allergy mama Allison Venditti, you probably know she’s one of those people who goes out of their way to help others. She doesn’t hesitate to provide words of wisdom to parents newly navigating food allergies—or give them a (virtual) shoulder to cry on. I’m lucky to know her in a business context as well, so I know just how generous she can be with her time and her advice.

So when I had my mini breakdown last month, Allison sweetly offered to take me on a personalized tour of Fiesta Farms. Since her son once shared many of my little guy’s allergies, she was able to point me in the right direction, aisle after aisle. Thanks to Allison, my son got to try his first store-bought “kuu-kies,” and I have a new list of safe products I can buy for him.

3. I won not 1, but 2, Kyle Dine CDs

Yup, that’s right. HypeFoodie held a contest for Food Allergy Awareness Month… and I won! I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever won anything. Coincidence? I think the universe was trying to tell me something.

The great thing about Kyle’s music is that his lyrics are really empowering. My toddler may be too little to understand right now, but one day, I like to imagine these songs will lift him up when he’s feeling down, remind him that having food allergies doesn’t make him weird or weak, and give him the confidence to speak up in situations when he is feeling uncertain or unsafe.

4. I finally bought a breadmaker.

As I write this, the aroma of fresh bread is wafting around me, making my stomach growl and my mouth water. But I digress…

It’s actually a lot more fun—and a lot less work—than I initially imagined. It’s also a delicious, affordable alternative to store-bought bread. Not only that, but it gives me peace of mind knowing exactly what’s in the ingredient list. (Need I say more?)

A huge thank you to all the people in the allergy community who recommended I purchase this sanity-saver… And to allergy support group founder and writer Pauline Osena for sharing a couple of bread baking books with me!

In case you’re curious, I got myself the Hamilton Beach breadmaker. I love it so far!

5. I was reminded, yet again, how the food allergy community has got each other’s backs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You guys are amazing. I can’t believe how many warm messages I got in response to this post. And then again when I shared my pizza fail with the AllergyBites group.

So many people reached out to me with creative ideas, safe brands, or words of empathy. I have to say I was overwhelmed by your heartwarming messages of encouragement and solidarity.

I’ll end this post by linking to a few supports, either in-person or online, that you can access if and when you’re having a tough day (or month!).

AllergyBites FB Group
Best Allergy Sites
Carroll Counselling
Food Allergy Canada
No Nuts Moms Group of Ontario, CAN
Parents of Kids with Food Allergies in Toronto/GTA
The Friendly Pantry

Any I’m missing? Comment below with a link to an avenue of support you think should be on this list.

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Travelling with food allergies? Triple check your travel insurance.

Planning a trip? Treat food allergies the way you would a pre-existing condition—because they are one.

When it comes to buying a new food for your food-allergic little one, you always triple check the ingredient list, right? Well, if you’re planning a family trip, I highly recommend you do the same with your travel insurance policy.

Seriously.

I used to work in travel insurance, so I know how confusing it can be. I also know how easy it is for travellers to mistakenly think they’re covered when they’re actually not.

Whether or not you have travel insurance through your workplace benefits…
Whether or not you’ve been buying the same travel insurance for years…
Whether or not you were once assured that your child’s allergies were covered…

… the truth is, they might not be covered. And depending on where you’re travelling, and how expensive health care is in your destination country, a little mistake now could cost you BIG bucks later.

I’m not trying to scare you. I just want to make sure you’re informed before your next trip.

If you’re not convinced you need to do some serious triple checking, please take a moment to read a post I wrote on this topic. You’ll see that I was wrongly informed by my insurance company, and if I hadn’t kept digging, I could have owed tens of thousands of dollars in the event my toddler fell ill while we were in the US. (I’m not kidding.)

Read the full article: Travel Insurance & Food Allergies: Make Sure You’re Protected During Your Travels. Then share it with your food-allergic friends!

Profile of an Allergy Parent: Allison Venditti

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: Allison Venditti Allison Venditti is the mom of 2 little boys who are allergic to various foods. She founded a local support group after her first son was diagnosed with food allergies in the double digits.

KO: What foods are your children allergic to?

AV: My oldest – peanuts, tree nuts (some), eggs, soy, sesame and mangoes. He has outgrown sunflower, poppy, mustard, fish, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, peas, pitted fruit (nectarines, plums) and tomatoes. So it was a bit overwhelming at the start.

My youngest – peanuts.

KO: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) they had a food allergy?

AV: Looking back, my oldest always had terrible eczema. He used to throw up breast milk constantly and we actually had to switch him to formula. I gave him a tomato at 6 months that covered his arm in hives (he didn’t even get it in his mouth). At 8 months, he had eggs for the first time and his eyes swelled shut and his face was so swollen he was unrecognizable. His first anaphylactic reaction was at 10 months when he had soy milk.

KO: How many anaphylactic reactions have they experienced?

AV: My oldest – 4 times (soy, sesame, mustard and egg). My youngest – once (peanut).

KO: What did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?

AV: I don’t think we were afforded the time to grieve, honestly. Our allergy journey was not a slow build – it was like a boxing match – the swings just kept coming. We saw the allergist over a dozen times in the first 2 years. Every time we came home with new allergens, we had to re-evaluate, restructure and regroup. By the time we had figured out all my oldest’s allergens, we were already starting to challenge ones that he had outgrown. In the past two years, we have done 5 oral challenges – and passed them all.

I remember when my son turned 2 and started to become aware of his allergens, I spent a few days having a really hard time realizing that this was becoming his issue and one day would not be mine at all. I wrote down all the things I didn’t want for my son (fear, worry) and all the things I did want (confidence, love, independence). I realized this starts now – and I am the one to teach him this. That day, I took him to the grocery store. We read labels. We started naming safe things. I started talking about it out loud. (I had never really included him in shopping before that.)

For me there was nothing to accept. These are my children. This is a piece of who they are – always has been – it just took us some time to find the language to name it. Now I realize that this will always be a journey – ever changing!

KO: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of 2 food-allergic kids?

AV: Exclusion. Not being able to go to the ice cream truck. Potlucks and bake sales. The lack of spontaneity to just go to that birthday party and just eat whatever. This has been solved in large measure by finding great friends, other parents who go out of their way to get my sons safe foods and really make them feel included. Thank you to all these people – you make our lives infinitely better.

For me, I want my kids to decide what they want to do – whether it be rock climbing, hockey or travelling – and to know that they know that we will always try to find a way to make that work with their allergies. I am already seeing that this belongs to them and not me. These are their allergies. This is their allergist. Ultimately treatment, etc. will be up to them and I have to be okay with that eventually. (Not yet!)

KO: How have your children dealt with their food allergies?

AV: This is the only way they have ever known. This is a piece of who they are just like having brown hair.

KO: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?

AV: Not that often. Both my husband and I were raised that eating out was a special treat and we have tried to maintain that. We don’t eat out that often now – but honestly we have a 3 & 5 year old. Who wants to go to a restaurant with a 3 & 5 year old?

KO: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto? Can you tell me why they make you feel safe?

AV: Famoso, Sorelle and Co, Swiss Chalet and Pizza Pizza. They all are great and answered all my questions and followed up with me to make sure everything was right.

KO: Tell me about the support group you started.

AV: I started my support group after I was unable to find a place to share. There were other groups that did presentations and had speakers but all I wanted was to find other people who were feeling the same things that I was. We have a pretty solid group. When we started, there were about 6 of us. We get about 10 people at each in-person meetup these days (some new, some regulars). A member of the group, Pauline Osena, started a Facebook support group that most of the members joined so we keep the conversation going and can check in even between meetings.

KO: And final question…. How do you find the time to raise 2 kids with serious allergies, manage a support group (or 2), and run a successful business?

I make space in my life for the things that are important to me. I left my 9-5 job to start Careerlove.ca – career coaching for moms & women, and Moms@Work because they gave me two things: the ability to do what I love, and to be available for my children.

The support group came naturally to me – it was a way to connect with others and create another community. I have spent my whole life starting teams, building clubs, starting moms groups – it is who I am – I connect. I don’t want to leave this place remembered as that person who became CEO or VP of sales. I want to be remembered as that person who made a small difference in your life whether I was the first person who made you feel like you could do something great or that person who shared their story and made you feel like it would be okay.